Southampton's youth system is one of English football's most highly regarded producers of young talent. The success elsewhere of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott (among others) has proudly and publicly highlighted the quality footballing education youngsters at the South Coast club are receiving.
The incentive of Premier League football is one Saints aim to be able to use in convincing their brightest stars to stay put in the future. After Saturday's 2-0 defeat of Reading, it is a promise they are closer to being able to make.
Luke Shaw is one such player current manager Mauricio Pochettino hopes will be staying put for next season, that in spite of previously reported interest from Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur in the highly rated left-back, according to various reports from People.co.uk, the Daily Mail and the Metro.
Shaw has been a fixture in the Saints' lineup since November, featuring 22 times in all this season. Having committed his future to Southampton in January, the 17-year-old's intentions would seem clear.
"I think Southampton is the place to be for young kids like me," Shaw explained to the club's official website. "I’m playing in the Premier League for the First Team and that is all anyone wants to be doing, so I just want to carry on."
Sensible thinking given the difficulties other similarly hyped prospects have suffered after moving to a big club too early. Unlike the earlier mentioned players who preceded him at St Mary's Stadium, Shaw is looking like he'll be able to learn his trade in the top flight while remaining in a familiar environment in which he can continue his all-round development.
The lure of playing alongside star names is not always easy to resist for those in Shaw's situation. Should a concrete offer from one of the aforementioned clubs come in this summer (and if Southampton accept), he may have a big decision on his hands.
If Tottenham's admiration for the England youth international proves to be more than speculation, they are a potential destination Shaw will have plenty to consider. As successful as Bale has been after moving there at a young age, others like John Bostock and Dean Parrett have found first-team opportunities much harder to come by following moves as teenagers.
The obvious advantage Shaw has over the latter duo is he has already experienced top-flight action, giving some early substance to the hype surrounding him. The recent match against Reading will not count among his most testing of the campaign, but on display were both positive and negative characteristics of the fledgling full-back's game—with the emphasis weighing heavily toward the former.
Aerially, his judgement was nigh on perfect. Many defenders classed as being good in the air often head the ball anywhere. Encouragingly, Shaw looks to find a teammate with his headers rather than give the ball straight back to the opposition.
That may sound like a defender unnecessarily complicating matters. In fact, Shaw has an admirable simplicity to his game, showing smart judgement in deciphering when to pass, when to keep hold of the ball, and when to clear it. Players his age will naturally be keen to impress, but he understands this cannot be at the expense of his duties as a defender.
Shaw is impressively strong for his age, and it is testament to the efforts he is obviously undertaking here that rarely is he outmuscled (not a given for any professional footballer). In one-on-ones he is able to stand his ground and increasingly is improving his decision-making over when it is better to make a challenge or to attempt to shepherd a player off of the ball.
Positionally, he is still learning his role within a bigger defensive unit.
As he finds his footing in games, he can be prone to wandering and losing track of where he is supposed to be. Early on against Reading, Shaw could be seen ball-watching on the edge of the box as Adam Le Fondre stood unmarked. Fortunately the Royals' striker blasted over, but it was a narrow escape not helped by the young defender losing concentration.
Offensively, Shaw has undoubtedly caught the eye too. Against his favorite club Chelsea in January, he raced down the left flank before sending in a teasing cross that resulted in Jason Puncheon scoring Saints' equalizer in the 2-2 draw.
Highlighting the speed and close control with which Shaw is blessed, it also demonstrated his intelligence going forward. On that occasion it was making the most of the space in front of him. Other times it has been his instincts in supporting teammates. There was nothing as showy as the Chelsea assist against Reading, but his intuition in contributing in the final third helped Southampton keep possession throughout the game.
It is easy to see why Andre Villas-Boas might be interested in Shaw. Even with him still learning, he has shown remarkable aptitude for a position that has caused Spurs problems this season. Bringing him in to compete to be the team's first-choice left-back might seem a bold call, but such is the level of hope surrounding this young man's potential. Based on his experiences so far, you would bet he would be confident about making a success of it in North London.
The more you see of Shaw, it is harder not to get caught up in the excitement about this prospect. He would make a fine addition almost anywhere in the Premier League.
However, there is no rush for him to transfer if he can maintain his early promise (while staying fit). Spurs and any other prospective suitors may have to wait a little while longer.
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