Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Bale 'wouldn't leave Saints now'

James Ward-Prowse believes there are fantastic opportunities for young players at Southampton

James Ward-Prowse does not believe academy graduates like Gareth Bale would have left Southampton as it is now.

Real Madrid's attempts to pry Bale away from Tottenham are well-publicised, with a world-record transfer bid reportedly on the table.

The Welshman, like Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is a graduate of Saints' highly-rated youth system and made a big-money move shortly after breaking into the first-team.

However, the drain of talented teenagers away from St Mary's now looks to be coming to a halt.

Calum Chambers penned a four-year deal at Saints on Wednesday despite overtures from Chelsea, while left-back Luke Shaw recently celebrated his 18th birthday with a new five-year contract.

Ward-Prowse is another teenager tied to a long-term deal and believes there are few better places for a young player to be right now.

"We see the pathway that the chairman has put in place for us," the 18-year-old midfielder told Press Association Sport.

"We know there is a chance for us to play in the first team - it is up to us to go and grab the opportunity.

"We are being provided that opportunity here so there is no reason why not to go and grab it.

"Obviously it showed with me and Luke last year that there is that pathway there, and obviously there was Alex previously. It is up to go and take the chances.

"This club is renowned for producing young players and the chairman wants to keep that core of young players to hopefully take this football club to wear it belongings."

Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain all left Saints during their turbulent seven-year exile from the Premier League.

Back-to-back promotions from League One ended that absence and, having finished 14th last season, Saints are aiming high.

"I don't think it is beyond the realm of possibility to go into Europe," Ward-Prowse said of the upcoming season.

"I think we are capable of doing that. We showed towards the end of last season that we have got the quality and desire to be there.

"We've come up the leagues quite quickly. It is not outside the realm of possibility.

"It is definitely a challenge but one we are going to relish and hopefully reach."

Southampton are still hoping to bring in a high-profile striker this summer after signing Lyon centre-back Dejan Lovren for £8.5million and breaking their transfer record to get Celtic's Victor Wanyama.

The much-vaunted Kenyan arrived for a fee in excess of the £12million spent on Gaston Ramirez and provides extra competition to Ward-Prowse in central midfield.

"I love the challenge," the England Under-20 international said. "Steven Davis came in last year and that was another challenge for me.

"There is nothing to say why I can't go out there this year and try to keep my place in the squad and get in the starting XI.

"Victor is very strong - he has put a few guys on the deck already. He is a good boss in the midfield and I am sure he will be a good addition to the squad."

Earlier on Thursday Southampton confirmed the cancellation of winger Steve de Ridder's contract by mutual consent.

Signed from De Graafschap in 2011, the winger played an important role as Saints secured automatic promotion from the Championship.

However, De Ridder found opportunities limited upon the club's return to the top flight and spent time on loan with Bolton last season.

Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino recently announced he was looking to move the 26-year-old Belgian on and today the club confirmed his departure.

A statement on the official website, www.saintsfc.co.uk, said: "The club thanks Steve for his services over the last two seasons, and wishes him well with his future career."

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