A PLEASED James Ward-Prowse admitted that one of Claude Puel’s first acts as Saints manager was to tell the young players that there is a clear route for them to the first-team.

Puel was hired as Ronald Koeman’s replacement in June and on his first day he made it abundantly clear to academy products that they would be rewarded with an opportunity to impress in the first-team if they merited it.

The Frenchman’s predecessor Koeman slated the famed academy that has produced the likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw by stating that some of the players were not close to the required Premier League standard.

The contrasting statement of intent by Puel was music to Ward-Prowse’s ears.

Himself an academy graduate, the England Under-21 captain was delighted that Puel was willing to give the young players a chance because he feels that the youth programme is the cornerstone of the club.

“He (Puel) made it clear on the first day he was here that it was the case that the pathway is there for young players,” said the 21-year-old midfielder.

“He said that they (the young players) have just got to come on and take their opportunity and impress when they can.

“It’s pleasing to see that.

“The club is based on that. I’ve gone through that process myself, so to see that the club are continuing to do that is great.”

Ward-Prowse pressed home the importance of the academy, which has a history of creating some of the nation’s best players.

The midfielder is joined by Matt Targett from the academy as one Puel’s regulars in the first-team, with Harrison Reed and Jake Hesketh also the fringes.

Hesketh and Reed started against Crystal Palace in the EFL Cup third-round and subsequently impressed, with the former grabbing a goal to go with an excellent display.

Ward-Prowse admits that it is “great” to play alongside other Staplewood youngsters.

“It’s important,” he said. “It’s an ethos that the club have had and it’s something that the club need to continue.

“It’s brought a lot of success on the pitch and for all the lads and it’s great to have fellow academy graduates on the pitch with me as well.”