All the best players start somewhere, but some seem to begin earlier than others. Here, in association with our pals at YouthHawk, we've put together the 50 hottest prospects in English football today.
Our parameters are simple: we looked for teenagers who are quite fine at football and contracted to English clubs right now. That's it (sorry, Jadon).
Some clubs have a thriving youth setup that's constantly churning out a new generation of would-be world-beaters, if not always providing them with the platform to show what they can do. Even teams that struggle to invest in their youth systems still manage to unearth the occasional superstar-in-the-making, however – and our list combines students from some of the country's best academies with the standout performers elsewhere.
Here are the top 50 teenager players we're most excited about right. If you think we've missed someone, let us know at @FourFourTwo...
50. Amadou Diallo (West Ham)
Image: West Ham United FC
The second-youngest player on our list checks in at number 50, but despite only just having turned 16 he’s already well on his way to the top.
While preparing to sit his GCSEs this summer, the talented attacking midfielder has been impressing for West Ham’s under-23s, and is hopeful of being the next youngster to earn playing time under manager Manuel Pellegrini.
The two-footed Diallo is a keen dribbler with a dangerous shot, and is one to watch very closely indeed.
49. Jude Bellingham (Birmingham)
Bellingham is the only player younger than Diallo on this list but, like his fellow schoolboy, has also taken to under-23 football far better than your average 15-year-old has any right to.
A regular captain of England at U15 and U16 level, the Blues youngster profiles as a modern-day midfield schemer with lovely balance, tons of creativity and an eye for goal.
48. Dru Yearwood (Southend)
While teenagers up and down the country struggle for playing time at the highest levels, the Football League continues to offer a platform to impress early and often – and that has particularly been the case at Southend United.
All-action midfielder Yearwood has asserted himself as a crucial part of Chris Powell’s team since breaking into the Shrimpers’ squad at the start of last season, standing out for his ability to win back possession and then thrillingly transition into attack. Big clubs are taking notice.
47. Michael Obafemi (Southampton)
Once eligible for Ireland, England or Nigeria, the squat, muscular Obafemi was brought to attention in December when he became Southampton’s youngest-ever Premier League goalscorer at Huddersfield.
It came a month after the Dublin-born striker committed to Ireland, and his star will surely continue to ascend throughout 2019 and beyond now that he’s working under Ralph Hasenhuttl – a manager who is exceptionally keen to give his young players a chance to shine at St Mary’s.
46. Stephen Walker (Middlesbrough)
In the space of five days late last month, Walker scored a hat-trick for Middlesbrough’s under-18s to kill off Everton in the Premier League Cup, and then joined MK Dons on loan until the end of the season.
The move provides a chance for the prolific forward to build on a fine first half of the campaign in which he made his Boro first-team debut and continued to earn England recognition.
Walker is a natural finisher with fluid movement, and helping Milton Keynes to promotion from League Two could be just the start for him.
45. Arvin Appiah (Nottingham Forest)
An ever-uncertain managerial situation at the City Ground has done little to halt Appiah’s trajectory into Forest’s first-team squad. The 18-year-old scored on his debut in the League Cup against Burton Albion in October, before signing a new long-term contract last month.
With Forest now trying to reclaim an identity under Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, the East Midlanders could do a lot worse than turning to the famed Nigel Doughty Academy and begin to utilise Appiah’s exciting raw, attacking talent.
44. Adam Idah (Norwich)
And on the Daniel Farke revolution goes at Carrow Road. The opportunities handed out to the likes of Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Todd Cantwell make this a very exciting time to be in Norwich’s academy.
Adam Idah is yet to join them in making a senior appearance, but the Irish forward’s goalscoring form over the last two years has earned him fluttering eyelashes from some of English football’s biggest clubs. He will likely get his chance under Farke before long.
43. Matt O’Riley (Fulham)
Were it not for injuries, O’Riley could have found himself in a similar position to Ryan Sessegnon by now.
One of the jewels in Fulham’s impressive youth setup, this tall and elegant central midfielder made his senior debut in August 2017 but has managed just two further appearances since. As a result, he has an interesting decision to make this summer as he approaches the end of his first professional contract.
Like so many English youngsters, the lure of the Bundesliga looms large. O’Riley may take some convincing to remain in SW6 regardless of whether Fulham are a Premier League team next season or not.
42. Ethan Laird (anchester United)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign at Old Trafford has delivered more than most Reds fans will admit they dared hope for, including the promise of more playing time for the best of their next generation of academy prospects.
