Arsenal face a battle for Saints' £4m teen

 

Arsenal face intense competition to sign the Southampton left-back Luke Shaw, with Chelsea and Manchester City both now in the race for the 16-year-old who is rated as one of the best prospects in English football.

The Championship club value the player at around £4m even though he is yet to make his first-team debut. It is anticipated that Shaw, an unused substitute for Nigel Adkins' side in the weekend's 2-1 win over Coventry City in the FA Cup third round, will be watched by all the Premier League's leading clubs when he plays for Southampton under-18s in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium tonight.

Arsenal have so far been confident of signing the player, having also secured Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the club in the last six years, but Shaw will not lack for suitors. He is a regular in the England under-17s team and his potential has been stressed by the Football Association's director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking.

Originally from Kingston, Surrey, Shaw is understood to have agreed a professional deal with Southampton to begin when he turns 17 in July, the earliest point he can sign such terms. The new Elite Player Performance Plan system, which begins from the start of next season, is unlikely to affect Southampton in this case, such is the scale of the interest in him.

Even under the new system, the buying and selling clubs can agree to put aside the pre-established sliding scale for calculating compensation and come to a "mutually agreed fee".

Shaw represents another triumph for the Southampton academy who have a formidable record in recent years, producing Gareth Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain among others. The current under-18s team, coached by former Southampton player Jason Dodd, beat Sheffield United 7-0 to reach the fourth round. Their winger Calum Chambers is also highly rated.

Whether Shaw leaves this month or next summer will depend on whether the clubs chasing him can agree a fee with Southampton. An asking price of £4m is extremely high for a teenager who has not even played senior football but the market value for the best young players, and in particular, the best young English players, is rising all the time.

Shaw is part of the England under-17s squad that will play a round-robin with Georgia, Ukraine and Spain in Georgia in March. The winning team will play in the European Under-17 Championship in Slovenia in May.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool have been active buyers of teenagers recently, with smaller clubs now more willing to cash in their academy products lest the coming EPPP rules rein in the scale of fees. In most cases it is a question of out-bidding rival clubs by offering ever-more lucrative professional deals to boys.

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