Amidst the on-going transfer battles, as the English clubs brace themselves for a grueling season ahead, a fine set of youngsters anxiously wait to be unleashed in the Premiership. The academy days are behind them, pleasantries have been exchanged with their team-mates, and they’ve had their share of pep-talks. Now, it’s showtime.
Across generations, there have always been certain players who were rated as the Next Big Thing, even before they could legally enjoy a drink! So, who are the current players ‘destined’ to eventually touch immortality? Well, it’s not that simple. Even the most gifted footballers did not succeed in the past, just by banking on their talent. They persevered and yearned to improve by learning from the best in business.
Here are the top five young talents who are now ready to step onto the field and carve out a name for themselves. If the greenhorns can somehow stay focused despite all the hype surrounding them, then nothing is beyond them..
5. Jack Rodwell (Everton)
Position(s): Central defense, Midfield
Jack Christian Rodwell has always impressed the onlookers whenever he has stepped onto a football pitch, from the manager of Birkdale United – his first club – to the Everton Academy Director; all expected much from him, ever since they first saw him play.
Athletically, he has always been way ahead of his competition – he represented Everton under-18s when he was just 14 years old. Now at 19, he has all the ingredients to succeed in the Premier League.
He started his career as a centre-back due to his good physique and superior game-reading skills, but has gone on to play in central midfield for Everton. The manager trusts him, going by the 25 appearances that he has already made for the club; his team-mates rate him highly, so there’s no reason why he can’t become a regular member of Merseyside team, this season.
He should stay at his boyhood club for at least a few more years, and continue to learn and grow as a footballer. The fact that he has a balanced head on his shoulders, should help his cause, as England patiently waits..
“I like centre-half but I can play centre mid as well. At the moment there are a lot of good centre-halves with England: John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka. There are not as many centre mids, which is an area you can work towards with the senior squad.” – Jack Rodwell, after an impressive performance for the England under-21.
4. Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea)
Position(s): Striker, Right-Forward
A nephew of former Derby County forward Dean Sturridge, Daniel arrived at Manchester City’s Academy in 2003 from Coventry, having previously trained with Aston Villa. His stint at Eastlands brought mixed results for him; his progress was hampered by injuries, but he scored a few times for City in the 2007-08 season. As a result of his exploits, he was voted The Young Player of the Year. However, after his contract expired in the summer of 2009 and with contract negotiations stalled, Danny decided to move to Chelsea.
At Chelsea, he has impressed whenever an opportunity has come by his way, and with the two leading strikers at Stamford Bridge being in the twilight of their careers, things may just be falling in place for him. However, this can be seen as a make or break season for him. Carlo Ancelotti will definitely play him in lesser games; if Sturridge can win his manager’s trust and convince him that he has got what it takes to succeed at a club like Chelsea, the rest would be history. But, if he doesn’t, then the Champions will have to buy a replacement for its forwards. There’s also a threat from promising academy products like Fabio Borini, who would push him for a place in the first team.
The lack of options upfront for the England manager Capello may also inspire Danny to perform, in an endeavour to grab the starting spot alongside Wayne Rooney.
Sturridge comes from a real football family – his dad was himself a promising player. He was taken on by Birmingham City, while Manchester United and Arsenal were also vying for his signatures. However, he failed to live upto his potential and never made it to Birmingham’s first team. In reference to this, his uncle Dean had once said –
“With those sort of experiences in the family, it means Daniel won’t get carried away. It’s easy for young footballers to go down the wrong path, but he’s not like that, and he’s not short of good people to give him advice.”
It remains to be seen if he can heed the advice and bring glory to his family.
3. Adam Johnson (Manchester City)
Despite the arrival of numerous multi-million pound signings, it is still a young Englishman signed from a Championship side Middlesbrough, who remains the player-to-watch-out-for, for fans and pundits alike – such is his talent.
Adam Johnson was signed for £8.5 million on the last day of the January transfer window this year, and immediately began to strut his stuff on the right-wing, though he’s a left-footer. During his Middlesbrough days, he failed to displace Downing from the left wing, and was forced to occupy the opposite flank. Since then, he has joined the growing breed of inside-out wingers who like to cut in and beat the defenders for pace.
City has signed David Silva from Valencia this summer, and the prospect of the Spaniard and Johnson burning the wings, is a terrifying one for opposition’s full-backs. Adam would only improve from here on, as the quality around him will only grow. He can learn from world-class players and be a part of the renaissance that’s happening at Eastlands.
He featured in the recently concluded international friendly against Hungary, which suggests that he’s also in Fabio Capello’s plans for the future. Here’s hoping that he does not become disillusioned amidst all the overpaid superstars that City are trying to assimilate and that he lives up to his potential.
2. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Position(s): Attacking Midfielder
In a not so far away future, from one Gooner to another (upon the departure of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona): “Who needs Cesc, when we’ve got Jack!”.
Coincidentally, Jack Wilshere became the youngest ever league debutant for Arsenal, when he came on as substitute against Blackburn Rovers in September 2008, a record previously held by Cesc Fabregas.
At a tender age of 18, when most talented footballers are sent to lesser clubs on season-long loan spells, Jack Wilshere will remain with Arsenal, after a fruitful stint away at Bolton last season. Arsene Wenger has stated that he plans to keep the boy under his tutelage and gradually integrate him into the Arsenal first team – a testimony to the lad’s talent.
After The Great English Debacle in South Africa, the media went into overdrive – calling for the heads of their erstwhile superstars and demanding a change. Capello obliged, and Jack Wilshere made his senior debut against Hungary this week. Both Arsenal and England look at him as their main man in years to come. What remains to be seen is if he can carry the weight of so many expectations on his young shoulders and still deliver. We hope he can.
1. Gael Kakuta (Chelsea)
Position(s): Winger, Forward, Attacking Midfielder
A 15-year old French kid was signed from FC Lens, by Chelsea. In his first season at the Club, he was voted the Academy Scholar of the Year. However, in September 2009, the West London club was slapped with a transfer embargo for illegally inducing the player to break his contract with Lens. Kakuta was banned from playing football for four months. Chelsea appealed and the sanctions were lifted; however, this incident threw the innocent teenager into instant media spotlight. Despite the whole-hearted support by Chelsea and the seniors players, the time was horrifying for the young Frenchman. Only the strong manage to come out of such trauma, unscathed. He’s one of them.
Since then, Gael Kakuta has made his debut for the Chelsea senior team, in all competitions. He was the most valuable player for France, in the recently concluded under-19 Euro Championship, scoring two goals and setting up the match-winner in the final against Spain.
He is a left-footed player, who can play on the wings, or just behind the strikers – famously called the hole in the 4-3-1-2 diamond formation. What must be encouraging for him is that Chelsea has not signed players for the position that he occupies on the pitch. On the other hand, they have even released Joe Cole. This development alone suggests that greater things are expected from the young Frenchman and that he would feature more for the club, than just appearing for a few Carling Cup cameos.
For Chelsea fans, he’s the Answer.