Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe has revealed his regret at losing Theo Walcott to Arsenal, insisting the youngster 'still has a lot of growing up to do'.
Saints could receive up to £12million from Walcott's departure to Highbury, although Lowe believes St Mary's would have been the right environment for the youngster to develop.
Lowe was disappointed after 16-year-old Walcott, who spent five years in the club's academy, had not chosen to stay on in the Coca-Cola Championship for at least another year.
'We do not feel the time is right for Theo to leave us,' Lowe said. 'At 16, he still has a lot of growing up to do.
'It is disappointing to see five years' worth of work go to waste. The current scholarship rules are not fair on the smaller clubs.
'If we are to be criticised, it is for giving a young player the chance to play first-team football.
'Clubs like ours, with good young players, will now delay putting them in their first teams until they have signed professional contracts.
'We did everything possible to keep Theo at the club but his family and advisers were determined he would leave and go to Arsenal.
'I think there should be a rule change whereby you can take them on at 16 rather than 17.
'That would give us control over players we have identified and developed, like Theo.
'As it was, we were not in a very strong negotiating position.
'We either negotiated with Theo's preferred club or faced a tribunal.
'Had Theo joined an overseas club, it would have been worse. If, for instance, he had signed for Rangers or Celtic, we would have got 170,000.'
Southampton's only protection was a pre-contract agreement signed by Walcott as the prelude to what Saints hoped would be the signing of his first professional contract on his 17th birthday in March.
Lowe added: 'It was not about us having been relegated from the Premiership. It does not matter what league you are in, a move from Southampton to Arsenal is a promotion.
'At least with Theo, we had a pre-contract agreement.
'I am sure I will be blamed by supporters but, if I and the board of directors have been at fault, it was playing and showcasing a player not under a full contract.
'Arsene Wenger has a great record for developing young players but we didn't feel the time was right. His parents and advisers felt otherwise.
'We had better bids but it was up to the player where he chose to go and Arsenal was his choice.'