Predicting football has always been a fools’ business, but particularly in the English game – a brand of football that prides itself on the rise of the underdog, the uncertainty of the top flight and a level of competitiveness that ensures anybody can beat anybody on their day.
Nonetheless, the determination to tip young players for Ballon d’Or contending futures never goes away. The ‘next Ronaldo’ or ‘next Messi’ is always just around the corner according to the tabloids; yet, the number of players who actually go on to live up to anywhere near that kind of billing remains marginal, especially as minutes available to young players continues to steadily decrease in the Premier League.
But you can’t blame someone for trying and that’s exactly what The Independent did seven years ago on New Year’s Day 2010 – earmarking the five young players to keep an eye out for during the next 365 days. So, what happened to the prodigious academy starlets tipped by the British newspaper as ‘The Five Young Players to Watch in 2010’?
As part of our Where Are They Now? series, Football FanCast takes a look…
Described by The Independent as the kind of player who only comes along once in a generation, it’s safe to say Connor Wickham hasn’t quite lived up to his billing, scoring just 48 goals in 219 appearances throughout his senior career – spent almost entirely between the top half of the Championship and the bottom half of the Premier League. Wickham’s always had the attributes to be a top-class centre-forward, The Independent noting his manly stature at just 17 years of age, but has failed to combine them effectively enough to maintain a consistent scoring run – with nine for boyhood club Ipswich Town in 2010/11 being his most productive campaign to date. Now 24, Wickham is on the books at Crystal Palace, but faces a tough task in usurping club-record signing Christian Benteke from a starting berth once he returns from injury.
A real story of unfulfilled potential, Luke Williams found the net for England at U19 and U20 level and was gaining his footballing education at a club with a strong track record of developing academy talent in the form of Middlesbrough. But whilst the likes of Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson went on to better things, Williams’ career has steadily moved backwards since becoming the youngest Boro debutant for over a century in 2009. Following a series of largely unproductive loan spells in the Football League, the striker was released in summer 2015 and signed for Scunthorpe, but now finds himself loaned out to League One rivals Northampton Town, who are fending off relegation in the third tier. Aged 23, the striker’s senior career has produced just eleven league goals.
While heralding ‘inevitable’ comparisons with a certain Ryan Giggs, The Independent also predicted Ravel Morrison’s demise – warning that he’d have to overcome the distractions and extra obstacles posed from growing up in one of the toughest areas in Manchester, which Wes Brown also calls his home town. But whilst the latter went onto become one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s favoured defenders, a Longsight upbringing has had a pejorative effect on Morrison’s career, with off-field issues and brushes with the law aplenty down the years. No doubt, the attacking midfielder has shown glimpses of top-class potential, that goal against Tottenham Hotspur during his stint at West Ham and his fine flurry of form for QPR in the Championship particularly coming to mind. But it speaks volumes that Morrison’s never made more than 30 league appearances for any of the clubs he’s represented, despite the obvious talent he possesses.
The only real success story from The Independent’s article, who rather ironically didn’t quite receive as much hype as the other five, Ross Barkley has gone on to make 22 appearances for England, present at World Cups and European Championships, and was an important player for the Everton side that reached fifth in the Premier League under Roberto Martinez. There’s still a debate over whether the midfielder has truly made the step up to top class – Ronald Koeman certainly hasn’t hidden his concerns with Barkley’s development – but triumphing where other talents tipped for the pinnacle of the game in 2010 have failed shows his temperament. Still aged 23, Barkley still has a few years left to fully realise the extremities of his powers.
West Ham fans were quite simply flabbergasted when Robert Hall was allowed to leave for Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer in summer 2013, and probably because publications like The Independent had likened him to Robbie Fowler with an added dose of scintillating pace. Hall is certainly quick off the mark but a clinical finisher of the Liverpool legend’s description he is certainly not, managing just double the eight-goal haul he mustered up for England at U17 level throughout his entire club career. Ten of those goals have come for Oxford United, where the 23-year-old finds himself this season – playing on the wing rather than up front – after notching up five whilst on loan with the U’s back in his West Ham days. It’s a far cry from lifting the U17 European Championship in the same year The Independent cited interest from Chelsea and Manchester City.