There is nothing quite like the excitement of watching a young player come up through the ranks and develop into a vital member of your squad. Whether they are home grown or the result of some savvy purchasing on the transfer market, everyone loves seeing their kid come good.
The big question though is what age defines a youth player? Ridiculously the PFA regard any player who is 23 or under at the start of the season as a young player. I know what you are all screaming, ‘that is super silly’, and I agree it is super silly, that means that a 24 year old could go on and win the award at the end of the season. By no means is a 24 year old a young player, at 24 most players are almost half way through their careers. So instead of ranking them by those criteria, I will rank them as players who are 21 and under, a much more sensible age bracket.
What can you say? There are no goalkeepers who are actually doing anything in the Premier League who are under the age of 21. For those of you who think Jack Butland, he is so well considered at Stoke that he has been the 3rd goalkeeper for most of the season. I think in a couple of years he may be the man to take this slot on the list (although that’ll make him over age, so he probably won’t then), but due to there being nobody else and goalkeepers being a special breed of player which develops at an older age I shall break the rules just this once and pick who I think the best goalkeeper is in the league who is 24 and under. For me it is an easy option, David De Gea is head and shoulders above the other young keepers in the league, and in my opinion is the best goalkeeper in the league.
David De Gea
…….hm……You know how I said that I was going to break the rules once, well I’m going to have to do it again. There are no good youth right backs in the Premier League in my opinion. Yes there is Karl Jenkinson and Liverpool have some guys that are ok, but there are no outstanding candidates. I had thought that Nathaniel Clyne of Southampton was 21 but apparently he is now 22 (or according to Wikipedia anyway) so sadly he couldn’t be included. There are however two outstanding candidates for left back so I will push my left back runner up to right back and give him his deserved place in the team. I think Ben Davies of Swansea is an excellent prospect and people would be making more noise about him it was not for another left back in the league. It is a credit to Davies that he has been able to dislodge Neil Taylor (another good left back) from the position at such a young age, and is one of many good young players currently popping off the Welsh production line.
I said there was one candidate that was ahead of Ben Davies at the left back position, and there are no prizes for guessing that that man is Luke Shaw of Southampton. He is a classic British full back; pace, energy, drive and a good crosser. It says a lot about a player when he is wanted by every top club in the league and is considered the future of England (although that could be said about many players). When I wrote a top 5 of each position near the start of the season, I had Luke Shaw at 5th in the list; if I were to the same list right now I would have him at worst in 3rd. Consider that for a moment, he is 18 and is already at worst the 3rd best left back in the league. The only man who is definitively in front of him is Leighton Baines, and he is arguably the best left back in the world. Shaw has an incredibly bright future in front of him, although I would like to see him play less through the injuries because this could hamper his future development and career (look at Jack Rodwell or Micah Richards for instance).
There are two youth players who stand out for me in the Premier League, and both are playing in Manchester. Phil Jones is the best looking centre back talent to come out of England since John Terry and Rio Ferdinand emerged. He has poise, strength, an endless engine, speed and good defensive know how. What he doesn’t have however is the passing ability to play either central midfield or right back. The sooner that Phil Jones starts playing at centre back on a regular basis and not in other positions which don’t suit his playing style the better for Utd and Jones himself. Potentially Jones is the best player on this list, and that is saying a lot because there is a large number of quality youngsters.
My other pick would have to go to Matija Nastasic, although I think he is over hyped and is found wanting at times, there is no doubting that the boy has talent. When you consider that he was starting regular games for Man City at just 19, it is rather impressive. He is a more cultured defender than Jones, and this would be an awesome partnership for the next 10-13 years, although it is highly unlikely to ever be seen.
