No player epitomises how far Southampton have risen in such a short space of time better than Adam Lallana. The homegrown talent was their shining light during the dark days of administration and their struggles to escape from League One and he now finds himself cast as the poster boy for a flourishing youth academy that is being hailed as the future of English football.
There is a reason Roy Hodgson could be seen beaming in the stands at St Mary's as he watched Southampton thrash Hull City 4-1 on Saturday, a victory that lifted them up to third, three points off the top of the Premier League. It is unlikely to be the England manager's last trip to the south coast this season.
Hodgson, his thoughts turning to next summer's World Cup, was right to be pleased. Two days after he selected three Southampton players in the England squad for the upcoming friendlies against Chile and Germany, with Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse named in Gareth Southgate's Under-21 squad, Lallana had provided the game's stand-out moment, a shuffle of the hips and a bewitching change of pace confounding the Hull defence and allowing him to score a wonderful solo goal. Hodgson's other call-ups, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, also impressed, while Nathaniel Clyne, on the fringe of the squad, was as solid as ever at right-back.
Something special is blossoming at Southampton. Perhaps it is not too much of a surprise given that Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott emerged from their youth system. Lallana was part of the team that reached the FA Youth Cup final in 2005 and played with Bale, who became the most expensive British player of all time when he joined Real Madrid for £86m from Tottenham Hotspur in September, and Walcott. Yet while both Bale and Walcott were sold to raise funds, Oxlade-Chamberlain also leaving a few years later, Lallana stayed, progressing at a slower rate and honing his skills at the club he joined from Bournemouth when he was 12. Now 25, he is Southampton's captain, the leader of a new generation.
"It's great when we look at the players that have come through and with Gareth [Bale] it gives us high hopes that we can become like them one day," says Ward-Prowse, a 19-year-old midfielder whose right foot has been compared to David Beckham's by Matt Le Tissier. Shaw, 18, puts it nicely when he says that Southampton's youth players are mates who have known each other since they were eight. It means they understand each other, both as people and as players, and the challenge for Southampton is to ensure that they enjoy their best years at St Mary's, unlike their predecessors.
Southampton have been rewarded for their foresight and, while many bemoan the state of English football, they offer proof that it is not a lost cause, not when youngsters are given time to develop together or someone like Lambert, who had previously spent his career in the lower leagues, can become an international striker. Rodriguez, too, had never played in the Premier League before joining Southampton for £7m from Burnley last year. Having scored three goals in his past five league matches, he could start on the left of England's attack against Chile on Friday.
The foundations for Southampton's success were laid down years ago, the former chairman, Rupert Lowe, employing Huw Jennings, Steve Wigley, Stewart Henderson and Malcolm Elias to spot and develop local talent, while there has been no shift in emphasis just because the current chairman, Nicola Cortese, is Italian and the manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is Argentinian.
Although Jennings, Wigley and Elias are now at Fulham, their legacy lives on. Calum Chambers, an 18-year-old right-back, has been given a chance by Pochettino this season and is an England Under-19 international, while there are high hopes for a number of other youth team players.
Determined not to stagnate, Southampton have also invested £30m in redeveloping their training ground in Marchwood, which will provide greater facilities for their youth teams when it is finished. It is little wonder that Pochettino is so optimistic about the future.
"English football is very much alive," he says. "It is in a very healthy state. As for Southampton, we are on a very positive run, we want to keep on working as positively as we have done. We want to keep on working with young players. I think we're a very good example of the future of English football in that sense.
"The English media talks about things that have happened. So the reality is that this summer there were bad results with the Under-19s and Under-20s, so you speak about what has actually happened. What I've been seeing here is there's a very positive mentality towards young English players. In the short time that I have been here I have been very surprised at how well the English players are doing. I think there's a lot of belief in young players, especially at Southampton from the under-8s to the under-21s. I see a lot of belief. There's a very good structure in place.
"I don't see the future of English football in a negative way, I see it in a positive way. But I think there has to be that belief that there is a future for these young English players and we definitely have that here at the academy at Southampton. It's then down to the responsibilities of the managers. We have to believe in young players. We have to have confidence in them."