It was an exciting year for young English footballers, after the Under-17 and Under-20 teams both won their respective World Cups. Given our national anxieties over youth development, and whether enough of our young players will make it into the Premier League first teams, it felt like an important moment.
The question for 2018 is how young players from our academies, who have proved they are as talented as any other can start to fulfil their potential in senior football. Even if that last jump does not happen overnight.
Here is a list of 10 players – not all of them English – who impressed in 2017 and are set for more in the new year. They are aged between 16 and 20 years old and while not all of them will play first team football this year, they should all make progress. That could mean a productive loan or a move even if it does not mean first team. There are different routes to youth development, after all, but these players stand as good a chance as any of taking the next step this year towards the top.
Sam Field, 19, West Bromwich Albion
The Hawthorns have not been a happy place recently but one bright spark has been the emergence of Sam Field from the academy into the first team. A local boy – from Stourbridge – Field is already the best passer of the ball at the club and has earned comparisons with a young Michael Carrick.
West Brom have been working hard to provide a pathway for academy youngsters into the first team, a process overseen by legendary defender Darren Moore. And this season Pulis threw Field in, starting him in deep midfield before he was dismissed. An England under-21 call followed and Field is now set for a more prominent role under Alan Pardew.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, 17, Chelsea
Another star of England’s Under-17 World Cup winners, who contributed two assists in the final, Hudson-Odoi is yet another high-calibre product of the Chelsea academy, where he has already shone in the FA Youth Cup.
He combines pace and skill as an attacking midfielder with a dangerous ability to beat defenders at speed. Has only just turned 17 but Chelsea have just tied him to his first professional deal. Now he is impressing for the Under-23s, even in just his first year at that level. Likely to go on loan, and impress, but maybe next season rather than this one.
George Thomas, 20, Leicester City
Whatever happens for the rest of his career Thomas will always be famous for his winning goal for Coventry City in the EFL Trophy final against Oxford United at Wembley back in April. But Thomas, still just 20, is set for a Premier League breakthrough next year. Leicester City signed Thomas for £500,000 this summer and since then he has been impressing for their Under-23s, whether in central midfield, out on the right or as a number 10.
The initial plan was that he would be loaned out in January – with Sunderland, Hull City and Bristol City all keen – but he has done so well that now Claude Puel wants to integrate him into the first team. The new manager has already for Hamza Choudhury involved and Thomas is likely to be the next man in line.
Taylor Richards, 17, Manchester City
Phil Foden made his first Manchester City start at Shakhtar Donetsk in early December, but City have another brilliant young midfielder heading for the first-team as well. Taylor Richards was signed from Fulham at the age of 14, spotted by City super-scout Joe Shields, the man who found them Jadon Sancho.
Richards is an attacking midfielder who has often had to play wide because of Foden, but when Foden was the Under-17 World Cup this year, Richards moved back into a central role and thrived. Has everything he needs to be a top player, and signed his first professional deal this week.
Oliver Skipp, 17, Tottenham Hotspur
After the successes of Harry Kane and Harry Winks, everyone wants to know who the next English talent to emerge from the Tottenham academy will be. Marcus Edwards, the brilliant little attacking midfielder, is well known, but the next one to emerge is likely to be Oliver Skipp.
He is a composed, intelligent holding midfielder who reads the game well and protects the back four. There is even a hope at Spurs that if he can add more physical power to his game he can be the long-term replacement for Victor Wanyama in the first team.
Callum Gribbin, 19, Manchester United
Perhaps the most talented of his group at Manchester United, Gribbin is an all-round midfielder who is set for a big year. He has missed the first half of this season with injury but is now back and ready to impress again for the Under-23s.
Gribbin, a local boy from Salford, certainly has all the attributes required to make it. Tall but supremely well-balanced, technically sharp and able to glide past opponents in the middle of the pitch, Gribbin, also a set-piece expert, is already a stylish player who just needs to
Xavier Amaechi, 16, Arsenal
The youngest player on this list, Amaechi is one of the best prospects at Arsenal and a player who will be tied to a professional deal there as soon as he turns 17 in January. Amaechi is a left-footed winger – probably the fastest player at the whole club – and is set to be fast-tracked towards the first team.
He is current starring for Arsenal’s Under-18s, for whom he scored a brilliant solo goal in a 6-0 defeat of Spurs last month. Expect to hear more from him soon enough.
Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson, 19, Fulham
Proof that Iceland’s miraculous development of players in not slowing down, the teenager from Reykjavik joined the Fulham academy in the summer of 2015 and has been impressing ever since.
An attacking midfielder who creates and scores goals, Thosteinsson has made himself perhaps the most important player in Peter Grant’s Under-23 side. A promotion into Slavisa Jokanovic’s first team surely awaits.
Trevoh Chalobah, 18 Chelsea
The younger brother of Watford midfielder Nathaniel, Trevoh Chalobah has been an important part of successful Chelsea youth teams at all levels since joining the academy. Bigger and taller than his brother, he plays at centre-back and is rated as one of the best defenders of his age anywhere in Europe.
Now impressing for Chelsea Under-23s, the next step will be a loan move to the Football League, whether this month or in the summer.
Nathan Ferguson, 17, West Bromwich Albion
Has only just turned 17 but Ferguson has already made his way onto the bench for West Bromwich Albion’s first team.
A powerful centre-back who reads the game well and can play the ball out from the back, West Brom were quick to tie him to a professional deal as soon as they could to keep him at the club. Has raced through the academy teams so far and will be playing for the first team before long.