Arsenal - Emile Smith Rowe
Arsenal’s Europa League campaign this season has provided the perfect breeding ground for Arsene Wenger to blood the next crop of young talent at the Emirates Stadium. Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Matt Macey and Ben Sheaf have all stepped up for the Gunners, who appear set for another run in the competition next year unless they can go all the way and lift the trophy this time out.
Smith Rowe should follow in those youthful footsteps. The Under-17 World Cup winner with England is sure to appeal to whoever the new Arsenal manager is, combining silky-smooth dribbling ability, incisive passing and devastating long-range finishing to draw comparisons with Kevin De Bruyne.
A mid-season injury temporarily halted his progress, but he returned to full fitness in time for Arsenal’s FA Youth Cup final defeat to Chelsea.
Bournemouth - Aaron Ramsdale
Sheffield United’s academy has quietly been one of the most prosperous in England over the past decade: Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have headlined the Blades’ fine work at youth level. Goalkeeper Ramsdale is part of the next wave, and Bournemouth were quick to spot his potential during the 2017 January transfer window by securing an £800,000 transfer for the England U19 international.
He started all five matches in the Three Lions’ European Championship triumph in Georgia last summer, before spending time on loan at Chesterfield in January of this year. While the Spireites were relegated last week, his mature performances in the face of adversity have won him many admirers.
Asmir Begovic is entrenched as the Cherries’ No.1 for the time being, but Adam Federici and Artur Boruc are increasingly long in the tooth – leaving Ramsdale with the opportunity to assert his credentials as their goalkeeper of the future.
Brighton - Jordan Maguire-Drew
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder, who hails from nearby Worthing, seems to have been close to breaking through at Brighton for a long while now, and has already garnered more experience than many of his contemporaries.
Maguire-Drew was a precocious talent playing ahead of his age group in the Seagulls’ academy, and a short loan spell with his hometown club was followed by a year with Dagenham & Redbridge in 2016/17. This season he's split his time between Lincoln City and Coventry in League Two.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but he offers plenty of visual similarities to another recent graduate of Brighton’s youth setup in Solly March.
Maguire-Drew is a dynamic attacking presence with a wand of a left foot, and fits perfectly within Chris Hughton’s attacking setup which places a premium on wide players who can cut inside and produce goals. He's made steady progress towards earning a first-team squad place at the Amex Stadium.
Burnley - Marley Blair
It isn’t easy for a young player to break through at Turf Moor – manager Sean Dyche prefers to keep a small first-team squad – but the Clarets’ academy is on the rise and put in a respectable performance across the board after being accepted into Category Two football last summer.
The best work at Barnfield will be seen in the years to come, then, and in 18-year-old forward Marley Blair they could have unearthed a gem who went overlooked at several other clubs en route.
The tricky attacking midfielder spent time with Bradford and hometown club Huddersfield before joining Liverpool as a 15-year-old. He was unable to make progress on Merseyside, however, so penned a professional contract with Burnley in January and now appears to be on a better path.
Blair is quick and skilful with an eye for goal, and Liverpool’s loss could well turn out to be Burnley’s gain.
Chelsea - Mason Mount
The 2017/18 season has been something of a watershed moment for Chelsea in terms of academy production – Andreas Christensen has become the first youth team product to establish himself in the first-team squad since John Terry (although Ryan Bertrand deserves a mention in that particular discussion).
The Blues’ relentless run of success in the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League over recent years has yielded a veritable army of prospective young talent, many of whom have departed on loan, and it’s Mason Mount who has earned rave reviews most often over the past nine months.
The 19-year-old has been highly influential for a Vitesse team that has all too often flattered to deceive, registering nine goals and seven assists in Eredivisie football to be named the Dutch side's player of the season. He set a new Europa League record for chances created in a single match by a teenager (eight) against Lazio, and has made no secret about his desire to play at Stamford Bridge.
With Chelsea set to hire yet another new manager this summer, they could do worse than turn towards a youngster who appears to be heading straight to the top.
Crystal Palace - James Daly
Aaron Wan-Bissaka's emergence from the Eagles academy has provided renewed hope that Crystal Palace can again lean on what was once a steady supply of star players from their youth system.
Their U23 and U18 teams are both involved in end-of-season play-offs for national titles at Category Two level, home-grown star Wilfried Zaha has been the talismanic force behind their unlikely bid for survival under Roy Hodgson, and in James Daly they now have a promising goalscorer who could be the answer to their centre-forward problems.
He's also capable of playing anywhere on the left side of the pitch, and the versatile and hard-working youngster was installed as U18 captain by manager Paddy McCarthy last summer. Daly led by example, too, with five goals in 16 appearances before graduating to Richard Shaw’s U23s.
With nine more goals to his name since, the striker earned a place on the bench for Palace’s trip to Bournemouth earlier this month, and could make a most deserved debut before the end of May.
Everton - Antonee Robinson
Everton have successfully blooded Jonjoe Kenny at right-back this season and, with the evergreen Leighton Baines starting to slow a little, they could be set to do the same on the other side of the pitch next season with Robinson.
