Every EPL Team's Most Highly Touted Teenage Prospect (& Will They Boom or Bust?)

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2011

Every EPL Team's Most Highly Touted Teenage Prospect (& Will They Boom or Bust?)

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    Here in England headlines were made recently by the debut of two 15-year-olds in the Football League. Mason Bennett became Derby County's youngest ever debutant while on Jordan Ibe's first senior start for Wycombe Wanderers he scored in a 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday.

    It was a reminder of how close the future always is, with the coverage given to these debutantes in keeping with a climate of much discussion and debate over the way in which young players are produced in England. It is an issue that has taken greater significance with the recent Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) guidelines than in effect will make it easier and cheaper for Premier League clubs to sign the best lower league youth players.

    It was more or less a case of blackmail from the Premier League, with them threatening to withhold £5 million worth of per-season funding designated for Football League youth development. The latter's clubs voting 46 to 22 in favour of approving the EPPP against such a threat.

    For the Premier League's clubs, more than ever now, they will be able to recruit the country's best young talent to put alongside their own academy developed players and carefully targeted youngsters from abroad.

    Even with the amount of pessimism surrounding the calibre of players being produced in England, there is still much hope and hype placed on the shoulders of those produced in club's academies. In each new crop of youngsters there could be at least one capable of making it in the first-team and probably a few more that will end up being worth a few million quid.

    Figuring out just how good these players might be is an inexact science for sure, but here are club-by-club, some of the most highly touted teenage prospects of the Premier League.

Arsenal: Emmanuel Frimpong

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    Emmanuel Frimpong made quite the impression in his first-team appearances this season. At home to Liverpool in particular he demonstrated his ability to put himself about, but also an immaturity that saw him get a sending off that could have been avoided.

    The 19-year-old midfielder has since had difficulty forcing his way back into the first-team with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Alex Song among others to contend with. So much so that the latest reports are that Arsene Wenger may decide to send him out on loan for some Premier League experience elsewhere.

    Frimpong can look to the example of his teammate Jack Wilshere for the benefit that can be gained by a loan-spell, and a decent run of first-team games could certainly help him in his first for regular football at Arsenal.

    From what we have seen so far Frimpong is certainly a tenacious performer, the sort of player that could give the Arsenal midfield some bite, something the side has been lacking at times. The test will be can he do so while also fitting into the famed pass-and-move style Wenger demands of his team. 

Aston Villa: Gary Gardner

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    Nineteen year-old Gary Gardner is a player Aston Villa fans have been waiting for some time to get a proper glimpse of in the club's colours. The midfielder, who was once reportedly interesting Real Madrid, has only been as far as the substitute bench but not any further so far.

    One of the stars of Villa's youth team in recent years, Gardner is obviously one earmarked to join the likes of Ciaran Clark, Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan in making an impact on the first-team.

    With Villa's comparatively small squad a chance will surely arise for him to test himself sooner rather than later. For now though Gardner does have the chance to continue showcasing himself having made his England Under-21 debut in September.

    At youth levels for club and country he has shown himself to be a solid enough midfielder with some decent goalscoring instincts, but until given some first-team run-outs it remains to seen if he has the quality to make it in the Premier League.

Blackburn Rovers: Grant Hanley

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    Twenty years-old in a couple of weeks time, Grant Hanley could also be on the verge of making it in the Blackburn Rovers first-team.

    The central defender impressed enough in his nine senior appearances last season to earn a call-up for Scotland while he has already added another six appearances this time round.

    With fellow Blackburn youth-product Phil Jones having moved onto Manchester United, Hanley has the chance to compete with the likes of Scott Dann and Christopher Samba for a more permanent berth in defence.

    Hanley replaced the latter at half-time in Rovers' 1-0 defeat to Chelsea last time out, faring decently against the Blues' multi-million pound attack. The defender even probably should have grabbed an equaliser when he found himself open in the penalty area, only to hit it straight at Petr Cech.

    With his team currently struggling to win games, Hanley has an opportunity to prove himself by improving a back line that has been average at best for over a year now.

Bolton Wanderers: Joe Riley

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    If you'll excuse this writer one little indulgence, Joe Riley is no longer a teenager, he turned 20 last month.

    But the right-back is undoubtedly a prospect that Bolton fans have got excited for, especially after a strong league debut for Riley in the recent 5-0 thrashing of Stoke City.

    Having made his senior bow three months earlier in a 2-1 Carling Cup win over Macclesfield Town, Riley excelled in his step up in class against Stoke, performing solidly in defence and even venturing forward on occasion.

