I WAS thrilled to read this week that Andrew Surman has returned to Saints as the assistant coach of the Under-18s team.

I can still remember Drew coming through as a youngster when I was still playing for Southampton.

Personally, I think it is a great idea to have players that have come through at Saints in the set up to help the next generations. Of course you want to have the right people in the right jobs.

Drew is one of a number of academy products now helping the club’s current young players as they hope to develop into professional footballers, alongside Olly Lancashire, Sam McQueen and Matt Paterson to name just a few.

It is true that football moves on, but former players can bring in their experiences of coming through the system and help the next wave. A big thing for me is a person’s character, alongside their ability. Character is just as important, if not more important in some ways.

Southampton have always prided themselves on producing homegrown talent, and we are currently witnessing another crop of brilliant teenagers coming through currently.

Tyler Dibling and Jayden Meghoma caught the eye against Watford on Tuesday evening, while Sam Amo-Ameyaw and Cam Bragg also impressed off the bench.

As both an academy graduate and a Southampton fan, I love to see young players make a splash on the first team. Supporters can always resonate with players that have been at the club from a young age.

Daily Echo: Drew Surman

It is crucial for us to continue producing players, otherwise there would be very little reason to have a top level academy.

That is not to say that every single player has to burst through to the first team - many of them will go on to have successful careers further down the Football League pyramid.

The big thing from the players’ perspective is that if you sign for Southampton as a youngster, you know that you are going to get a chance. That is a huge thing.

Age does not come into things at this club. If you are good enough, they will put you in. We have seen Russell Martin do that a lot this season.

Countless other managers have done it in the past. If they see talent they will put the player in. A classic recent example of that is James Ward-Prowse.

He did not always have it easy after breaking into the team, but look at how he has established himself after a lot of hard work.

Having been away for the last month or so, I am really looking forward to getting back to St Mary’s on Saturday to see the team against Huddersfield.

While away I have tried my best to keep up by tuning into live streams of the game - although that has not come without its connectivity issues in the Caribbean.

I would also like to wish two teams luck for their massive games on Sunday.

Firstly, I want to wish Marieanne Spacey-Cale and Southampton FC Women good luck for their FA Cup tie against Manchester United.

That game is going to be a big challenge for sure, but one I know the players and staff will be looking forward to.

It will be another chance for them to test themselves against a top team - because that is who they want to be playing week in week out.

Sunday’s cup tie will be a measuring stick, but anything can happen in a one off game.

Secondly, I hope that Joe Aribo and Nigeria can win the Africa Cup of Nations final against the Ivory Coast.

Hopefully he can come back to Southampton as champion. He has had an incredible time with Nigeria and those experiences can only help Saints when he returns.