Chief among them is Laird, a versatile defender who plays best at right-back but is also a capable central defender with size, speed and top-class decision-making. Injuries have afflicted him for some of this season, but with the prospect of a debut to come, it could end up being a year to remember for a player who joined the club aged eight.
41. Faustino Anjorin (Chelsea)
While their kids might not get the chance to shine at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s academy production line shows no sign of slowing down and former Blues are frequently turning up in matches across the country.
England Under-18 midfielder Anjorin, reminiscent of Michael Ballack when he’s at his dominant best, has already scored in six different youth competitions this season as well as for his country, and seems on course for a breakthrough into senior football before his teenage years are out.
Having just turned 17 in November, that would be no mean feat should it happen in the near future.
40. Luca Connell (Bolton)
“Passes and moves like a Premier League player.”
Bolton fans’ heady praise for a player who only made his first-team bow at the start of January may surprise some, but for anyone who’s had the chance to watch the versatile, shaggy-haired midfielder in action, it will be simple affirmation of what they already suspected.
His decent record in front of goal for the Trotters’ U18s caps an impressive attacking skill set, and the Liverpool-born Ireland youth international has already been the subject of bids from Premier League clubs.
39. Andre Dozzell (Ipswich)
Things haven’t quite gone to plan for Dozzell since he scored on his Ipswich debut as a tender 16-year-old in 2016; it's been injuries and his club’s tumultuous slide down the table which have blighted his progress.
Still only 19, the son of ex-Tractor Boy Jason has a wand of a left foot and the ability to control a game’s tempo from his favourite position in the middle of the park. Put together, it makes him an easy watch.
Dozzell might well end up taking a longer road to the top, but anyone willing to put their faith in him right now could end up snagging themselves a bargain.
38. Nathan Wood-Gordon (Middlesbrough)
Image: Middlesbrough FC
Part of Wood-Gordon’s rapid ascent to making first-team appearances while still only 16 can be attributed to his size. But he is far from merely an impressive physical specimen.
The son of former Boro defender Dean Gordon is mature beyond his years, looks like the consummate modern-day defender with good feet, and is a regular captain of his England youth teams.
37. Troy Parrott (Tottenham)
Calls from some quarters for the Dublin-born forward to lead Tottenham’s line in the absence of Harry Kane were highly optimistic, but they showed the esteem in which Parrott is held at Hotspur Way.
He only turned 17 in February but has hit the ground running since moving to London from Belvedere last season, and has already made an impact at under-23 level too.
36. Joe Gelhardt (Wigan)
Image: Wigan Athletic/Bernard Platt
Wigan’s youth system doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of the country’s more underrated setups, but good work is being done up in the north-west.
That’s underlined by the presence of two of their products featuring regularly England U17 squads this season (see also: Jensen Weir). Gelhardt has frequently donned a Three Lions shirt since he was 14, and is a bit of a throwback centre-forward who knows where the goal is.
A first-team debut in August has helped to ward off interest from bigger clubs, and he signed his first professional contract in August 2018.
35. James Garner (Manchester United)
There are spectacular, flashy and eye-catching prospects, and then there’s Garner. But don’t read that the wrong way.
The 17-year-old is rock solid with the composure of a grizzled veteran, and it seems inevitable that he will join the glittering, growing list of successful midfield graduates at Old Trafford. He has already been mentioned in passing by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a player of interest, and a first-team debut before the end of the season could come his way.
34. Harvey Elliott (Fulham)
Fulham's desperation to keep another of their special talents forced them to accelerate Elliott’s development through their academy ranks – culminating in the 2003-born midfielder becoming their youngest-ever player in the League Cup at Millwall in September 2018.
Bigger clubs will continue to circle while he can't sign a professional contract until April 2020, but Elliott can be reassured that there is a proven pathway into senior football at Craven Cottage... even if he might have to take his GCSE exams first.
33. Angel Gomes (Manchester United)
Gomes is not your typical English footballer. His laid-back, languid and laconic style often makes it look as if a game has passed him by but, trusted by the right manager, he can make a midfield tick in a way that many other players simply cannot.
He became the Premier League’s first 2000-born player on the final day of 2016/17, and although still short of stature, he continues to develop nicely.
32. Rhian Brewster (Liverpool)
Having been crowned under-17 world champion and finishing as the tournament’s top goalscorer in October 2017, Brewster looked destined for a thrilling 2018 that looked like his for the taking.
