Craig Fleming believes Southampton’s Under-18s have been given two of the toughest games of their season to begin the new campaign, but is looking forward to the challenge.
The fixture list computer has handed Saints’ youngsters a trip to Tottenham on the opening day of the season, with Chelsea set to visit Staplewood a week later.
Matches against those two teams proved to be some of the hardest for Fleming’s young side last season, but the Under-18s manager is relishing the early tests for his team.
“It’s a tough start,” he noted to youtube.com/southamptonfc. “A difficult one for us to begin with and then it’s Chelsea. They were certainly two of the strongest teams that we played last year if not the strongest, and, historically they’re very strong, but it’s a good challenge and I think it’s fantastic to put a marker down early in the season to see where we’re at, in such an early stage during the season. It will be a good opportunity and I know that the boys will be looking forward to it.
“It’s difficult to plan because there is a lot of movement especially with teams like Chelsea who have got such huge squads and can shift personnel around quite a lot, so it depends who they’re playing, but probably similar to Spurs as well from what I’ve seen, but you know what kind of game you’re going to get with those two teams.
“They love to play football in the right way and in a fashion similar to ourselves, so aside from the personnel, we should know the way they play.”
And while results are important, player development continues to be the key phrase within the Saints Academy, with the added interest from first team manager Claude Puel another important factor.
“Right from the word go with the new manager coming in, he’s been involved with watching lots of the boys in training sessions which has been fantastic to see,” said Fleming.
“We want to win games as everybody does, it’s not the first and foremost that we’re looking for but it is important. The most important bit however, is to improve the players. Every player that comes in, for myself and the coaching staff and the strength and conditioning guys, we want to get them into the building and make them better so that hopefully they can progress through the ranks at Southampton or, if not, give them every opportunity to play football for a living somewhere else.
“The pathway is open and always has been massively as we’ve seen over the years, but with the new regime and players, we’ve got Yan Valery who is a scholar among those who has gone out to America, and a lot of the boys that progressed from last year have gone out as well.
“The progression is still there and if you do well for the 16s, then you get into the 18s then it’s into the 21s and first team so hopefully we can push a few through this season.”