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Twelve year old Ryan has been in Southampton’s Academy since he was eight. He spends a day each week at the Academy, with half of it in the classroom and the other half on the pitch.

Boys like Ryan develop a love of the game alongside their education, in a way that is enjoyable and engaging. Following in the footsteps of the world’s most expensive footballer doesn’t daunt Ryan. In fact, the budding central midfielder is relishing the opportunity. But while Gareth Bale steps out at Real Madrid’s Bernabéu Stadium, Ryan is busy reading up on Guy Fawkes and mathematics at Southampton’s Staplewood Football Development & Support Centre.

Ryan on the pitch during a training session
We understand that there has to be a good balance between getting our school work done and improving as footballers but it’s something we really enjoy.”
Ryan Finnegan, Southampton Academy
Southampton Academy players huddle during a training session

Every week he comes to the club armed with his school books and football boots. Southampton pride themselves on ensuring that their players are rounded on and off the field. Ryan, heading into his fifth season at the club, is delighted with the set-up. “Although it’s fun, it’s also structured. What I really like is that if I need help with some work I can get some one-on-one help from the teachers. We understand that there has to be a good balance between getting our school work done and improving as footballers but it’s something we really enjoy.

“We also make sure we shake the hand of every coach or staff member after each session as a sign of respect, and those are the kind of qualities that are really important. I think it’s helping to build me up as a good person as well as a hopefully a good player.”

With a number of established Premier League top-flight players learning their trade on the south coast, Ryan knows he’s in a great situation to develop. “I feel privileged to be in the same place that the likes of Gareth Bale and James Ward-Prowse have been. They came through the Southampton Academy and have gone on to do brilliantly, it would be amazing to achieve what they have.

“They definitely inspire me, but I know that I will have to work really hard. It’s a good place to be because great footballers have come through this system and played on the same pitches that we now play on.”