Picking a Premier League Under-21 Best XI
With the Premier League Under-21 season well underway, each and every week fans of youth football across the country are treated to seeing the future of their club.
For some fans, things couldn't get much better. The thought of discovering the next Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale or Alan Shearer is truly thrilling. But what other fans are subjected to week in, week out can be enough to make them worry about their team's future prospects.
The following is a list of the best Premier League Under-21 squad across the country. A fantasy team, if you will.
Keep an eye out for the following players; they are sure to light up the Premier League in the not too distant future.
GK. Damian Martinez, Arsenal
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Young Argentine stopper Damian Martinez arrived at Arsenal from Independiente in 2010 and looked right at home between the posts from the off.
The athletic goalkeeper built on a solid debut season with the reserves by proving a safe pair of hands for Neil Banfield's reserve side last campaign.
Martinez's impressive performances in goal for the Under-21 side haven't gone unnoticed. The keeper has since been called up to the first-team squad on a number of occasions, though he's never made it off the bench.
Arsenal currently sit seventh in the Under-21 league. But with just three goals shipped from five games, the young Gunners are sure to go from strength to strength this season—especially with Martinez in the side.
RB. Ryan McLaughlin, Liverpool
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Ryan McLaughlin signed for Liverpool from Northern Irish side Glenavon in 2011 and has since been in and out of the Under-21 squad due to the popularity of experienced full-back Jon Flanagan.
However, McLaughlin gets the nod here because of his promise and his superior attacking threat.
McLaughlin's senior debut came at Boston's Fenway Park in the summer of 2012 during Liverpool's clash with Roma. The young Northern Irishman's opponent that day was Francesco Totti, but that didn't seem to faze him. McLaughlin held his own against a legend of the game and even left his mark on the Italian a number of times.
It's highly unlikely that the teenager will usurp Glen Johnson any time soon, but with strong defensive attributes and a willingness to get forward, then it wouldn't come as a surprise if McLaughlin was a regular in Liverpool's team for years to come.
CB. Leo Chambers, West Ham
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Leo Chambers is certainly one for the future. The versatile defender can play anywhere across the back line, but his physical attributes make him one of the most revered centre-halves in the Under-21 league.
Chambers made his way through the ranks at West Ham's Academy of Football and is a vital member of Nick Haycock's development squad. He has also made two appearances for the first team this season, featuring against Cheltenham and Cardiff City in the League Cup.
A solid start to the season in the heart of the Hammers' defence has seen West Ham shoot to the top of the league.
CB. Tom Thorpe, Manchester United
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Manchester United's Under-21 captain Tom Thorpe was one of the stand-out players in the Reds' league-winning campaign last year. The tenacious centre-half was unlucky not to collect the Reserves' Player of the Year award after a stellar campaign at the heart of the United defence.
The midfielder-turned-defender joined the Reds in 2009 and immediately proved irreplaceable, captaining his side to the 2011 FA Youth Cup Final, which they won.
Dominant in the air, Thorpe is also very accomplished with the ball at his feet. His stint in midfield has certainly improved his passing game.
LB. Alex Brister, Fulham
Full-back Alex Brister started his career with Fulham as a centre-forward and was very successful in that position—seemingly scoring goals for fun—but he's now one of the Cottagers' most highly rated defenders.
From his days as a forward, Brister still remains confident when going forward and offers Fulham a different dynamic out wide. The 19-year-old was sidelined for much of the 2012/13 campaign, but his impact within the side upon his return warranted a few call-ups to the first team.
A Fulham fan and now in his 11th season with the club, Brister is hopeful of becoming a regular in the full-back position for the Cottagers. If he continues to progress the way he has, then there's absolutely no reason he can't achieve his dream.
CM. Lewis Baker, Chelsea
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Lewis Baker is a combative midfielder who plays in the heart of the Chelsea midfield. The all-action youngster loves a tackle but has a creative side to his game and an eye for goal.
Baker was a key figure in the Blues' runs to the NextGen and FA Youth Cup final last year and has picked up this season where he left off last term.
The Chelsea captain has been likened to first-team hero Frank Lampard, though his passing needs to be improved if he is to continue progressing like Chelsea's all-time top goalscorer.
RM. Daniel Crowley, Arsenal
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Former Aston Villa midfielder Daniel Crowley, at 16, is the youngest player on the list.
But he is deserving of his place.
Crowley's wonderful vision and precise passing skills make him one of the most inventive players in the Under-21 league.
Arsenal signed the youngster from Villa, though Juventus were interested in the playmaker during his time in the Midlands.
Crowley's life in the red of Arsenal got off to the best possible start, and he has since gone from strength to strength. Unsurprisingly, the midfielder is likened to Arsenal teammate Jack Wilshere and, whilst many would point out that it is a lazy comparison to make, it is worthy praise nonetheless.
LM. Kenneth McEvoy, Tottenham
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Referred to as “baby Bale” by the Tottenham faithful, Kenny McEvoy bears a striking resemblance to former Spurs winger and world's most expensive footballer Gareth Bale.
Besides their similar looks, the youngster plays on the left wing, wears the No. 11 shirt, is lightning-quick, and often finds the back of the net. Not too hard to see why he is compared to the Welshman, then.
McEvoy has featured for the Republic of Ireland at Under-17 and Under-19 level and is a key figure in Tottenham's Under-21 squad.
CAM. Jesse Lingard, Manchester United
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Jesse Lingard is without doubt one of the most exciting upcoming talents in the Premier League.
After a patient rise through the ranks of the Manchester United academy, Lingard has enjoyed a very successful last few seasons—topped off by winning the FA Youth Cup.
A starring role for the Under-21s led to Birmingham City manager Lee Clark taking the youngster on loan. Lingard netted four goals on his Birmingham debut, including a 14-minute hat-trick, proving that the attacking midfielder, who can also play on either flank, is ready for the step up.
The 20-year-old is set to return to United at the end of October and is sure to slot straight back into the Under-21 team, but the experience of playing senior football in the Championship will surely have paid dividends.
ST. Jack Grealish, Aston Villa
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Aston Villa are renowned for their impressive youth system, a system that has seen a number of players progress through the ranks and become fully-fledged members of the first team, partly due to the phenomenal work of former reserve team manager Kevin MacDonald.
Jack Grealish is sure to join that group of players.
The young forward—then 16—was named on Villa's first-team bench for their match against Chelsea back in March.
Now 17, he is widely regarded as one of Villa's future stars and has since signed a professional contract that will tie him to the club until 2015.
Grealish, who prefers a role out wide but can play in behind the main striker, has elected to play for the Republic of Ireland throughout his international youth career. But with such raw talent obvious for all to see, many hope that the Solihull-born star will change his allegiance and pull on the Three Lions strip.
ST. Jonathyn Quinn, Newcastle
Jonathyn Quinn is currently in his fourth year with Newcastle after graduating from the famous Wallsend Boys' Club.
Quinn is a very techincally gifted front man—likened to former Arsenal hero Dennis Bergkamp—and has moved through the Magpies' ranks quickly.
The 18-year-old made his under-18s debut during the final game of the 2011/12 season and was quickly drafted into the Under-21 set-up for the following campaign. An impressive debut against Reading in January was followed up with a first goal against Stoke a month later.
Quinn has featured six times for Newcastle this season, finding the net four times. Great to watch and with a clear and obvious eye for goal, the 18-year-old is definitely one to watch for the future.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Have I missed someone out? Should one of my players be benched for a possible improvement? Have your say.