But then came a serious injury suffered just 12 days into the year, which ruled him out for the best part of its remainder. Liverpool won’t rush him back, but when he’s ready, the Reds have a natural goalscorer who could quickly shunt himself further forward in the pecking order at Anfield.
“With a little bit of luck – which you always need – we will have a lot of fun with him,” Jurgen Klopp smiled recently.
31. Dwight McNeil (Burnley)
A young footballer’s journey rarely follows a straight line, and McNeil has certainly experienced the twists and turns that most youngsters endure. Released by Manchester United as a 15-year-old, he earned a scholarship down the road at Burnley and eventually settled into a regular role under Sean Dyche this term – no mean feat at a club that isn’t noted for using young talent.
Deceptively quick, decisive and confident, the 19-year-old scored his first top-flight goal against West Ham in late December.
30. Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea)
There has been little reason for optimism at Portman Road this season as Ipswich hurtle towards League One – but Chalobah has stood out as a rare functioning cog in the Tractor Boys’ machinery.
While relegation is never a desirable addition to one’s CV, the physical tests and mental challenges of a difficult season in the Championship are sure to stand the 19-year-old in good stead for his next step.
29. Ben Brereton (Blackburn)
Another youngster showing that an exit from Old Trafford can open more doors than close them, Brereton spent his formative years in the Manchester United academy before moving on to Stoke and then Nottingham Forest.
It was at the City Ground where the clever striker really made his mark, scoring 20 goals in 15 games to break into Philippe Montanier first team while still only 17. His subsequent £7m transfer to Lancashire hasn’t yet lived up to expectations – just the three league starts in 2018/19 so far – but time is very much on his side to rekindle the spark that got fans so excited about him in the first place.
28. Taylor Harwood-Bellis (Manchester City)
Eight days shy of his 17th birthday, Harwood-Bellis lined up in front of nearly 15,000 fans at the Stadium of Light as Manchester City’s under-23s took on Sunderland in the Checkatrade Trophy last month.
The occasion hardly seemed to faze the Stockport-born defender, however, and such experience playing up in senior competitions will provide a perfect platform for one of the most highly regarded players in his age group.
27. Morgan Rogers (West Brom)
The Baggies consistently punch above their weight when it comes to producing elite talent, demonstrated most recently in their FA Cup clash against Brighton, when they ended extra time with four academy graduates on the field.
One of those was Rogers, who came off the bench five days after netting four goals in an U23s game. A striker with electric pace and versatility across the attacking line, his name will become more and more familiar – particularly if he stars in this summer’s U17 European Championship finals for England.
26. Joe Willock (Arsenal)
A goalscoring midfielder who has drawn stylistic comparisons with Paul Pogba, Willock made headlines with a brace against Blackpool in the FA Cup last month but has only been handed two minutes of senior football since.
If Arsenal have been trying to convince him not to follow older brother Chris – now of Benfica – out the door, they have failed to present a compelling case so far. Wherever he ends up, though, the England Under-20 international won’t stay quiet for long.
25. Oliver Skipp (Tottenham)
Much was made of Tottenham’s failure to recruit new players in the summer, but such hysteria underestimated both Mauricio Pochettino’s willingness to trust young players and his ability to improve them.
Skipp’s emergence as a reliable midfield understudy for one of the best sides in the country has been understated but no less impressive, prompting Pochettino to liken his teenage enforcer to “a 30-year-old man” after his first Premier League start in December.
24. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
The first 2001-born player to feature in the Premier League, Saka is in as much of a hurry to the top as he is to make an impact when crossing the white lines into battle.
The 17-year-old Londoner is comfortable at full-back or on the wing, like so many of today’s teenage widemen, and Unai Emery has already found ways to use his youthful exuberance. Saka is the latest in a long line of very promising players produced at Hale End recently.
23. Eric Garcia (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola hailed the personality, intelligence and vision of fellow La Masia alumnus Garcia after he made his Manchester City debut in December, then picked him again for both legs of the League Cup semi-final last month.
The Catalan centre-back represents everything City’s manager looks for in a modern defender; confidence and bravery in possession, pace in recovery and quick adaptation to the physical demands of English football.
22. Rekeem Harper (West Brom)
A Premier League debutant just five months after turning 17, Harper continues to wait for his second top-flight appearance 18 months on – but West Brom’s relegation has provided the prospect of more regular opportunities under Darren Moore in the Championship.
The England U19 international has featured in the Baggies’ last nine games since early January (starting eight of those), and looks set to be a pivotal part of their engine room as they push for an immediate return to the top flight.
21. Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough)
There are 13 teenagers with more minutes in the Championship this season, but none with more goals than Tavernier, who has netted once every 121 minutes on average this term – no mean feat in a team that has hardly scored freely.
The Leeds-born winger’s composure and movement have really caught the eye on Teesside, and Tavernier promises an exciting career ahead at the Riverside.
20. Danny Loader (Reading)
The fact that Loader made just two appearances in India at the Under-17 World Cup probably says more about the sheer depth in quality of England’s 2000-born age group than any slight on the Reading striker, who scored twice in his only 90 minutes at that tournament against Iraq.
The Royals’ struggles have opened a door for the forward, who now has to take his chance with performances and goals on the senior stage.
19. Eddie Nketiah (Arsenal)
Goals invariably follow Nketiah wherever he goes. He’s netted 26 in his last 29 starts in under-23 football, and even managed a brace in his first meaningful run-out for Arsenal in October 2017.
However, he’ll celebrate his 20th birthday before the end of the season and must face up the fact that he has little prospect of ousting Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the near future. With that, the Lewisham native may be the next English teenager looking for a foreign loan to springboard his career.
18. Jayden Bogle (Derby)
Frank Lampard’s third-most-used player this season has enjoyed a terrific breakthrough campaign at Pride Park under the former England midfielder.
Full-back Bogle hasn’t looked back since being promoted to the Rams’ first team in September, and even caught the attention of a handful of Premier League clubs in January. Whether or not the Rams make the play-offs, the emergence of their dynamic young defender is one significant plus point of 2018/19.
17. Ben Wilmot (Watford)
While most of his contemporaries on this list were cutting their teeth in academy football, Wilmot was starting for Stevenage Town in League Two as a 17-year-old centre-back.
A solid defender with natural maturity and an ability to read the game, his promise convinced Watford to part with almost £2m last summer, and the Hornets demonstrated their conviction in his quality with League Cup starts at Reading and Tottenham.
An intriguing loan move to Udinese in January will only accelerate the development of a player Javi Gracia believes could end up in midfield.
16. Max Aarons (Norwich)
Aarons is another defender who has grabbed his chance to shine this campaign, and his performances for the table-topping Canaries have earned him links with Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal since establishing himself in Daniel Farke’s starting XI.
Strong, athletic and attack-minded, he has more goals and assists than any other teenager in the Championship – having not missed a league game since August – and could be set for Premier League football next term one way or another.
15. Reece James (Chelsea)
No teenager has more appearances in the Championship this season than Wigan’s on-loan Chelsea youngster, who has played at right-back and in midfield as Paul Cook’s side look to secure safety.
James flew under the radar during his formative years in the excellent academy at Cobham, but the 19-year-old’s combination of physicality and technique have boosted his stock in the last two years. Now he is one of the Blues’ brightest prospects.
14. Jack Clarke (Leeds)
Clarke’s direct and effective play on the wing has made him one of the teenage stars of this Championship season, and he is now a trusted member of Marcelo Bielsa’s promotion-chasing Leeds side.
Two goals in 11 substitute appearance by New Year’s Day marked positive steps in his maiden senior campaign, and that string of impressive cameos off the bench were enough for him to start five of the Whites’ following six games before an untimely health scare.
The York-born 18-year-old has most recently been linked with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, after previous ties to more or less every other top-six club in the Premier League.
13. Domingos Quina (Watford)
Born in Guinea-Bissau, raised in Portugal and developed by the academies of Benfica, Chelsea and West Ham before his move to Watford in August 2018, Quina’s journey to a Premier League first team has been eclectic.
But it has surely been worth it for both him and the Hornets, who have already seen their paltry £1m investment pay off.
A European Championship winner with Portugal at U17 and U19 level, the 19-year-old’s neat passing, evasive movement and bravery in possession have elevated him to a full place in Javi Gracia’s matchday squad.
12. Ben Woodburn (Liverpool)
After bursting onto the scene weeks after his 17th birthday, becoming Liverpool’s youngest-ever goalscorer with a League Cup strike against Leeds, Woodburn has racked up almost 30 senior appearances in the subsequent 24 months.
He hasn’t quite been able to maintain lofty expectations – the Wales international was recalled from a loan spell at Sheffield United in January after just one Championship start – but the technically gifted and intelligent forward remains highly rated by Jurgen Klopp.
11. Ruben Vinagre (Wolves)
The Portuguese revolution at Molineux has taken Wolves to heady heights, and this season could yet finish with European qualification for the West Midlanders.
