Southampton’s youth system has long since been one of the proud hallmarks of the club.

Though the days of youngsters starting out playing in the Tyro League at Millbrook Rec and graduating through to play in the Premier League are all but gone, the dream a career in professional football lives on through the extensive academy systems.

Whether or not it produces players for Ralph Hasenhuttl, or whoever the manager of the day is, sometimes feels almost secondary due to the zeal with which the club approach it.

That’s because they feel it is an important part of respecting history and tradition, being part of the community and championing opportunity for youngsters. They have also started to invest heavily in a girl’s youth system.

While for many the hallmark of a truly good academy is in producing those first team players, beyond that, it is also about players who go on to have careers elsewhere, and people too.

This weekend Saints face Sheffield United. The Blades, newly promoted to the Premier League, are under the guidance of manager Chris Wilder.

He came through the Saints youth system, didn’t make the grade, and went off to ply his trade elsewhere. Wilder eventually came to management and similarly worked his way up from the bottom.

Tyrone Mings this week returned to St Mary’s with England. He was released as a teenager and just a handful of years later has secured a big money transfer and Three Lions recognition.

These all follow in the great traditions of Saints’ youth system.

Dennis Wise was famously released by Saints and went on to have a very successful career. He would have walked into the Saints team at almost any stage during his playing days, ironically other than when he did eventually re-join the club at the very end of his career.

Gareth Bale was so nearly released.

What may have become of the shy young Welshman had he suffered that blow? It is no secret that it was one man arguing fiercely for him to be given a chance that saw him eventually handed an opportunity to shine. Just months later he was ripping it up in the first team, and we all know the rest.

These stories are all part of why the academy is engrained in the DNA of St Mary’s, the philosophy, and why the club defend and back it with such fervour.

It is history and tradition that dates way back. Don’t for one second be fooled into thinking this begun when the academy system was born, like so many of those who ignore that football existed before the early 1990s.

It has been going from the days that Saints scouted at local parks through to Lawrie McMenemy widening the net with recruitment centres across the country through to what we now see.

But does the current system boast value for money?

It’s a question that many clubs have been asking themselves since Huddersfield decided to downgrade the status of their academy meaning they would only take in youngsters aged 16 and above.

At a reported cost of £1m a year to the Terriers - and it’s safe to assume that Saints are paying multiples of that – it is expensive.

Saints are fortunate. They are an established Premier League club. They can afford it whatever the outcome.

Others don’t feel they can justify such lavish expense in providing everything needed under the EPPP regulations that arrived in 2011 to add more standardisation and structure to the entire system across the country.

It has been a slightly sore point that Saints have struggled to produce first team stars from the academy in recent years.

They have enjoyed many purple patches dating right back through their youth system, and famously the years of Lallana, Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

They are some time ago now though.

While plenty of youngsters have got a chance, only really James Ward-Prowse has graduated into a fully-fledged first teamer.

But, while it’s not the kind of hit rate Saints should be aiming for, it does justify the expense.

What would Ward-Prowse cost on the open market? £15m? £20m? Hard to say until an offer is made, but even so that pays for the academy for a number of years.

Matt Targett came through the system. He was deemed surplus to requirements this summer and was sold for £15m.

So even in fallow periods the academy continues to prove valuable, and certainly more worthy than simply buying in another player from abroad who kisses the badge but is here for the money and a move up the ladder.

Change at academy level works slowly.

While the way with many modern first teams is at the first sign of trouble to sack the manager to prompt instantaneous results, implementing a youth policy doesn’t yield signs of success for maybe a decade.

We saw what a good system can do with Lallana etc. This current system, with most of the staff from that golden era having gone, has been less successful.

Most of Saints’ biggest successes in terms of young players are not academy players at all. ‘He’s one of our own’ Jack Stephens, for example, a £150,000 purchase from Plymouth. Yan Valery. Michael Obafemi. Tyreke Johnson. All of them joined having come through other club’s academies.

There is change at Saints with the departure of Les Reed and Martin Hunter, who masterminded the most recent set-up for many years, but it takes a generation of footballers to pass through to assess success, whatever that is.

Also do consider that Lallana, Walcott, Bale and Oxlade-Chamberlain made the breakthrough when Saints were in the Championship.

The standard was lower, the calibre of players ahead of them in the squad was not as high. To now oust a fully-fledged international footballer to play against the best in the world aged 17 is a huge ask. And the short termism of the Premier League mindset makes it feel more of a risk.

There is no chance of Saints stopping. It is more important to the club than ever, that rare example of something that is more than just a business decision.