Stars of the now and near future
Most of my top ten features are born from a sustained period of public transport. This one was a London St Pancras to Nottingham train journey. 110 minutes to think with three rules:
* Players must be 21 or younger
* Selection is on talent and performances now (not future potential)
* Checking of ages permitted but no Wikipedia scouring
Formalities cleared up, let’s crack on:
Rodwell, Gibbs, Walker, Sturridge, Szczesny, Vela, McCarthy. Cleverley, P Jones
10. Chris Smalling
His meteoric rise continues. After still being at Maidstone United 32 months ago, and making his first PL start just 14 months ago, his move to Manchester United was met with raised eyebrows, especially considering the price tag. Is now almost second fiddle to Ferdinand and Vidic (vying with Johnny Evans) and with Rio’s injuries persisting, could soon be time for Smalling to make the final step up. Alex Ferguson has great confidence in the defender, and this speaks volumes.
9. Martin Kelly
A real toss-up between Kelly and Kyle Walker, and I do accept that Walker was chosen for England. However, the fact that the Liverpool defender has forced Glen Johnson into a left-back role says it all. A rarity amongst our full-backs in that he can actually defend, Kelly should expect to be a substantial part of England and Liverpool’s future
8. Marc Albrighton
Possibly England’s most surprising midfield improvement. On the fringes of the Villa squad in July, on the fringes of the England squad six months later. Still suffers from the disease affecting many English wingers (crossing a ball out of play on the full), but has looked dangerous in combination with Stewart Downing for Aston Villa. Is also Villa’s joint second top PL goalscorer this season.
7. Danny Welbeck
Still officially a United player, Steve Bruce will be hoping that Sunderland can stump up enough cash to persuade Ferguson to sell. Pacey and tricky are all well and good, but Welbeck is essentially a goalscorer, and they are increasingly hard to find domestically. A testament to Welbeck’s arrival on the big stage that his recent injury has been mourned by Steve Bruce as a stumbling block in the Black Cats bid for European football. One suspects a deal to Sunderland with United having first option to buy back (as they have with Ryan Shawcross) makes immediate sense for both parties.
6. Jordan Henderson
Consistent, stylish, assured, and just 20 years old. Seems inevitable that he will join one of the superclubs in England, and it would be crazy to think that Sir Alex is not a fan. Henderson will probably want to improve his goalscoring (just one in nearly 30 games this season), but could be a potential long term replacement for Darren Fletcher, who seems to have regressed in the last year.
5. Mario Balotelli
Ridiculously talented and horrendously temperamental, Manchester City fans will soon pick up where Inter fans left off. Already has a Premier League hat trick under his belt, and has shown enough to persuade fans he will be a real threat in England. Injuries have hampered his progress, but Mario still has more goals than Rooney this season. His statistics this season say more than any words could: 11 games, 8 goals, 5 yellows, 1 red.
4. Theo Walcott
Selected for one World Cup squad as a shock and not taken to another as an additional surprise, it is nice to see Theo be able to gain some confidence and consistency at club level. Whilst the accuracy of his final ball is still not as sharp as it should be, is amongst England’s most exciting talents. With him and Adam Johnson on the wings (and crossing for Carroll), there are reasons to be optimistic.
If Gareth Bale has been the new kid on the left hand side block, then Rafael is the right hand side equivalent. Has improved to such an extent that Gary Neville’s retirement was seen as a practical inevitability rather than surprise. But it isn’t just Neville: Wes Brown and John O’Shea are understudies, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for both to leave in the summer.
2. Jack Wilshere
There was a time last season when I worried that the circus around little Jack was going to be antissapointment (a made up combination of anticipation and disappointment that I want in the dictionary). This season however, Wilshere’s record speaks for itself. 33 appearances for club and country, trusted in the holding role for England, and the dream that Wilshere could truly be England’s talisman for years to come.
1. Gareth Bale
It’s Balemania. It’s like the bloody Beatles! If you look inside the mind of any football ‘pundit’, the bit that isn’t taken up by sexism and attempting to purloin floozies is 100% G-Baz. The Welshman has transformed himself from Spurs’ unlucky mascot to a contender for Player of the Year. And the fact that he is still 21 is, quite frankly, shocking. Which reminds me of a scene in Old School with Luke Wilson and Elisha Cuthbert in the boss’s office. I digress, Bale is top of our list. Just wish he had joined Forest last January.
The worst thing about this article? See below
Micah Richards Chris Smalling Phil Jones Kieran Gibbs
Theo Walcott Jordan Henderson Jack Wilshere Adam Johnson
Andy Carroll Wayne Rooney
Only Wayne Rooney over 23 in that whole lot.
Horribly optimistic all over again.