Aston Villa: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Forward)
The England U20 international became Villa’s second-youngest player of all time when he made his first-team debut in a Premier League clash against Sunderland in March 2015.
Three-and-a-half years later, he remains the brightest among a strong group of prospects at Villa Park, having refined his raw energy and instincts in front of goal into a more rounded game, while remaining just as prolific at youth level.
With a fresh start under new manager Dean Smith, he has the opportunity to press a claim for more regular involvement than he was able to secure in Steve Bruce’s veteran-laden squad.
Birmingham: Jude Bellingham (Midfielder)
At a club that has produced its fair share of academy graduates in recent years, including several England internationals, you might wonder why a midfielder still at school is our pick of the Blues’ next generation of prospects.
Those who have watched Bellingham play will understand. The 15-year-old has captained his England age group at every turn, established himself in Steve Spooner’s U18 team at Wast Hills this term, and celebrated his U23 debut with the winning goal away to Nottingham Forest on Monday night.
A precious midfielder who wants the ball and always looks to make things happen, he’s well on his way to emulating the likes of Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond and Demarai Gray in representing the Three Lions at the highest level.
Blackburn: Jack Vale (Forward)
It might not be soon, but Blackburn have a talent capable of leaving his mark at Ewood Park in Welsh forward Jack Vale. The Wrexham-born former TNS schoolboy was snapped by up Rovers in his mid-teens and fast-tracked into the Development Squad last season, then signed his maiden professional contract shortly after his 17th birthday.
A proactive winger who enjoys running at opponents, Vale can also lead the line when asked – as he made clear with his eight-goal return last term, including a hat-trick in the FA Youth Cup.
Bolton: Dennis Politic (Forward)
Politics and football should be kept apart, so they say, but in the case of Bolton’s Romanian forward Dennis, they’re made for each other.
A wide forward who’s at his best cutting inside and driving towards goal, Politic has played a big role in improving Wanderers’ fortunes at youth level over the last two years, and is already one of David Lee’s best players at U23 level.
He went viral last season after scoring from the halfway line against Sheffield Wednesday’s U18s and has the ability to make plenty more headlines in the next few years.
Brentford: Josh Dasilva (Midfielder)
England’s next generation of prospects have begun to realise that they hold the power to determine the direction of their careers, and it hasn’t been limited to the headlines generated by the likes of Jadon Sancho.
Dasilva, who won the European U19 Championship with England last summer, opted against extending his contract at Arsenal, instead penning a four-year deal at Griffin Park.
Tall, athletic and with a sweet left foot, his future as a powerful box-to-box midfielder will initially be nurtured by the Bees’ B-team, but a clear pathway into the first team is there for him to take.
Bristol City: Lloyd Kelly (Defender)
Kelly is actually almost established as a first-team regular at Ashton Gate, and destined for the top flight sooner rather than later. A silky-smooth left-footed defender who has shown ability to play as a central defender in either a back three or four, as well as a wider role, Kelly’s star has shone brighter than ever so far in 2018/19.
His increasingly mature performances have belied his tender age (20) and helped him earn the England U20 captaincy during the most recent international break. If he continues his upward trend between now and next summer, Premier League clubs will almost certainly come calling.
Derby: Jack Stretton (Forward)
There are few players in better form in the U18 Premier League this season than Stretton. The first-year scholar, a versatile prospect who has also featured in central defence, has started the new campaign with a glut of goals – headlined by four in an 8-0 win at Newcastle in late September.
The former Nottingham Forest schoolboy – who was released from the Nigel Doughty Academy – appears intent on proving his former club wrong, and will be encouraged by the increasingly youthful look of the Rams’ first-team squad under Frank Lampard and Jody Morris.
Hull: Keane Lewis-Potter (Forward)
On the Tigers’ books since he was 13, Lewis-Potter celebrated his first professional contract with the club back in February, during a season in which he scored 15 times for the U18s and another four for the U23s.
Seven more in his first nine outings this season have confirmed his credentials as one to watch, and with Hull struggling at the bottom of the Championship, they could turn to their teenage hopeful sooner rather than later – the Tigers have averaged less than a goal per game in the first quarter of this campaign.
Ipswich: Andre Dozzell (Midfielder)
There’s very little like the excitement generated among a fan base when a young academy prospect breaks into the first-team squad. When he’s the son of a club stalwart and he scores on his debut, that excitement goes through the roof.
But that’s exactly what happened to Dozzell in April 2016. It seems almost unbelievable that he hasn’t played a dozen matches for Ipswich since then, but a torn cruciate ligament ruled him out for the majority of last season. Now, though, he’s fit again and looking to make up for lost time.
Dozzell is a naturally creative box-to-box midfielder with a cultured left foot, and will surely break into Paul Hurst’s midfield at Portman Road soon. From there, who knows?
