The inquest into English youth football has been going on for some time now and, this season, it looks as if players previously on the fringes could be about to get their chance in a league that is more of a global league more than the English Premier League.
Certain clubs, due to financial stringency or otherwise, have weaknesses in their teams or lack depth in their squads, allowing for more room for the kids. Having the talent is one thing, but for young footballers, being given the chance to play rather than watching on as the manager brings in established foreign talent will help their development.
With more and more people calling for Premier League clubs to become self-sustainable instead of spending beyond their means, more teams now may look to their academies to fill voids in squads or teams instead of reaching for their cheque books.
At Everton, with Tim Cahill departing and some very impressive performances last season, midfielder Ross Barkley could be in for plenty of game-time this season. He has shown for England at youth level that he has the capability to become an excellent player and, at 18, he’ll compete with Marouane Fellaini, Darron Gibson, John Heitinga and another promising English talent, Jack Rodwell, in the centre of midfield.
Southampton have a well-earned reputation for the production of English talent, and midfielder James Ward-Prowse and left-back Luke Shaw could get games this season, albeit – in all likelihood – limited to the cup competitions.
But Nathaniel Clyne, signed from Crystal Palace following over 100 appearances for the club, is likely to be Southampton’s first-choice right-back this season. He’s 21 and has excellent pace, strength and ability on the ball and, while he might not be considered a ‘young player’ in experience terms, he’s got all the potential to go on and become England’s right-back for years to come.
Another player at Southampton who is certain to feature prominently in the line-up this term is deep-lying midfielder Jack Cork. Combative and tenacious, he again is possibly not considered a young player but, at 23 and about to embark on his first full season in the Premier League and selected for this summer’s Olympics, there is undoubted potential with Cork, seen in the Championship as he became a mainstay in Nigel Adkins’ side.
At Chelsea, Ryan Bertrand, the left-sided full-back-cum-winger who was hugely impressive in the Champions League final may have a tough fight on his hands to displace Ashley Cole from the side but, surely, he should see first team action this season as Di Matteo looks towards building the future for Chelsea.
Perhaps one of the most exciting young talents in English football right now is at Liverpool and, with Brendan Rodgers’ tendency to play with quick wingers either side of a main striker in a 4-3-3 formation, Raheem Sterling should – in theory at least – fit in to Rodgers’ plans. There is a question mark, of course, over whether Sterling, at 17, is ready for the Premier League and he has looked slightly naïve in pre-season but he impressed in glimpses last season and he has undoubted ability, all of which makes it all the more disappointing that Rodgers has spoken about a loan move for the winger. The Europa League provides a great avenue for Sterling to be introduced to the Rodgers Way and he could be an excellent impact player in the Premier League.
Two of Sterling’s Liverpool teammates might also be in with a chance of first team action this season, as right-back Jon Flanagan and left-back Jack Robinson will provide excellent competition for Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly – another exciting English ‘youngster’ at 22 – and Jose Enrique.
There are plenty of young players currently just outside the first choices for Premier League teams, although, for most, it may be a little too soon for Premier League action. Tom Carroll, at Tottenham, is seen as one of England’s brightest young midfielders, and Luka Modric leaving could bring opportunities for the teenager. Newcastle’s Sammy Ameobi will do well to oust the two Dembas from the Toon front line and will have competition on the wings but Alan Pardew has been impressed by Shola’s brother.
Manchester United midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe – a tough-tackling midfield general – could get games as United’s central midfield problems continue. Teammate Nick Powell could also see some first team action this season, probably in the Capital One Cup.
Great Britain and England under-21 international Craig Dawson will provide competition at centre-back for West Brom while, at Norwich, the exciting Jacob Butterfield – with plenty of Championship experience under his belt – will compete for the number ten position with Wes Hoolahan, or with Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington, if he’s played deeper.
Matthew Briggs provides good cover at both left-back and centre-back for Fulham, while Sunderland’s Louis Laing will compete for the right-back spot which, according to Martin O’Neill, will not be filled by Carlos Cuellar or John O’Shea, so an injury to Wes Brown or Phil Bardsley could see the England under-19 international break into the team. Young Mackem goalkeeper Jordan Pickford should also be seen in and around the first team this season to provide back-up for Simon Mignolet and Keiren Westwood.
O’Neill is also said to be in the hunt for a new striker, which is a shame for Connor Wickham and Ryan Noble, the latter of whom has impressed in pre-season, particularly in the Peace Cup with an excellent assist and a sublime winner against Groningen. A loan move may well beckon for Wickham, but Noble could stay to provide back-up to the first team.
This, of course, is the situation more frequently encountered by young English talent, that of lacking opportunities. Josh McEachran hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting into the Chelsea midfield so should probably start looking for life beyond the European champions. Danny Sturridge is likely to find himself in a similar situation once he returns from the Olympics.
Steven Caulker had a hugely impressive season at Swansea last season but, with Tottenham signing Jan Vertonghen as well as having Younes Kaboul and Michael Dawson already on their books, Caulker should probably look for another loan move after signing a new Spurs contract in the summer. His teammate, Kyle Naughton, is in a similar situation and is apparently on his way out of the club, with Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto the undisputed full-backs.
There are also those, of course, who have been around the Premier League for a while and now have their chance to consolidate their place in the side. Marc Albrighton, for example, now has a fresh start at Aston Villa under Paul Lambert with Alex McLeish’s negative style of football finally gone. This is a big season for Tom Cleverley, too, as he looks set to confirm his place at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield.
Of course, the problems with English football won’t be solved merely by giving kids experience; the coaching revolution that will have to take place in England will do that and that all starts long before a player makes it to the fringes of the first team. But, it is at least a start, and a pleasant sign to see so much home-grown talent possibly about to be given a chance in England’s top flight.