From Serge Gnabry to Declan Rice: The Premier League academy players who got away

Date published: Thursday 14th July 2022 7:21 - Dave Tickner

Reece Oxford Conor Coady Kyle Walker-Peters Premier League academy exits feature

With Chelsea Twitter losing its sh*t about the possibility of Levi Colwill leaving on a permanent deal while Arsenal fret themselves daft over Charlie Patino’s absence from the squad list for the pre-season tour of the US and Spurs consider an expensive correction of their own past mistakes, it seems an opportune time to once again dust off the old ‘one that got away’ feature. Why not, eh?

Now we weren’t exactly sure how to qualify it but we didn’t want players who had great careers at their first clubs and then went on to even better things, so we’ve capped it at 15 Premier League appearances for their original club for reasons that will become self-justifying in due course. Other than it’s simple: the ‘winner’ is the suitable current active player with the highest market value as calculated by the hero-nerds at, without whom we would be forever lost.


Arsenal: Serge Gnabry
Then: 10 Premier League appearances
Now: 171 Bundesliga appearances for Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich; 34 Germany caps; 1x Champions League winner, 4x Bundesliga winner

That’s a good start, isn’t it? This goes rapidly downhill from here, I should warn you. Not all of these are going to be players who had famously disastrous loan spells at West Brom before going on to win the Champions League and multiple Bundesliga titles, just so you know.


Aston Villa: Callum Robinson
Then: 4 Premier League appearances
Now: 44 Premier League appearances for Sheffield United and West Brom; 189 Championship appearances for Bristol City, Preston and West Brom; 30 Ireland caps



Bournemouth: Alexandru Dobre
Then: 1 FA Cup appearance
Now: 22 Ligue 1 and 28 Ligue 2 appearances for Dijon

You can’t move these days for Bournemouth fans rueing the day Dobre was lost to them. They still talk in hushed tones of his 10-minute cameo in the 4-0 FA Cup third-round win against Luton, or that time his mere presence on the bench at Stamford Bridge spooked Chelsea so badly that the Cherries were able to scamper off with a 1-0 win. Plucked away from Bournemouth by Dijon in 2020 where his adequacy defies any and all attempts at mustard puns.


Brentford: Tyrick Mitchell
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 59 Premier League appearances for Crystal Palace; 2 England caps

Bloody hell, lads. Proof that even a club with a system and development plan as good and successful as Brentford can still drop a great big massive bollock when it comes to working out which 16-year-olds are going to end up real good at football.


Brighton: Steve Cook
Then: 1 Championship appearance
Now: 168 Premier League appearances for Bournemouth; 144 Championship appearances for Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest

You’d have to say that in among everything else Bournemouth did on their absurd march through the Football League, spending £150,000 in 2012 on a central defender who would go on to play very nearly 400 games for the club – a good chunk of them in the top flight – over the course of the next decade was among the better bits of work.


Chelsea: Declan Rice
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 165 Premier League appearances for West Ham; 32 caps for England; 3 caps for Ireland

That’s a bit more like it, isn’t it? He’s one of the best players in the league! Probably fetch nine figures if/when he gets sold! Chelsea, you fools! Now, is it fair to count a player Chelsea released at 14? Probably not. Are we going to do it anyway? Absolutely. If you want a proper one, Fikayo Tomori only played 17 Premier League games for the Blues and we would definitely have eked out the qualification criteria to 20 games if we’d been so minded.


Crystal Palace: Freddie Woodman
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 4 Premier League appearances for Newcastle; 88 Championship appearances for Swansea; 19 Scottish Premiership appearances for Kilmarnock and Aberdeen

Wan-Bissaka obviously doesn’t count thanks to the corner we’ve boxed ourselves into, so Woodman’s departure from Palace as a 16-year-old in 2013 is the one (that got away but, well, meh).


Everton: Eric Dier
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 237 Premier League appearances for Tottenham; 45 England caps

Often a figure of fun on this website but a) Everton could certainly have done with him last season and b) he really has been playing very well indeed having once again used his cheat code of ‘speaking all the languages’ to ingratiate himself instantly with yet another new Tottenham manager and could yet be an England World Cup bolter.


Fulham: Eberechi Eze
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 47 Premier League appearances for Crystal Palace; 104 Championship appearances for QPR

Left Fulham’s youth set-up at 15 for Reading and was also on Millwall’s books before his breakthrough at QPR and Premier League move to Palace. Given he was also at Arsenal as a tiny child, appears determined to tick off all the London clubs before his career is done. It’s a tall order, but you have to admire the man for giving it a red-hot crack. Also explains why he spent such a short time at far-flung Reading.


Leeds: Tom Cairney
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 52 Premier League appearances for Hull and Fulham; 318 Championship appearances for Hull, Blackburn and Fulham; 2 Scotland caps

Left Leeds for Hull at 16 and also had a couple of years at Blackburn (one on loan) before finding his home down in that there London. Leeds academy lads have amassed a vast number of Premier League appearances over the last 15 years or so, despite Leeds’ conspicuous absence from the top flight for most of that time, thanks largely to the efforts of James Milner and Aaron Lennon who have close to 1000 appearances between them.


