The Future Premiership: Each EPL Club's Top British Youth Prospect Under 21
Some club's have it abundance, some it appears have very little. Yet in the wake of the national football teams seemingly genetic predilection for failure, i feel now is as good a time as any to look for the future. With this in mind i have tried as best i can to rank, what is in my opinion, the 'best' British youth prospect at each Premier League club. Yes even Blackpool!
I must make a confession at this point, however. In my opinion to effectively cite the 'top youth prospect', this must be a player that is in and around the first team. People may dispute this claiming a, 'better prospect' in one of the youth systems, but i would argue they are simply thus, a prospect. Far too many players do not live up to the potential that they threatened whilst growing up; Freddy Adu anyone?
In a couple of circumstances in this list though, using this basis, to source an under 21 British first team squad member has been impossible and i have had to break my '21 or under rule'. In all of these circumstances, however, i have aimed at getting the team member that is both as young as possible whilst exhibiting the greatest potential. The oldest player in the list therefore is 23, young enough, in my opinion, to not contradict the adage 'future of the EPL'.
My team is Leicester City so in reality i am creating this list from an outsiders viewpoint (looking up in envy!). This being the case, whilst i have as far as i know done each club justice, if anyone can source any notable exceptions, i will have no problem in bowing to your superior knowledge.
What i will say though is, based on this list, the future of the EPL looks bright. So here, in althabetical order, my list of the top youth prospects at each EPL club. Happy reading and don't hesitate to comment with your feedback, clarification or appreciation's.
Arsenal: Jack Wilshere: Age 18: Central Midfield.
Jack Wilshere, where to start? England's answer to Xavi and Iniesta rolled into one 18 year old frame: Yes The boy is going to be THAT good.
Jack Wilshere, along with Arsenal's other crop of young British talents; Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs etc, have bucked the 'foreign' Arsenal trend.
Back to Wilshere though. technically he is superb, so good that i'm expecting a Spanish grand-parent to come out of the woodwork at any minute. His vision, touch and creativity are superior to almost any young British prospect i have every seen (Paul Scholes possibly the exception and even then i didn't really see Scholes due to being about four).
The one thing that, at present, appears to let Wilshere down is his temperament (said after he got into a fight into a nightclub literally just after turning 18 and was apparently taking pictures up girls skirts with-out their blessings.) Yet he is only 18, a precocious talent with the world at his feet and after such a metioric rise in stature (colminating in his first England cap), it is not suprising if Wilshere has allowed himself to believe his own hype.
Aston Villa: Nathan Delfouneso: Age 19: Striker
I have to admit that i haven't seen to much of Delfouneso, but from what i have seen he strikes me as a pacy striker in the Agbonlahor ilk.
At only 19, however, Delfouneso has almost 5 years on Agbonlahor. 5 years ago Agbonlahor was not at the stage Delfouneso is at today, in and around the first team.
Taller than Agbonlahor, at 6'1, Delfouneso has scored two goals for the Aston Villa first team, in his 17 appearances since making his debut in 2008 (the vast majority of which have come off the bench). He has, in addition, represented England at every level up to U21.
Birmingham: Nathan Redmond: Age 16: Winger
At 16, and the youngest in the list, Redmond is incredibly high though of at Birmingham. A pacy winger, Redmond became the club's second youngest ever first-team player when he made his debut against Rochdale in August at the age of 16 yeras 173 days.
Despite never having actually started a first team game for the Brum (the Rochdale game was won of his two substitute appearances to date, both occuring this season), a bright future for Redmond is predicted, as his England U16 & 17 caps indicate. Just think, in Qatar 22 he'll only be 28; jesus that makes me feel old.
Blackburn: Phil Jones: Age 18: Centre-Back
A powerfully built defender, standing 6'0 tall Jones is an England under 21 international. In recent weeks Jones has been the subject of transfer speculation linking him with Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal and a move as early as the January transfer window could be on the cards.
Whether he stays or goes, at just 18 years of age and gaining more and more playing experience for Blackburn Phil Jones looks firmly set to establishing himself at the bedrock of the English national team.
In my opinion, Jones wont leave Blackburn in January, as with not yet a season of Premiership action, i feel it could be too soon. Whether it's next summer or beyond it will only be a matter of time until Jones' stock rises above Blackburn and a move could well be a formality. Where? Chelsea, as the logical replacement for John Terry for me.
Blackpool: Craig Cathcart: Age 20: Centre-Back
Northern Irish Cathcart was a product of the Man United youth system, however, he never really made the grade, spending most of his time on loan from the club.
This summer, Cathcart signed for Premiership new-boys Blackpool and has become a mainstay at the heart of the seasiders suprisingly successful defence. The pillar behind Ian Holloway's almost kamikaze attacking football (for a club of Blackpool's stature anyway, but it's worked so who am i to talk?), Cathcart and his fellow defenders performances to date are all the more impressive.
Already a Northern Irish international, the future, at or away from Blackpool, looks bright for Cathcart.
