With the European Under 21 Football Championship taking part in Denmark next summer, there is an opportunity for our young English talent to shine on centre stage at the end of the season, provided we get a result in our second leg in Romania on Wednesday.
There has been a big gap between the senior England national team and the under 21 for a while, but with the media and fan pressure of wanting more youngsters coming through since our failure at the World Cup, Fabio Capello is going to call upon a number of these up-and-coming players more and more often over the next 2 years. Even if he has called up 33-year old Kevin Davies to the national team for the first time, ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier with Montenegro.
Many claim there isn’t enough English talent around to compete at the next European Championships or even World Cup 2014, and that the lack of English players playing regularly in the Premier League, especially the top sides is hurting our senior team. Those preachers certainly have a case. But currently, there are at least 23 top young English players floating around the Premier League who have the potential to fly the nations flag in Brazil in 4 years time.
Not needing to bring Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney into the debate, but there is a long list of England players with less than 5 senior caps, or in most cases, without a single senior cap who have the potential to be a regular name in the England squad:
Starting with the most obvious. There were a number of doubters, at least around me when Adam Johnson made a big winter transfer switch from Middlesbrough to Manchester City at the start of the year. Having already seen him tear my beloved Derby County defence to shreds last season, and play well for Middlesbrough in the Premier League, I was fairly confident Johnson would be a top player at Manchester City, if given the chance. He may still be competing with Mario Balotelli when the Italian returns from injury, but Johnson has shone when give then chance so far this season. A playmaker and a match winger from the right wing, Adam Johnson scored Manchester City’s winner in their last game against Newcastle shortly after coming off the bench. His first league goal of the season, Johnson already has 2 goals in 4 senior caps for England having scored in both of England’s Euro 2012 qualifiers to date. Provided he becomes a regular in the Premier League (only 3 starts in 7 league appearances this season) and that neither Roberto Mancini or Fabio Capello switch him to the left wing, then the world is this boy’s oyster. He delivers an excellent cross and set piece, which neither Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips or Aaron Lennon do on the right wing. And he is a threat when he cuts inside from the right, on his stronger left foot. Basically, a much better player than what Joe Cole tried to be. He’s not scared to take a penalty either.
This boy is brimming with talent and confidence. A loan spell at Bolton Wanderers under Owen Coyle at the end of last season done him wonders. With injuries in the Arsenal midfield, Jack Wilshere has played in all 7 of Arsenal’s Premier League games to date, starting 5 of them. He has a few fancy touches, great passing ability and is quick thinking. Training and playing with Cesc Fabregas will only be a bonus for Wilshere. He’ll need to improve his tackling, but that should come with age (and practice). Provided he keeps fit, and the rest of his team mates don’t, Wilshere should receive a few more caps at senior level, having so far played less than 10 minutes in a victory over Hungary in August.
He’s already made 3 senior international appearances for England, including a debut versus Brazil, but there’s plenty more to come from England under 21 regular Tom Huddlestone. A powerful unit in the heart of the Spurs midfield, playing in every Premier League minute so far this season. He has a fantastic array of passing and can strike the ball with some venom. He could do with increasing the number of goals he scores from midfield. His ultimate quality is pinging balls around the pitch, and although he hasn’t drawn any comparisons to Paul Scholes as of yet, he’s one of the elite passers we have coming through the ranks. He also does a decent job at breaking opposition attacks up, but that’s what you’d expect from a centre midfielder protecting his back four.
A top prospect to play a holding midfield role in the England side for years to come, Jack Rodwell has been breaking into the Everton first team over the past two seasons. An untimely 3 month lay off will hinder Rodwell’s progress, but still only 19 and with the top clubs already sniffing, Everton have a tough task of keeping hold of the teenage sensation, as they did with Wayne Rooney 6 years ago. Like Rooney, Rodwell has burst onto the seen with high-energy levels. A clever player who isn’t afraid to get forward, the lack of funds at his club side will see him play more regularly in the first team, which will only help his development.
It may take a few more long range volleys like Friday night’s goal against Romania before Jordan Henderson gets a lot more recognition. The Sunderland born and bred central midfielder-come-right winger had a very consistent and contributing first full season in the Premier League last year. If Ahmed Al-Muhammadi can stamp down the right wing position at Sunderland and Lee Cattermole keeps getting himself suspended, Henderson will hopefully develop into a central midfielder and the long-term replacement of Frank Lampard, of whom he is his ideal replacement. At least currently. Still only 20, Henderson has shown his Lampard-esque abilities when he plays in the centre of midfield. As he did on Friday for the England U21’s, and has he has done on a number of occasions for Sunderland, he is great at finding space and he wants the ball. Not scared to take shots from long range, he has great technical ability and a lot of power. A good range of passing skills compliment that. His weak points are currently a lack of goals, and playing for Sunderland. With Capello overlooking Darren Bent’s goal record, you have to fear Henderson may take a long, long while to get a look in for the senior team.
