ADAM Lallana has never been your stereotypical footballer, and it’s exactly that which has made him the byword for everything that has been so good about Saints in recent years.
Loyalty, commitment, hard work, talent and a special bond with all facets of the club mark him out as someone very special, as well of course of those mesmerisingly quick feet, that incredible vision and wondrous movement on the field.
That Lallana has been through the bad times at Saints since joining as a 12-year-old before reaching the club’s current lofty heights is a story that inspires and also represents something very special.
Just being around the squad and the club at the moment, it’s as if there is a realisation that this is a unique moment in time.
There is a group of players and a manager that have a very special bond.
These things are only fleeting, they never last forever, but they are incredible when they come along.
“People say that’s what it looks like and it’s not just what it looks like, it’s what it is,” reflected Lallana.
“We have a really close knit group here.
“A lot of us have been together for many years now and a lot have been bred through the academy and they were looking up to us maybe a few years ago and now they are part of it.
“It’s a special group here.”
The Saints squad are more than just teammates, they are friends too. That so many of them have worked their way up through the divisions at the club is a massive reason for their top flight success.
It’s also a reason they are as they are.
The last time Saints were in the Premier League the Staplewood car park was full of Lamborghinis and Ferraris.
The wages have gone up considerably since then but the vehicles are far more understated.
It somehow just encapsulates the personality of the group, and Lallana as its leader.
They are confident in their abilities – you need to be to perform at that level – but their past means they remain grounded, humble and grateful.
For Lallana, as somebody who has seen so much at Saints, it’s even more remarkable.
“The last few weeks I’ve had a bit of time to look back at the last few years,” said the man who has picked up all the major end of season club honours in recent weeks as well as being named in the PFA team of the Year.
“When I look back as far as when I was 12 and I came here, there have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs along the way.
“It just makes it even more special that this season we’ve capped it off with a very special year.
“Going into the last game, it’s a nice position to be in, a great game to have and a great day for the fans.”
He added: “It’s been massively hard work.
“When we were in administration five or six years ago people were saying I was going to leave but it was never in my head at all. I wanted to give back to Southampton as much as I could.
“The last six years have been tremendous – back-to-back promotions, establishing ourselves in the Premier League has been phenomenal.”
Lallana is the first to hold his hands up and admit the rise through the leagues with Saints benefitted him as a player.
“If the club had gone into liquidation, of course, I might have left. But when Alan Pardew got appointed and the Liebherr family came in and saved the club I felt I needed to play games,” he recalled.
“In League One I had two great seasons and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I just felt like I gradually progressed parallel with the club as we went up the divisions. “When I was young I didn’t have the X-factor that the Chamberlains, Bales and Walcotts had.
“It was good for me to be at Southampton and get 40 games a season in League One twice, then the Championship, then the past couple of years in the Premier League.”
Lallana’s international journey has been quite remarkable.
Even a year ago he was not really spoken about for England honours.
On Monday afternoon he will almost certainly be named in Roy Hodgson’s squad for the World Cup.
It’s a far cry from his first season back in the Premier League where Mauricio Pochettino, pictured left, had to talk him out of quitting as captain.
“I felt this year has been a big year for me. I feel a lot more settled with the captaincy this year,” he confessed.
“It did weigh on me. There is no secret about it.
“I spoke to a few people about it and even giving it up because I felt it was having an impact on my performances.
“I spoke to Mauricio about it and he said to me ‘just be patient, there’s time, you’re a young man and these things do take time’. He was right.
“It’s why he will be one of the best managers in the world one day, because he’s not just tactically brilliant, his man management skills and knowledge of the game is exceptional.
“That’s why it’s a privilege to have done so well this season under him.”
Speaking of his England debut last November against Chile, he smiled: “Playing for England was such a proud moment for me and to have that day where all my family were at England watching me hopefully repaid to some extent all the mileage they did for me when I was growing up.
“It’s a great life we live as footballers but it’s tough as well at times and to have my family travelling to every away game and watching me and showing their support means so much to me. “All my pressure is there but I really just want to impress my dad and my mum when they are at games. It’s strange for me when they’re not at a game.”
Despite all that, there have been strict rules imposed in the Lallana households when it comes to speaking about a possible trip to Brazil this summer.
“I’ve said all along that I’ve tried not think about it. It’s been the banned word in our household,” he admitted.
“There comes a time when I suppose you’ve got to start thinking about it, especially when the announcement’s around the corner.
“I will be listening in like you guys will, hoping for that call.
“My family know how I feel about it and I’ve had a job in hand all season with Southampton.
“Obviously my dream is to be involved but they don’t want to put any unwanted pressure on me by talking about it.”
Lallana has been one of several Saints players at the centre of intense speculation surrounding his future, being linked with Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham.
You have to feel for him in some ways, as you do for the others such as Luke Shaw, Morgan Schneiderlin and, of course, manager Mauricio Pochettino.
It is a delicate topic to broach.
While fans want to hear undying loyalty and commitment – and Lallana’s actions down the years have already proven that – it’s not as black and white as people like to portray it as.
This group of players has achieved marvellously, but only because they are so hungry and ambitious for success.
They want more of it, and at Saints, but they also recognise that to make that next step up requires a big financial commitment from the club.
Nobody is certain whether that will come or not and, if it doesn’t and massive clubs already in that next echelon are willing to pay the requisite money for them and offer them another step on the ladder – it’s hard to turn down, no matter how loyal and committed you are.
Lallana is honest and reflective about the issues in hand and, to be fair to him, says about as much as you could possibly expect and doesn’t duck the topic.
“I echo what the manager has said – it’s a good thing,” he said of all the speculation.
“People say about how well we’ve done this season and the recognition for the youth team and the lads coming through and with that success will bring rumours and the top teams in Europe looking at our players.
“It only means good things. It means we are doing well and doing the right things well.
“The youth policy and the structure here is probably what teams look at and, if they can’t produce them themselves, they are going to want to come and get them from teams that do. “It’s a bit of a strange one, but that’s what happens when you have success.”
He continued: “Everyone has got to be realistic.
“Five years ago we were in League One and we’ve come on leaps and bounds, especially this last season.
“There will be decisions made in the summer on what kind of route the club will take in terms of whether we really do push on and go again and look to really improve.
“If that’s the case we want to keep our best players and our manager.”
Lallana is adamant the base is already in place for success, and that the players have proven it.
It has been a special season and the players fully deserve their moment of glory.
“The base is here because we have had the base this season.
“It’s just whether financially the club can compete – look at the top seven this year and you see Tottenham spent £100m last summer and are not going to get Champions League football.
“There is a reason it’s one of the best leagues in the world. Manchester United are finishing seventh this year and look at the money they have pumped into their squad and they were champions last year.
“We feel we have won our own league this year.
“We feel we’ve had such a special season and again going back to why there are rumours about our manager and our players it’s because we achieved something really special.”
It’s true and underlines once more what an incredible piece of Saints history this is, and why it should be enjoyed for what it is now, regardless of where the future takes anybody.
To their great credit, Lallana and his teammates seem to have the intelligence and perception to understand that.
It’s why this wonderfully unique moment has happened in the first place.