Southampton: Cradle of the stars

Southampton play their first European game in 12 years on Thursday, but graduates such as Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott have kept the club in the limelight.

As Southampton return to European competition for the first time in 12 years, watch five products of their successful youth academy in action, including Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Southampton play their first European game in 12 years on Thursday  when Vitesse – formerly coached by Saints manager Ronald Koemanvisit in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round.

Since the 2-1 aggregate loss at Steaua București in the 2003/04 UEFA Cup first round, Southampton have dipped as low as the English third tier; a seventh-placed Premier League finish last year that was their best for 15 seasons. However, even in that time of strife, the club have turned out some top talents who have hit the heights in Europe ...

Gareth Bale
At Southampton: 1999–2007
Now with: Real Madrid

Cardiff-born Bale was first spotted by Southampton aged ten and trained at their satellite academy in Bath. At 16 he made his debut in the second tier, against Millwall in April 2006, and soon caught the eye. In May 2007 Tottenham signed Bale from Southampton. Though he was initially a left-back, it was when he took a more attacking role in 2010 that he really came to prominence, most notably in Spurs' UEFA Champions League campaign with two brilliant performances against Internazionale Milano. Now established as a top player, in 2013 he was taken to Madrid and scored in the UEFA Champions League final at the end of his first season there.

Calum Chambers faces future team-mate Olivier Giroud
Calum Chambers faces future team-mate Olivier Giroud©AFP/Getty Images

Calum Chambers
At Southampton: 2002–2014
Now with: Arsenal

Unlike Bale, Chambers was born not far from Southampton and was at the club from the age of seven. It took a decade for him to reach the first team, by which time the defender was an England youth international; he was also a Premier League regular by 2013/14. People were taking notice and in July 2014 Chambers was taken to Arsenal. A few weeks later he had made his England senior debut, and he aided Arsenal to the UEFA Champions League knockout phase and FA Cup victory.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Southampton colours
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Southampton colours©Getty Images

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
At Southampton: 2000–2011
Now with: Arsenal

Another player from Southampton's county of Hampshire that first joined the club aged seven. The son of former England winger Mark Chamberlain, he excelled at both football and rugby, choosing the round-ball game and making his senior debut aged 16. Swiftly becoming a regular in Southampton's third-tier promotion season of 2010/11, Oxlade-Chamberlain skipped a division as Arsenal signed him that summer and within a month he had become the youngest Englishman to score in the UEFA Champions League. A key part of the England squad, he equalised in a 2-2 draw against Brazil in May 2013 in the opening of the new Maracanã; his father had played in a famous 2-0 win at the previous stadium in 1984.

Adam Lallana went up two divisions at Southampton
Adam Lallana went up two divisions at Southampton©AFP/Getty Images

Adam Lallana
At Southampton: 2000–2014
Now with: Liverpool

Lallana was a positive veteran of 12 before he switched to Southampton from nearby Bournemouth in 2000 and broke into the first team in 2006. Scoring 20 goals in 2009/10, the first to reach that mark for Southampton since Matthew Le Tissier in 1994/95, Lallana aided the Saints from the third to first tier, and took impressively to Premier League football. Part of England's 2014 World Cup squad, he was one of three Southampton players to join Liverpool that summer and played in both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League last season.

Theo Walcott: Southampton's youngest-ever player
Theo Walcott: Southampton's youngest-ever player©Getty Images

Theo Walcott
At Southampton: 2000–2006
Now with: Arsenal

Turning down Chelsea as an 11-year-old to go to Southampton, Walcott's rise was even more prodigious than Bale, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana's. A 2004/05 FA Youth Cup finalist, Walcott's senior reserve debut came when he was 15 and he became Southampton's youngest-ever first-team player in 2005, aged 16 years and 143 days. Within a few months of that bow, Arsenal reached agreement to sign him in January 2006. However, before his debut, Walcott was called into England's World Cup finals squad, becoming their youngest senior player on 30 May 2006 against Hungary, aged 17 years and 75 days. The next season he was playing in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League; he has since racked up 40 England caps despite several injuries.

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