Bolton: Mark Davies: Age 22: Central Midfield
Alright i've cheated. Davies is 22, but to be honest, Bolton do not have a single first team player of any repute that is both British and under 21: Davies and Fabrice Muamba being the closest both at 22.
So...Davies; two weeks ago he was THE man that scored THAT goal, the goal the British media came upon to symbolise Bolton's reanissance this season. Kevin Davies, to Elmander, elmander back heels it to Kalinic, Kalinic lays it off.... and that man Mark Davies rolls it in.
A relative unknown a couple of seasons ago, Davies was given his chance with the arrival of Owen Coyle in early 2010. Since then he has really come into his own amongst the Coyle school of attractive attacking football, forming a good central midfield partnership with Muamba.
At the moment there really is no better place in the world for Mark Davies to be than Bolton.
Chelsea: Josh Mceachran: Age 17: Central Midfield
Last year, i will admit, i had no idea who the hell Josh Mceachran was. This year, i will admit i haven't seen him a huge amount (mainly because he hasn't played a huge amount), but i'm convinced. Josh Mceachran has class etched into his DNA.
Composure befitting a man twice his age, touch, vision; i literally can't wait until the day i witness Wilshere and Mceachran sat at the heart of England's midfield. At this rate that day is merely a formality.
Everton: Jack Rodwell: Age 19: Defensive Mid/ Centre-Back
Big things have been expected of Rodwell for some years and his name has been bandied about, Man United here, Chelsea there. It's easy to forget that he's only 19. Equally comfortable in the heart of defence or central midfield, Rodwell has fast established himself as an integral part of David Moyes' defensive unit.
To be honest i can't see Rodwell hanging around at Everton much longer. Despite being a Merseysider born and bred Rodwell looks the likely candidate to revive the 'Rooney route' (to united). Whether Everton would be willing to fraternise with United manager Sir Alex after their well documented anger at his pursuit and eventual capture of Rooney, remains to be seen.
Whatever club strip he happens to pull on though, it can only be a matter of time before Rodwell completes the England national 'set' ( U16-21) with a full national cap.
Fulham: Matthew Briggs: Age 19: Left/Centre-Back
Despite still being a tender 19 years of age Briggs is already a record holder. Scouted at the age of 8 for the Fulham academy, a mere 8 years later, at the age of 16 years and 65 days Briggs became the Premier Leagues youngest ever player, surpassing James Vaughan's previous record by over 200 days.
Since then Briggs' first team opportunities have been at a premium, however after impressing in the recent match at Chelsea as an emergency left-back could Briggs' fist-team chance be on the horizon in the next few years?
Liverpool: Jonjo Shelvey: Age 18: Attacking Midfield
To be honest i was suprised that Shelvey went to Liverpool in the summer. The fulcrum of a team (even if it was Charlton) at 17, to go to a team in decline, a transitional faze or whatever i didn't think made too much sense: I though he would go to Chelsea.
However, Roy Hodgson has changed my mind. He has shown a lot of faith in youth during his short and turbulent reign, picking Shelvey and other youngsters like Jay Spearing for all of Liverpool's Europa league matches this season. His Premiership appearances, to date, have been limited but at 18 years of age and gaining the big game experience that he is Shelvey can only grow as a player. Next Steven Gerrard? Don't discount it.
Man City: Greg Cunningham: Age 19: Left Back
And finally my own humble Leicester City are able to stand up and be counted. Alright not conventionally as we don't own Cunningham, nor with the reviews coming out of City will we ever have the opputunity, but in such a list even a loan is to be sought after.
Unsuprisingly Cunningham is in a very select band of British under 21 youth talent at city. I mean if you had all the money in the world, no one is off-limits. This in itself is a testament to Cunningham's ability, the fact that he is still there and as highly rated as he is.
Sound defensively but with good attacking flair Cunningham has been a revelation for City (Leicester that is) this season. Man city have quite a player on their hands and i personally am expecting big things of the Irish international.
Man United: Danny Welbeck: Age 20: Striker
Last year i might not have given this spot to Danny Welbeck and quite a few people i know most certainly wouldn't. Welbeck's basic speed and predatory instinct were beyond refute but his Old Trafford opportunities and hence the opportunity to witness his play had been limited. Cometh the hour cometh the Sunderland to completely transform Danny Welbeck from a boy with good potential to a generally class player.
A key fixture in Steve Bruce's Sunderland side, Danny Welbeck has been a revelation. His performance against champions Chelsea for many epitomised Welbeck this season as he quite literally gave the Chelsea defence hell.
Above all this though, the biggest single compliment that i feel can be bestowed upon Danny Welbeck is that, after this season, he will never go out on loan again.
Newcastle: Andy Carroll: Age 21: Striker
I have had my doubts about Carroll. Admittedly he was the nemesis of the Championship defences all of last season, but then again Championship was perhaps the optimum word. As much as i cannot say i 'like' Carroll the man, Carroll the player has turned my opinion on its head. As a strong target man English striker, even at the tender age of 21, he has no current equal.
With his big powerful hold-up play, fierce shots and ridiculously good aerial prowess, sometimes it seems that Carroll is still facing those very same championship defences; he really has been that good.
