Decision Time For Alex Chamberlain

9 05 2011

With the Premier League implementing new rules at the start of the season, clubs are now permitted to have at least eight ‘home-grown’ players in their squads. The hope is that it will encourage teams to nurture more English talent through into the senior squads.

The top clubs are always on the prowl for young talent. With the reward of watching players develop into stars and being a cheaper alternative in the inflated transfer market, the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have become notorious for this modus operandi.

The latest prospect on everyone’s lips is playing down at Southampton. With the recent success of Theo Walcott and especially Gareth Bale in North London since their moves, and Premier League legends like Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer being produced by the South Coast side, there is now an element of expectation when the Saints promote a new youngster to the first team. In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it looks like they have a new prodigy to add to the list.

Alex Chamberlain Is Attracting Interest From Premier League Sides

The son of former Portsmouth and England winger Mark Chamberlain, Alex was signed up by Southampton at the age of seven thanks to his dad getting him a six-week trial. His father was a youth team coach for Southampton for seven years, and encouraged the coaches to have a look at him. However the development of the winger has not all been plain sailing. He was apparently held back for a year because the coaches feared he was physically inferior to his peers, but they noticed a dramatic improvement in his dribbling ability and in the past few years he has specifically worked on bulking up:

“I’m not afraid of hard work. When they said I was too small to make the grade, I went off and worked harder in the training ground and in the gym to put on the body weight.”

Now standing at 5’11” and considerably built for someone so young, Chamberlain has the physical attributes to adapt to the Premiership easier than Theo Walcott, who did not even feature for Arsenal in his first six months since joining in January 2006.

After making his début for Alan Pardew’s side against Huddersfield in March 2010, the wide man was only brought on off the bench one more time in the 09/10 season, but the fans knew they had a new hero to worship. Under the guidance of Nigel Adkins this season, Chamberlain has been instrumental in Saints promotion to the Championship, and has scored nine league goals in his first full campaign. The 17-year-old has been surprised at how quickly he has established himself as a senior footballer:

“I didn’t think I would get into the first team at Southampton as quick as I did. I’ve been working really hard all year to keep my place and make myself a better player. I’ve tried to take everything in my stride and play as well as I can and see where that takes me.”

Despite being deployed on the wing, Chamberlain’s natural position is down the middle, and with his versatility of being able to play anywhere in midfield, his importance to Saints next season will be crucial. He shows his natural desire to play down the middle by continually cutting in from the right flank. With the ability to mix it up when he faces defenders, Chamberlain shows he has the ingredients for a top winger. Blessed with rapid pace and confidence in his dribbling, the Portsmouth born star attracted praise from Ferguson prior to their FA Cup tie in January:

“Alex Chamberlain is only young, but he has potential. Southampton have done very well bringing young players through over the years.”

Gareth Bale Didn't Have Initial Success At Tottenham

Unsurprisingly his rise to prominence has not gone unnoticed, and Southampton fans were resigned to seeing him leave in January, with Liverpool and Manchester United keen on him. Privately it is said his father’s preference is Arsenal, but with the Gunners offering below his valuation -£5m bid with £3m instalments – and more specifically, with Saints being in a strong financial position now, they are in no position to sell.

After signing a three-year contract at the start of the season, Chamberlain now has a tough decision on his hands. Does he make the move to the Premiership with the knowledge that Walcott and Bale initially struggled to cement a first team place, or does he continue his career down on the South Coast?

If Southampton failed to be promoted from League 1 then the likely scenario was he would leave, but now they have been promoted, perhaps the Premiership clubs would rather bide their time and analyse how he does in a tougher division.

After making his début for the England U-21’s against Italy earlier in the year, he looks set to miss the European tournament in June after being left out of the preliminary 40 man squad because of his recent ankle injury, which gives the youngster a chance to really consider his options over the summer. It has been a surprise how quickly he has been fast tracked into that age group, but he has enjoyed the experience:

“I was a bit apprehensive coming into [the U21’s] because I watch the guys on Match of the Day every week, but everyone’s been friendly and relaxed, so it’s been good.”

After Southampton celebrated promotion, Chamberlain helped to ease any doubts in the fans minds about him leaving:

“It’s been a great season, the boys are quality, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I look forward to next season now. Southampton is such a great club and I am so happy to be a part of it.”

Despite his convincing words, if, as expected a bid surpassing £10m is made for him in the summer, both the club and player will have a tough choice to make. Will he follow the path to his boyhood idol Thierry Henry’s former club Arsenal? It is likely they will make another approach in the summer, but for the lad who also cherished watching Gianfranco Zola, Chamberlain has a big decision to make.

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