By George Ankers
When Southampton teetered on the brink of financial oblivion in 2009, the whole of the Premier League must have been worried. Not out of any particular sympathy, of course – but the prospect of the south-coast club's famed academy disappearing for good would have been nightmarish.
Few teams have been mined for youthful resources as much as the Saints in recent years, a conveyor belt of top-level talent being churned out season after season.
Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale are just three of the many Southampton graduates who have made it to the Premier League's elite – and, as exclusively revealed by Goal.com, it looks like 17-year-old Luke Shaw is set to be the next.
Already an England Under-17s international, the teenage left-back has profited from the newly promoted side's defensive nightmares by being given a chance in the first team earlier than expected. Watch him on the pitch, though, and it seems a perfectly natural progression.
It took 13 games but Southampton's first clean sheet of the season came to Newcastle on November 25, the youngster adding confidence to a still slightly nervy back line.
Three days later, Shaw stepped things up again with a man-of-the-match showing against Norwich City. Doggedly blocking crosses all evening, the Kingston-born full-back was not intimidated by the imposing figure of Grant Holt, standing up to the target man in a defensive performance that did not deserve to be undone by Paulo Gazzaniga's goalkeeping error. Goal.com's awed man at the ground aptly hailed him as "fantaclismic".
Shaw is far from a limited, defence-minded left-back, however. His willingness to get forward is apparent and he has the quality to make an impact, too. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, the teenager can take it along the touchline at pace, making space for Adam Lallana ahead of him to cut inside.
He has not made it his trademark as Bale did when coming through the ranks but the 17-year-old is also competent as a set-piece taker, as well as having something of an eye for goal, with more strikes at youth level than your average full-back.
|2/1||Southampton are 2/1 with Bet365 to keep a clean sheet when they host Reading at St Mary's Stadium|
He could undergo the conversion to midfield that Bale has done but left-back looks the most natural fit for his abilities. Whereas Ryan Bertrand is game and versatile, he is not spoken about in the same way by those in the know – Sir Trevor Brooking, who would know, hailed the Saints prospect as "technically very gifted".
There is plenty of developing to do – if a January move does materialise, it would surely be best for all concerned if Shaw were loaned back to St Mary's for the rest of the season at least.
With Chelsea believed to want him initially as an understudy to Bertrand, there will be concerns about him potentially rotting on the bench. After all, in Wayne Bridge, Southampton have already seen one of their talented left-back products stagnate at Stamford Bridge.
But Shaw has already proved this season that he will rise through when he is ready to do so. Whether or not the Saints can stay in the Premier League, expect him to rise even higher.
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