Adam Lallana’s rise from promising League One youngster to potential England international at Southampton is the result of a very happy set of circumstances. The south coast club first saw Theo Walcott, then Gareth Bale, and most recently Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cherry picked by England’s elite while they languished in the second tier, unable to offer their stars the chances to perform on the big stage.
So noticeable were the talents of those three, and at such young ages, that Southampton could never have hoped to hold onto them whilst not in the super rich Premier League. The club cashed in on its prize assets.
The happy circumstances surrounding Adam Lallana, then, have been that his quality was not clear enough early enough to tempt any sizeable offers from his admirers, and by the time it was, Southampton’s upward momentum had seen them arrive in the Premier League themselves.
Three seasons ago, with Southampton readying themselves for a season in League One, few football fans would have been aware of the young player who had provided brief glimpses of brilliance in what had otherwise been a torrid few seasons for the club. Lallana’s time spent in an oft-beleaguered and inevitably relegated side appears to have served him well; his industry and determination were plain for all to see as his side battled away at the Etihad Arena in this season’s first game, where he also took up the captain’s armband.
The happy circumstances surrounding Adam Lallana, then, have been that his quality was not clear enough early
But after the Swiss takeover of the club in 2009 Lallana was expected to leave the role of gallant loser behind him and set about fulfilling his undoubted potential.
Then-manager Alan Pardew recruited Rickie Lambert to spearhead the side’s attack in League One and it was he who scored many of the Saints’ goals that season, but non-casual observers will have noticed that the stand-out performances at St Mary’s could so often be found at left midfield. For two years, Lallana’s trickery troubled the right-backs of League One as he slowly added more and more to his game; increasingly there was an ‘end product’ – the holy grail of the promising wide player – to match his dizzying skill.
Pardew’s one and only season in charge of the Saints ended in disappointment, his side narrowly failing to overturn their ten-point administration penalty and reach the playoffs. His replacement Nigel Adkins was clearly well aware of the potency Lallana added to his side; he spoke at length of the importance of keeping his winger free from serious injury and was quick to withdraw him when his troublesome groin problems resurfaced.
This strategy paid dividends when Lallana was able to play a key role in their run of fourteen wins out of the final seventeen matches, taking a place in the team of the year in the process. But perhaps ‘winger’ is not the right term for of player of his kind; the right-footed Lallana often drifts infield to join in with his side’s intricate build-up play but is equally adept using his wrong foot to float crosses to his forwards – a combination that continued to unsettle defenders on his return to the Championship.
For two years, Lallana’s trickery troubled the right-backs of League One as he slowly added more and more to his game
The threat posed on the flanks by Lallana and Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as the not-inconsiderable contribution of Lambert, saw the Saints surge to promotion at the second time of asking, and perhaps the headline grabbing of his two teammates provided a smokescreen behind which Lallana could quietly go about his business. That summer saw the departure of Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal for a reported £15m, but in truth the youngster had sat out the majority of Southampton’s devastating end of season run through injury, and the Saints had developed a reliable winning formula in the shape of Lambert and Lallana’s neat interplay.
That formula continued to serve Adkins’ side well a division higher as Southampton proceeded to notch up a record 21 straight home league wins, and Lallana’s eye-catching performances swayed many a game in their favour. His trickery and guile was once again overshadowed by the goalscoring exploits of a certain colleague, but fittingly; it was Lallana who a sealed second successive promotion with the fourth goal in the decisive final day victory over Coventry. That was his thirteenth strike of a campaign that saw his performance improve markedly with the platform of Adkins’ fitness regime.
The start of the 2012/13 season has seen Lallana finally begin to receive concrete personal accolades to add to the endless plaudits. Adkins appointed him the team’s captain prior to their Premier League return, and while the Saints have lost their opening three fixtures, there are reasons to be optimistic as they pushed first champions Manchester City, and then neighbours United, all the way in thrilling encounters. Next came his first international call-up, albeit in the wake of a string of injuries to England regulars, further illustrating his growing reputation in the game.
Adam Lallana’s time at Southampton FC has, until this point at least, been to their mutual benefit. A delicate balance has been struck in the past three seasons; neither has Lallana outgrown the club or the club Lallana. Unlike some of the academy prospects that were whisked away before they had a chance to make any real footballing contribution to the club, his steady growth has perfectly matched that of his team.
Saints had developed a reliable winning formula in the shape of Lambert and Lallana’s neat interplay
When Southampton were the sleeping giants of League One, his potential was being slowly recognised. When the club continued their march up the football league he became hailed as one of the brightest talents outside of the top flight. And now, with the Saints finally back in the big time, their new captain finds himself in the thinking of Roy Hodgson and England.
It has been more than ten years since the great Matt Le Tissier hung up his boots, but this is easily the closest we have come to unearthing a new Mr Southampton.
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