Leicester: Sam Clucas
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 66 Premier League appearances for Hull and Swansea; 166 Championship appearances for Hull and Stoke

Released at 18, Clucas took a circuitous route back to the top that included a season in the fourth tier of Spanish football before eventually taking him back to the top flight with first Hull and later Swansea. The most high-profile academy lad from Leicester currently elsewhere in the top flight would be Ben Chilwell, while a decent core of the current very good squad is homegrown. Your Barneses, your Thomases, the Dewsbury-Halls of this world.


Liverpool: Conor Coady
Then: 1 Premier League appearance
Now: 152 Premier League appearances for Wolves; 167 Championship appearances for Huddersfield and Wolves; 10 England caps

This is a nice one. Coady’s entire Liverpool career comprised one Premier League minute against Fulham in May 2013 and an hour in midfield for a Europa League game against Anzhi. Now plays quite literally all the football for Wolves and has become a familiar presence in Gareth Southgate’s England squads. Even scores the odd goal these days, which is a fun development.


Manchester City: Jadon Sancho
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 104 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Dortmund; 29 Premier League appearances for Manchester United; 23 England caps

The ‘current player’ clause denies us any Ryan Giggs banter, but it matters not because, look, we’ve still got a left-winger who ended up at Manchester United. Doesn’t yet, admittedly, have quite the United CV that Giggs acquired, but there’s still time. Whisked away by those crafty Germans at Dortmund. Coming over here, taking our young footballers and turning them into excellent players. Let’s hope Brexit puts a stop to any more of that nonsense. We certainly don’t want any more Sanchos or Bellinghams on our hands, thank you very much.


Manchester United: Michael Keane
Then: 1 Premier League appearance
Now: 216 Premier League appearances for Burnley and Everton; 12 England caps

One of those where the ‘Former’ prefix can probably be added to ‘England international’ but is he currently any more of a liability than Manchester United’s defence? It’s probably quite close, which should trouble absolutely everyone involved.


Newcastle: Adam Armstrong
Then: 15 Premier League appearances
Now: 23 Premier League appearances for Southampton; 184 Championship appearances for Barnsley, Bolton and Blackburn

Oh, look at that. Exactly 15 Premier League appearances. Right on the cut-off. What are the chances? And it means we don’t have a second entry for Freddie Woodman, which would have been at least one and arguably two too many. How very convenient. As for Armstrong, he has finally worked his way back to the top flight and scored his first couple of Premier League goals having made 15 largely brief and always goalless appearances for the Magpies in 2014 and 2015.


Nottingham Forest: Patrick Bamford
Then: 2 Championship appearances
Now: 74 Premier League appearances for Burnley, Crystal Palace, Norwich, Middlesbrough and Leeds; 164 Championship appearances for Derby, Middlesbrough and Leeds; 1 England cap

So good to have Forest back in the Premier League, isn’t it? Even their contributions to these lame features are decent. Proper player, and he still ended up playing more games for Forest than Chelsea, who spirited him away for about £1.5m a decade ago now.


Southampton: Ben White
Then: 0 first-team appearances
Now: 68 Premier League appearances for Brighton and Arsenal, 4 England caps

Luke Shaw’s 60 Premier League games for Southampton obviously exclude him, but another Big Sixer and member of England’s squad – albeit one who didn’t score in the Euros final – ticks all our arbitrary boxes. Ben White has done tidily since leaving the Saints at 16. Fair play.


Tottenham: Kyle Walker-Peters
Then: 12 Premier League appearances
Now: 72 Premier League appearances for Southampton; 2 England caps

Has spent most of his Southampton career looking like a far safer option than whichever loon has been shambling around at right-back for Spurs. In fairness, this was often the case during his confusingly unsuccessful Spurs career. It’s a shame that, because the idea of Kyle Walker’s long-term heir being called Kyle Walker-Peters still feels like it was a gag worth persisting with. And one that might have saved Spurs a lot of fannying about and, quite possibly, £30m.


West Ham: Reece Oxford
Then: 8 Premier League appearances
Now: 80 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach and Augsburg

Remember him? What happened there, then? Absolutely wild that a brilliant debut at 16 years old against Arsenal made up over a third of his entire Premier League minutes to date. Now 23 and doing very nicely for himself thank you very much in Germany. Will inevitably return to the Premier League before long, and we can already smell the long reads, oral histories and deep dives into that infamous day he had Mesut Ozil in his pocket while still a child.


Wolves: Nathaniel Mendez-Laing
Then: 1 League Cup appearance
Now: 20 Premier League appearances for Cardiff; 95 Championship appearances for Peterborough, Cardiff and Middlesbrough

Reece Oxford would have been a better one to finish on, wouldn’t it? Thanks a lot, Wolves. Thanks a lot, the alphabet. Pair of pricks.


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