The Top 10 Rising Stars of English Football
The English youth game is often held up as the chief cause of all England failures. The fact that young talent is not developed appears to be the go-to argument of all post-tournament criticism.
But is that the truth? Could it be that England is actually producing young, talented players?
When England failed to beat Algeria and the United States this summer, the reason was not that England had technically inferior players, it was that the team did not perform well as a unit on that particular day.
The fact that England recently won the Under-17 European Championships by beating Spain seems to further question if it's a lack of development. While England must perform better as a unit, if they fail, Fabio Capello will not be able to blame any future failure on a lack of young options.
Here, we look at the top 10 rising young stars of English football.
Adam Johnson (Manchester City)
Adam Johnson entered the recent international break as a peripheral figure on the England squad. He did not make the final World Cup squad, but was viewed by many as a potential contributor.
After scoring in both of England's opening Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland, Johnson now appears to be much more than a peripheral figure. The fast and exciting winger now has a strong claim to start in England's next qualifier against Montenegro.
Johnson has the ability to both score and create goals from either the left or right flank. He has the ability to beat a defender off the dribble, and his final product appears to be much better than many contenders for the midfield spots with England.
VERDICT: Will play a significant role in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, and is likely to rack up goals and assists throughout the campaign.
Joe Hart (Manchester City)
While most talk of Manchester City tends to revolve around expensive foreign players, Hart is the second young English star to be currently plying his trade at Eastlands.
This season, Hart achieved the impressive feat of wresting the starting goalkeeper spot away from Shay Given. When you take into account the fact that Given has been among the English Premier League's best goalkeepers over the past few years, the future looks bright for England.
Hart has excellent athleticism and a shot-stopping ability on par with most goalkeepers throughout the world. After an excellent season with Birmingham City on loan, he will now look to break into the elite level of goalkeeping with England caps and European experience with Manchester City.
VERDICT: Will be a starter for the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, and will likely go on to surpass 50 England caps comfortably.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Theo Walcott has been around the England scene so long, it is easy to forget he is only 21 years old. He received the strange honor of being named to the England World Cup squad before he had played a Premier League game, when Sven Goran Eriksson named him in England's 2006 World Cup squad.
In a true reversal of fortune, Walcott missed out on the 2010 squad despite having plenty of Premier League and Champions League experience.
Walcott has lightning pace, a direct style of play, and finishing ability. On his day, he has the ability to win a match single-handedly, as he displayed during the previous World Cup qualifying campaign. When England faced Croatia in Zagreb, Walcott was in devastating form and netted a hat trick.
However, he has some problems with consistency and his final product can at times be erratic. Those three goals in Zagreb remain the only goals he has scored for England.
VERDICT: Will recover from his current injury and feature as a squad player during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Will likely be in and out of the starting lineup, but appear in most games.
Jack Rodwell (Everton)
The holding midfield player has become a popular topic after England were exposed so ruthlessly on the counterattack in their World Cup collapse against Germany.
While a host of options at this position is not available, Everton player Jack Rodwell is one. Rodwell shows positional discipline in a strong Everton side, and has the ability to win the ball and keep possession for his team.
While he is yet to crack the starting lineup for the Toffee's on a regular basis, it is surely only a matter of time. While he is often linked with a move away, Everton is a good club for him to develop at. Being surrounded by Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill can do nothing but help the development of Rodwell.
VERDICT: In the England Under-21 side for now, but could crack the squad and will likely make the final squad for Euro 2012.
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
When people talk about foreigners in the English Premier League, the common argument is that English players are not developed. There is, however, a flipside to that argument: For a young English player to break into the Arsenal team, he must be truly excellent. Jack Wilshere fits that description.
Wilshere is a player with fantastic technique and excellent passing range. He will be a star for both club and country. Wilshere does not have many Arsenal games for experience, but has featured in both Premier League and Champions League play. A season on loan at Bolton helped him gain first-team experience.