    The chants of "There's only one Joe Riley" from the Bolton fans when he was withdrawn late on ended the day on a high-note, a much needed boost of positivity in what has been a dour campaign for the Trotters so far. Riley has helped raise expectations for himself and surely will be looking forward to the chance to meet them.

Chelsea: Josh McEachran

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    Chelsea's quest for self-sufficiency has not been the success they would have hoped, not least yet in terms of producing players capable of minimising their need to spend huge transfer sums on bringing others in.

    But there are some names to give them hope with the likes of England youth internationals Nathaniel Chalobah and Ryan Bertrand showing potential. There is also Bertrand's fellow Under-21 international Josh McEachran.

    The 18-year-old made his debut just over a year ago now in the Champions League, and followed that up with a number of positive cameo appearance for the Blues throughout the 2010/11 season.

    A ball-playing central midfielder who can also a job out left, McEachran on the whole looked comfortable in his first-team appearances last year with many observing he might be the sort of player to revitalise Chelsea's midfield.

    Having signed a new contract this past July, first-team opportunities haven't been quite as forthcoming under Andre Villas-Boas, but there is a belief that given a chance McEachran could be a very handy player in years to come for Chelsea.

Everton: Ross Barkley

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    Everton have had one of the Premier League's more successful academies in recent times. Out of it came the likes of Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman, two players who still regular first-team fixtures at Goodison Park, and of course Wayne Rooney.

    Unlike Rooney, Ross Barkley is not a striker, but the 17-year-old midfield is comparable in the similar levels of hype over his potential.

    Barkley made his debut in Everton's 1-0 defeat to Queens Park Rangers earlier this season, earning decent reviews in the process, and also forcing his manager David Moyes to put the brakes on things for a while as he manages his young charge carefully rather than risk burning him out too soon.

    Even so, Moyes has made it clear he believes Barkley has the talent to make it to the top of the game and with rumours of interest from Chelsea already it would seem there are others thinking along the same lines about the England Under-21 international.

Fulham: Pajtim Kasami

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    Pajtim Kasami made headlines back in September when it was reported he had been fined for his penalty miss in Fulham's Carling Cup tie at Chelsea, causing annoyance among his team-mates at boss Martin Jol. As it turns out the fine was more to do with him talking the penalty when he wasn't the appointed player.

    If nothing else was gained from it, it at least showed the 19-year-old has confidence in his ability.

    Kasami arrived from Palermo this past summer having just been part of the Switzerland squad that lost to Spain in the final of the Under-21 European Championships. The midfielder being part of a talented young generation of players that is viewed capable of helping the fortunes of Swiss football.

    Aside from the penalty incident, Kasami has fared pretty decent so far in his time at Fulham with some good performances in the Europa League as well as getting some valuable Premier League game time. Having already played for a while in Serie A, he already has valuable experience and could be ready to make an impact for the Cottagers if he is called upon more frequently.

Liverpool: Raheem Sterling

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    Formerly at QPR, Raheem Sterling was on the wish list of several Premier League clubs before Liverpool got his signature. The 16-year-old has already impressed enough on Merseyside to find himself on the fringes of the senior squad.

    While being considered for first-team duty on a regular basis may be a little way off, the winger/forward is making the right steps in that direction.

    Sterling has drawn plaudits for great youth team performances that included a five-goal haul in a 9-0 win against Southend United in 2010, while he was part of the England squad that went to the quarter-finals of the Under-17 World Cup this past summer.

    Steve Gallen, QPR's Head of Development has described his ex-player as having "loads of natural ability. This boy can pass, shoot, head it, score goals, tackle, defend, anything." There is some work to be done before it can be seen if he is capable of delivering such an all-round game at senior level, but the general agreement is the talent is there.

Manchester City: Abdul Razak

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    For a little while Manchester City looked to have produced a crop of players that were destined to be at the heart of their side for years to come. Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson and Micah Richards were the pick of a bunch playing well for the first-team and looking like they were only going to get better.

    Then of course the money came and priorities changed. Ireland found himself out of contention and Johnson has been plagued with injuries, although Richards has got over a poor run of form and continues to excel as part of Roberto Mancini's defence.

    It is understandable with so much money to spend on the world's best players that developing young talent wasn't the biggest of priorities for a while, but now plans are definitely in place at City to start producing their own stars.

    One young player they have brought in is the Ivorian midfielder Abdul Razak.