A Premier League 2 champion with Everton in 2016/17, the athletic full-back has gone on to gain senior experience on loan at Bolton this season, where he has shown promise with a series of hard-working performances up and down the left flank in trying circumstances.
Robinson is eligible to represent England or the Republic of Ireland, but received his first international call-up by the United States last month. He recently revealed his plans to return to Goodison Park this summer to challenge for a place in the first-team squad.
Huddersfield - Ryan Schofield
Huddersfield announced the complete restructuring of their academy back in September, opting to follow Brentford by closing down all of their junior age groups and move forward with just an U17 team and U19 development squad.
In signing off on the changes, chairman Dean Hoyle hoped to “provide a strong and obvious pathway to the first team for players who are good enough, while also representing value for the club”. As such, the venture will be very much worth watching over the coming years.
In Ryan Schofield, the Terriers have an England youth international goalkeeper who was promoted to David Wagner’s first-team squad last summer after a successful loan spell with FC United of Manchester, and spent a short period with Telford at the start of 2018.
He’s blessed with size and personality, and since Jonas Lössl has been less-than-convincing in his season-long loan from Mainz, Huddersfield face some interesting decisions in goal for next season.
Leicester - Sam Hughes
The Foxes put up a strong challenge for the Premier League 2 title this season, and also impressed in the Checkatrade Trophy as one of just two U21 teams to reach the third round. As such, several of Steve Beaglehole’s squad are now pushing for more regular inclusion in Claude Puel’s senior team.
Hamza Choudhury and Harvey Barnes have been given opportunities to show what they’re capable of in recent weeks and, in Sam Hughes, the East Midlanders have another former non-league star who is seeking to emulate the rise of Jamie Vardy.
Equally at home in central defence or midfield, Hughes made 64 appearances for Chester before joining Leicester last summer for a bargain £130,000, and has made it his business to put himself on the fast track to the first team at the King Power Stadium ever since. He plays with an aggressive edge that served him well in the lower reaches of English football, was quickly installed as Beaglehole’s captain, and managed to finish the season with a double-figures return as the young Foxes' leading goalscorer.
Liverpool - Curtis Jones
Life is very good for Liverpool supporters right now. Jurgen Klopp’s swashbuckling team is on the verge of featuring in the Champions League final, playing some of the most exciting football in the world, and they have plenty of young talents pushing for involvement too. Following hot in the footsteps of Ben Woodburn and Rhian Brewster is 17-year-old local boy Curtis Jones, who quickly proved too good for U18 football in his first season as a scholar. In fact, he's already made the first-team bench at Anfield.
A well-built attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Jones's dribbling and powerful shooting quickly set him apart in Steven Gerrard’s youth team in the first half of the season, where he scored 13 goals in 21 appearances despite only turning 17 in January.
An early promotion to the U23s was followed by involvement in the recent Merseyside derby against Everton as an unused substitute. A league debut can’t be far away with the Reds all-in on their European odyssey for the rest of this season.
Manchester City - Taylor Richards
There’s plenty of life in the Manchester City academy beyond Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz. Sancho’s departure for Germany is beginning to pay off after a starring role for Borussia Dortmund against Bayer Leverkusen recently, while Foden and Diaz have earned the trust of Pep Guardiola in his exhilarating title-winning squad.
And there’s more to come. If not for injury, Taylor Richards could easily have made a case for a place in Guardiola’s plans. A former Fulham youngster who moved north as a 14-year-old, the lithe left-footer has experience in all positions but really began to excel as an attacking midfielder in 2017. He earned rave reviews for Simon Davies’s EDS squad before having his campaign cruelly cut short with a torn cruciate ligament in December.
Richards has everything required to be next off the line at the City Football Academy, and is seeking a return to full fitness for the start of next season.
Manchester United - Ethan Hamilton
When Paul Pogba was ruled out of Manchester United’s FA Cup tie against Huddersfield in February, 19-year-old Ethan Hamilton was the midfielder chosen to replace the club’s record signing in the matchday squad. It was just reward for a player who has come on brilliantly over the past 12 months, and who has now developed into a legitimate box-to-box midfielder with a goalscoring touch.
Similar in style to Scott McTominay, who has managed to establish himself as a regular option for Jose Mourinho, the unheralded Scot has had an unusual route to the top. He rejected advances from multiple Scottish clubs to remain with amateur side Hutchison Vale until United came calling in 2014 – emulating Darren Fletcher in doing so – and went on to develop a close relationship with the long-serving midfielder as he settled in at his new club.
A near ever-present for Nicky Butt’s U23s this season, Hamilton's penchant for spectacular goals from his powerful left foot have caught attention, but his work ethic and tactical awareness will serve him best as he climbs the ranks at Old Trafford.
Newcastle - Victor Fernandez
For as long as Mike Ashley keeps the purse strings tightened at St. James’ Park, Rafa Benitez will have to work creatively to keep his squad competitive enough for Premier League football. The Magpies will need to find a new winger if they're unable to strike a permanent deal with Chelsea for Kenedy, but have a Spanish youngster looking to make a name for himself on Tyneside in the soon-to-be 20-year-old Victor Fernandez.
