10) Oliver Skipp
“He’s going to show he deserves to be involved in the first team of Tottenham,” said Mauricio Pochettino of the 18-year-old before he was handed his first Premier League start in the win over Burnley last month. The Spurs boss integrated the midfielder into his first-team squad during pre-season when the World Cup left Pochettino with little option but to blood the club’s youngsters on their tour of the USA, but Skipp did enough during appearances against Roma and Barcelona before playing 90 minutes against AC Milan to convince the manager he belonged with the senior squad.
Even by Pochettino’s perma-positive standards, it was a rave review for the holding midfielder upon his full debut: “Fantastic, fantastic. He played like a 30-year-old man. So relaxed, he tried to play forward, he tried to give the team what the team needed. Full energy. I am so proud of him, everyone here is proud of him. And he’s only 18 years old, fantastic.”
Since that eye-catching performance, Skipp has played a part in Spurs’ subsequent three wins while watching their two defeats from the bench. Harry Winks has only recently established himself in Pochettino’s first XI but the 22-year-old midfielder already has the next Academy graduate hot on his heels.
9) Mason Greenwood
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is desperately keen to be seen to be promoting youth, with Angel Gomes and Tatith Chong both seeing first-team action in recent weeks while James Garner is itching to make his debut after watching from the bench twice. All three appear capable of making the grade from a United academy now resurgent after a lean few years. But the biggest buzz surrounds a 17-year-old that some supporters have already likened to Robin van Persie.
Greenwood even made the bench, along with Garner, for the Champions League trip to Valencia under Jose Mourinho, before Solskjaer made a point of including young players in his squad. That came a week before the Bradford-born striker’s starring role in United’s 4-3 win that knocked Chelsea out of the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 2013. United were so desperate to keep the spotlight away from their prized asset that they shifted the focus by sacking Mourinho first thing the following morning…
A two-footed centre-forward capable of playing anywhere across the front line, Greenwood has scored 20 goals in 17 appearances this term across United’s Under-18s and Under-23s while creating another five more. He signed his first professional contract in October, the day after his 17th birthday, and though the Red Devils are trying to keep him grounded, a first-team debut appears only a matter of time.
8) Morgan Gibbs-White
When questions were starting to be asked of Nuno Espirito Santo for the first time, at the start of December with his Wolves side having taken just one point from six games, the manager offered up Gibbs-White as the answer. The 18-year-old was handed his first Premier League start against Chelsea and Nuno was rewarded for his faith in youth as the local lad played a leading role in inflicting only a second defeat of the season on the Blues.
The England Under-17 World Cup winner set up Wolves’ equaliser that night, making himself the youngest player to make a Premier League assist in almost 20 years. But it was his all-round display that really caught the eye. Gibbs-White was asked to play in false nine role, driving into space with and without the ball when Wolves were on the front foot, and when they retreated, the youngster was a constant irritation to Chelsea while they struggled to build up their usual passing momentum.
“He’s one of the best generation of English players for a long time,” Nuno said after a sublime full debut in the top flight. “Together, we’re going to try to build something. ”
7) Ethan Ampadu
There are very few players Chelsea wouldn’t let Frank Lampard borrow but Ampadu is one of them. The 18-year-old, who was playing in the Football League aged 15, was wanted by Derby for the rest of the season but the Blues, who have around 40 players out on loan, were keen to make an exception in the former Exeter teenager’s case.
Ampadu has only three Chelsea first-team appearances under his belt this term largely because of injury but the teenager had four senior Wales caps before he turned 18. “He’s going to be magnificent,” said Ryan Giggs, who echoed many others in pinpointing the youngster’s mentality and attitude as primary factors behind his rapid rise.
No one yet knows where Ampadu’s best position is. He arrived at Chelsea from Exeter as a midfielder but he has spent more time at the back at Stamford Bridge, certainly while three-man defences were all the rage. It seems most likely that he will see more action as a centre-back under Maurizio Sarri but his versatility is one of the reasons so many clubs want him on loan and why Chelsea are so keen to keep him around.
6) Reiss Nelson
The 19-year-old grew up with Jadon Sancho in south London and still the pair are pushing each other along in the Bundesliga, even if both attackers took different paths from the capital to Germany. Nelson is currently on loan from Arsenal and, given his form for Hoffenheim, the clamour to bring him back to the Emirates early is understandable.
Nelson has six Bundesliga goals from five starts and eight substitute appearances, netting at a rate of once every 82 minutes, even if he hasn’t scored since November 10. But Unai Emery is happy to leave the versatile forward under Julian Nagelsmann’s wing for now: “His progress has been great. In pre-season he worked with us but here minutes and responsibilities are more difficult because he’s young and the decision to leave is important for him and for us.”
Arsenal made sure they tied Nelson to a five-year contract before he set off for Hoffenheim and the Gunners should already be formulating a plan for how they can integrate him in the first team next season. Nelson already has eyes on an England senior spot after two goals in four Under-21s appearances and Gareth Southgate admits he is watching the Arsenal starlet very closely.
