Premier League: Ranking the Top 10 Young Players in the Premier League Right Now
The English Premier League is undergoing a sudden revolution of young players taking the game by storm.
Just a few seasons ago, the Premier League was dominated by high-priced veteran talent, as teams tried to buy their way to the top. With hard economic times falling onto many Premier League teams, many clubs are using their resources to develop their young players instead of buying proven ones.
This new philosophy has led to a sudden influx of tremendous young talent in the Premier League.
Some clubs with foreign owners such as Chelsea and Manchester City are still trying to buy their way to the top. However, for many others, the emphasis has shifted to either mixing in young players with their older ones or by pinning all of their hopes on their young players all together.
Over the last several seasons, the bigger clubs have used the Carling Cup as a way to give their young players first team experience and exposure. The strategy has worked brilliantly for Manchester United, who have won the Carling Cup four times since 2006. But it has also given teams the ability to showcase their young players and be able to send them out on loan where they could get even more playing time.
With so many teams turning their focus towards developing younger players, there is a tremendous amount of players 21 and under who are contributing to Premier League clubs right now, instead of having the club waiting for the future to use them.
Here are the top 10 players 21 and under in the Premier League right now, as well as a few who are poised to make an impact sooner, rather then later.
Honorable Mention: Not Quite There Yet (1/2)
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Fabien Delph (Aston Villa)
Delph moved from Leeds United to Aston Villa in August of 2009. He scored his first goal in an FA Cup match in January 2010 against Brigthon Hove Albion. He has made appearances for England at both the U18 and U21 levels.
He has been used sparingly by Villa, making just 10 league appearances, though that is also due to a knee injury he picked up in April 2010 that kept him out of action until early 2011. With Villa in the midst of a disappointing season, Delph will be given plenty of opportunities to shine and has a bright future in front of him.
Josh McEachran (Chelsea)
While not cracking the top 10 of this list, McEachran has some of the highest upside of all the players on the list. Playing for Chelsea, a team loaded with aging players and very few youngsters, McEachran has managed to crack the starting XI for Carlo Ancelotti on more then one occasion this season.
He has made seven appearances as a sub this season for Chelsea in the Premier League. He has started an FA Cup match and made two starts in the Champions League as well, drawing rave reviews for his performances. He has represented England at the U17, U18 and U21 levels. With Chelsea's midfield getting older and older, McEachran's time is coming sooner then you think.
Kyle Walker (Aston Villa/Tottenham)
Walker started the season on a one month loan at QPR. After impressing with QPR and becoming a fan-favorite, Walker's loan was extended until January. Walker moved from Tottenham to Villa on a loan move this January, scoring a goal for Villa just nine minutes into his debut during a third round FA Cup Match.
Walker has since scored his first Premier League goal at the start of February. Walker is expected to compete for the first choice right back spot at Tottenham next season.
Honorable Mention: Not Quite There Yet (2/2)
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Danny Rose (Tottenham)
Danny Rose made his league debut in April 2010 in the North London derby against Arsenal. Rose became an instant sensation with Tottenham fans when he scored on a tremendous volley in the 10th minute. The goal would receive goal of the season votes at the end of the year and helped Tottenham to a 2-1 win late in the season, which helped them secure fourth place and Champions League spot for the following season.
Rose spent the first half of this season on loan with Bristol City but has since been recalled. While he hasn't been given many opportunities with Tottenham just yet, his time is coming, but he has already won the hearts of all the Tottenham supporters.
Kieren Gibbs (Arsenal)
This was supposed to be the season where Kieran Gibbs took the Premier League by storm, but instead he is left out of the top 10 simply because he hasn't been playing much. Gibbs was used by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger often during Arsenal's pre-season preparations, and Wenger even said Gibbs would be given a lot of games this season at both left back and in midfield. Unfortunately that has not been the case for Gibbs this season.
Gibbs has featured in many of Arsenal's non-league matches, playing in five Carling Cup matches and six FA Cup matches. He has also made three appearances in the Champions League. In August, Gibbs was given his senior England debut when he came on as a substitute for Ashley Cole in a friendly against Hungary. Despite the high hopes, Gibbs has made just three Premier League appearances for Arsenal this season, ultimately keeping him off this list and forcing him to wait until next year to make his mark on the league.
Honorable Mention: Out on Technicalities
Federico Macheda (Manchester United/Sampdoria)
Macheda becomes ineligible for this list as he is currently not in the Premier League but on loan at Italian club Sampdoria. Macheda signed with Manchester United when he was 16 years old, becoming a scoring force for both United's U18 team and reserves.
