In recent years, many English clubs have turned to their academies less and less. Brentford closed their academy altogether, deciding that the cost wasn’t worth it — although they are being forced to reopen it. A big reason for this is that many of the country’s top talents are being poached by bigger clubs at a young age (see: Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Harvey Elliott, etc.)
That isn’t the case for Southampton FC, though. The Saints continue to invest in their academy, and it’s paying off for the club. They have brought in some hefty transfer fees in recent years for academy graduates like Luke Shaw. In some cases, they’ve benefitted even more: James Ward-Prowse has stuck around and became a top player despite interest from elsewhere, while Theo Walcott has returned to the club he left more than a decade earlier.
Southampton are reaping the rewards, with several bright talents coming through the academy right now. There’s one exciting player, in particular, to watch out for: Dominic Ballard.
ST Dominic “Dom” Ballard, 17
Ballard joined Southampton’s academy in 2013. In 2021, he made his debut in the U18 Premier League at the age of just 15. The following season, Ballard earned some game time in the Premier League 2 (the Premier League for reserve sides, which is actually a thing) with the Saints’ reserve side, where he scored five goals in eight matches.
At the same time, Ballard continued to play for Southampton’s U18s, scoring prolifically. His fifteen goals in 19 games were the ninth-best in the league, despite being just 16 when the season started. Ballard registered four assists, directly contributing to an average of a goal a game.
In February, he made his debut for the England U17s, playing against Scotland and Luxembourg. With this in mind, Southampton signed Ballard to his first ever professional contract in March at the age of 17 and promoted him to the reserve side ahead of this season.
Last season in the Premier League 2, Ballard scored five goals in eight games. This season, it took him just five games to reach that tally — a brace against both West Brom and Nottingham, followed by a goal against Leeds United. This is made even more impressive by the fact that Leeds were playing many of their first-team starters on the second team because of the Premier League’s postponement. Oh, and he scored one more — this time for Southampton’s first team.
With Southampton up 2-0 against Cambridge United in the EFL Cup, Ballard was subbed on for his first team debut. Just 13 minutes later, Ballard’s firm shot was saved by Will Mannion, but he smashed the rebound into the net for his first Southampton goal.
Ballard is a hard-working striker. He uses his strength and positioning to get the ball in good positions, while he often follows up on rebounds to put the ball away. His shooting is great, which has resulted in many goals at various levels. Ballard’s first shot against Cambridge, for example, displayed his finishing as he nearly tucked into the bottom corner. His rebound displayed his power, with the ball rocketing past Mannion into the net. Ballard’s also quite good in the air, scoring multiple headers in the past.
Ballard is an excellent player with loads of potential. He’s impressed no matter what level he’s at, and at just 17 is already starting to play a role with the first team. His contract expires next summer but, unless he leaves in favor of more playing time, he’ll likely stay with Southampton. If (when) he renews, the Saints should consider loaning him out to a Championship or League One side. He’s already above Premier League 2 level.
Image Courtesy of SouthamptonFan123, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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