- Tactical Analysis
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It’s been a heckuva season for all involved with Southampton football club. For a team punctured by high-profile departures in the off-season, the Saints defied relegation-touting pundits and not only stayed up with consummate ease, but thanks in part to a domineering Arsenal FA Cup victory, Southampton are entering Europe for the first time in ten years. Naturally, the Europa League narrative has captured the headlines in the mainstream media, but there’s been plenty more happening just below the first team.
Back in April, the Southampton U21s lifted the Premier League Cup after a 2-1 extra time victory over Blackburn Rovers. The win was another fantastic example of the youth development system that defines the club, and indeed the cup run – and predominantly the televised cup final – showcased the talent brewing behind the scenes. Today, I begin a summer program of Southampton scouting reports, and the first to sit beneath our magnifying glass is the man who opened the scoring in that final: Ryan Seager.
Ryan Seager was born in Yeovil in 1996 – putting him today at the tender age of 19. Seager was institutionalised by the Southampton youth system from an early age, and even as a schoolboy, Seager was showing the qualities and nuance of a goal-scoring poacher. Indeed, Seager clocked 20 goals in his maiden season with the U18s, and even managed a handful of substitute appearances for the U21s. Ryan was fast-tracked through the system for his incredible eye for goal, and even at his young age, was capturing the attention of first team managers – from inside and outside the club.
Having said that, however, Ryan Seager has never left the south coast, and only made two substitute appearances for the Southampton first team. With no loan deals to speak of, Seager has been competing entirely in the youth leagues, diligently working and training around the first team, surrounding himself with the positive propaganda of hard work and opportunity. In 2013, his talent was rewarded with his first professional contract, which was quickly turned in to a 4-year deal in 2015.
Indeed it was the 2014-15 season that truly bought Ryan Seager’s name to the attention of the more first-team focused Southampton fans. Ryan ran away with it on the goal-scoring charts, leading the way with 21 – and to put that in perspective, the man who finished second in those standings, Bevis Mugabi (scout report to come!), finished with 3. An impressive tally indeed, and the numbers were not missed by those in charge of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Player of the Month award. In fact, he was the first winner of the honorific, and was also shortlisted for the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Player of the Year, losing out to Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore.
Seager himself models his playing style on that of a young Michael Owen, and has claimed in past interviews to have also been inspired by Le God himself, Matthew Le Tissier – though of course, who hasn’t? His goalscoring record, even at an early age, is incredible, and he fills his niche as a poacher with aplomb.
I won’t pontificate to an audience such as Outside of the Boot’s about the role of a poacher, but when I say Ryan Seager is a typical poacher, I mean it in its most literal definition of the role. Seager plays and hovers in front of the final defender all game – on the occasions I have seen this young man play, I’m not sure I’ve seen him positioned anywhere else. Whether the ball is out wide, seeking delivery, or on the opposite end of the field, Seager is always ready to turn and drive his way past the last man at a moment’s notice. His finishing is clearly his key asset, and this is where we need to start playing up the razor analogy, because Seager is sharp. And I mean, SHARP. His shooting his straight, poised, laser-guided at times, as if the ball it’s self knows its job, and his positioning and burst of pace when he sniffs an opening is instinctual. Seager himself credits the advice of Southampton legend Rickie Lambert for his technique, after the now-Liverpool man explained that power was not everything when it came to finishing. His goal tally has flown up since that day, and is one of his most impressive traits. While his positioning and movement is like that of Michael Owen, a more apt comparison in terms of his finishing would be Javier Hernandez – as would his build, too. While perhaps a little more weighty than the Little Pea, Seager isn’t the tallest striker in the world, and has to rely on pace and jostling to cause defenders problems – which he does, in abundance.
Not only is Seager difficult to catch when he gets on his bike – not to pretend that he’s the fastest thing since light, of course – but he’s almost a forgettable influence on the match. And I don’t mean that in a derisory manner, by any means, because Seager is what I call a “shadow player”; a player that exists in a team and on a field to cause you pain and problems, but one you just don’t think about when you look at some of the other talent around him. As an example, I would again point to Michael Owen. Everyone knew the talent that Owen had, and everyone knew he would pop up and hit the target whenever he got the chance, but he just wasn’t the one opposing managers told their players to shut down. Players like Seager, like Owen, like Hernandez, or any poacher, have incredible talent when it comes to finishing and positioning, and an uncanny knack of just being a pain, but they’re only as good as their delivery. And here is where we begin to see the gaps in Seager’s game.
