Fulham chief Elias eager to replicate Southampton youth success

Fulham chief Malcolm Elias is happy to take their youth blueprint from Southampton to Craven Cottage.

Elias, Steve Wigley, Huw Jennings and Stewart ­Henderson spotted and coached the incredible Southampton Fame Academy, which effectively saved the club from extinction.

Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wayne Bridge and Kenwyne Jones are just five of the players the foursome took to Southampton, who the club sold for huge profit.

Wigley’s summer appointment as Fulham’s head of youth ­coaching means the fab four are fully reunited at Craven Cottage.

“We take so much pride from the work we did at Southampton and there are still two men there – Rod Ruddick and Alan Stevens – who were a massive part of it,” 59-year-old Elias told the Sunday Mirror.

“There is no ­secret, it was just a fantastic team ­effort, and the club really ­supported us. When I joined, the ­chairman Rupert Lowe told me I could pick any car I wanted ­because I would be doing plenty of miles.

“We signed Theo Walcott as an 11-year-old for £2,000 from ­Swindon and he went on to make his debut at 16.

“I had actually spotted him a couple of days ­before I ­officially joined Southampton.

“I remember sitting in Rupert’s office with Huw [Jennings], Theo and his dad Don, and Harry ­Redknapp, who was manager at the time. Theo was signing his first professional contract when he was 16. Rupert suddenly told Theo, ‘You will play in the first-team this season’.

“Harry almost choked, but it just showed how keen Rupert was for the young lads to make it.

“Gareth Bale was almost ­released, as he was ­affected by growth spurts and injuries. The big D-Day was an Under-16s game against ­Norwich, when we had to make a final call. Gareth was ­brilliant, Theo scored a first-half hat-trick, and the rest is history.

“Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was only seven when he first started coming down to training with his dad Mark, who was a coach at Southampton. It was clear very early on how good he was.”

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