Leeds: Jack Clarke (Forward)
At an increasingly Latin-influenced Leeds, it’s a young Yorkshireman who has set tongues wagging at Elland Road. Clarke has made rapid progress into Marcelo Bielsa’s first-team squad, and a debut against Brentford at the start of October was just reward for remarkable progress in the previous 12 months.
The striker has netted 15 goals across two age groups in his U17 season, often from his favoured position wide in attack. A crafty dribbler with a wicked shot, Clarke’s promise was there for all to see under Bielsa in pre-season, and he looks set to be next off the production line at Thorp Arch.
Middlesbrough: Nathan Wood-Gordon (Defender)
(Wood-Gordon, second from right)
Dean Gordon is best remembered for his 200 league appearances as a Crystal Palace player, but he served Middlesbrough for four seasons from 1998-2002, and has given them even more in the form of his son Nathan.
Wood-Gordon became the youngest player in Boro’s history when he made his debut in the League Cup in mid-August, aged just 16 years and 72 days.
In the eyes of those who had watched his development, however, it came as no surprise: Wood-Gordon is mature and physically ready to compete alongside adults; a natural centre-back who plays with authority and composure, but with the technical ability to push into midfield and control the tempo from further upfield.
Millwall: George Alexander (Forward)
Sticking with a certain theme, Gary Alexander scored 25 goals for Millwall over three seasons between 2007 and 2010, including one of the finest strikes Wembley has ever hosted in the 2009 League One Play-off Final.
If his son George can come close to emulating his achievements, he’ll be well on course for a similarly rewarding a career. Something of a throwback No.9, Alexander Jr. has made a promising start to emulating his old man, smashing 19 goals for the Lions’ U18s last season and weighing in with seven more already this term.
If he can keep that up, the Alexander name could remain a popular one at The Den for a long time to come.
Norwich: Max Aarons (Defender)
Thirteen different nationalities are represented in Daniel Farke’s diverse squad at Carrow Road, but it’s a London-born, homegrown youngster who has caught the eye most for Norwich this season.
Short in stature but big of heart, Aarons’ energetic outings at right-back have quickly thrust him into the spotlight for club and country. An England U19 call-up has followed, allowing him to slot in alongside his fellow 2000-born class that won the U17 World Cup last autumn.
Having played further forward earlier in his career, Aarons is as comfortable in attack as he is in defence – as he capably demonstrated by chipping in with his first senior goal against Cardiff in August.
Nottingham Forest: Arvin Appiah (Forward)
Such is the depth of quality at the Nigel Doughty Academy these days, this accolade could quite easily have gone to someone else. Matthew Bondswell was lured away to the Bundesliga and the prospect of first-team football at Leipzig, and honourable mentions go to Alex Mighten and Ryan Yates – players born almost five years apart but with undeniably bright futures.
Instead it’s England U18 international Appiah who stands out from the pack. A dynamic force anywhere on the left, he’s equally comfortable surging forwards with the ball from deep or arriving on cue to apply a finishing touch, but he’ll do everything with plenty of flair and confidence.
When Forest knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup last January, one of their proudest days in recent years, they did so with a team full of academy graduates coached by the criminally underrated Gary Brazil. They’d do well to remember that as they go forward under Aitor Karanka.
Preston: Connor Simpson (Forward)
With Josh Earl now an established presence at Deepdale, attentions turn to the next one for North End. Simpson’s signing from Hartlepool last January went somewhat under the radar, but it shouldn’t have: his 6ft 5in frame and ability to help a struggling Pools side in the National League as a 17-year-old quickly earned the attentions of Football League clubs.
Simpson returned to non-league last week with Hyde United on a short-term deal to continue his development. If he makes the progress expected of him, he’ll be in line for a lot more football at a much higher standard in 2019.
QPR: Aramide Oteh (Forward)
The Tottenham connection is strong at Loftus Road, thanks in no small part to technical director Chris Ramsey and director of football Les Ferdinand sharing a long history with N17. They’ve positioned themselves smartly to pick up some of the young players that haven’t quite made the grade at Hotspur Way over the past three years, and might have struck gold with Oteh.
Stuck as the third- or fourth-choice striker in his age group when awarded a scholarship, the Lewisham-born youngster headed west and hasn’t looked back since. Sixteen goals for Paul Hall’s U23 side last season got him noticed, and a goal away to Burton on his full debut for the first team came less than a year after cancelling his Spurs contract.
Steve McClaren’s first team have lacked goals this season and, with Oteh once again in prolific form at youth level, it might not be very long before they look his way again.
Reading: Danny Loader (Forward)
One of England’s U17 World Cup-winning heroes a year ago next week, Loader announced himself to Royals fans three months before everyone else when he scored four goals in a pre-season friendly against QPR.