    Eighteen year-old Razak impressed in a substitute appearance coming on for against West Brom last season and drew some good reviews for preseason performances. He is currently on-loan at Portsmouth.

    The extent to which the club rate Razak was shown by their efforts to keep him in the country after a long fight with the British Home Office to extend a stay that started when he arrived in Aberdeen for a youth tournament in 2007.

    Currently on-loan at Portsmouth, it will be as good as opportunity as he is likely to get to make an impression in what will be a difficult task to break into one of the Premier League's best midfields.

Manchester United: Ravel Morrison

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    Ravel Morrison is described in his profile on the Manchester United website as "a supremely gifted talent: a skillful, creative midfielder capable of scoring and making goals."

    While it is not surprising to see a player's own club talking them up, there seems to be a general feeling that Morrison could well be the most talented youth product produced by United since that famous crop from the early 1990s.

    The 18-year-old was brought on for his debut in United's 3-2 Carling Cup win over Wolves in October 2010 and was one of the stars in as the young Red Devils won the FA Youth Cup last season.

    There have however been cause for concern about Morrison's mentality and his behaviour off the pitch.

    In January of this year, he pleaded guilty to witness intimidation and just a few months was fortunate to avoid a prison sentence and escape with just a fine following a criminal damage charge. In addition, last week Morrison drew criticism from Wayne Rooney on Twitter after the young midfielder used the social networking site to express his displeasure at being selected as a substitute for a reserve match.

    Morrison is said to have backtracked on this, claiming he was misunderstood. Nonetheless he will be one to watch, as we see if Sir Alex Ferguson deems him capable of breaking into the first-team, or if he just not worth the trouble.

Newcastle United: Sammy Ameobi

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    Newcastle United have enjoyed a bright start to the season, and if Sammy Ameobi carries on his career as he has started they may soon have one more reason to smile.

    Nineteen year-old Sammy, younger brother of team-mate Shola, made his debut for the Magpies against Chelsea in the penultimate game of last season and followed that up early in this campaign with the winner against Scunthorpe in extra-time of their Carling Cup encounter.

    Able to play both as a striker and winger, Ameobi has the height to make him an imposing physical threat but also looks comfortable on the ball and is unafraid to take players on.

    After a good display after coming on against Everton in Newcastle's 2-1 win he has been called up to the England Under-21 squad, a confidence boost that will hopefully only aid the progression of one of the brightest prospects in the north-east.

Norwich City: Matthew Ball

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    Matthew Ball signed his first professional contract earlier this year with the midfielder's youth team performances taking him to the edge of first-team recognition.

    Thirteen goals in 28 academy appearances last season caught the eye of manager Paul Lambert who will now see how the 18-year-old fares in the company of older team-mates at Carrow Road.

    English born Ball is also part of the Northern Ireland Under-19 squad.

Queens Park Rangers: Bruno Andrade

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    QPR's exciting young winger Bruno Andrade has said he models his game on that of fellow Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo. If Andrade can prove half as good as the Real Madrid star then they might have a top player on their hands.

    Still just 18, Andrade has some way to go and was recently loaned out to Aldershot Town. This came on the back of his first Premier League experience when he came on for the last ten minutes of QPR's loss to Wigan earlier in the campaign.

    A former young player of the year at the club, he was given a two and a half year contract late in 2010. He is certainly regarded as a great potential talent, but isn't the biggest of players and will have to prove he can handle himself at senior level.

Swansea City: Joe Walsh

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    Talented young players like Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair have been an integral part of Swansea's rise to the Premier League, others like left-back Joe Walsh may be the key to their long-term prospects.

    Also comfortable at centre-back, the 19-year-old has represented Wales at youth level. So far his only experience at senior level has been in the Carling Cup, making an appearance in each of the last two seasons.

    Having been on the fringe of the first-team for over a year now his next step will be to earn a regular squad place.

Stoke City: Jordan Richardson

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    One of the stars of Stoke City academy's season thus far, 17-year-old Jordan Richardson's goals have been one of the highlights of the Potters' Premier Academy League (Group C) campaign so far.

    The midfielder hit a hat-trick in last month's 4-4 draw with Blackburn Rovers, making it seven so far for the season. With good ability over a free-kick too the Liverpool born player could be one to watch.

    Few from the Stoke academy have progressed into the first-team on a permanent basis in recent seasons so the likes of Richardson might have difficulty in breaking into Tony Pulis' well settled and cohesive squad. Defender Ryan Shotton has been impressive this season after making that jump, perhaps an indication of a desire on Pulis' part to inject more talented youngsters into his squad.