While Wilshere right now is more potential than actual performance, he certainly is an exciting prospect.
VERDICT: Will not start any Euro 2012 qualifiers, but will have shot at making the final squad as a bench player.
Andy Carroll (Newcastle United)
Carroll is a throwback English center forward. He combines physical power with an aerial presence that has drawn premature comparisons with the great Alan Shearer. The fact that Carroll wears the No. 9 shirt for Newcastle United is not helping calm any of that hype.
Carroll featured intermittently during Newcastle's relegation season, but excelled as they were immediately promoted back up from the Championship. That season of goal scoring has appeared to give confidence to the big hitman, as he displayed with an excellent hat trick when the Geordie's smashed Aston Villa 6-0.
The power and presence of Carroll is currently serving the Under-21's well, but he could be soon knocking on the door of the senior squad, as he is emerging as a dark horse Golden Boot contender.
VERDICT: Down the pecking order right now, but will likely get a run in a friendly if he keeps performing. Carroll will be knocking on the door when the final Euro 2012 qualifying squad is announced.
Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers)
He may not receive the media hype of other players in this list, but Phil Jones is no less talented. The excellent young center back was handed the dubious task of marking Didier Drogba on his Premier League debut. When Drogba scored after only five minutes, Chelsea likely sensed a comfortable victory against a rattled young defender.
What transpired was quite the opposite, Jones played well and Chelsea were shut out for the remaining 85 minutes in a 1-1 tie. The excellent Zonal Marking website stated that Jones won 12 of the 14 challenges he went in for during that game.
Under the watchful eye of Sam Allardyce, Jones is developing into a truly fantastic defender, and his physical attributes will see him reach the elite level of the game.
With John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in and out due to injury, and a struggling Matthew Upson, it is merely a matter of time before Jones gets the call from Fabio Capello.
VERDICT: Jones will break into the lineup at some point before Euro 2012, and become the heir apparent for the eventual retirement of Terry or Ferdinand.
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
A left back through the Arsenal youth academy who plays a similar style to Ashley Cole. Gibbs is a lightning quick defender who is tough to beat off the dribble. The young full back is also comfortable in possession and very capable of contributing to the attack.
Gibbs already has big game experience, having played in the Semifinals of the Champions League and the FA Cup for Arsenal. Gibbs made his England debut in the recent friendly against Hungary, when he was substituted in for Ashley Cole.
VERDICT: With the retirement of Wayne Bridge, Gibbs has a chance of grabbing a backup left defensive spot in the England squad.
Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa)
The departure of James Milner from Villa Park was a painful blow to the Aston Villa fans. However, the play of exciting young winger Albrighton has sparked optimism that he could develop into an exciting attacking force.
Middlesbrough fans found themselves in a similar scenario in 2009 that could hearten Villa fans. Downing left Boro for Aston Villa, and was at the time, a star player. The young reserve who was allowed to flourish after Downing's departure was none other than Adam Johnson.
Albrighton is quick, direct, and has already shown the ability to score goals and provide assists.
VERDICT: Euro 2012 may come too soon, but Albrighton will achieve many England caps during his career.
Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
The Manchester United midfield has been truly blessed over the last 10 years to boast the talents of Ryan Giggs and central midfielder Paul Scholes. Sadly for United fans, those days are coming to an end. While Scholes is still performing at a very high level, Sir Alex Ferguson is doubtless planning for the future and the sad day United must revamp their engine room.
One face that could feature in the future is that of Tom Cleverley. Cleverley has the ability to win possession back as well as join the attack in good effect. He played a starring role during preseason when a reserve side dispatched the MLS All-Stars 5-2.
Cleveley scored a goal in that game with a goal that was taken very...well...cleverly! He has had successful loan spells in the Championship at both Leicester City and Watford. This year he will gain Premier League experience as he has signed a season-long loan deal with Wigan Athletic.
VERDICT: Very much a work in progress and will not feature for Euro 2012, but an England career awaits for this midfielder.