Saints trust in youth is brilliant but enjoy these young talents whilst you can
In the game against Leeds, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl named just two players aged 30 or above (McCarthy and Romeu). Every other player named in the starting eleven was 27 or below, which should provide hope for the future. Indeed, the goal scorer Broja only turned 20 years old last month, whilst young prodigy Tino Livramento is currently starring for the England under 21s at the grand old age of 18 years old.
Man of the match Mohammed Salisu was outstanding in a dominant yet measured performance, with the right balance of aggression and calm. He was strong in the tackle, showed excellent recovery speed and a willingness to play a range of different passes. It is easy to forget he is just 22 years old. One error aside, which admittedly nearly cost Saints dearly, he gave a complete performance worthy of his position as one of the brightest prospects on the South Coast in years. When one considers his age, it is terrifying to think where he could be in the next five years.
Ibrahima Diallo, standing in for the banned Ward-Prowse, is another 22 year old who played with maturity beyond his tender years. After exploding onto the scene with some impressive performances upon arrival at St Mary’s, the French midfielder has somewhat fallen off the radar but yesterday was a timely reminder of his potential.
Of course, Saints have traditionally been a bastion of using youth to succeed but a series of poor buys in the transfer window, married with a disappointing period of academy products has seen them lose their way. Although restoring faith in youth could reap its rewards over the next 12 months, the worry is that these top talents could all leave for bigger clubs.
Therefore, the priority is now ensuring Saints can get back to being sustainable i.e. if Southampton sell Livramento or Diallo, they already have plans for replacing them with some untapped talents. Saints have to be realistic that the likes of Livramento and Salisu will go on to play Champions League football one day and whilst there will be romantic notions that this could be with Southampton, football rarely gives room for fairy tales.
The innovative approach this summer of targeting young talents at other clubs and promising them first team action worked with Livramento. With other young prospects such as Dynel Simeu, Kamari Doyle and Thierry Small waiting in the wings, the future looks bright for Saints. Whilst Broja is clearly meant for bigger things, there may be no harm in testing the water with Chelsea by proposing a similar deal to the one struck for Livramento, with a buy back clause inserted.
For the time being at least, Southampton fans will be hopeful that they can enjoy the youthful look of this team and with a win finally under their belt, they can look to build welcome momentum against some less imposing opposition in the next few weeks.