Vinagre made 13 appearances for the club on loan from Monaco last term, and he’s already bettered that return since his permanent switch from Ligue 1 in the summer.
The 19-year-old’s speed and willingness to carry the ball forward from wing-back suit Nuno Espirito Santo’s 3-5-2 perfectly, while defensively he has also adapted quickly to Premier League demands.
10. Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal)
It’s been a breakout season for a player likened to a young Kevin De Bruyne. Smith Rowe seized upon his Europa League opportunities at Arsenal; enough to convince Bundesliga side RB Leipzig of a loan spell for the rest of the campaign.
In joining Germany’s Anglo-youth gravy train, the 18-year-old Croydon native now has the perfect stage upon which to impress and earn a regular place in Unai Emery’s plans.
9. Diogo Dalot (Manchester United)
Ashley Young’s new one-year contract at Old Trafford is good news for Dalot: the veteran provides able competition for the youngster, but can also help to mentor the 19-year-old Portuguese who joined from Porto last summer.
Dalot is a freight train of a full-back who has offered tantalising glimpses of what he can offer, and is likely to make the £19m spent on him last June look like an absolute steal in the long run.
8. Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea)
There’s been a lot to beat Maurizio Sarri with in his debut season at Stamford Bridge – and doesn’t he know it – but we’ll also add in some disappointment about how little Ampadu has been used so far this season.
The 18-year-old is already a star on the international stage with Wales, with whom he looks like a grizzled thirty-something veteran rather than a precocious teenager. Cup opportunities have been thrown his way, but he still hasn’t been afforded a single Premier League minute this term.
Given the level of talent he possesses, that surely has to change soon – for Chelsea’s sake.
7. Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Guendouzi, in contrast to Ampadu, shows what might have been. They are kindred spirits when it comes to hair and playing style, but the Frenchman has injected vigour and attitude into an Arsenal team sorely lacking it.
He still has plenty to learn, but the 19-year-old’s rich experiences this season – his first in English football – will serve him well as he refines his game for the future. The all-action midfielder looks perfectly suited to English football.
6. Morgan Gibbs-White (Wolves)
The silky-smooth box-to-box midfielder started England’s Under-17 World Cup triumph as a bit of an afterthought, but by the final had become an integral part of the Three Lions’ success.
The same story is now unfolding at Molineux: in a thriving Premier League side packed with talent, Gibbs-White has emerged as one of the brightest lights in a particularly starry 2000-born generation.
He’s taken to top-flight football admirably, and the best is yet to come.
5. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
It’s a matter of when rather than if for Greenwood, who is yet to make his senior Manchester United debut. The smooth centre-forward can punish teams with either foot, and the quality of his finishing is at a different level to anything seen in youth football in recent years.
Greenwood is likened to Robin van Persie by some of those who’ve watched him closely, and Saturday mornings have been his playground for the last two years. It won’t be long before they turn into Saturday afternoons.
4. Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)
It’s important not to let Fulham’s woes affect how we think about Sessegnon. For much of the last two years he has been the most sought-after young talent in English football.
Still only 18, he has set records for playing time and goalscoring by a teenager in the Championship, and taken to Premier League football well in 2018/19 so far amid his side’s struggles.
Sessegnon is destined to move on from Craven Cottage eventually, and will be an England international for many years to come – regardless of current form.
3. Reiss Nelson (Arsenal)
For a couple of months in the late autumn, Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson took over German football. Week after week they ran amok in a country that welcomed them with open arms, deciding Bundesliga matches and positioning themselves superbly for the years ahead.
Nelson, unlike his boyhood friend Sancho, is still owned by an English club and Arsenal will be delighted with his progress at Hoffenheim. Versatile, dynamic and technically proficient enough for Barcelona to have once considered him an option at full-back, he should be back at the Emirates Stadium next season for full-time duty.
2. Phil Foden (Manchester City)
While English talent continues to struggle finding a pathway in the Premier League, there are few concerns about Phil Foden’s development.
Part of that is owed to the fact there can be few better managers to work under than Pep Guardiola, but even when taking into account the level of talent surrounding the 18-year-old, he could hardly be criticised for feeling like he might have played a bit more this season.
Foden is a generational prospect in every way, and how 2019 unfolds for the Stockport-born playmaker will be highly revealing. “He’s a player who is ready – ready to play,” Guardiola beamed after his teenage maestro’s two-goal display against Newport.
1. Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea)