The silly season, as we have known to call it, is just a week away from its conclusion as the teams have started taking shape. The usual suspects are all expected to come to the fore and light up, arguably, the most matched league in world football. However, each new season represents a chance for new stars to emerge, an opportunity to bust out of the cocoon and take the league by storm.
Although the English national side might be ranked fourth best in the world on FIFA ratings, quite clearly, they just aren’t anywhere in that league. The much-hyped, much-celebrated ‘Golden Generation’ flattered to deceive but the young brigade does provide a semblance of hope, if not anything more. The likes of Wilshere, Sturridge, Jones and Smalling do look the part and whether or not these players transform into greats on the world stage, remains to be seen.
Wilshere took the league by storm last season
With the advent of the 2011-12 season, there are bound to be new stars rising on the horizon. Who will be the “Jack Wilshere” of the season; will the Three Lions unearth a rare gem?
During the course of the campaign, TheHardTackle will track the progress of potential English stars of the future. Here are three young Lions that we think will have their breakthrough season.
Ross Barkley (Everton)
When the world got their first glimpse of Wayne Rooney, we all but knew he was the real deal. There was an air of invincibility in his demeanor that seemed unbelievable for a boy of his age. Well, Ross Barkley is a graduate from the very same academy and has been proclaimed as the best scholar to come out of the Merseyside youth system since Rooney.
At the age of 17, the boy from Wavertree, Liverpool is already ready for first team action and those who doubted otherwise were made to sit up and take notice after a man of the match performance in his debut game against QPR at Goodison Park.
Barkley was all set to make his bow in the last campaign but an unfortunate injury picked up in an England under-19 match delayed his unveiling. But finally the day arrived and the Goodison faithful would surely be overjoyed by what they saw. For a boy so young, his self confidence is definitely a striking feature of his game.
Barkley isn’t shy to take on defenders. In fact, on the contrary, he is one to take the game by the proverbial scruff of the neck in an attempt to make something out of absolutely nothing. Barkley’s amazing balance is his forte as he can commit defenders into tackles and then skip past them in a flash. To add to that, the boy can shoot with either foot which makes him even harder to contain and although Ross might seem skinny from the naked eye, he can handle himself on the football pitch and at a tender age of 17, his development isn’t yet complete.
In the blue half of Merseyside, the buzz has been there for a few years regarding this supremely talented youngster. Everton fans proclaim Barkley as the next Gerrard and one could see why he is rated that highly in that part of the world. He had played a starring role in England’s 2010 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship victory.
Although defensively quite secure, Everton Football Club seemed to be lacking the cutting edge in front of goal and if Barkley’s first two performances are an indicator of things to come, there is definite light at the end of the tunnel. David Moyes would be delighted with the development of his young prodigy; however, he’ll also be slightly worried as in the near future Barkley might seek greener pastures – not unlike Rooney – and with Everton in the financial doldrums that they are in, Moyes would probably have to let go off their prized asset.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Gary Neville was England’s longest serving right-back and after his retirement from the international stage it is fair to say that no one has made the position his own. Liverpool’s Glenn Johnson and Manchester City’s Micah Richards are at the fore-front but haven’t come close to sealing the berth.
On the other hand, Tottenham youngster Kyle Walker has time and again proved his worth in the Under-21’s and now seems ready to make a serious challenge. Walker is a product of the Sheffield United youth system but has already played for four clubs during his short career, albeit on loan moves. Spurs signed young Walker along with fellow defender Kyle Naughton after a few brilliant performances for Sheffield during their push for promotion. Walker was, however, loaned back to ply his trade at Bramall lane and gain valuable match experience.
The Englishman then went on to play for Queen Park Rangers for a short loan which was extended after a series of outstanding displays. Aston Villa also acquired his services for a period of five months last season where Walker scored his first senior goal – a fabulous one – in the league against Fulham.
Harry Redknapp has now recalled the young defender back to Tottenham as he knows Walker’s appetite can no longer be matched with loan deals, he is ready to make the breakthrough and his time is now. Walker’s lightning quick speed and ability to go on breathtaking overlapping runs makes him an ideal modern day right-back and coupled with Lennon, the duo can cause severe heartache to defenders from the right flank.
In his early days, Walker was a forward and hence, attack is considered the best form of defense for the starlet. Nevertheless, he has worked hard on the defensive side of his game as he knows he will constantly be tested from wingers in England and all over Europe. Walker was named in the U21 European Championships ‘Team of the Tournament’ despite the Three Lions’ horrible showing.
Walker – much like Barkley – is a supremely confident individual and flamboyance is very much an integral part of his persona. Yet, he knows a certain level of application and maturity is needed to cement his place in the Tottenham starting eleven and perhaps, someday for the national side. Harry Redknapp intends to give the youngster his deserved chance this season where he will have to battle the likes of veteran full-back Verdan Corluka and Scottish International Alan Hutton. But the faith the gaffer has shown him by giving him a five-year contract is a big vote of confidence and Walker would want to repay his manager’s trust by bringing out his ‘A’ game.
Connor Wickham (Sunderland)
The teenage sensation is a well known name in English football circles despite the fact that he is yet to play a single game in the top flight before this season. Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal and the other prominent names of English football all showed an interest in signing the highly acclaimed teenage prodigy, but Steve Bruce and Sunderland won the race as they could offer him first team football from the onset.
Wickham learned his trade at Reading football club and then moved on to Ipswich Town where he displayed his undisputed talent and mesmerized fans and neutral’s alike. Connor Wickham was named the Football League Young Player of the Year as well as the Championship Apprentice of the Year at the 2011 Football League Awards. He has been touted as “one of the generations” player by many a pundits and that too after the age of 17 – certainly a high praise indeed when one sees the plethora of attacking talent in the English game.
At 6ft 4in, Wickham already seems like a typical English forward and has all the makings of a future England striker and his partnership with Wayne Rooney is already in fans’ mind. Sunderland know they have a gem amongst their ranks now and Steve Bruce needs to nurture this youngster so that he can go on to bigger things. Wickham will surely get his chance this season as the Black Cats aren’t really overflowing with quality forwards to be honest. He got his first taste of the big stage in the 1-0 derby defeat to Newcastle at the Stadium of Light and that should drive him on to greater things.
Wickham is a boyhood Liverpool fan and an admirer of former Liverpool star Fernando Torres; although his style might be more comparable to the likes of Man City’s Edin Dzeko and Porto’s Hulk. He is good with the ball at his feet and has the ability to beat defenders. To add to that his towering presence makes him a threat in the air and he can be deployed as the target man upfront. The teenage sensation is certainly not a slow coach and has great acceleration; however, his scoring record at Ipswich wasn’t earth shattering, which can be attributed to the fact that a lot of his appearances came from the bench.
There is tremendous media frenzy and insurmountable hype surrounding this lad from Herefordshire as you would expect for a rare English talent. Wickham scored both the goals for England against France in the 2-1 semifinal win in the U-17 European Championship. He then went on to score the winner against Spain in the final.
Mature beyond his years, you could pass him for a seasoned campaigner but the transition from Championship football to Premier league is the final step and often the most difficult obstacle which many a talent have failed to overcome. For now, all we can say is do believe the hype but do allow him a chance to fall down and get back up.
Tom Cleverley and Josh McEachran are the two other notable English talents to come out in recent times. Cleverley has already shown the world what he is capable of with his performances at Wigan during his loan spell. The young United star looks set to replicate the same at Old Trafford. McEachran on the other hand is one of the finest young talents to come out from the Chelsea youth academy however the level of his involvement in the Chelsea first team remains to be seen under Andre Villas Boas and the new regime.