Southampton's latest tyro takes on the might of Manchester
Oxlade-Chamberlain faces United in tie that recalls glory of 1976
Saturday 29 January 2011
This afternoon's FA Cup tie at St Mary's will evoke memories of "1976 and all that" among many Southampton fans, but while nostalgia is always popular among supporters, the football industry is firmly focused on the future.
In the context of this match that means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The 17-year-old son of former England international Mark Chamberlain is the latest graduate of a youth system that produced Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, as well as the less feted but still talented Adam Lallana, Andrew Surman, Nathan Dyer, Martin Cranie and Leon Best.
All these players are under 25, but only Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain are still with Saints. Since the latter is being hotly pursued by clubs as exalted as Arsenal, Chelsea and today's opponents Manchester United, he is unlikely to remain long.
This diaspora is the fate of an impecunious club, as Southampton were before the 2009 takeover by the Liebherr family. While Manchester United were able to hang on to the Beckham-Scholes-Butt-Nevilles cluster, Southampton either sold to survive, or lost players to clubs with better prospects. In that context, Lallana's decision to sign a new long-term contract earlier this month signalled a welcome change.
If there was one beneficial effect of Southampton's slide into financial distress and League One it is that young players were given early opportunities, just as Andy Carroll flourished when Newcastle dropped into the Championship. Trevor Brooking, the Football Association's Director of Football Development noted this week of the Premier League: "It used to be that mid-table clubs would blood youngsters towards the end of the season, but there is now so much at stake in prize money." For example, the difference between coming 12th and 15th will be about £2.5m this season.
The irony is that Southampton's new wealth has led to the acquisition of a string of experienced pros, from Rickie Lambert and Jose Fonte to Radhi Jaidi and long-term loanee Richard Chaplow, plus the Brazilian striker Guilherme do Prado whose signing is rumoured to have precipitated previous manager Alan Pardew's departure. As a consequence the youngsters, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana aside, have been pushed out, though Oscar Gobern (20) has featured recently and Aaron Martin (21) played in the third-round victory over Blackpool.
Nigel Adkins, recruited from Scunthorpe United, steadied the ship after Pardew was sacked and has steered Saints into a promotion play-off berth. Given their resources automatic promotion, albeit probably behind leaders Brighton, remains a realistic target.
So today's match is a distraction, though a delightful and enriching one which will have old Saints recalling Bobby Stokes striding through a square Manchester United defence a quarter-century ago to create one of the great FA Cup upsets.
Back then the young tyros were in the United ranks, wingers Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill. They were marked out of the game by David Peach and Peter Rodrigues respectively and it was the veterans, Peter Osgood and Jim McCalliog, plus England striker Mike Channon, who controlled the final. Stokes' goal came seven minutes from the end of an undistinguished game but his was a fleeting glory.
Aged 25 when he scored, his career quickly wound down. He played only 35 more league games. After running a pub he worked in a cafe in Portsmouth before dying, of bronchial pneumonia brought on by a drink problem, at 44.
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