One full England cap in the bag and sitting pretty as the Premier leagues second top goalscorer the cave-man is here to stay.
Stoke City: Marc Wilson: Age 23: Central Midfield/Defender
I promise you that this is the last time i have cheated, well almost. You see Stoke's first team squads youngest British player is 23, Wilson. By no means, however, is this a botch job as Wilson totally merits his position in this list.
Bought in the summer as part of a 4 million plus Liam Lawrence and Dave Kitson with Wilson's former club Portsmouth, some eyes were raised at the size of the deal.
Judging on Wilson's all action performances this season though, it appears that Stoke have purchased wisely. Equally adept at playing in the centre of defence of midfield, where he has almost exlusively been utilised by Stoke to date, Wilson has become key figure in Tony Pulis' side this season. At 6'2 and 13 stone was their a better home for Wilson than the home of the big men Stoke City?
Sunderland: Jordan Henderson: Age 20: Attacking Midfield
Technically the second Sunderland player in this list (if Welbeck counts?), Henderson is a product of the Sunderland academy. Having now established himself in a midfield that cleverly combines age and youth (Henderson, Cattermole, Richardson, Malbranque and sometimes Zenden), Henderson recently won his first international cap in the shambolic French game.
A tall, rangy player, Henderson has already notched in excess of 50 appearances for Sunderland at only 20 years of age. Versatility is one of Henderson's main strenghs, as after Lee Cattermole's enforced absence last season, he switched from his natural right midfield role to fill in on Cattermole's central breach.
Henderson is currently contracted to Sunderland until the end of the 2015 season, but with his reputation on the rise and England status earned i could see Henderson heading south in the years to come.
Tottenham: Gareth Bale: Age 21: Left Wing/Left Back
As hard as i might be to fathom, no Gareth Bale is not yet out of his 21st year. When i was looking through the Tottenham team deciding who was their 'top British prospect', i thought i had a hard job on my hands then..... Gareth Bale aged 21: My job was done.
Gareth Bale's Tottenham career was not always this good though. At the beginning of his Spurs career, Bale held the rather unsavory record of playing 24 league games for his club without being on the winning side.
This season Bale has set about righting the wrongs of yesteryear with some quite phenomenal displays that have catapulted him to the position of firm favourite for Premiership Young Player of the year award. I wonder when he was going through his barren patch two years ago, if Bale, even in his wildest dreams could have imagined scoring a hat-trick in the San Siro just two years later: I doubt it somehow.
West Brom: Joe Mattock: Age 20: Left-Back
A product of my very own Leicester City's youth set-up, Mattock moved to West-Brom 2 season's ago after submitting a transfer request to chairman Milan Mandaric.
At home on the left wing, although specialising in his favoured left-back role Mattock has not yet managed to nail down a starting birth for the Baggies ( as testified by a relatively mediocre 27 appearances in nigh on two years). Yet Mattock most certainly has potential, he had it at Leicester, it's still there.
With international caps up to the England U21's i'm expecting Mattock to be cementing his starting position in a Premiership team in the next few years.
West Ham: James Tomkins: Age 21: Centre-Back
This was probably the hardest decision that i had to make whilst constructing the list, simply due to the abundance of young British talent in West Ham's ranks. For me though Tomkins stands out above Freddie Sears, Junior Stanislas and the rest.
Signed up by the west Ham academy at the age of seven, Tomkins has been at the club ever since. In the last few seasons he has established himself in the first team and is now seen as first choice central defensive partner to captain Matthew Upson.
6'3 Tomkins can also play as right back, although he has spent almost the entirety of both his West Ham and youth international careers at his favoured centre-half position.
Wigan: Victor Moses: Age 19: Striker
My first and only time of witnessing the magic of Moses at first hand was about three years ago when he was playing for England under 18's at my local club ground, Aldershot Town FC. When i came to that match i had never heard of Moses, by the time i left i wasn't going to forget him.
A powerfully built striker, Moses, even when i watched him at 16/17 looked a class above. At that time he was a member of the Crystal Palace Youth structure, but moved to Wigan Athletic for a reported 2.5 million on the last day of the 09/10 summer transfer window.
Since then Moses has become a key figure in Roberto Martinez's side, but as yet has only scored two league goals in his 22 appearances. With caps at every national level up to under 21's, Moses could well be in a position to book a seat on the Engalnd plane come 2014. Watch this space.
Wolves: Michael Mancienne: Age 22: Centre-Back
And so we have Wolves, or rather a blue in Wolves clothing. Mancienne has been on loan to Wolves so much in the past few seasons that it is easy to forget that he is still a Chelsea player. Having previously played on loan at QPR for two consecutive season loans, it's fair to say that Mancienne is not opposed to a nice loan deal!
Spotted by Chelsea at the age of nine, Mancienne has worked his way up through the youth systems ever since, appearing for the reserves whilst still at school.
To date his first team opportunities have been limited to say the least, but at 22 years of age and possessing the ability to play effectively in every defensive position, could next year be Mancienne's time to finally don the Chelsea strip?