A competitive debut arrived soon after, still at the tender age of 16, and although he hasn’t stepped foot on the pitch for the first team since, his early-season form for Scott Marshall’s Under-23s has offered a timely reminder of that talent bubbling under the surface.
Broad-shouldered and quick off the mark, Loader is comfortable leading the line or operating in a slightly withdrawn role, where he can combine his creative flair with his clinical nature in front of goal.
Rotherham: Tyrone Lewthwaite (Forward)
Watford’s loss could turn out to be Rotherham’s gain – the Northern Ireland youth international continues to catch the eye up in Yorkshire. Released by the Hornets as a schoolboy, Rotherham took a chance on his potential and have been rewarded.
Lewthwaite, blessed with athleticism and an eye for goal, netted a hat-trick for his country’s U19s, and Rotherham academy staff believe he’s central to their hopes of increasing the academy output at the New York Stadium in years to come.
Sheffield United: Tyler Smith (Forward)
There aren’t many players playing EPPP football who have scored as many goals as Smith in the past two years. Forty for the Blades at U18 and U23 level indicated that this summer was the right time for him to take his next step, so he penned a one-year loan agreement with National League side Barrow.
England’s fifth tier can be a tough place for anyone, let alone a teenager taking his first steps in the senior game, but he’s acquitted himself well with six goals in 16 appearances so far, helping a team that avoided relegation by just a point last season to a confident mid-table spot.
Smith is a typically modern forward with power and technical ability in equal measure, and is on the right track.
Sheffield Wednesday: Matt Penney (Defender/Midfielder)
The Owls have been one of the very best teams at Category Two level over the past five years, and the fruits of their academy labours have increasingly been reaped at Hillsborough in the Jos Luhukay era.
Penney’s recent breakthrough is the latest example of that: the Chesterfield-born youngster has quickly become a fan favourite. He’s at home anywhere on the left side of the pitch, having moved smoothly between full-back and midfield roles.
Confident in his technique and ability, and even an occasional goal threat – particularly from set-pieces – Penney will surely add that to his game as he grows into his new role as an Owls first-teamer.
Stoke: Tyrese Campbell (Forward)
A Monday hat-trick against Peterborough’s U23s in the Premier League Cup was the perfect way for Campbell to send a message to Stoke manager Gary Rowett in his quest for Championship playing time.
He was bold enough to turn down the offer of a scholarship at Manchester City as a 16-year-old to improve his individual pathway, and the goals have flowed ever since his switch to Stoke. Sadly for him, first-team minutes haven’t quite followed as expected.
Like his former Arsenal and Everton father Kevin, Campbell offers a terrific physical presence and is ready to help the Potters try to bounce back from Premier League relegation at the first attempt, but Rowett remains unconvinced. If it’s not going to be at the bet365 Stadium, it might well be somewhere else – he’s a youngster keen to get on with his career.
Swansea: Joe Rodon (Defender)
Swansea treated the end of their seven-year stay in the Premier League as a chance to reboot the club. Out went Carlos Carvalhal and several expensive squad players, and in came Graham Potter, who was willing to dip into a successful academy setup.
At the heart of that, and now at the heart of the Swans’ defence, is 20-year-old defender Rodon. A dozen games on loan at Cheltenham last season helped prepare him for the step up, and he couldn’t have looked more comfortable in Potter’s new-look team at the Liberty Stadium.
Rodon is a natural leader who has spent his entire career at the club; assured in possession and keen to take on responsibility despite his tender years. A first Wales call-up arrived last week; it won’t be the last.
West Brom: Morgan Rogers (Forward)
West Brom’s striker factory has produced some big names in recent years. Saido Berahino, Chris Wood, Jerome Sinclair, Izzy Brown, Kemar Roofe and Jonathan Leko have successfully progressed into the professional game with varying levels of success, and England U17 forward Rogers is hopeful of surpassing their achievements entirely.
Tall and athletic, he is supremely confident off either foot and goes about his business with minimum fuss. Rogers carries an elegance in his execution and, given the readiness of Baggies’ brass to hand first-team opportunities to their best and brightest, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him involved at The Hawthorns very soon.
Wigan: Joe Gelhardt (Forward)
Wigan were delighted when 16-year-old forward Gelhardt committed his long-term future to the Latics in August. For a long time, they were fighting off interest in his services from some of the biggest academies in the country.
It’s not hard to see why he was so sought-after either; a throwback to the old-school English No.9, his record in front of goal for club and country is a strong one, extending recently to his first involvement with England at U17 level. Gelhardt made his first-team bow against Rotherham in the League Cup shortly before signing his new deal, and it certainly won’t be the last time he turns out for Paul Cook’s ambitious team this term.
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