At the age of 17, with very few United fans knowing his name, Macheda made his mark on the Old Trafford history books forever. Making his debut as a substitute against Aston Villa, Macheda scored a brilliant goal in the third minute of stoppage time, giving United a 3-2 win and establishing Macheda as a United legend.
During United's next Premier League match, Macheda once against entered as a substitute, where he once again scored the winner for United, this time with his first touch of the ball, giving United a 2-1 win over Sunderland.
Prior to the Villa match, United had lost their last two matches to Liverpool and Fulham. Had United failed to beat Villa, Liverpool would have closed the gap at the top of the league to just one point.
Despite his youth and inexperience, many fans cite Macheda as a large reason as to why United retained the title that season. At just 19 years old, Macheda has scored just four goals for United in the Premier League. Each one however, has been important.
Last season, Macheda came on and scored an equalizer against Chelsea, only to see Didier Drogba put Chelsea back in the lead. This season, Macheda scored to help United come back from two goals down in the final 10 minutes, once again against Aston Villa. Sir Alex Ferguson is very high on Macheda's potential and will look to give him more time as he continues to grow.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Before all the Arsenal fans go up in arms about Walcott being excluded from this list, I remind you that this list is for players aged 21 and younger. There is no doubt that Walcott would be No. 1 on this list except that Walcott turned 22 on the day this article was published, therefore making him ineligible.
Walcott has had an impressive career so far. He has had a unique and successful International career, earning a spot with England's 2006 World Cup team as a 17-year-old but being left off of England's 2010 World Cup squad.
Walcott has really stepped up his game this season, for both England and Arsenal. He is a major reason why Arsenal are right in the thick of the title race this late in the season. In the next few years, if Arsenal want to have success in any competition, they will be largely depending on the play of Theo Walcott.
10. Jack Rodwell (Everton)
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The Everton defensive midfielder, who just turned 20, has been within Everton's system since he was seven years old. Rising through the youth ranks, Rodwell made his Premier League debut in March of 2008, when he was just 17 years old. Previously Rodwell had become the youngest player to represent Everton in Europe, when he came on against Dutch club AZ at the age of 16 and 284 days.
Rodwell has represented England at the U16, U17, U19 and U21 levels, where he has scored three goals in 33 total appearances. He has been tipped by many fans to be the future of England's midfield as he grows older.
Since March 2008, Rodwell has made 83 Premier League appearances, scoring five times. While Everton manager David Moyes has used caution with how many appearances he gives the midfielder, Rodwell has drawn the attention of many big clubs who are in the hunt for his services.
It was reported that several clubs, including both Manchester United and Real Madrid came knocking on Everton's doors to try to obtain Rodwell during the January transfer window. Everton decided to hold on to Rodwell for the remainder of the season, so he could help the club in their fight to avoid relegation.
However The Sun has recently reported that Sir Alex Ferguson has agreed in principle to a £25 million deal that will bring Rodwell to Old Trafford next season.
While primarily a defensive midfielder, many people believe Rodwell could emerge as a top central midfielder. Rodwell now looks ready to move to Manchester United and is looking like he will become a fixture in the English National team for many years to come.
9. Sandro (Tottenham)
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Without much experience, Brazilian international Sandro is beginning to make a name for himself at White Hart Lane. Sandro moved to Tottenham from Brazilian club Internacional in September of 2010. He did not join Tottenham until after Internacional's victorious Copa Libertadores campaign in 2010.
Sandro made his Spurs debut in September in a Carling Cup match against Arsenal. He was taken off during extra time in the 95th minute, with Spurs trailing 2-1 after a Samir Nasri penalty. Spurs would lose the game 4-1 in extra time.
Since making his debut, Sandro's appearances have been few, as he fights to compete for a spot in Tottenham's crowded midfield.
Due to injuries in the midfield, Sandro was given his chance to impress in mid-February. Sandro played the full 90 minutes in a Premier League match against Sunderland. Three days later, he made his Champions League debut at the San Siro against AC Milan.
Sandro produced a terrific performance playing right in front of the back four and was influential in helping Tottenham's struggling defense keep a clean sheet in Italy. Following the match, he received special praise from manager Harry Redknapp for his performance in helping Tottenham to a 1-0 win.
Sandro then played the full 90 minutes in a 3-3 draw against Wolves. Three days later, he was once again in the starting XI for the return leg against AC Milan at White Hart Lane. This time around, Sandro was even better than he was at the San Siro, picking up Man of the Match honors in the second leg.
While it took Sandro time to earn a place in the Tottenham side, Sandro is making the most of his opportunities. He has been very impressive in his few chances and is quickly becoming one of the better defensive midfielders in the Premier League.
There is little doubt that Harry Redknapp will turn to the Brazilian more and more as Tottenham look to continue their Champions League campaign and make a push to finish in the top four in the Premier League once again.
8. Tom Cleverley (Wigan Athletic/Manchester United)
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Tom Cleverley spent the end of last summer giving Sir Alex Ferguson headaches. The Manchester United boss simply could not make up his mind as to whether he wanted to keep Cleverley at Old Trafford this season or loan him out to a Premier League side where he could get regular first team Premier League football.
After seeing how successful Arsenal were in loaning out Jack Wilshere to Bolton for the second half of last season, Fergie decided to follow suit and sent Cleverley to Wigan Athletic for the season.
Cleverley spent the 2009/10 campaign with Championship side Watford. At Watford he scored 11 goals in 33 league matches and earned Watford's Player of the Season award.
Cleverley rejoined United at the end of last season and traveled with them over the summer on their North American tour. Cleverley impressed tremendously over the summer, scoring two goals, the second of which came on a beautiful piece of skill against the MLS All-Stars, showing just how talented Cleverley could be.
Following the preseason tour, Sir Alex Ferguson decided that Cleverley would be staying at Old Trafford this season, saying the player could help the Red Devils right now. On the final day of the transfer window though, United sent Cleverley to Wigan on a season long loan, with the option to recall him in January. In January, they announced they agreed to let Cleverley finish the season at Wigan.
Cleverley has been dealing with injuries at Wigan this season, but he has still made 16 Premier League appearances, scoring three goals. Over his career, he has made 11 appearances for England's U21 side and is slowly starting to creep into the senior National team's picture for the future.
With Manchester United lacking depth in central midfield, Sir Alex Ferguson has already spoken highly about how excited he is to get Cleverley back next season.
Jack Wilshere has been tremendous for Arsenal this season after spending the second half of last season on loan at Bolton. It seems that Tom Cleverley could be ready to start walking down a similar path.
7. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
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Arsene Wenger has come under a lot of criticism recently for his view on sticking with developing and nurturing Arsenal's good young talent and not signing high-priced players. The strategy has not won Arsenal any trophies recently, but they sure do have a bunch of good young players.
After breaking both his tibia and fibula on a Ryan Shawcross tackle last season, Ramsey has finally returned to Arsenal full time. The injury kept him out from the end of February 2010 until November. After he returned he was loaned out to Nottingham Forest to give him match experience and a chance to get his fitness back. Ramsey returned to Arsenal in January.
After being an unused substitute for two straight matches in January, Ramsey was sent on a one-month loan back to his original club Cardiff City. In seven appearances with Cardiff, Ramsey scored one goal and picked up one assist. He returned to Arsenal at the end of February but didn't make an appearance until coming on as a substitute in Arsenal's 2-0 sixth-round FA Cup loss to Manchester United.
The 20-year-old midfielder has had a major struggle with injury this past season, but Ramsey says he is now 100 percent match fit. With Arsenal constantly dealing with injuries, Ramsey can easily be given a chance to contribute to Arsenal's fight to overtake Manchester United in the title race.
Last season Ramsey scored three goals and picked up three assists in 18 Premier League appearances. In 51 career appearances with Arsenal, Ramsey has scored five goals and picked up six assists.
Ramsey has already made 11 appearances with the Welsh national team, picking up valuable international experience. He has scored two goals for Wales.
While this season has seen Ramsey mostly fighting to return from an injury, when he is fully fit he will become a valuable piece in Arsenal's squad, and they will rely on him to help them.
6. Jordan Henderson (Sunderland)
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Not many people expected Sunderland to be in eighth place and in the hunt for a Europa League spot this late in the season, especially after the sale of striker Darren Bent. Central midfielder Jordan Henderson, 20, is a big reason why Sunderland are currently where they are.
Henderson has been nearly a permanent fixture in the Black Cats starting XI since Steve Bruce became the manager prior to the 2009 season. While he doesn't score many goals, Henderson has been absolutely influential in the center of the pitch.
