With the 2009/10 English football season creeping closer, it’s time to take a look at the twenty Premier League teams and which players, if any, can make the next step over the coming ten or so months.
For the purposes of this article, those who are fringe players or already making some impact on a team are largely ignored, whilst we attempt to look at those who can reach that stage now. They’re fairly unlikely to become even part-time performers unless miracles occur, but in bringing you the best of the next generation, this is the aim of the concept.
Taking this in alphabetical order, and we’ll start with Arsenal. With a supposed riches of young talent, there are many potential names to make the step up. Under-18 captain Jay-Emmanuel Thomas had a fine season last year and lifted the league and cup double, and possesses the physical size and versatility to make him a potential squad player if needed. With uncertainty alongside new signing Thomas Vermaelen at centre-back – Kolo Toure and William Gallas have both been linked with moves away – Kyle Bartley could have a chance to impress in the Carling Cup. The same applies to clinical striker Rhys Murphy. With Emmanuel Adebayor’s future uncertain and Eduardo’s injuries, Murphy could be given a chance, and we only have to look at Federico Macheda for Manchester United last season to see how a single goal from a youngster can turbo-charge a career. Murphy knows where the goal is and can score at any level.
At Aston Villa, a thin squad in need of signings can be bolstered by an influx of youth. Barry Bannan impressed on loan at Derby last season and despite his diminutive stature can provide a creative spark in the centre of the park. Further back, defenders Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker will be looking at Martin Laursen’s retirement with positive intentions, attempting to stake a claim for a spot in the centre-back rotation under Martin O’Neill. Across town at Birmingham City, a summer transfer splurge with the intention of avoiding relegation will make it harder for youngsters to get through, but in Krystian Pearce they have a hulking centre-back with emerging talent. Midfield prodigy Jordon Mutch will be returning from a year’s rest due to muscle growth issues, and St Kitt’s international striker Aaron Moses-Garvey is a strong, explosive bundle of attacking talent.
Blackburn Rovers have a thin squad which Sam Allardyce is working hard to bolster, but rarely in the more recent years have youngsters come through at Ewood Park. Aaron Doran did so last season, and looking to follow in his steps will be the likes of Andy Haworth, Gavin Gunning and Nick Blackman. Bolton Wanderers are somewhat the same, although they do have highly-rated England youth striker Tope Obadeyi on the verge of breaking into the forward ranks. Reserve captain Sam Sheridan will have a chance, whilst highly-rated Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan should serve as Jussi Jaaskelainen’s backup for at least part of the season.
Burnley’s first foray into the Premier League is highly unlikely to see a major influx of youth, but midfielder Adam Kay and forward Wes Fletcher come highly rated. At the other end of the league table (at least in theory), Chelsea have spent much money on their academy and yet rarely take the opportunity to blood some of their talents. Miroslav Stoch managed it for part of last season, whilst Jacob Mellis is pushing hard. Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma could seize a chance if Ricardo Carvalho departs, and French wizard Gael Kakuta will be working hard as he recovers from a broken ankle.
Everton have a long-standing record of youth production and continued that somewhat last season as Jose Baxter’s name reached more attentions. Seamus Coleman has signed from Sligo Rovers, and Luke Garbutt has come from Leeds. Garbutt may only be just 16 but he’s quite a talent, expect him to progress quite quickly. James Wallace has been useful for the club’s reserve team and could get his opportunity as well. Back down in London, where Roy Hodgson is looking to expand his Fulham squad ahead of their Europa League campaign. Chris Smalling is an outstanding prospect at centre-back, and Karim Laribi is a strong-willed full-back capable of filling in across many positions. Matthew Saunders, an accomplished holding midfielder, will be hoping to take his tidy game to the next level.
Hull City are another team unlikely to find the opportunity to use youngsters, but Steve Gardner, Ryan Kendall and particularly Liam Cooper are doing well lower down the system with the Tigers. Liverpool continue to operate something of a scattergun approach to youth development, with over 60 professionals on their books, but it is two local lads who are knocking loudest on Rafa Benitez’s door. Reserve team captain Jay Spearing and defender Stephen Darby are in a position where they need more football. Martin Kelly, a tall and powerful defender, may yet replace Sami Hyypia as the team’s fourth-choice centre-back.
Manchester City continue to spend as if there is no recession, which is disappointing for their talented and productive academy. Daniel Sturridge upped sticks and left this summer, so taking over his mantle in trying to crack the multi-millionaire team are Vladimir Weiss, Ben Mee and even perhaps Jeremy Helán, a highly-touted left-back who was regularly linked with Manchester United. Over on the other side of the city, where manager Sir Alex Ferguson often gives his boys their chance (and has said his summer spending is done), newly-capped Northern Irish international Corry Evans is set to follow brother Jonny into the first team squad. Matthew James has been very impressive in midfield and signed pro terms last week, and then there’s attacking-minded midfielder Daniel Drinkwater, who will look to continue his fine progress. As team-mate Macheda showed last season, that chance is there to take at Old Trafford.
It remains to be seen what happens at Portsmouth, where a takeover is still awaiting confirmation, but the squad is in dire need of freshening up. French youngsters Gauthier Mahoto and Gael N’Lundulu star for the lower level Pompey teams, and Marc Wilson and Asmir Begovic have begun to make tiny ripples in the first team pool.Stoke City will be just fine continuing along their merry way as they did last season, but Nathaniel Wedderburn has the physical attributes to fit into their squad. Ryan Shotton is well thought of, and superbly-named goalkeeper Danzelle St. Louis-Hamilton, whilst being a way off yet, has potential.
Sunderland have started to impress in the FA Youth Cup in the last couple of years, and have Irish youngster Conor Hourihane looking useful. Jack Colback is a tenacious and hard-working midfielder, and goalkeeper Trevor Carson was outstanding in the Reserve League last season. Tottenham Hotspur were even more impressive in the Academy League, and have chosen to opt out of the Reserves this year to go about youth development in their own way. Ryan Mason topped 20 goals from midfield last season, Andros Townsend has all the attributes of a talented winger, and Dorian Dervite, some years after his potential first came to light, could now be ready to make an impression.
Gianfranco Zola has continued West Ham United’s policy of playing prospects, turning Junior Stanislas and James Tomkins into near-regulars last season. Next on the list at the Upton Park production line are Josh Payne, Jordan Spence, and Zavon Hines, with Kyel Reid looking to make a name for himself. Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic inherits a youth setup without much history of production in their Premier League years, but might want to look at Callum McManaman, Nick Meace, and Tomasz Kupisz. And finally, newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers have a proliferation of burgeoning talent, and despite a busy squad looking for consolidation, Kyle Bennett, Scott Malone, and Jamie Reckford will dream of playing top-flight football.
So there we have it. It’s all good fun predicting, and the football season is usually unpredictable, but here’s hoping at least one of these comes right by May!
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