5) Callum Hudson-Odoi
We’ll trust Bayern Munich’s judgement on this one. If they are willing to spend £35million on a winger with not a single Premier League start, then he must be close to the real deal.
We may yet see the 18-year-old prove that at Chelsea. Despite Christian Pulisic’s imminent arrival, there still appears to be room for Hudson-Odoi. The England Under-19 international can play on either flank, demonstrating that in cup appearances on either side against Nottingham Forest anf Tottenham last week. With Willian and Pedro the wrong side of 30 and Eden Hazard as likely to leave as stay, Chelsea should be doing a better job of convincing their academy graduate to sign a new deal.
Having largely ignored Hudson-Odoi in the Premier League, Maurizio Sarri tried to offer some reassurance last week when it seemed that the teenager was more inclined to explore his options. “Now he is ready,” said Sarri, changing his tone. “Of course, some times he will be on the bench but the same as Willian and Pedro. I can start to consider him on the same level.”
4) Diogo Dalot
“In his age group, he is the best full-back in Europe and we all believe he has a bright future ahead of him at Manchester United.”
Mourinho didn’t bother to even try to hide his excitement over the arrival of Dalot in the summer. The 19-year-old, signed for around £19million after only eight appearances in the Porto side, has had a stuttering start to his Old Trafford career due to injuries, but his nine matches so far for the Red Devils have offered glimpses as to why Mourinho was so gushing in his appraisal of United’s new arrival.
Under Solskjaer, Dalot seems destined to shine while United’s full-backs are playing higher than at any point since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. The Portugal Under-21 international delivers devilish crosses from the flank while possessing the mobility to recover his defensive position when need be. Mourinho reckoned Dalot could be Gary Neville’s rather belated successor and he seems certain to end Antonio Valencia’s United career.
3) Matteo Guendouzi
Amid a summer of huge change at the Emirates, Guendouzi’s arrival was perhaps the one that caused fewest ripples. The teenage midfielder signed from Lorient in the French second division was expected to be one for the future, especially since Arsenal had already signed an international holding midfielder – Lucas Torreira – for three times the price.
But Guendouzi surprised even Unai Emery, with only Torreira having played in more games this season. While the Uruguay star was eased into his Premier League role, Guendouzi was thrown straight in having caught Emery’s eye during a full pre-season. During a desperately tough opening to the campaign, the 19-year-old was trusted to start against Manchester City and Chelsea, and Ian Wright was impressed: “The best thing I’ve seen in the two games from this youngster is the kind of heart and spirit and drive and somebody who continuously wants the ball. He’s driving, he’s upset when things go wrong – I haven’t seen that for ages at Arsenal.”
Arsenal fans were immediately smitten and even Dimitar Berbatov lost his cool over the teenager’s combative, box-to-box qualities. But Sven Misintat, who first identified Guendouzi at Lorient, reckons the midfielder should cool his jets and concentrate on sitting in front of the back four.
2) Ryan Sessegnon
Like all of his team-mates, Sessegnon has not had the impact he might have hoped to make in the Premier League this season, but because he has been around the Fulham first team for over two years, it is easy to forget that Sessegnon is only 18.
And his adaptation to the Premier League should not distract from what he has already achieved in the Championship. As a 17-year-old, Sessegnon swept the board with five gongs at the EFL Awards last year, including Apprentice of the Year and Championship Player of the Year, having scored 15 goals from a variety of positions on the left in the regular season prior to playing a direct role in three goals during the Cottagers’ three play-off matches.
The England Under-21 international, who marked his 50th senior appearance with a hat-trick away at Sheffield United, is only nine matches off 100, with 20 of those – 16 from the start – coming in the top flight this season. Suitors were already forming a not-so-orderly queue for Sessegnon, and if he develops the ‘nasty’ streak that Claudio Ranieri has encouraged – all the while continuing to run down his contract – then he could be one of the game’s hottest properties over the next year.
1) Phil Foden
“I think England has a diamond,” said Pep Guardiola in December of a player many believe to be the most exciting English prospect since Wayne Rooney. Then the Man City boss alluded to the Stockport Iniesta’s biggest problem: “There are few 18-year-olds who could play regularly, competing with David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne.”
It’s hard enough for young talent, even one as prodigious as Foden, to make the breakthrough but when two of the finest midfielders the Premier League has ever seen are in front of you, then patience becomes as important as technique. Jadon Sancho didn’t see a direct route to the City first team and the England winger is reaping the rewards of his decision to start afresh elsewhere. Foden is going to have to sit tight, with Guardiola saying it is ‘impossible’ even for the youngster to get some game-time on loan.
You can understand Guardiola wanting to keep Foden around, even if he is adamant that City are not ‘here to be nice people’ or to ‘bring him on the pitch because he is a City fan or is a nice guy’. The Under-17 World Cup Golden Ball winner and the recipient of the 2017 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award has all the attributes to play a leading role even in a team as special as this City side. Foden is just going to have to bide his team and make the most of the opportunities – like eight Premier League games off the bench so far this season – when they do come.