Time to shine, William Smallbone's season to break into Southampton's starting lineup
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Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw, and Theo Walcott are all some of the best fruits to emerge from Southampton's illustrious academy set-up.

And, with each new season comes a rooster of hungry, young talent looking to follow in their footsteps and stake their claim in the first team.

While there are many examples of talent that does go one to become established Premier League footballers, there are many that are cut on the chopping block in the unforgiving world for young footballers.

Some step down a division like Sam Gallagher, once they move on, or perhaps even a few steps further as with Lloyd Isgrove - although still both in very respected positions as professional footballers at Blackburn and Swindon respectively.

One of the next crop looking to stake his claim on Ralph Hasenhuttl's side is 20-year-old midfielder William Smallbone.

Born in nearby Basingstoke, Smallbone has represented Ireland at youth level and looks to have a part to play next season having been at the club for 12 years.

Debut season

In the campaign prior the Irishman featured nine times in the Premier League across 391 minutes of action in which time he accumulated two assists - having made his league debut as an 80th-minute substitute in Saints' 2:0 victory at the expense of Aston Villa in February.

Smallbone had initially featured in January for the South Coast side in the FA Cup third round as his team dispatched of Huddersfield 2-0 with the highly-rated prospect capping his debut with a goal.

In June Smallbone was rewarded with a new four-deal tying him down at St.Mary's until 2024, being one of the latest of the next generation stars to emerge from Southampton's youth set-up - which as reported on Vavel previously underwent a huge change.

Catching the bosses eye

Upon signing that new deal Hasenhutt spoke of his admiration for the star and admitting he has a role to play in the future, which looks to be this season.

The Southampton boss, speaking with Saint's official website, said at the time: “Will is a young man who is part of the future of this football club. He has made some big steps this season, and he is someone who has a lot of potential to continue to grow as a player."

Fast forward to the current pre-season and Smallbone has been included in the Premier League squad with number 28 and even scooped up the club's young player of the season award upon the conclusion of the last campaign.

Competition in the side

It's no doubt a big season for the academy graduate as he looks to force his way into a central midfield usually consistent of James Ward-Prowse and Oriol Romeu.

However, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg departing for Tottenham there is no other real competition for a central midfield spot with no other replacements bought in yet - which clearly shows where the managers' faith is.

Should one of the two starts falter or become sidelined with an injury that will be Smallbone's big chance to truly put his name out there and establish himself as the next best product of the academy's conveyor belt of stars.

It certainly is not a make or break season at 20-years-old, however, it is a big opportunity to step up and have more of an impact than last season, and perhaps if he does falter the Saints hierarchy will look to bring in additional midfield personal come January which could really stagnate his progression in the unforgiving world of football.