Signed from Cornella in January 2017, Fernandez has spent his first season-and-a-half acclimatising to the English game with Newcastle’s U23 team, buttressing his natural inclination to dribble and beat a man with the physical and mental development required to take his next steps. Benitez took him on a recent training camp to Spain and will take another long look in pre-season at a player who could provide depth across the forward line.
Southampton - Alfie Jones
Southampton’s five-year stay in the Premier League is under serious threat of coming to an end, and whether they’re playing in the top flight or Championship next season, there are decisions to be made at the heart of their defence. Wesley Hoedt, Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida have all struggled at times, and newcomer Jan Bednarek needs more time to show what he can do. But the club’s prolific Staplewood academy could come up trumps for them again in the form of 20-year-old Alfie Jones.
The U23 captain has been a leader throughout his development on the south coast, and has continually impressed with his composure and decision-making at the heart of the Saints’ defence. Under the tutelage of former Premier League defender Radhi Jaidi, he’s primed and ready to take on the challenge of stepping up to men’s football.
Stoke - Jordan Greenidge
Only three teams have scored fewer Premier League goals than Stoke this season, and the Potters are staring relegation in the face. Manager Paul Lambert has blooded Tyrese Campbell since taking over from Mark Hughes back in January, and in Jordan Greenidge has another big, athletic centre-forward who knows where the back of the net is.
Greenidge joined Stoke after being rejected by Reading as a 16-year-old, and has since scored 25 goals in 46 U18 matches, plus twice in little more than 200 minutes at U23 level under Wade Elliott. He's still on the raw side but his sheer athleticism can be harnessed by a willing manager, and players of his stature are always a problem to defend at any level.
Swansea - George Byers
A one-time Watford academy prospect who made his debut for the club in 2015 under then-manager Slavisa Jokanovic, Byers was released from the club a year later and picked up by a Swansea side looking to revamp their U23 team.
That longer road has apparently suited the cultured young midfielder, who helped Swansea to the Premier League Cup and Premier League 2 promotion at U23 level in 2016/17, scoring eight goals in all competitions.
Ten more goals this season helped Cameron Toshack’s side to a highly respectable top-four finish, along with a place in the Premier League Cup Final. Carlos Carvalhal will have to take notice of the Ilford-born youngster’s talents sooner rather than later.
Tottenham - Keanan Bennetts
Plenty of young wingers end up settling down at full-back; they find more space to operate in when starting from a deeper position, and can often use their athleticism to greater effect when bombing up and down the flank. Tottenham found great success shaping Danny Rose into a polished left-back for club and country, and in Keanan Bennetts they have another dynamic and versatile gem on their hands.
The 19-year-old has represented England since the age of 15 – also cropping up on the radars of both Germany and Nigeria – and those inside Spurs have always held a quiet confidence that the left-footed youngster would develop into a player capable of making the grade at first-team level.
Afforded time and patience to refine his game, he’s rewarded his coaches with a starring role this season, scoring nine goals in 31 appearances across all competitions – many of them spectacular efforts from his explosive left foot.
Watford - Ryan Cassidy
St Kevin’s Boys are one of the most storied clubs in Ireland; the Dublin-based outfit has seen the likes of Liam Brady, Damien Duff, Ian Harte, Stephen Carr, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick pass through its doors over the years. They continue to send the next generation of Irish hopefuls across the water to play in England, and one young hotshot in particular has wasted no time in making a name for himself at Watford.
Ryan Cassidy kicked off the 2017/18 season with a hat-trick for the Hornets’ U18s away to Burnley, and had netted 16 goals by early new year – at which point he was promoted to Hayden Mullins’s U23 side. He celebrated his first start at that level with another treble in a crazy 5-5 draw away to Bristol City, and capped a fine first season away from home by penning his first professional contract at Vicarage Road in March.
West Brom - Rayhaan Tulloch
As West Brom prepare for life in the second tier, Baggies fans will be keen to see greater attention paid to their flourishing academy – one that remains among the most productive in the country and continues to provide England with a steady supply of capable young footballers.
Rayhaan Tulloch is one of those; he was named on the first-team bench by Alan Pardew back in December while still only 16, and has split his time between U18 and Premier League 2 football this season in preparation for a crack at the first team. He's set to be a part of England’s European U17 Championship squad and will go into the tournament in terrific form, having scored five goals in his last four U18 outings – including a hat-trick against Blackburn a week ago.
West Ham - Ben Johnson
Another winger-turned-defender, local lad Johnson has spent much of the second half of the season with David Moyes’s first-team squad at West Ham, after being named in his first Premier League matchday squad at Manchester City in December. Having struggled with injuries for much of his time as a scholar, Johnson's conversion to full-back worked perfectly for the 18-year-old, who is growing in stature both literally and physically as he presses his claim for top-flight playing time.
The Hammers will be looking to find a long-term successor to Pablo Zabaleta at right-back this summer, and with Sam Byram having encountered injury issues, there is ample opportunity for Johnson to make people sit up and take notice.
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