Phil Jones & Matija Nastasic
I felt this was a tough one, not because I don’t think this player is good but rather he hasn’t played in a while and nobody really knows his best position. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should be a star of the Premier League and Arsenal but instead he has been crowded out due to his injuries. It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was scoring in the Maracana and looking like he would cement a place on the wings of the England team for the next ten plus years. It is that Oxlade-Chamberlain that is getting into the youth eleven, because he is a truly special talent. I do have my fears over whether or not Ox will ever reach his true potential because of the over playing and constant injuries which have hampered his development recently. I’m by no means an Arsenal fan but I hope that this isn’t the case, because he is a truly special talent.
It is weird to think that prior to this season Adnan Januzaj had played no games in the Premier League or for the Man Utd first team, because he is such a special talent. In my mind I think that he is the best prospect on this list, and is arguably the best player on it as well. He is almost certainly a shoo in for the Young Player of the Year award (both writers and players) and deservedly so. To make the impact that he has at a club like Manchester United is truly astounding, to the extent that he has almost become Utd’s best player at times. Januzaj has everything; pace, tricks, passing, finishing, composure and best of all maturity, Januzaj appears to be the complete player and I don’t think it will be long till we are talking about him as one of the top players in the entire league.
When you think of a prototypical English central midfielder, you think of the likes of Steven Gerrard, Bobby Charlton and a young Paul Scholes; box to box midfielders, who make driving runs, score goals and can pick a pass, the perfect midfielder. England has a great history of producing these types of players, and it seems that it happened once again in Ross Barkley of Everton. He has all the attributes which I have stated above and very much reminds me of a young Steven Gerrard, only he plays on the blue side of the Mersey. Barkley threatened to break through when he was younger, but a broken leg side-lined that and he has only now been able to fully show his potential in the first team. It would be fair to say that the inclusion of Barkley on a regular basis for the Everton first team has helped to propel them in to challenging for a Champions League place, and they don’t look the same team without him, which is impressive when you are only a 20 year old.
My other choice for central midfield is Christian Eriksen. Although he hasn’t had the best of starts for Spurs since his summer move from Ajax due to injuries, you are beginning to see flashes of why he was one of the most sought after talents in the world, since Tim Sherwood has taken over. Eriksen is a silky passer who can unlock a defence with a single ball and he has an eye for goal to boot. Eriksen is the kind of midfielder which every team strives to have, which makes it all the more remarkable that he has ended up at Spurs. I know what you’re thinking, and yes this is a very attacking midfield, but what you gonna do!?!?!?
Ross Barkley & Christian Eriksen
I could have played Christian Eriksen in here, but felt by dropping him back it allowed me to include Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho does a lot of things well, and it is often how well a team plays without a player that you can tell their true worth. Without Coutinho Liverpool don’t quite tick the same, their passing isn’t as crisp and their movements aren’t as fruitful. Coutinho is a classic attacking midfielder in the sense that he can make every pass in the book and even some which aren’t, my one major criticism is that he doesn’t produce enough in the goals or assist market for his ability. I do however believe that this will come with experience and as his confidence grows, the manner in which he dictates play will improve also.
The final slot could really only go to one man, and I’m sure you’ve all guessed who that man is…and seeing as I can’t think of a funny answer, it is Romelu Lukaku. He is the only guy that I can think of that plays up front, is under 21 and is actually doing anything in the Premier League. In the last one and a half seasons Lukaku has scored 26 goals for West Brom and Everton, which can only lead to the question of what the hell was Jose Mourinho thinking in letting him go out on loan when Chelsea’s strikers are about as much use as a pay cheque from The Rangers (which if you don’t get then go look it up and have a laugh). The major criticism I could have of Lukaku is that he can be very inconsistent with his goal scoring, but he is strong, fast and when he is hot he is an excellent goal scorer, the perfect lone striker in an attacking team.
So there you have it, the Premier League Youth Team! Are there any notable omissions? I can certainly think of one that I’m sure that many people will be looking to have included, but he wasn’t as good as the two guys that got in in front of him and he is one of the most over rated players of the last ten years, I’m sure you can guess who it is. Anyway let me know what you think of the team by leaving a comment. Plus don’t forget you can find all the latest bm23sportsreviews on Facebook and Twitter.