The best player in the Championship – as voted for by you

When a public vote was opened up on Twitter to decide the best player in the Championship, one name quickly dominated the votes. In fact, he ended up getting twice as many votes as anyone else. He plays for Southampton and Sam Dobson is here to tell you all about him, with a short introduction from a familiar face…

Simon Thomas, Sky Sports

“As Southampton’s and the Championship’s top scorer Rickie Lambert is naturally going to take many of the plaudits but for me, Adam Lallana is an equally, if not more, important player. He’s the heartbeat of the Saints and without doubt one of the most exciting and talented players in the second tier.”

Adam Lallana (Southampton)

It was January 7th 2011, late on a Friday night, that Southampton Football Club published a story on their website that sent every Saints fan into delirium. Adam Lallana, who was due to go out of contract that summer, signed a new four and a half year deal, believed to be one of the biggest in the club’s history. It was rich reward for a player who had lit up League One during the previous 18 months. It could have all been so different though. Lallana was thrown in at the deep end during 2008/09 as Saints battled in the face of administration and relegation, and at times struggled under the pressure of it all. Since then, there has been quite a transformation.

Born on 10th May 1988, Adam David Lallana joined Southampton at the age of 12 in 2000, moving from Bournemouth’s Centre of Excellence for £3,000. The St Albans-born midfielder learned his trade alongside current Premier League stars Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Nathan Dyer as part of the club’s highly successful academy. After providing a record number of assists for the Under 17’s in 2003/04, Lallana was required to undergo surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat. He soon bounced back however, helping Southampton win the 2005/06 Academy league.

It was during this time that Lallana caught the eye of manager George Burley. He trained with the first team prior to the 2006/07 season, before making his debut against Yeovil in the League Cup on 23rd August 2006. He impressed the St Mary’s crowd with a tireless performance, which earned him a start in the next league game against Preston. Lallana was subbed at half time in that match, however, and spent the rest of the season back in the reserves.

That was where he remained for the following campaign. He had a brief loan spell at Bournemouth in October 2007, before returning to Southampton, where he made a handful of appearances off the bench during the winter. Lallana failed to contribute much during that time, which made Nigel Pearson’s decision to include him as a substitute in the penultimate game of the season at West Brom all the more surprising.

Saints were in desperate need of at least a point to avoid the drop, so when Pearson took off top scorer Stern John in place of Lallana in the 74th minute with the score still at 0-0, more than a few eyebrows were raised in the away end at The Hawthorns. It proved to be a stroke of genius. Just three minutes after coming on, Lallana latched onto Jermaine Wright’s through ball, beating the offside trap before firing across goal past Dean Kiely. West Brom would go on to equalise, but that point proved vital as Saints narrowly avoided relegation on the final day of the season.

Lallana was finally given an extended run in the first team during 2008/09, as Southampton’s financial crisis meant they were forced to offload high earning senior players. Saints fans finally got a good glimpse of the former Bournemouth man and most liked what they saw. Lallana was ideally suited to Jan Poortvliet’s high tempo and quick passing game, and was key to some good early season performances. He looked equally comfortable out wide as he did in the hole just behind lone striker David McGoldrick.

Lallana showcased some great skills and expert close control that could get him out of even the tightest situation. On 14th September 2008, he ran half the length of the pitch before netting an equaliser against QPR. As the club’s form dipped over the course of the season however, so did Lallana’s.

Many of the youngsters, who had shown great promise at first, suffered a huge dip in confidence after a few big defeats. Lallana was no exception. He went into his shell and struggled for form as Saints were relegated to League One. He was dropped to the bench on more than one occasion and many fans argued he would never make it as a player and should be sold. Many didn’t, but even his biggest supporters couldn’t have envisaged the amazing turnaround that was to follow.

Lallana didn’t take long to get his rhythm back during the 2009/10 season. If he wasn’t ready for first team football before, he certainly was now. His confidence was back and some of the tricks he performed with the ball at his feet were even more eye-catching than before.

What’s more, Lallana had now added end product to his game. He netted 20 goals and countless assists as Saints overcame a 10-point penalty to narrowly miss out on the play-offs in their debut League One season. He really came of age on 24th November 2009. Saints were 1-0 down at Hartlepool on a cold Tuesday night before Lallana took the game by the scruff of the neck, turning it around with two goals and some great link-up play with strikers Rickie Lambert and David Connolly. Lallana has said on numerous occasions that Connolly has had a big influence on his game and that’s certainly clear to see. The excellent movement and intelligence that the former Irish international possesses have clearly rubbed off on Lallana and made him a more complete player.

Lallana’s importance to Southampton’s attacking play was never more evident than at the start of the 2010/11 campaign. The midfielder missed five matches in September, and not only did Saints fail to win any of them but they also failed to score. It would be completely false to say they are a one-man team, but Saints lack real invention in the final third when Lallana is absent. He was absolutely vital in helping the club win promotion back to the Championship, often changing games single-handedly with a bit of skill or a defence-splitting pass.

Any doubts about Lallana’s Championship capabilities were well and truly erased in the early weeks of this season. Against Leeds on the opening day, he twisted and turned before firing the ball through the tightest of angles into the back of the net. He followed that up with a magnificent individual display a week later at Barnsley, gliding around the pitch with ease. Three days after that Lallana helped Saints hit top spot, scoring twice in a 5-2 win at Ipswich.

He has made seasoned professionals look stupid countless times already. On August 27th, his skill bamboozled John Pantsil to such an extent that the Leicester player fell over. He also nutmegged Stephen Carr and Wade Elliott in the space of four seconds in September. What is perhaps just as impressive as all the showboating though is Lallana’s consistency. He rarely has a bad game, and even when he does, you know he is still capable of making a difference at any given moment with a bit of magic.

Predictably, there have been plenty of comparisons between Lallana and Saints legend Matt Le Tissier – and with some justification. Lallana has not only showed just as much loyalty, but is also nearly as gifted as the Guernsey-born star. He is also a much better athlete than Le Tissier could have ever dreamed of being. If Lallana helps Saints reach the Premier League this season and then keeps them there, he could well be mentioned in the same breath as the man who carried the club throughout the 1990s.

Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

1 Comment

  1. Lanterne Rouge
    December 25, 2011

    A worthy winner by all accounts – he was sadly missing on the day I saw the Saints play and they did appear to be lacking something.


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