England duo at crossroads

Simon Stone focuses on Chris Smalling and Daniel Sturridge as he looks ahead to the football year to come.

Last Updated: 31/12/12 at 10:16 Post Comment

Sturridge and Smalling are two to watch in 2013

Sturridge and Smalling are two to watch in 2013

Even with more money gushing into the Premier League than ever before, there is a greater focus on youth development at many of England's top clubs.

Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck are just two of the more notable products of this 'grow-your-own' policy, with both now senior England internationals and seemingly on their way to impressive careers in the game.

All things being equal, they will make further progress during 2013 and confirm their status as amongst the country's best young players.

But for two more, 2013 is an even more important year.

Between them, Daniel Sturridge and Chris Smalling are approaching 150 Premier League appearances and seven England caps.

Yet both are at a junction following a disappointing 2012.

In Sturridge's case it has been down to his failure to secure a regular place in a Chelsea side now onto its third manager in a year. For Smalling, a succession of injuries have curtailed his progress at Manchester United.

After leaving Manchester City as a teenager, Sturridge really looked set to kick on after enjoying a superb half-season at Bolton in 2011.

Returning to Stamford Bridge has just brought more frustration though.

At times he has seemed ready to step up, only for Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres to be trusted instead.

And if speculation is to be believed he now looks set for a January move to Liverpool. Given their acute lack of strikers this could be exactly what the Birmingham-born player needs.

Roy Hodgson has already said Smalling would have been in his Euro 2012 squad had it not been for the groin injury that also wrecked his chances of being involved in the Olympics.

When Smalling subsequently broke a metatarsal during pre-season training, it meant he made just two first-team appearances between the beginning of April and end of October at a vital time for his career development.

Already it seems Jonny Evans has nudged ahead of Smalling in the central defensive pecking order at Old Trafford, with Rafael impressing at right-back.

The task for Smalling therefore is to stay fit enough for long enough to rediscover the form that persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to pay Fulham £10million for the 23-year-old when he had played just 19 senior games.

Of course, if Sturridge and Smalling do go on to shine, they could hardly claim to have emerged from obscurity, as Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has done so superbly in 2012.

Finding others to follow suit is fraught with difficulty.

So many precocious talents fall by the wayside it is frightening. But for a couple to follow, how about these young lads?

Stoke defender Sam Coulson is benefiting from working under Tony Pulis' watchful eye, has Ryan Shawcross as a live example of someone to follow and, at 16, has already played for England Under-18s.

Even younger is Liverpool's Seyi Ojo. Nigeria-born and signed from MK Dons in November 2011, Ojo won't even be 16 until next June.

Yet he has already scored his first goal for the Reds Under-18 side and don't be surprised if, in the second half of next year, his name is being mentioned in some high circles indeed.


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