After making five appearances and scoring a goal for England's U21 team in 2010, Henderson was omitted from the squad for a November friendly against Germany. Instead, Henderson was given his first senior call up by Fabio Capello.
On Nov. 17th, Henderson was given his first England cap when he started their friendly match against France in central midfield alongside Steven Gerrard.
Henderson has pledged his immediate future to Sunderland, as many reports are claiming Manchester United are interested in bringing the 20-year-old to Old Trafford this summer. Henderson claims he has no interest in moving to Old Trafford and instead would rather stay with Sunderland, where he will be a member of the starting XI.
Playing in the Premier League week in and week out for the past two years has allowed Henderson to grow tremendously. While a move to United would allow him to learn under Sir Alex Ferguson, if Henderson continues to play every week, he will only continue to grow into the superstar he has the potential to become.
5. Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa)
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After spending his last two seasons with the Aston Villa reserves, Gerard Houllier has given Albrighton the chance to shine for Villa this season.
Albrighton made just seven first team appearances during his first two years with Aston Villa, picking up one assist. This season, Albrighton was given the start for Villa's first Premier League match. Albrighton picked up two assists in Villa's 3-0 win over West Ham United and has not looked back.
On Oct. 2nd, Albrighton scored his first Premier League goal against Tottenham Hotspur. A month later, he scored his third goal for the club against Manchester United, putting Villa ahead 2-0 on the English giants.
Albrighton has been starring on the right wing for Villa this season. He has made 27 Premier League appearances this season, scoring five goals and assisting on four others. Overall he has made 35 appearances in all competitions this season, with six goals and five assists.
In September 2010, Albrighton made his debut for the England U21 side during the Euro 2011 qualifying playoffs. He scored his first goal for the U21's just 15 minutes after coming on as a substitute.
With Aston Villa in the middle of a battle to avoid relegation, they are giving their young players a tremendous opportunity to gain experience and keep Villa in the Premier League. If Marc Albrighton keeps up his fantastic play, he will greatly improve Villa's chances of staying up.
4. Daniel Sturridge (Bolton/Chelsea)
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Daniel Sturridge broke into the Premier League with Manchester City, with whom he had helped their youth team to two FA Youth Cup Finals. He made his Premier League debut in February 2007, coming off the bench in a match against Reading. Sturridge would make one more appearance that season, before suffering a hip injury that kept him out for the rest of 2007.
Sturridge made four appearances in all competitions for City during the 2008/9 campaign, scoring once in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup.
The following season was when Sturridge's career began to take off. Sturridge made 16 Premier League appearances and scored four goals. The Manchester City fans voted him as the club's Young Player of the Year.
However Sturridge's contract expired at the end of the season, and with City under new ownership, the club declined to renew his contract, instead choosing to bring in high-priced established strikers. Chelsea were quick to move in and bring Sturridge to Stamford Bridge.
Sturridge made 13 Premier League appearances in his first season for Chelsea, but he only scored one goal. However he scored four goals in four FA Cup appearances during Chelsea's run to winning a second straight FA Cup.
Sturridge made 21 appearances in all competitions during the first half of this season for Chelsea, but his goals were hard to come by. He scored twice during the group stages of the Champions League and picked up a brace in his lone FA Cup appearance.
Sturridge's lack of production was hurting the squad, as Chelsea were slipping in the title race. In January the team signed high-priced Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. Knowing Sturridge would not see much action, Chelsea loaned the striker to Bolton for the remainder of the season.
Unlike Fernando Torres, Sturridge has not had any difficulty adapting to a new club this winter. Sturridge has scored four goals in his first five appearances for Bolton. Having the opportunity to play every week will allow Sturridge to grow and develop at a faster rate then he was at Chelsea.
With Chelsea's strikers getting old and struggling to find form, Daniel Sturridge could be the star man at Stamford Bridge sooner rather then later.
3. Rafael and Fabio Da Silva (Manchester United)
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Rafael was originally going to hold this place by himself but Fabio has been coming on strong the past few weeks. Besides, how are you supposed to separate Manchester United's Brazilian twins?
The twins signed with United in February 2007 but were unable to play for United until they turned 18 in the summer of 2008.
Since joining United full time, Rafael has had a far better career, with Fabio's being delayed due to constant battles with injury. Rafael made his first start in September in a Carling Cup match. A few weeks later he started in the Champions League, where he was very impressive.
