I’m not going to sugar coat anything, I love Southampton and their philosophies. Buying what they need and building around them, but using youth where possible. It’s just an endless conveyor belt of English talent that nearly every top 6 team his pillaged from sometime in the last decade. With players like McQueen, Stephens, Ward-Prowse and Reed all breaking through and exceeding expectations recently, it’s no wonder people have their eyes set firmly on the south coast. However, there’s only player whose been around Southampton’s starting 11.match day squad for years now and that’s James Ward-Prowse. The young English starlet has been a rising figure the past few years but has never really nailed down a starting spot until this season.
Why? It’s pretty simple. Being a midfielder is one of the hardest positions to start out at in football. Now you might think, “Surely it’s got to be a striker or winger!” But I disagree. Being a midfielder takes intelligence, skill, determination and patience something which many young talents have to spend years perfecting. This is evident all around Europe, in which Bayern’s most promising midfield talents, Kimmich, Renato, Rode and Højbjerg struggle to get a run of games. Ward-Prowse learned his trade in a team that’s prolific with its creation of midfielders. Lallana, Schniederlin, Wanyama, Romeu, Davis and even Højbjerg all have played in Southampton’s starting 11 in the past three to four years.
Ward-Prowse learning in a team that’s known for its midfield creation shows how skilled he is to be played with Romeu and Davis, even just this last weekend vs West Ham. Spending years honing his skills, he’s quickly learned that to thrive in Southampton’s midfield you have to be a passer with good amounts of intelligence and creativity. Dribbling in Southampton’s midfield doesn’t fit and it’s something I dislike Højbjerg doing. In a game vs Inter Milan in the Europa League (granted, a heavily changed Inter Milan side going through a managerial crisis) I saw possibly Ward-Prowse’s best game yet. Calm and collected on the ball, he was placed at the tip of a midfield three with freedom to drop back and dictate play. In English, he’s basically pulling strings in the areas you want a midfielder to pull strings. However it’s his versatility that has impressed me. For the England under 21s/23s, Ward-Prowse has shown proficiency in a variety of roles such as a 2nd midfielder in a pivot or a #10.
As mentioned, he’s an intelligent passer. Now, he’s not quite as flair-y (flairvoyant? Flairisant? No clue either) as say Lallana, but he’s efficient. Always doing the pass he feels he can physically do, he usually grabs a passing average of around 85%+ which is very, very impressive for a midfielder who has not yet represented the English national team. Efficient passers are something of a rarity for people to rate now as they aren’t as easy on the eye or as dynamic as a flair player, however for me, I see enjoyment at watching a midfielder doing the safe and sensible option and willing to be patient when in an attack. Something which is heavily highlighted in Ward-Prowse’s performance vs Inter Milan.
Another one of his skills is his set piece delivery. It’s very rare that he ever misplaces a free kick and it’s usually good goalkeeping or disciplined defending that dispel any sort of goal threat from a Ward-Prowse free kick. He’s not known to always take on the shot, which is surprising, and would rather give one of the taller players such as Van Dijk, Austin or Davis a chance at getting a back post header or so. If you’re a fan of one of the big six in your team’s country, be honest how many times do your free kicks/corners actually get passed the first man?
So why isn’t he at a big club yet? Good question, one I’ve been trying to answer properly myself but I’ll give it a good go.
The first reason I can think of is his price, and hard bargaining by Southampton. Ward-Prowse is one of England’s best talents and Southampton would probably feel cheated if they got anything less than £20m; especially a player as loved as Ward-Prowse. The second is probably his lack of experience. Before this season, he wasn’t a regular under Koeman and hasn’t broken through to the England team yet, which is odd considering England needa young, passing orientated, set piece specialist type of midfielder for years now. Granted midfielders like Henderson, Wilshere, Lallana, Alli and Dier possibly all deserve places this season due to performances, it’s odd how they don’t just give JWP a go.
Third and final reason could well be loyaltyl ah loyalty, the somewhat inconsistent trait. For some people it’s necessary and rewarding, for others it’s a nuisance. Ward-Prowse possibly doesn’t see himself as top 6 material yet which is fair enough, but in my honest opinion you never will be top 6 material until you play in a top 6 team and adapt.
Would he fit in somewhere like Arsenal?
This is an interesting topic. If there’s one player everyone is nervous about at the minute, that’s Santi Cazorla. The 32-year-old fan favourite has been out for months now with no precise return date and with a contract apparently running out this summer, it’s probably best to start thinking about the future. So what now? Many people say Wilshere and Elneny are natural replacements and solutions to the Santi heir problem, but I disagree. Elneny for all his passing attributes, lacks creativity and would rather pass wide or to the #10. Wilshere has pretty much been converted to a #10 by Howe and so that leaves a vacant spot in midfield which many feel Ward-Prowse should fill. Obviously there’s players like Isco that fans want, but people have to be realistic.
Ward-Prowse is a midfielder who I believe is ready to make the jump up, and even though there’s a massive gulf in current quality between the Southampton man and Cazorla, it’s worth noting that Ward-Prowse’s passing and set piece intelligence is something Arsenal could work with. A club known to improve young talents, developing an English talent to be somewhat of a passing maestro could be a masterstroke by the club. I just hope Arsenal make up their mind sooner, rather than later. Ward-Prowse really is the one to watch this season.