Radhi Jaïdi reflects on another successful season of moving players up into the first team.
The Southampton production line has been in full swing this season, with a number of players making the jump up from the under-23s into the first team.
Jaïdi has witnessed the vast majority of this movement first hand, as a number of his players flew the nest to burst into the first team.
And the under-23s coach feels this is something the club can look back on with a great sense of pride.
“It was a real highlight last season to see a number of players move up the levels,” started Jaïdi.
“Both from under-18s to under-23s and up to the first team. Also, to see those players perform the way that we want them to perform has been great. We really felt the benefit of those players.
“For us the under-23s is a step that the players need to take seriously. It is one step behind the first team and it is all about preparing their mind-set so they are ready for the intensity of the first team level.
“We have had many players involved with the first team day in, day out. Then when they come back to the under-23s their role is to show the other boys and send a message to say this is how we do things in the first team – make sure you are ready for it.
“In this club it is great that the players can see the path to the first team, but they have to be ready for it as well. That is our job with the under-23s: to make them aware and make them ready."
The Checkatrade Trophy was a new addition to the under-23s' calendar this term, which saw select academy teams pitted against sides from League One and League Two.
This allowed the Saints youngsters to play against senior teams in Charlton, Colchester and Crawley before suffering defeat to Reading's Academy on penalties in the knockout stages.
But despite the unfortunate exit, Jaïdi felt the competition was extremely useful for his side.
“It was a great experience,” he started.
“We had some of the scholars as well this season play against some of the senior boys, so they had to adapt their way of playing and challenge themselves.
“When younger boys play against senior players it is a challenge in all aspect for them. It was a great experience and I think we performed well against teams that played in very different ways.
“We were perhaps unlucky to lose on penalties in the last game, but that is the nature of football. I think overall the feedback was positive in all aspects for us. That’s what we want to show the players and make them aware of.”
Josh Sims and Jake Hesketh will perhaps be remembered above most as breaking through last season, due to their contributions with the first team.
But Jaïdi is keen to highlight the large cohort of under-23s players involved in the first team set-up and also the differing ways in which they all earned their call ups.
“Simsy wasn’t really involved in the first team’s pre-season like some of the other players were, like Sam McQueen, Matt Targett and Harry Reed," he explained.
“He made his way up to the first team by performing well with the under-23s. That’s the beauty for him and Jake Hesketh as well.
“When he went to the first team I remember when he spoke about his first game against Everton and he said that he just did what he normally does. So there is no magic for the players. Whether they perform for the under-23s of the first team, the main stuff is the same.
“It was the same for Jake. His chance came because of the hard work he has been putting in for a very long time. Jake himself knows the period and challenges he has been through and that was a great achievement for him and his family.”
The system of youngsters moving up not only has a positive impact on the specific player and the first team, but it also spreads a message to the other emerging stars.
If you are good enough and put the work in, you will be given a chance.
“As a coach you use these examples to send a message to the other boys and make them aware of the benefits they can get from the hard work they put in,” continued Jaiïdi.
“But it’s also important that the players can also see a clear path at this club. They just have to perform and show what they have learnt.
“For the staff it is always pleasing as well – you almost feel proud of what you have contributed to make this player go to the highest level. That starts not just at the under-23s but the lower age groups.”
Jaïdi's men will report back to Staplewood Campus today to undertake their pre-season testing and begin the process of starting all over again in preparation for next season.
And despite the scale of the task ahead, Jaiïdi admits this is his favourite time of the year.
“I am always happy for the boys to come and start again,” he explained.
“We need to meet the players and then discuss our targets for the season and make them aware of their development plans and objectives.
“Hopefully then we will achieve the targets that we set. We told them before they went that they must all be ready when they come back, so hopefully they will be ready to achieve those targets both collectively and individually.”