Paul Newman: Saints making hay despite having to sell the seed corn
The Football League Column
The season is barely into its second week but Southampton are already rewriting their record books. Saturday's 1-0 victory at Barnsley, which put the Saints on top of the Championship – their highest league position for six years– was their fourth away win in a row, a club record. It also extended their run of successive league victories to eight, the previous weekend's opening-day victory over Leeds United having beaten the club's previous best.
Between those two wins, 17-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed his transfer to Arsenal for a club record fee. Arsenal are understood to have paid £12m up front, with add-on clauses worth up to another £3m. Another club transfer record could be set if Southampton maintain their pursuit of Jay Rodriguez, Burnley having rejected a reported £4.5m offer for their England Under-21 striker. The most Southampton have paid for a player was £4m to Derby County for Rory Delap 10 years ago.
Saints fans may lament the departure of yet another of their youngsters, but the sale of players like Oxlade-Chamberlain have helped to sustain the club through one of their most difficult periods. During the recent years of turmoil, which ended in the German-born billionaire Markus Liebherr buying the club out of administration, the Southampton academy continued to produce both first-team players and a steady stream of cash.
The departure of Oxlade-Chamberlain took Southampton's income from the transfer of academy players to more than £40m since the turn of the century. Only West Ham are believed to have made more money from selling home-grown talent over the same period.
Wayne Bridge's move to Chelsea for £7m eight years ago started the ball rolling, with the sales of Theo Walcott to Arsenal and Gareth Bale to Tottenham Hotspur the other major money-makers. The Walcott deal was reckoned to total £12m, while Bale's move was worth £10m. Other moves that have helped to swell the coffers include Andrew Surman's £1.2m switch to Wolverhampton Wanderers and the £1m sale of David McGoldrick to Nottingham Forest.
Southampton have always had a good track record for producing players – Mike Channon, Matthew Le Tissier and Alan Shearer are among those who came through the system – and their academy at Marchwood is acknowledged as one of the finest in the country.
Among the best of their next crop are two 16-year-olds, the midfielder James Ward-Prowse and the defender Luke Shaw who have each earned England recognition. Both have been associated with the club since the age of eight. The club's determination to invest in the future was shown at the end of last season when they paid Plymouth Argyle £150,000 for Jack Stephens, a defender who had just turned 17.
Liebherr died last summer, but Southampton remains in the hands of his family. Before his death the 62-year-old industrialist, whose fortune was estimated at over £2billion, made it clear that he wanted his heirs to carry on with his work.
Relegated from the Premier League in 2005 following 27 successive seasons in the top flight, Southampton dropped another division four years later and were in danger of going out of business until Liebherr bought them for a reported £13m. Liebherr's initial funding helped Alan Pardew build a team that won the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, Southampton's first significant trophy for 34 years, but the manager was sacked after only three games last season after a disappointing start. Despite taking only four points from their first six games the Saints quickly picked up following the appointment of Nigel Adkins as Pardew's replacement and won automatic promotion after winning 13 of their last 15 matches.
Adkins did limited business in the transfer market during the close season but paid Burnley a reported £1.8m for Danny Fox last week. With money from the Oxlade-Chamberlain sale in the bank, his summer spending may not be over yet.
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