There are few environments better than Southampton for young players to get minutes in the Premier League, according to Ralph Hasenhuttl.
It’s difficult to argue against that, given he’s handed 11 teenagers their Premier League debuts in the three years since he joined Southampton. It’s even harder on the day his 18-year-old right-back is nominated for Premier League Player of the Month for October.
Tino Livramento joined Southampton in the summer for GBP5m from Chelsea, a relative unknown having not made a senior appearance. He’s been a revelation since.
His performances in Saints’ first 10 games this season are of a player with a footballing brain beyond his years, paired with the intensity now non-negotiable in a modern full-back.
It’s been the perfect storm.
“He is a serious player,” Hasenhuttl tells Sky Sports. “He’s well developed, I know his father and his mother are taking care of him, and we only got him because we told them what plans we have for him.
Tino Livramento joined Southampton from Chelsea for GBP5m in the summer
“It’s good for us that we can show them that we spoke the truth, and they are happy that they can see how quickly it’s going. Nobody expected it, not even himself, expected him to go into a first XI Premier League squad.
“But when you’re good, you show up, and you have a manager that trusts you and a club where you can have an immediate impact as a young player, then it was the right decision for him to come here.”
He’s right to say nobody expected it. Livramento’s Dad had bought a ticket to Chelsea vs Crystal Palace on the day Livramento made his debut against Everton on the opening day of the season.
Since, Livramento has been exceptional. Among all Premier League defenders, he’s in the top three for dribbles attempted, dribbles completed, chances created in open play, duels, duels won, duel success, recoveries, tackles, possession won and fouls won.
England fans will be glad to hear he’s Croydon-born. Chelsea fans may be even happier to hear they have a buy-back clause. Granted, it’s reportedly GBP38m, but that’s looking better value game by game.
Livramento has played all but four minutes in the Premier League this season, and while some fans may have been Googling the youngster when the opening-day line-ups came in, he was no mystery to other clubs.
At just 18, Livramento has missed only four minutes of the Premier League season
“We had the fear that he was going somewhere else, because a few other clubs were looking for him,” Hassenhuttl adds.
“But I think it helped us that we have been a club that has shown we can give chances to young players immediately, and this was the reason why he decided to come to us. We did a good job there.”
Hasenhuttl has a track record of putting faith in young players.
“I am not scared,” he says, when asked if throwing young players into the caldron of the Premier League football so early is a risk. He says it like he really means it, and has the evidence on hand to back it up.
“When you look at my history as a manager, I have played with 18 and 19-year-old centre-backs in the Champions League with RB Leipzig.
“Maybe there were mistakes, but [Dayot] Upamecano is playing for Bayern Munich and [Ibrahima] Konate is playing for Liverpool, so…
“I don’t want to say that it was my part that they became so big, but I want to see players with potential, and I am not scared to give them a chance.
“I can stand it if they make mistakes; in my first year at RB Leipzig we fell out of the Europa League in the quarter-final stage against Marseille because Upamecano and Konate didn’t have a good day, but this is what they have to learn, and they are getting better and going to the highest level.
Ibrahima Konate (left) is now at Liverpool, while Dayot Upamecano (right) is at Bayern Munich
“This is what I want, and it is now nice to watch them on the biggest stage in the world.”
That Saints can position themselves as a team with a manager who gives the best young talent playing time, in such an overcrowded market, is positive for the future of the club.
Hasenhuttl was keen to pitch this again.
“It’s a good signal for all the other young talented players around in England. You have a club here where you get a quick chance to play.”
So if it’s not quite a baptism of fire, how does Hassenhuttl create a safe environment for young players to thrive in the top flight?
The Austrian’s answer: simplifying the game, and not dwelling on mistakes.
“We try to give players a clear game plan that they can follow, and means they don’t have to do something super special. If they follow it they will have a good game.
Hasenhuttl claims the philosophy at Southampton allows young players to flourish
“It’s very much about the effort you put in, and then the rest is your individual quality that automatically comes.
“Even that young, there will be moments where Tino is maybe not outperforming like he has in the first weeks, but this is normal, no player does it in the Premier League.
Hasenhuttl on why Saints are attractive to young players
“It’s important to give him the right messages, and to give him the trust, and the knowledge that he can make some mistakes and he won’t be killed.”
His inclination must have been tested in February when 19-year-old Alexandre Jankewitz was sent off two minutes into his Premier League debut away at Manchester United. For the second time in 16 months, Saints lost 9-0.
Southampton’s Alex Jankewitz was sent off after just two minutes in their 9-0 defeat by Man Utd in February
Their squad was stretched to the limit at that point, and was for large chunks of the second half of a 2020/21 season that had started so well.
A year ago this weekend, fireworks splattered around a locked-down St Mary’s as Southampton topped the Premier League with a 2-0 Friday night win over Newcastle. In the 40 games since, they’ve taken a paltry 38 points.
Hasenhuttl puts much of those struggles down to squad depth, something he feels the club have strengthened with deals for Livramento, Adam Armstrong, Romain Perraud, Lyanco, and Armando Broja, plus the permanent signing of Theo Walcott. So much so that he isn’t even fearing the winter period Premier League managers so often detest.
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Southampton’s win over Watford in the Premier League.
“We had a very, very good first half to last season, with some amazing games, no injuries. We were really flying high.
“But the Premier League is a long season, and we didn’t have the width in the squad, and this was a problem in the second half of the season. We were struggling, and having to play with some young academy guys, you play against Man Utd and you are a man down after two minutes and then you are getting killed by a top, top team. This is the Premier League.
“But I think we’ve made the right decisions in the summer, we’ve tried to strengthen the squad, with numbers too. We didn’t want to loan many players, they should always stay with us and get the chance to play here and help us.
“Even the quality of the sessions are higher when you have a bigger squad, and this is definitely helping us this season. I am not scared of going through all the tough schedule now over the Christmas time.”
Saints are beginning to hit form – they’ve won two of their last three – and the season continues with another Friday night fixture live on Sky Sports, against a Villa side who have lost their last four and are without Ezri Konsa, Douglas Luiz and former Saints man Danny Ings.
“This is a Premier League game. When we go into a Premier League game we always know we have to have a very good game to win it, it’s never different, no matter how they’re coming and with what players.
“But we are in a good shape going in to this and hopefully we can show this on Friday.”