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Hear the words “Southampton Football Club”, and it’s difficult not to think of the same handful of terms or principals. Perhaps you thought “red and white”, or “Ronald Koeman”. Perhaps you thought “third” or “Premier League”, or as I hope, for the purposes of this free association segway at least, you thought “youth”.
For years now, Southampton has been the stamping ground for the future of English football, famed for producing some of the greatest and most exciting young footballers in the country. You can go down the list and see for yourself – Alan Shearer, Wayne Bridge, Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and of course, the most expensive player in the world, Gareth Bale. Even the ones that never quite made it, your Martin Cranie’s and Dexter Blackstock’s have carved comfortable niches in the lower tiers of English football’s professional ladder. With such an impressive array of domestically produced talent continually turning out in the red and white of Southampton, each passing season represents a platform for the next big thing to earn their stripes, if you will. This season, the competition is fierce.
Fierce is the operative word for the youngster who’s been making the most waves so far this season. And that’s not to undermine the efforts of young left back Matt Targett – who Southampton’s staff have long since identified as the natural replacement, and indeed enhancement of, Luke Shaw – James Ward-Prowse or any other Southampton graduate now mixing with the first team. But if you were to ask any of my fellow Southampton fans which of the next generation is really causing a stir this season, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t say Harrison Reed.
WHO IS HARRISON REED?
Born in Worthing in 1995, Harrison Reed has been institutionalised by the Southampton youth academy since he first laced a pair of boots. The academy program is notoriously personal and responsive, guaranteeing an emphasis on academic study, worldly experience as well as footballing acumen. It’s tough. It’s demanding. And it expertly, carefully, meticulously, identifies those that have it, and those who don’t have enough. Despite that, it’s the system that created all the names listed above, and it’s the system that turned a young boy with a big dream in to a Premier League footballer.
Reed made his first team debut back in 2013, featuring in the final five minutes of a 5-1 away win at Barnsley. He had to wait another year for his next taste of first team action, this time appearing in the Premier League as a last minute substitute for Steven Davis. Even after these brief glimpses, Southampton fans could see potential. The managers and coaches that had been moulding this young man in to a true professional could instantly see what their hard work had achieved. Harrison Reed had put himself centre stage.
There are two comparisons that adequately surmise everything you need to know about Harry Reed, if you’ve only time for an artificial overview. The first, is the “pitbull” tag that so many commentators and spectators pin to his blazer whenever they first watch him play. As a 5ft 6in defensive midfielder, the boot fits more comfortably than Cinderella’s glass slipper. Reed is animalistic in midfielder – nibbling and biting, buzzing and stinging at the heels of every player that dare enter his sphere of influence. Harrison Reed IS a pitbull, as anyone foolish enough to test him on the football field will be able to testify.
The second is a bit more grand, and takes a little more discussion. With English football currently spinning its wheels in the muddy swamps of mediocrity, every young English footballer comes with a comparison. With Luke Shaw, it was Ashley Cole. With Ross Barkley, it was Paul Gascoigne. With Harrison Reed, it’s Paul Scholes. Now, while part of that is undoubtedly a sub-par “they’re both ginger” joke, there’s certainly a discussion to be had. But, have we labelled him too quickly? Are we saddling another English talent with more expectation than he can handle?
Strengths & Weaknesses
Any conversation about the ability and qualities of Harrison Reed should always start with his tackling and marking. Watching Harrison Reed play football is a dream come true for a football fan like me – one who prioritises defensive structure than attacking flare. Reed never lets up. There is no player he is unwilling to chase, no ball that’s out of reach, no responsibility too great for him. I’ve seen Reed run the length of the field with his man, win the ball back, turn on his heels and play a composed, calming pass without ever breaking a sweat. I’ve seen Reed put his foot in when it seemed impractical to even consider winning the ball from that angle, or from that distance, and succeed. I’ve seen Reed mark men three times as wide and five times as tall, taking elbow and slaps and knocks and bumps without once flinching or falling. Harrison Reed is the antithesis of the modern footballer, and in my opinion, exactly what the English national team is screaming out for right now.
For years I’ve been campaigning – apparently alone – for Roy Hodgson to call up Jack Cork, who performs much of the same duties as Harrison Reed, and the much discussed Morgan Schneiderlin. As ever, defensive displays go un-noticed (until the player leaves or gets injured, of course) and those cries have fallen on deaf ears. But now my attention has fallen on Harrison Reed, who now stands an even better chance than Jack Cork ever has. Compare the stats and you’ll see Harrison Reed leading the way with gusto, despite having played seven less games than Jack. Reed has already made one more block, clearance and interception than Cork, racking up thirteen more successful tackles and conceding three less fouls. Even when Cork takes the lead in the stat race, Reed is breathing down his neck – he stands only 4% behind his senior in terms of successful duels with opponents. The only key areas in which Cork leads the way are all offensive – which brings us to Reed’s limits.
At 19 years old, there’s plenty of time for Harry Reed to grow in to a more capable attacking force, but the chances seem slim. A leopard can’t change its spots, and I’m not sure anyone would really like to see Southampton sacrifice defensive structure and stability for an extra goal, when the team is already stacked with offensive talent. Much like Victor Wanyama, Reed is not built for attacking. In his five Premier League appearances this season, Reed has only taken one shot at goal. If we once again compare his stats with that of Jack Cork, we see that Cork is by far and away the greater of the two offensively, leading the way on assists, key passes, goals and shot accuracy. Reed’s game is restricted by his determination to win the ball and break up play, which has to be considered a weakness in a game so dominated by the goal. The height difference between Reed and his fellow professionals has to be highlighted as well, of course, though we can hardly blame the lad for not being tall enough.
It would be cruel to say that Reed’s ability and potential are discredited by these shortcomings, since he satisfies the conditions of his role so competently, but anyone tasked with managing him should know his boundaries. Harrison Reed is a defensive midfielder. Anything higher up the pitch is essentially off-limits, for now at least.
What does the future hold?
The readers who have followed each word of this scout report will now be left with just one real question – how viable are the comparisons to Paul Scholes? Is Harrison Reed really ready to shoulder the weight of that tag? The honest answer, for me at least, is no. No, Harrison Reed is not the next Paul Scholes.
As of today, I do not envision a world where Harrison Reed is any further forward than defensive midfield, but that’s exactly how it should be. In a footballing landscape where scoring goals, fluid movement and attackers and wing backs are paramount, Harrison Reed is an invaluable commodity. Not enough players like to tackle any more – thankfully, Harry loves to tackle.
I believe that Harrison Reed will go on to become a huge part of England’s national set up, so long as Hodgson and his successors take his defensive qualities seriously. I see a world where Jordan Henderson and Harrison Reed line up behind Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain. I see Harrison Reed becoming the new-age, rugged icon that previous generations used to know – the kind of player that finishes a game with blood staining his thick white bandages and tears in his shirt. I believe that Harrison Reed will progress and develop in to the kind of player that every manager dreams of having in their team.
No, I don’t believe Harrison Reed is the next Paul Scholes. But I do believe that when Harrison Reed leaves a team, whether league or national, that team will suffer. Much like the influences of Claude Makélélé and Patrick Viera, fans will only recognise Reed’s talent when he leaves them.
So don’t miss out. Start admiring his talent now, because this kid can play.
Written by Ross Bramble