My third, and favourite choice to replace Glen Johnson at right back for England is Nedum Onuoha. Currently on loan at Sunderland from Manchester City, the Nigerian-born England under 21 regular is playing in his fourth season in the top flight. Already 23, Onuoha has several years ahead of him. He has troubles with injuries in the past, but when he’s fit he is a very athletic player. Both strong and quick, a similar mould to that of Micah Richards; both coming through the Manchester City youth system. A full season at right back for Sunderland will give us a better indication of whether he is good enough to make the grade as top full back.
Sam Allardyce and Michel Salgado labelled him as the future John Terry after an impressive start to his career at the end of last season. Indeed, playing against Didier Drogba and co in a draw on your Premier League debut cannot be a bad thing. He played centre back at the end of last season, alongside Chris Samba, but has since been pushed up into midfield at the start of this season. While he does show great composure on the ball for an 18-year old, and defends excellently, it would be ideal to see him move back to his natural position. That could come shortly down the line, with the ageing Ryan Nelson currently playing there, and the talented Chris Samba who could be a potential target for bigger clubs before next season.
With well over 100 Premier League appearances to his name already, and having played for England at 5 different levels, Lee Cattermole can become a bit-part player in the England team in the future. I cannot see him becoming an England regular with his current level of ability, but still only 22 he has potential. One thing that will hinder his international chances is his discipline. Already a reputation amongst referees and fans alike as an aggressive player, Cattermole has been sent off 5 times in his short Premier League career already.
Since scoring a hattrick against Aston Villa in Newcastle’s freaky 6-0 victory over Aston Villa in their second game of the season, Andy Carroll has scored just once in his last five games. There have been rumours about him being on the verge of the England squad, but I have my doubts about whether he would be a successful international player. He seems to play better as the main striker, or focus point in his team’s attacks, similar to Darren Bent. This opportunity will not arise at England, where Wayne Rooney is the main focus of attention up front. Good in the air, Carroll is capable of finding space for himself in the box, but without supply, Carroll isn’t the type of player who will score goals from nothing or create goals for team mates other than from knock downs. Being Newcastle’s main man up front this season will do a lot to help him improve as a player, but there’s a lot more learning required if he wants to be a regular England international.
Currently on his third loan spell at Wolves, having previously been sent out on loan at Queens Park Rangers twice, Michael Mancienne has previously been a regular member of the England under 21 team (now age 22). Throughout his early career, he has moved from right back, to centre back and now in a holding midfield role for the West Midlands Premier League side. Although a popular figure at Queens Park Rangers, he looked out of his depth in the Premier League at centre back where he was caught ball watching and out of position on a number of occasions. While he is comfortable on the ball in midfield, there is a large list of England central midfielders that I rate higher than Mancienne. Unless he can replace Michael Essien or John Obi Mikel in the Chelsea team, or improve dramatically, I don’t see Michael Mancienne ever becoming a big part of the England setup.
He’s been a regular goalscorer through the youth rank, both for Manchester City and England. He failed to impress me in a goalscoring sense when he starting breaking into the first team at Manchester City. He chose to move to Chelsea, where Carlo Ancelotti planned to give him more first team action. He’s quick and has an eye for goal, but while Didier Drogba’s still fit for Chelsea, playing the central role isn’t going to happen for Sturridge. He showed great awareness when he pulled off to the back post to head the ball back across goal for Chris Smalling’s winner for the England U21’s on Friday and I am fairly confident he can become an England international when he becomes a regular at club level. A loan away from Stamford Bridge would only shorten his chances of ever becoming a Chelsea regular, which leaves him in a tough spot. He’s still young, but I’m certain he’ll score more goals than his uncle Dean did in the top flight.
A member of the Chelsea youth academy since he was 8 years old, Josh McEachran made his senior Chelsea debut last month against MSK Zilina in the Champions League. Having received praises from Didier Drogba amongst many other team mates, McEachran made it onto the bench of Chelsea’s recent 2-0 Premier League victory over Arsenal. It seems to be only a matter of time before he makes his Premier League debut. Still only 17-years old, he is a long way from becoming a Premier League regular and even further away from playing for England. Having not seen him play myself, I can only take other people’s opinions of him and that to say he is one to keep an eye on in the future.
