Skip to main content

11 Football League stars under 21 you need to know about this season

Zach Clough (Bolton, 20)

A Bolton player since the age of eight, Clough burst onto the scene last January but made only six league starts before a dislocated shoulder cut his season short in March. Then 19, he scored the winner on his full debut in the FA Cup Third Round against Wigan and followed it up with a spectacular brace in a 2-2 draw against Wolves in his first league outing.

His involvement last season wasn’t long quite enough to constitute a full-on breakthrough, but his impact was fair warning to the rest of the Championship about the cutting-edge quality he possesses.

Clough will be a marked man this season but Wanderers manager Neil Lennon has no doubts he can cope with the extra attention to become the fulcrum of most Trotters attacks. They sure need him to be. 

Solly March (Brighton, 21)

A peripheral figure for the past two years, March was handed his debut by Oscar Garcia in August 2013 but struggled to hold down a place as an attacking midfielder in an expansive 4-3-3. However, the arrival of Chris Hughton has seen the former Lewes prospect reinvented as a right winger in a 4-4-2 and he has responded to the greater clarity of duty – not to mention extra defensive responsibility – with some mature displays. The recent arrival of Jamie Murphy is a new threat to his selection chances but March is unlikely to shy away now. He has adjusted well enough to the Hughton philosophy to expect consistent game time.

Regan Charles-Cook (Charlton, 18)

A former Arsenal youngster from nearby Lewisham, Charles-Cook has emerged as a surprise contender for regular first-team football at The Valley. There was little touting of his promise before his senior debut in the 4-1 League Cup win over Dagenham & Redbridge earlier this month but the consistency of his displays in pre-season friendlies at right-back, centre midfield and left midfield have convinced Guy Luzon that he’s too useful to be ignored. Such is Luzon’s faith in the pacy all-rounder, he pitched him up against David Meyler in the middle of the park for the final quarter of the recent 2-1 win over Hull, and he didn’t disappoint.

Kalvin Phillips (Leeds, 19)

The latest Thorp Arch academy product to be thrown in at the deep end, Phillips is bidding to follow in the footsteps of Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook by establishing himself as an Elland Road regular while still in his teens. Handed his debut by Neil Redfearn in the televised 4-3 defeat at Wolves over Easter, the Leeds-born central midfielder then marked his home debut with a goal against Cardiff. However, it’s his tenacity and tactical discipline that has subsequently impressed new manager Uwe Rosler, with Phillips central to a game plan that has limited both Reading and Bristol City to very few chances on the Whites’ last two away days.

SEE ALSO Lewis Cook: Meet Leeds' teenage whizz who'll soon be fought over by the big guns

Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest, 18)

The son of Forest legend Des, Tyler has spared himself from too many unhelpful comparisons by playing his football at the opposite end of the pitch, so the old man’s legendary status at the City Ground should only be a good thing. And it also helps that Forest are currently under a transfer embargo, which leaves them unable to throw money at a problem caused by long-term injuries to Britt Assombalonga and Matty Fryatt. Walker is a tidy finisher who likes to run in behind opposing defences, and Dougie Freedman has made no secret of his admiration for the youngster's upbringing, the manner in which he accepts criticism and his willingness to learn. “Never mind football,” says Freedman. "He’s a complete dream to work with.”

James Maddison (Coventry, 18)

After scoring the goal that guaranteed Coventry’s League One survival in a final-day decider at Crawley, this local-born playmaker has now become the focal point of Tony Mowbray’s new-look Sky Blues team, operating as the No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Maddison’s technical ability is second to none, he takes up intelligent positions, can execute a pass with stunning accuracy and his first touch is always a positive one. Premier League scouts are lining up in their droves to watch him play but the 18-year-old is already living the dream by playing for his boyhood club and is contracted until the summer of 2018, so it’s going to take a hefty fee to prise him away from the Ricoh Arena outfit. First, though, he'll have to get over a frustrating three-month injury layoff after suffering bone and ligament damage to his ankle.

Che Adams (Sheffield United, 19)

This Leicester-born attacking midfielder shot to prominence with a sensational double salvo as a late substitute against Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi-final last January, just two months after he arrived for an undisclosed fee from Ilkeston Town. Adams can operate in a variety of positions but usually starts down the left and likes to cut inside, invariably finding his way into the 18-yard box to get on the end of things whenever he’s not supplying the delivery. The arrival of attack-minded manager Nigel Adkins can only be good news for his development but the Blades might have a tough job holding onto him beyond next summer, even though he recently pledged his future to the club by signing a new contract to 2018. 

Rico Henry (Walsall, 18)

The rise to prominence of this talented youngster has been instrumental in Walsall’s impressive start to the new League One season, with his mobility down the left flank enabling Dean Smith to switch from 4-2-3-1 to a new 3-5-2 system that has yielded five straight wins. An injury to regular left-back Andy Taylor last December saw Henry promoted to the first team, only for a dislocated shoulder in February to deny him the chance of playing at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final defeat to Bristol City. However, his first career goal at the end of a marauding run in the closing stages of the League Cup tie against Brighton has now set the Saddlers up with a glamorous third-round clash against Chelsea.

Callum Camps (Rochdale, 19)

A Northern Ireland youth international, Camps made his full senior debut in last January’s FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest. A raw talent with a penchant for spectacular goals, the Stockport-born midfielder has only completed 90 minutes once but is steadily racking up playing time as he grows in confidence and matures with his range of passing. His continual desire to pick out a killer ball can sometimes be dangerous when Dale are defending a lead – hence some of the substitutions – but his determination to make a positive difference should serve him well in the long run. Both of his senior goals to date came out of nowhere, in the first half of matches when Dale weren’t applying any sustained pressure.

Frazer Shaw (Leyton Orient, 20)

The former West Ham youngster found his opportunities at Upton Park limited and wasn’t overwhelmed by offers from elsewhere, so he showed great courage and faith in his own ability to drop out of the league and prove himself at Dulwich Hamlet. A good athlete who is exceptional in one-v-one situations, his performances for the Isthmian Premier League outfit won him international recognition with an England C call-up. Now reunited with former Hammers development manager Ian Hendon, Shaw’s career is back on a more orthodox path, but you can rest assured his brush with obscurity will only fire the desire to be successful as an ever-present for the O’s.

Kieran Parselle (Newport, 18)


Regan Poole’s recent move to Manchester United has been a shot in the arm for the remainder of an impressive teenage contingent at Rodney Parade, nobody more so than his former central defensive partner Parselle. One of six academy products to have been given minutes by Terry Butcher this season, the left-sided 18-year-old made his senior debut in the League Cup at Wolves and picked up the man-of-the-match award for an assured display against Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko. Equally capable of playing in a back four or a back three, Parselle is being used sparingly to avoid burnout but there’s no doubt Butcher sees a big future ahead for the Bristolian – and there’s nobody better for Parselle to learn from.

Get the inside track on football's hottest prospects with Talentspotter