Here at Shoot! Towers we make it a priority to keep tabs on all the top talents emerging through the ranks of youth academies across the globe.
As Gareth Bale, Alan Shearer and Matt Le Tissier have shown, the Premier League owes much to the Southampton academy – with plenty more dotted all over the Football League.
It means that when a talented youngster on the South Coast is talked of in high regard, many take notice; making your way through the ranks at Staplewood up to the senior squad is a useful note on a footballer’s CV.
The latest talent seen as the next one to come off the conveyor belt is Jake Hesketh. An attacking midfielder by trade, the similarities between the 20-year-old and fellow Southampton academy graduate Adam Lallana are striking: slight in frame but fleet of foot, Hesketh has the special stardust that the now-Liverpool man has in spades.
Given his debut by Ronald Koeman two seasons ago, the youngster played barely fifty minutes under the Dutchman as the opportunity given to him during an injury crisis was ironically ended by him being taken off in tears after just 30 minutes into his first start away at Burnley.
The resulting injury ruled him out for some time and by the time he had returned, the Southampton squad was in ruder health. In much the same way as many of his colleagues in the youth squads at Saints during the last season or two, the pathway to the first team was proverbially, quite literally in some instances, blocked.
But a change of manager saw Claude Puel arrive, a coach that had to rely on youth during four financially limited years with Nice, and now Hesketh has a chance to impress.
On his first start of the season against Crystal Palace in the League Cup, the midfielder played in his favoured No.10 role and thrived with Shane Long and Charlie Austin profiting from his pinpoint passes behind the defence.
But in a proud moment for the academy, the youngster netted the second in a 2-0 win over the Eagles; celebrating with his fellow home-grown stars Harrison Reed, Matt Targett and James Ward-Prowse would have been a sight to behold for many of the staff at Staplewood.
His second appearance was less impressive, as he was hauled off during the game away at Hapoel Be’er Sheva after just twenty minutes. There was no sign of injury unlike two years ago at Burnley, but it is that kind of tough treatment that will help the midfielder develop a mental toughness. The fact that Puel talked at length to him as he came off in Israel shows that Hesketh has to improve, but taking that time to do so also shows the faith that the manager has in him.
With experienced internationals in Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal, the latter of which broke Saints’ transfer record when he moved from Lille for £16m this summer, above him in the pecking order, the Southampton academy star will must heed any advice in order to progress.
Having said that, four competitions and a congested fixture list will mean he won’t be short of chances to impress Puel.
Hesketh has got to the point where the U23 Premier League is below him in terms of quality, with the amount of goals and assists showing a fish in far too small a pond so the step up to first team football makes sense.
A lack of senior football means that Hesketh will need to learn quickly, however, that experience may well be arrive in the form of a loan spell. The fact he still looks rather small in what is already a diminutive midfield means a spell in the more physical lower tiers could make a man of the midfielder.
Whether he makes an impression this season or most likely next, the future looks incredibly bright for Hesketh. With undeniable technique and confidence on the ball, the stage is set for him to shine on the South Coast – if he does that, the attacker may well add himself to what is already a pretty illustrious list.