A player who made an impact pre-season and subsequently earned himself into the Aston Villa first team this season, Marc Albrighton is an energetic prospect on the wing. As much of the young English talent appears to be heading on the right side of midfield, Albrighton has also seen time on the left in his early playing days at Aston Villa. He successfully runs at opposition full backs and midfielders alike, while also delivering an excellent cross on his right foot. Like with most of our right wingers, tackling is not one of Albrighton’s strong points. In fact, far from it. But his enthusiasm to get back and help the defence is a positive trait. Hopefully in time, his tackling will be developed.
A very talented player at youth levels with both club and country, the resignation of Martin O’Neill came as a blow to Nathan Delfouneso. Delfouneso had been on the first team squad under O’Neill, making 13 league appearances and several more in cup competitions. He’ll have to remain patient under Gerard Houllier, whom we can only hope from an English perspective, will give the boy a chance. Houllier has so far called upon Heskey. Delfouneso is a different type of player. He’s got pace and trickery that neither Heskey or Carew have. One thing Delfouneso needs this season is a lot of first team football as having seen him play for the under 19’s, he looks like a real star in the making.
Victor Moses was banging the goals in for fun as a child and teen, before breaking into the first team at Crystal Palace in the Championship when he was only 16. An exciting player to watch, Moses is quick, posses great dribbling ability, a good touch and knows how to find the back of the net. He’s struggled for game time at Wigan since failing to impress in nearly 12 months at the club.
Somewhat of a surprise transfer when Manchester United decided to splash out a few bob on a player who’d only made a couple of appearances for Fulham. Looking error prone, many fans have already questioned his ability to become a success at Manchester United. He’s quick and tall, and with the guidance of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and many other world class stars around him, he has all the building blocks he needs to develop into a world class centre back. Aged 20, he has several years ahead of him to mature and learn from his mistakes. But he’ll also have a high level of pressure to handle from an early stage in his career.
Another Manchester United youngster, currently on loan at Sunderland is Danny Welbeck. He looked quick and lively in the Championship during a short spell on loan at Preston North End. In 6 league appearances for Sunderland so far, he is yet to score a single goal. Not what you want from a forward, but I can see him playing out wide for the majority of his career, as he isn’t the goal-poaching sort that England had with Michael Owen.
Fabian Delph set League One alight during his time with Leeds United there. Following a summer move in 2009 to Aston Villa, Delph had to remain patient for first team football last season. And a serious cruciate ligament at the end of last season hasn’t helped. Once he returns from that, he can start to compete for a place in the first team. A player with excellent technique and full of confidence, Delph can both be a match winner and frustrating. He can be selfish on the ball and doesn’t the read the game well yet. But he’s still very young and hopefully it won’t be long before maturity kicks in.
A player who is already competing with Glen Johnson for the right full back slot at Liverpool is Stephen Darby. Although his opportunities have been slim (1 Premier League appearance, and a few in cup competitions), if Liverpool want homegrown talent to continue coming through the ranks and into their first team, then Darby is a good fit to continue that. Although he’s not been tested or tried, one viewing of this guy was enough to see that he can defend better than Johnson. Should Johnson miss games through injury or suspension this season, it would be good to see Roy Hodgson playing Darby at right back, rather than Jamie Carragher as Rafael Benitez tried unsuccessfully.
A goalkeeper who was called up to the England squad without having made a Premier League appearance. Stuart Pearce and Fabio Capello rate Frank Fielding as a good prospect, but the chances of him becoming first choice goalkeeper at Blackburn are very slim. And with Joe Hart stamping his authority as England number 1 for what looks set to be long term future (or until he makes a mistake), Fielding will unlikely get many opportunities to play for the England team throughout his career. He’s agile, although, as most goalkeepers do, is prone to errors too. We can at least hope that he becomes a first choice goalkeeper in the Premier League over the next couple of seasons.
Ashley Cole had a short loan spell at Crystal Palace at the start of his career. I wonder if Nathaniel Clyne was watching in the stands that day. Ashley Cole has since made the left full back position his own in the England team. Clyne is of a similar mould, except that he plays at right back. With Glen Johnson’s defensive qualities, or lack of finally being exposed by the mainstream media and fans since moving to Liverpool, there is a window of opportunity for Clyne in the next few years to make that position his. A move from Selhurt Park to the Premier League is required first.