Sunderland: Connor Wickham

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    It feels like 18-year-old Connor Wickham has been around a lot longer than he actually has when you think back on the sheer amount of speculation linking the then Ipswich Town player with a number of clubs.

    After being linked to the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool perhaps Sunderland was something of an unlikely destination for the striker, but on a recent appearance on Sky Sports' "Goals On Sunday" his former Ipswich manager Paul Jewell suggested it was a good move for him in putting an end to the hype and getting on with learning his trade.

    Wickham's new boss Steve Bruce took his time in giving his £8.1 million signing a chance, but the Black Cats' struggle for goals has seen him given game time and responding pretty well. The England youth international grabbing his first goal for his new club in a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

    Wickham certainly has the attributes to perform at Premier League level. He is strong and is certainly not short of ability when it comes to taking chances. At Ipswich there were signs he was improving all the time and it looks so far as if he won't be far off delivering goals on at least a semi-regular basis at the top level.

    After picking up a knee injury last time out at Manchester United the initial news is not as bad as first feared and the hopes are Wickham will be back sooner rather than later.

Tottenham Hotspur: Thomas Carroll

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    Tottenham Hotspur's Europa League campaign so far has been an enlightening experience for both the club's young players getting an opportunity to test themselves against decent competition and for many of the fans getting a glimpse of their possible future heroes for the first time.

    There is also high hopes for the even more youthful prospects who have been performing well in the inaugural NextGen Series, the likes of Souleymane Coulibaly, Alex Pritchard and Cristian Ceballos to name but a few.

    But it is one of those Europa League adventurers, Thomas Carroll, who is providing the most intrigue as of right now.

    His slight stature, tidy passing and willingness to go looking for the ball mean there are comparisons to me made between the 19-year-old and Luka Modric. Of course Carroll is not yet near the Croatian's class, but in the heart of Tottenham's midfield in Europe he has fared pretty nicely in being one of the key components in implementing the team's passing style in the absence of senior counterparts.

    Ability wise there is then a lot of optimism, but the slight frame on Carroll will pose some questions of whether he is able to translate this into being a consistent Premier League performer. But in Modric, a player who similar questions were asked of, he has a fine example to look up to.

West Bromwich Albion: James Hurst

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    First thing's first for right-back James Hurst will probably be finding a little consistency of location. Having begun his career at West Bromwich Albion he joined Portsmouth aged 16 in 2008 only to return to the Midlands two years later. Then this season a loan-spell at Blackpool didn't last too long before he was called back to his parent club.

    Given the chance to settle down though and Hurst might well make a fine defender.

    His initial first-team excursion came in a difficult winter spell for the Baggies last season, Hurst's three appearances (one in each domestic competition) were some of the few bright spots as the club's early form dissipated.

    With the busy Christmas period coming up Hurst may well get a chance to shine once more.

    The 19-year-old has also represented England in the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia this past summer

Wigan Athletic: Lee Nicholls

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    As things stand Wigan Athletic have a tough season ahead of them. Unfortunately for talented young goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, the decent form of Ali Al Habsi means that in goal is one position that might not necessarily be at risk as a result of the club's struggles (for the meantime at least).

    Nineteen year-old Nicholls is well regarded by the Latics' coaching staff and has been a permanent fixture of their reserve side for some time now, his good performances there earning him a place on the first-team bench for a FA Cup tie against Hull in 2010.

    As well as loan spells at Hartlepool and Sheffield Wednesday the fledgling keeper has also been recognised at international level, being part of the England squads for 2010's Under-19 European Championships and at this year's Under-20 World Cup.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Matt Doherty

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    Republic of Ireland youth international Matt Doherty impressed so much for Bohemians in preseason matches against Aston Villa and Wolves in 2010 that the latter signed him.

    Sporadic cup appearances followed for the 19-year-old defender before he got his Premier League debut in the 2-1 loss at Liverpool earlier this season, giving a composed and mature performance his first senior league outing.

    It followed Doherty signing a new contract days earlier, and with the Wolves back line not among the division's steadiest, further solid performances of his own could see him break into the first-team on a regular basis.

    At international level he has risen through the age-groups and this past summer played his part in Ireland's progression to the semi-final of the Under-19 European Championship where suspension saw him miss their 5-0 loss to eventual champions Spain.


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