Rafael would continue to earn starts at right back in October, but his true breakout moment came in a November match against Arsenal. Gary Neville started at right back and was getting torched by Samir Nasri, who got Arsenal out to a 2-0 lead. With about a half hour remaining, Rafael replaced Neville and immediately changed the game. Rafael capped it off with a stunning volley, to pull United within one, but it was not enough.
Rafael quickly established himself as United's first choice right back, but his season was still marred by injuries. In 2009/10 Rafael once again fought and won the first choice right back spot but again battled injuries. Nevertheless, Rafael got the call in the round of 16 of the Champions League against AC Milan at the San Siro.
After a shaky first 10 minutes, Rafael settled down and played brilliantly shutting down Ronaldhino. In the return leg Rafael replaced Gary Neville and put in a beautiful cross to set up Darren Fletcher's first career Champions League goal.
Rafael has quickly emerged as United's best right back. While he still makes mistakes that young players make, such as getting sent off in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Bayern Munich last season, he continues to show how talented he could be.
Last week Sir Alex Ferguson played him on the wing in the midfield against Arsenal in the FA Cup. Rafael, along with brother Fabio were tremendous in leading the United attack, leading many to believe they may have been playing out of position all along.
While Rafael has made 68 appearances and is a first choice right back for United, his brother Fabio's career has started a little bit slower. Fabio has made just 27 appearances, though he plays behind one of the world's best left backs in Patrice Evra.
Recently though, Fabio has been given chances to play on the left wing, where he has scored two goals in the past month, giving hope that his career is starting to take off.
Both twins are beginning to become stars in this league, and the two of them will soon be the leaders of Manchester United.
2. Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
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You would have to be living under a rock if you haven't heard Gareth Bale's name this season. Instead of being tabbed as a budding star, Bale has now emerged as an actual star for Spurs.
Bale's professional career began at the age of 16 with Southampton. One year later the left back made the move to White Hart Lane.
Bale's career at Spurs however got off to a very rocky start. Tottenham did not win a single game that Bale played in during his first 24 Premier League matches. When Bale came on as a substitute in the 85th minute during a September 2009 match against Burnley, it was the Welshman's first involvement in a winning match for Tottenham, coming more then two years after he joined the club.
After struggling with Tottenham as a left back, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp moved Bale up to left wing in the midfield. The move helped Bale's career take off, as Bale was influential in leading Tottenham to a fourth place finish and qualification into the Champions League.
This season, Bale has taken his game to a new level. He has already scored seven goals in the Premier League and has added four more in the Champions League.
During the group stages Bale torched Inter Milan and Brazilian right back Maicon, considered by many to be the best in the world, en route to scoring a hat trick at the San Siro. Just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, Bale torched Maicon again two weeks later at White Hart Lane.
Bale's play has started attracting attention from the big clubs all around the world. England manager Fabio Capello has even called him one of the best players in the world right now. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City are all rumoured to be interested in Bale, with Barcelona reportedly ready to launch a €40 million bid for Bale this summer.
Bale insists he is happy in North London, and right now Spurs are very content to hold on to and build their team around their young star.
1. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
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Jack Wilshere joined the Arsenal youth academy when he was nine years old. He has since risen through the academy all the way into the first team.
Wilshere made sporadic appearances for Arsenal during his first two seasons. Last January, Arsene Wenger sent him on a loan to Bolton until the end of the season to allow Wilshere a chance to play regular first team football.
The loan move helped Wilshere's career take off as Wilshere made 14 appearances for Bolton during the second half of the season, scoring one goal.
When Wilshere returned to Arsenal, he was ready to compete for a place in the starting XI. Wilshere was given a chance to start on the opening weekend of the Premier League when Arsenal took on Liverpool at Anfield, and he has not looked back since.
Wilshere earned Arsenal's Player of the Month award for September. His tremendous passing and tackling ability allows him to sit back and play as a holding midfielder or push up and play as an attacking midfielder.
Wilshere has made 38 appearances in all competitions so far this season for Arsenal, scoring twice and picking up eight assists. He was influential in leading Arsenal's run to the Carling Cup final.
In February, Wilshere was given his full England debut when he made his first start for England in a friendly against Denmark. It was his third England cap.
Despite Arsenal falling to Barcelona in the round of 16 of the Champions League, Wilshere was tremendous in helping Arsenal defeat Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg. Wilshere received tremendous praise for his play.
Fabio Capello has come out and said Wilshere could be the captain of England one day. If Wilshere continues to progress at his current rate, Capello could easily be right.