The Premier League debut of James Wilson for Manchester United against Hull this week was pretty much how every teenage prospect, their families, their coaches and the club who have brought them through dream it would be.
Wilson, 18, has been playing well above his age level for some time, having starred in FA Youth Cup and under-18 league competition for the Red Devils as a schoolboy. His two goals against the FA Cup finalists served as evidence (perhaps the first exhibit of many) of what a talented young footballer can achieve when the system does right by him.
He was given this chance to shine by interim manager Ryan Giggs – one of the prototypical teenage prodigies done good in the Premier League era. And not only have we witnessed a whole host of English talent come through on these isles between Giggs and Wilson, but there remains a large batch of potential waiting to be the breakout star of 2014/15.
This could be considered food for thought for Greg Dyke and the FA Commission ahead of their plans to change an academy system which is clearly working in favour of a new ‘League Three’ concept which heavily favours bigger clubs and poses a threat to smaller establishments instead of focusing on where the problem really is – i.e between senior debut and becoming a full England regular.
But, we’re not going to hold out hope for that. Instead, we’ll embrace the next generation of young stars for our own viewing pleasure as well as, hopefully, the start of their own paths to the top.
So, who should we be keeping our eyes on? Here are 10 English teenagers you may be hearing a lot about over the next 12 months.
Chances are, if you’ve been following this year’s FA Youth Cup (won by Chelsea in spectacular fashion), reading some of the more youth-orientated rumours in Paper Round or even plan on following England’s progress in the European U17 Championships which kick-off today LIVE on Eurosport HD, you may end up starting next season with an advanced knowledge of them come August.
Patrick Roberts, Fulham
Has come on as a substitute for the doomed Cottagers at Manchester City and in the home game against Everton both in March, and is a rumoured target of Arsene Wenger’s at Arsenal. Can play behind a target man or drift off to the right as a wide forward and starred in the Londoners’ run to the FA Youth Cup final where they lost to neighbours Chelsea. Could prove to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of a drop to the Championship.
A less-heralded star-in-the-making coming through at Old Trafford, Pearson is the midfield grinder to Wilson’s explosive attacking threat. Already has European experience courtesy of the UEFA Youth League project (which was also screened LIVE on Eurosport). Comparisons have been made to Paul Scholes, though the club understandably try to keep burdens like that off their next batch of talent.
Dominic Solanke, Chelsea
Though undoubtedly facing one of the toughest battles to break into his club’s first team of all the men on this list (Nemanja Matic, anyone?), the two-goal star of a dramatic Youth Cup final second-leg comeback has seven U17 goals in 10 appearances and should lead the line in Malta along with our next entry…
Dominic Solanke is the first player to hit 20 goals in a #CFCU18 season in over a decade. Think the last to do it may have been Carlton Cole
— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) May 6, 2014
Conversely, if any top flight club could do with an injection of fresh confidence from the youth ranks, it’s the Magpies. Alan Pardew has openly discussed his reluctance to throw striker Armstrong into the lion’s pit too soon, but with a new start on the horizon in 2014/15 and the chance to add to his excellent eight England U17 goals in as many games up front with Solanke in Malta, the next season could be that of ‘Double A’.
Diego Poyet, Charlton
Yes – he is Gus’s son. And in a season where father has completed an incredible ‘great escape’ with Sunderland, Diego has given the family double incentive to be proud by making his senior debut for Charlton in January and going on to be named the club’s player of the year this past weekend. One of a job lot of academy stars being given the chance to sink or swim at The Valley, Poyet has captained his country at multiple youth levels.
One of the first switches in the controversial Elite Player Performance Plan era when snared by the Gunners from Aston Villa for just an initial £200,000. And judging by Crowley’s potential, it’s easy to see why Villa were up in arms over receiving so little for one of their youth standouts. He has been compared to Jack Wilshere after a series of dazzling performances in midfield and could end up declaring for either England or Ireland.
Ryan Ledson, Everton
The captain of the England U17s squad out in Malta, Ledson is already getting the ‘Wayne Rooney/Ross Barkley’ treatment from the Goodison Park faithful. The no-nonsense midfielder has been with the club since he was five and possesses an efficient ‘win the ball, distribute to start an attack’ approach and a strong influence on play. His presence at the Euros means he will not be able to become the second youngest senior player in club history on matchday 38 on Sunday.
Ryan Ledson's passing range is outrageous for a 16 year old. Big season for him next season.
— Dom (@efcdom) May 9, 2014
A standout at U16 level for both Spurs and his country, Edwards is a lively and flexible midfielder whom the club – who have been developing a strong batch of youngsters with the help of concepts such as NextGen Series – have high hopes for. Though he hasn’t been moved up this time around for the U17 squad (team-mate Joshua Onomah is in, however), some feel Edwards has what it takes to begin skipping stages much like United’s Wilson.
Marcus Edwards is such a baller, just brilliant on and off the ball. Shame he plays for Spurs. — AFC Academy (@AFCAcademy) February 14, 2014
Josh Sims, Southampton
The Saints know a thing or two for talented English youngsters ready to participate in the first-team in their teens. And after the likes of Bale, Shaw, Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed could well come diminutive winger Sims. He marked his U17 debut with a goal against the gifted Netherlands set-up at youth football’s prestigious Algarve Tournament and could be a wild card in Malta – as well as for Southampton in 2014-15.
Josh Sims starts for England, if any #saintsfc fans have Eurosport it's live on Sky Channel 411.
— Nige (@Baldsaint) May 9, 2014
Finally, a player whose father scored plenty of goals for Manchester United back in the day is coming through the ranks at their rivals City. He turns 19 on the eve of Premier League final day, where barring disaster his club will lift a second league trophy in three years, and after shining in the side’s Elite Development Squad and pre-season tours, may well get his big opportunity next season with a gold badge on his shirt sleeve.
GOAL. City have one back. Devante Cole, son of Andy, sent in on goal and he fires low into the corner. Like father, like son. 2-1 — Reading FC (@ReadingFC) April 10, 2014
Who knows, perhaps he and Wilson will be rivals not just at their clubs, but in the league scoring charts some time in the next 3-5 years?
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe
Watch LIVE coverage of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta LIVE and Exclusive on British Eurosport, 9-21 May.
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