It occurs to me, as I watch Premier League football develop and evolve over time that strikers aren’t just there to score like Owen did, or like Seager wants to. Now, they have to hold up the ball, link up with wingers, take people on, drop deep and all manner of other requirements. For this reason, Javier Hernandez is just known as an impact sub, a player expendable enough to loan away. Michael Owen wasn’t the name you feared when you saw the Liverpool line-up, because you knew you could handle him so long as you handled those around him. You cut off the supply, stop the poacher from poaching, and Ryan Seager isn’t heard of. At youth level, where space is free and breaks come every game, Seager can excel. In the real world environment, as it were, he will find the going tougher.
That’s not to say Seager cannot perform at a Premier League level, or at any competitive level – in fact I believe if he were loaned out today to a team at the top end of League One or in the Championship, he would get 15+ goals without too much trouble. He will always find space, and he will always score goals, but poachers are players that rely on situations – how well the ball is played in, how quickly the counter is launched, the direction the bounce or deflection falls. Seager does not have the Le Tiss factor. He won’t trick past people, he won’t score many from outside the area, he won’t be as much of a provider as he is a goalscorer, and that reliance on his teammates may impede his progress going forward.
This is the section of this scout report I was least looking forward to compiling. When I look at the talent in our academy, or any young players I feel I know well enough to comment on, I can usually predict their future with confidence. But Ryan Seager, by the very nature of his role and position, is a difficult one to predict. 21 goals this season at youth level, another 20 in his maiden season in the U18s, the accolades and recognition that have been rolled out for this young man already… these are stats and acknowledgements that put Ryan Seager at the fore-front of our academy production line. But I still feel like the poacher role is one that is so hard to fully appreciate. Can he be like Michael Owen or Javier Hernandez? Can he score a fantastic number of goals at every club he plays for, at the highest levels of our sport? Absolutely he can, because the gift for scoring and seeing opportunities to score is innate, and it’s something he will never lose. But Ryan Seager will only ever be as good as his surroundings to the wider world.
Michael Owen is recognised around the world as one of the great English strikers. Javier Hernandez has built a reputation for being a consistent and potent goal-scorer from the bench for Manchester United, and that reputation was the exact reason Real Madrid were interested in taking him on a short term basis. But both of those players had team mates around them that could deliver a ball like no other, and give them the chance to score 10+ goals a season. But let me drop another poacher on you – Adam Le Fondre. Here’s another – Jamie Cureton. Both renowned lower-league goal scorers that are guaranteed to pop up and net you a winner if you bring them on with 20 minutes to play, but neither recognised or remembered by the outside world. I have an unfortunate fear that Ryan Seager is in the grey area between these two categories.
Yes, Ryan Seager could be a fantastic, reliable impact player for Southampton and score a collection of important goals, but Ryan Seager is not the first name on the team sheet – not until he is surrounded by the kind of talent that can feed him consistently and competently enough for him to capitalise on his gifts. My concern is that unless Southampton develop in such a manner that allows Seager to surround himself with such consistently creative talent, he will only score half as many goals in a season as he could/should, and will eventually be sold on to a Championship side, left to become an Adam Le Fondre or Jamie Cureton. There’s no shame in that, of course, as both their careers have been laden with goals, promotions and fan adulation, but with his lethal touch, Ryan Seager could be so much more. At this stage, it’s very difficult to know which way he will go.
In summary, I would say this – no matter where Ryan Seager goes in his career, he will score goals. A lot of them. And important ones, too. At Southampton, Seager operates in an environment and among coaches that can bring out the Michael Owen in him, but unfortunately, for a poacher, the difference between a Michael Owen career and an Adam Le Fondre career is not too great a jump. Thankfully, Seager has the innate ability to be the former, and as a Southampton fan, I certainly expect the club will give him every opportunity to fulfil that potential.
Written by Ross Bramble