By Shikharr Chandra
There are not many Premier League clubs capable of producing better young talent than Southampton at the moment. Over the years the side from Hampshire has been known to assemble some of the finest players to grace the Premier League and Europe.
While Gareth Bale played an integral part in Real Madrid's 10th European crown, the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana will soon be travelling to Brazil for the World Cup next month. Other established stars from the Saints academy such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have already come a long way since leaving the club to pursue greater ambitions.
Southampton doesn’t have the financial power like some of the big Premier League sides. However since their promotion a couple of seasons back, their squad and managers have been heaped praise on.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino's future has been sealed as he opted to move to Tottenham and with Liverpool pursuing their skipper Lallana, it looks like Southampton are likely to lose their star midfielder. This doesn’t end here as an 18-year left back, Luke Shaw has garnered interest from some of the best clubs in the country – Chelsea and Manchester United.
Having played only 45 minutes of international football, Shaw has been chosen ahead of the recently retired and one of the best left backs the country has ever produced in Ashley Cole for the 2014 World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s decision cannot be faulted as Shaw has played a key role in Southampton’s rise to prominence.
A quick look at Manchester United and it doesn’t take a genius to highlight the obvious flaws in defense. The departure of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand has left a gaping hole at the back. Despite Patrice Evra signing a new contract, his performances have been far too suspect and exposed on a number of occasions.
On the other hand, Chelsea had the best defensive record in the Premier League. Jose Mourinho’s side conceded just 21 goals and the back four of Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar were the cornerstones of their defense.
While it makes little sense for Chelsea to go and shell out a massive sum for the much sought after defender, but the departure of Ashley Cole has left a massive void that the club needs to fill. Even more, playing a make shift left back in Azpilicueta is something Mourinho might not see as a long term option.
While both clubs’ needs are coherent, the question remains, is it a lucrative decision to spend almost €30m on a full back inexperienced on the big stage?
“He is still learning but nothing fazes him and he has stepped up into the Premier League very comfortably,” said Saints’ director Les Reed who worked with Shaw during his academy days.
While Shaw is still a raw talent, the 18-year olds confidence and his ability to adapt remains his biggest strength.
Almost standing at six-feet tall, his presence and positioning in defense is very similar to that of his idol Cole. He never backs away from a tackle and is good with aerial duels as well. Whilst Evra has suffered this season against more pacy wingers, Shaw's speed and agility will provide Manchester United a massive boost both in the defense as well as the attack.
Shaw has been described by many as an 'attacking full back' very similar to the likes of Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines. While Shaw might not possess the experience his English counterparts have, he has demonstrated incredible awareness and his combination play has been second to none in the Premier League.
Unlike most, Shaw's attacking duties have not hampered his defensive part of the game. His physique has helped him adapt to the Premier League. Sir Trevor Brooking, Director of described the youngster as a "technically gifted player".
Much comparison has been made between Shaw and Bale and how the two are very similar. While their pace and athleticism are alike, Shaw is more of a defender as compared to Bale who despite starting his career as a left back established himself as a winger.
What is most impressive about Shaw is that despite playing a mere two seasons in the league, he looks like a seasoned defender in that Saints side. The amount of errors committed has been negligible over the course of the season and his maturity level and decision making has been impressive.
Rejected by Chelsea at the tender age of just eight due to him being "small and light", a decade on, Shaw has shown massive progress and development. He is a mainstay in the Saints side and his position has hardly been challenged by anyone in the squad.
Shaw whose earliest World Cup memory remains that off Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup against Germany has come a long way in his career.
His journey from being a Chelsea reject to one of the best Premier League left backs has been incredible and now the pressure is on him to make a career defining choice. At 18, Shaw will be a massive investment for either of the clubs especially with time on his side.