SAINTS returnee Adam Lallana praised manager Russell Martin for restoring the pathway for youngsters at the club.

Martin's promotion-winning side was littered with players 22 years old or younger, as the likes of Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Sam Edozie played important roles.

Southampton's starting line-up at Wembley also contained two academy graduates, Will Smallbone and Jack Stephens.

The 2023/24 season also saw the emergence of Sam Amo-Ameyaw, Tyler Dibling, Jayden Meghoma and Cam Brag, who all receive minutes in the senior team.

Academy graduate Lallana is pleased that other players are now getting the same opportunity he got when breaking through at Southampton.

READ MORE: How Saints fans have reacted on social media to Adam Lallana's return

Speaking to the club upon the announcement of his return on a one-year deal, Lallana said: "The club are back where they belong.

"Credit to Russell and the job he has done here. He has managed a big turnover of players and the big expectations at this football club.

“He has returned the club back to the Premier League against a lot of strong teams in that league.

Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 22, was a key man in Southampton's promotion successTaylor Harwood-Bellis, 22, was a key man in Southampton's promotion success (Image: PA)

"The point tallies showed that this season. It’s great to see a lot of young players, the pathway seems to be back. That’s a real credit to Russell.

“This club gave me everything. It gave me the pathway - there was a clear pathway. When the football club got relegated to League One there was speculation that I might have been leaving.

"I knew straight away that I didn’t want to leave - I didn’t need to leave. I grew with the football club in League One, in the Championship and all the way through to the Premier League."

He continued: "I feel that my development mirrored the club’s. It was disappointing. People didn’t want to see me leave and I totally understand that. That was a decision that I had to make.

"In the end, it’s proven to be the right decision. I am so happy to come back. I still feel as though I have got a lot to give and help.

"This has always been a wonderful football club and a club that I have followed even when I haven’t been here.”

Last season saw Lallana, 36, take up a coaching role with England's youth team alongside his playing career at Brighton.

In that role with the Young Lions, Lallana crossed paths with some current Saints stars: “I’ve got a good relationship with a few of the players.

Adam Lallana coaching Sam Edozie in England's youth teamAdam Lallana coaching Sam Edozie in England's youth team (Image: PA)

"I know Taylor (Harwood-Bellis) well from the (England) under-21s last year. I know Sam Edozie and I was here with Jack Stephens. I’ve still been in contact with a lot of the players.

“I’m pretty sure I will settle in fast. I am experienced enough now with a wise head. I should bed in relatively quickly."

Lallana was a guest of the club for their 1-0 Championship playoff triumph over Leeds United last month.

He admitted he watched on, alongside a number of the club's dignitaries, with an intense feeling of nerves.

“I am absolutely thrilled the boys got promoted, it’s an unbelievable achievement. Especially doing it that way, it’s tough (to win) with all the pressure involved.

“I couldn’t believe how nervous I got. It was horrible, intense to watch. I was sat next to Matt (Le Tissier). Andy Goldie, the academy director, was behind me and he was like a little kid.

“The board were sat in front of me. It felt a bit odd, knowing that I was going to be signing imminently but not yet a part of it. I had to restrain my emotions slightly."