By George Ankers
Southampton may have surprised many with their confident, eye-catching performances this season. For those watching closely over recent years, however, it is no shock to see their charge against the Premier League's elite spearheaded by captain Adam Lallana.
Since breaking into the first team just before the Saints' nadir of relegation to League One, the midfielder has gradually flourished and adapted to each step up on their rapid return to prominence. Now, at 25, he is winning rave reviews and being singled out by the England manager for praise after his international debut.
|50/1||Southampton are 50/1 with bet365 to finish in the top four|
"It's just part and parcel of football. When managers are doing well, they're going to get linked with job vacancies but it's important just to take it with a pinch of salt," Lallana tells Goal, speaking at a PUMA evoSPEED 1.2 football boot shoot.
"Lots of things get written and it's probably best not to pay attention to it. We feel that we can do something special this season and it's important that we remain focused on it.
"Not so long ago, we were in the top four – we wanted to stay there and, if we manage to get there again this season, we'll want to stay there [again]."
Despite some admirable performances, Southampton are winless in five as they prepare to face Spurs on Sunday but, in a particularly open league, the 25-year-old sees no reason to lower their lofty ambitions.
"We know we've had a tough run lately and that happens in the Premier League; every game's tough," he continues, "[but] there is that belief in and amongst the dressing room that the lads are aiming so high and, if we aim that high, even if we don't achieve it, it might be a successful season.
"Everton are doing so well, then Tottenham and [Manchester] United, Liverpool, Newcastle ... there's a lot of teams beating each other and that might help us.
"It'd be great to win a trophy and maybe even finish in Europe – that's one of our goals and what we want to do.
"We've shown a lot of character, coming off the back of three defeats – we were very unlucky not to get anything out of the Aston Villa game, then going behind against Manchester City and again against Newcastle, which is a tough place to go. To come out of those two games with two points is something we can take a lot from."
Unlike his contemporaries from Southampton's famed academy, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, Lallana – a more gradual bloomer – stuck around to develop in the lower leagues.
Alan Pardew and Steve Bruce are among the Premier League bosses who tried to swoop for him on the way but now, joining Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez as the first wave of what could be several Saints faces in the England setup, the midfielder knows that staying was the right move.
"It was a coincidence that the club were at a similar place to me," Lallana recalls of his early days in the first team. "I feel like I've grown with the club, which has helped my development as a player, and now I'm playing in the best league in the world, captaining the side, and I've made my international debut.
"So it's proving worth it and I'm delighted, really happy, that I've contributed at the club and that I'm contracted for the foreseeable future."
Of a further Saints influx into the Three Lions squad, he enthuses: "There's every chance, with [Nathaniel] Clyne, [James] Ward-Prowse, [Luke] Shaw, [Jack] Cork – and [Morgan] Schneiderlin, I think, is eligible as he's played here for five years.
"It's great to have that competitiveness amongst ourselves. A lot of them are representing England at different levels but, in years to come, we may have a lot of players involved in the national team. That's a credit to the club for its philosophy, developing its youngsters, its scouting and recruitment."
Though Roy Hodgson hailed him as a "major find" after his performances in losing causes during November's friendlies against Chile and Germany, Lallana remains grounded about his chances of making the summer's World Cup squad.
"I just want to keep enjoying my club football and trying to play well," he says. "If I do that then hopefully I'm impressing people in the England setup.
"I try not to think about it, though obviously a lot of people ask me about it, but I kind of just blank it out and concentrate on my club and my performances."
The topic of Brazil 2014 is unlikely to be completely ignored at St Mary's Stadium, however, after England's grouping with Italy and Uruguay threw Lallana & Co. up against two of their high-profile team-mates.
"Obviously Dani Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez are in the same draw," the skipper adds, "so it's exciting and, whether I'm there or not, I’ll be taking a lot of interest in it."
If he carries on as he has, though, there will surely be no question as to whether he will be on the plane.
Adam Lallana wears the ultra-light PUMA evoSPEED 1.2 football boot, available now from ProDirectSoccer.com. Head to PUMAFootballClub.com to conquer unique challenges and get closer than ever to PUMA players.
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