Certainly, it is an ethos currently reaping rich rewards on the south coast of England.
That is not to say Katharina Liebherr’s Southampton Football Club has shallow pockets, it just chooses carefully where to spend its money, shown by Wednesday’s unveiling of a new 40 million pounds training centre to the west of the city.
Staplewood is a complex the club believes will continue bearing fruit like former academy alumni Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, and the world’s most expensive footballer Gareth Bale.
“The secret?” laughs head of football development Les Reed. “Put it this way, the sea is on one side of our catchment area, the New Forest is on another side. We are a small club with a small catchment and we have to work hard to get our talent and develop it.”
Reed smiles the smile of a man proving critics wrong.
When the Saints sold Shaw to Manchester United and Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren to Liverpool in the close season, when Calum Chambers also exited for Arsenal, the experts said Southampton were sunk.
They had earned millions of pounds in transfer fees but in the process had sold their ambition, according to critics.
Players and managers past and present lined up to offer their wisdom that Southampton were a selling club, forever to feed the more ambitious.
Reed kept his counsel then, as a raft of players quit, to be joined by manager Mauricio Pochettino who left for Tottenham Hotspur.
“We are second in the league,” he told Reuters on Wednesday, against the backdrop of their centre of alchemy where callow talent is transformed into the finest footballers in the land.
That statement, delivered with another smile, seems sufficient testament to Southampton’s methods. For now.
If hard work is the secret of Southampton’s success, it is closely twinned with an attention to detail as obsessive as it is forensic.
The club has developed its own bespoke software to analyse every aspect of a game and of a player.
Paul Mitchell, the club’s head of scouting and recruitment will not reveal how much the club spent on creating this tool.
“I don’t want any other clubs budgeting for something similar,” he said with a shake of his head when asked, standing in what Southampton call their Black Box: a room with a Star Trek-style console and giant screen.
In the room next door a bank of 10 young data analysts pore over football action on their screens, tapping keyboards and taking notes. Across the room, a more seasoned group of men sit at terminals. These are the scouts.
“We do not recruit on top of talent,” Mitchell said. “We look carefully at every aspect of a player, and we will not pay to buy in a player when we have already spent money training one up.
“The team here identifies potential targets, but what we do here is not a proven science. What it does, though, is minimise the risk of mistakes, and helps get the best fit for Southampton.”
Mitchell’s remarks hit the bullseye of the club’s policy.
“We work with six and seven year olds,” academy manager Matt Hale said. “But we can only sign Under 9s. But then we get to work with them for 10 years.”
CONVEYOR BELT OF TALENT
It is little wonder Southampton has become a conveyor belt of talent. The entire campus is based around progression — from one entrance gate and one set of pitches for the smallest students, to working their way up the site eventually, they hope, to the first team.
“We look to create a real path for them, a real progression. First team football has to be the goal and the path for everyone.”
It is a path adorned with technological advances, which leave nothing to chance.
Last year Southampton had the lowest incidence of soft tissue injuries in the Premier League, the clubs says, which is a result of their preventative care programmes.
Players are scanned and monitored — some every day, others less frequently — to head off niggles before they become injuries.
Athletes sit in treatment rooms with different sounds and smells piped in, illuminated by different coloured lights.
“We are looking to manipulate physical change,” explained head of sports medicine Mo Gimpel.
But in an army of obsessives, kit-man Mark Forbes manages to stand out.
Working away in the laundry, surrounded by shirts and shorts, tracksuits and coats adorned with the Southampton crest, Forbes lights up when talking about his washing machines.
Well he might, having spent months researching the best models and tweaking them for his own purposes.
“We have special programmes for them, depending on what type of kit we are washing,” he said.
So far so, humdrum, perhaps.
“But these washing machines inject oxygen into the clothing,” he adds with pride. “You know why? It is to kill the bacteria which gets into the fabric,” he says with a flourish.
It is yet another minute detail taken care of, and another one designed to leave nothing to chance and keep Southampton’s footballers firing the Saints towards the top of the table.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)