Football FanCast columnist Adam Daley concludes his look into the top 20 best English youngsters in the game.
One of the big criticisms of English football today is that there are not enough good quality young English players. This however should not be taken for face value and there are some excellent prospects out there. To prove it, here is my choice of the 20 best young English players under and including the age of 20.
The cut off point for age in this list is 1st April 2009, and it is based on current ability AND potential. Some players have been included despite a lack of first team football, however their potential is such that they deserve a place. On the other hand, some other players have been chosen despite perhaps having less potential than players not included because they have established themselves into first teams.
Best 20 English players under 20
Date Of Birth: 11/03/1991
Rodwell made his senior European debut for Everton at the age of 16 years and 284 days against AZ Alkmaar, making him the youngest player ever to represent Everton in Europe. His big leap to prominence came during the 2008/2009 season, when he started to establish himself in the Everton first team appearing in over 15 senior games despite the fact he's only 18. In February 2009 the club happily announced that he had signed a five year contract with the Toffees.
Southport born Rodwell started early on quite a few things. He made his debut in Everton's under 18s at just 14 years old, and went on to make his reserve debut at just 15. Internationally Rodwell's played for the England U16s, U17s and captained the U19s, as well as earning a call up to the U21s.
Rodwell is often praised as a good reader of the game, for his good ball control, and good composure.
Date Of Birth: 01/01/1992
Arsenal's Jack Wilshire is undoubtedly one of the most exciting prospects England has at the moment. If you don't believe me then watch the video below. He made his Premier League debut at the age of the age of 16 years and 256 days, making him Arsenal's youngest-ever league debutant. On 25th November 2008 he played in Arsenal's Champions League game against Dynamo Kyiv, making him only the fifth 16 year old to play in the Champions League. He was 15 when he played for the England U16s, 16 when he played for the U17s and 17 when he played for the U19s.
He is most notable for his strength (despite his lack of height), vision, technique and ball skill. He has been compared by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to midfielder Cesc Fabrgas because of his footballing maturity and "they both have the same potential and they aren't frightened of going into the challenges." Injuries permitting, Wilshire has a very exciting future ahead of him.
Date Of Birth: 01/09/1989
2008/09 was defiantly the season for Daniel Sturridge. The young Man City striker has taken his potential and splashed it all over the Premier League. Now Man City are desperate to keep hold of him whilst every other big English team is trying to attract him. He's earned praise from all fronts including world class team mate Robinho and Man City manager Mark Hughes. Daniel Sturridge is certainly a player on the rise.
Originally, Birmingham born Sturridge began his career at Aston Villa, before moving to Coventry, and then to Manchester City's academy in 2003. A year later he was the academy's leading scorer. He continued his development from there and made his fist team debut against Reading in February 2007. Later that season he became the first player ever to score in the FA Youth Cup, the FA Cup and the Premier League, all in the same season.
Sturridge is quick, strong and has a power strike on him that's served him very well, particularly in England's youth teams. He's scored 5 goals in 6 games for England's U17s, with the most notable goal in the U17s European Championship final against Italy. He's also played for the U16s and U19s, and if he fulfils his potential he could well be appearing for England's first team in the not too distant future.
Date Of Birth: 24/06/1988
It's easy to forget sometimes that Richards is just 20. Other players his age are trying to find their way into club first teams, whilst Richards has found his way into England's first team making 11 caps so far, and heading in his first international goal against Israel in September 2008. Richards seemed unstoppable in the 2007/08 season and a natural replacement for Neville on the right of England's defence. In the 2008/09 season however he suffered a loss of form after returning from an injury and Wes Brown took his England spot instead. He kept his Man City first team position however and has so far made over 90 first team appearances for the club.
One difference from Richard's football upbringing to many other players is that he attended, and has become the most successful graduate from, Simon Clifford's increasingly famous Brazilian Soccer Schools. Otherwise, though he's originally from Leeds, Richards first professional club was Oldham Athletic when he joined them at the age of 12. He then moved to Manchester City in 2006 and his potential took off from there.
Practically every big Premier league club has been linked to Richards at some point or another, and his loss of form has led some to believe that Arsenal would be the best place for him under the guidance of Arsene Wenger. Regardless, Micah Richards is one of England's best young prospects and his potential hasn't changed, nor has his ability. He's quick, athletic, powerful, a good reader of the game and a dominant presence in any defence. There are few young defenders in the world that can measure up to his ability, and if and when he recaptures his form he will become a world class defender.
Date Of Birth: 16/03/1989
Unavoidably and undeniably Walcott sits very comfortably in the number one slot. There were worries at one point that he wouldn't reach his potential, but they are all dead and buried now. 6 England caps, 3 goals and a hell of a future ahead of him. Walcott is lightning fast, incredibly skilful and a natural finisher. Arsenal's winger/striker is without a doubt England's best player of 20 and under.
Although Walcott is most known for coming from Southampton before Arsenal, he actually first played for A.F.C Newbury in Berkshire. He scored 100 goals in 35 matches for Newbury and won the Peter Houseman League and Cup during his time there. Next he was snapped up by Swindon Town's Centre of Excellence, and he stayed for 18 months before moving to Southampton for only £2,000. A great few years at Southampton, a £12 million move to Arsenal making him the most expensive 16 year old in the history of British football, and the rest is history. Now 20 years old with over 50 appearances for the big four club and frequent call-ups from his country, he is arguably the best young prospect England has the moment (if you don't count Rooney.)
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Also for consideration
Josh Wright, Jake Livermore, Henri Lansbury, James Gibbs, Jack Cork, Jack Hobbs, Adam Lallana, Kyle Naughton, Frank Fielding, Sam Hutchinson, Jordan Spence, Ashley Chambers, Will Buckley, Sam Baldock, Mark Beevers, Jay Simpson, Mark Randall, Nathaniel Clyne, James Henry, Krystian Pearce, Scott Loach.