We’re back with another season of football set to begin at Category One level and if the previous seasons are anything to go by it’ll be an intoxicating ten months with no shortage of drama and plenty of promise.
Here at TheChels.net we’re taking a look at what to expect from the 2014-15 season; today, the spotlight is on the teams Chelsea will be facing this year.
Under-21 and Under-18 Leagues
Fulham came within moments of a first-ever FA Youth Cup crown last season but Dominic Solanke’s late heroics should not and indeed will not detract from another fantastic campaign for what has become one of the country’s leading lights in youth development. First team debuts were handed to in excess of ten players last season including the electrifying Patrick Roberts and the prolific Moussa Dembele and there’s plenty more in the pipeline as they move onto bigger and better things. Steve Wigley has departed as Under-18 manager but Kevin Keen comes in with plenty of tools at his disposal to ensure the Whites are in contention for honours once more.
U21 One to Watch: Emerson Hyndman – With Roberts and Dembele moving up to the big leagues attention turns to some of the other Youth Cup starlets and Texas-born midfielder Hyndman certainly fits the bill. Whether in a deeper controlling role or released just behind the strikers he has an impact on every match and has added more goals to his game as he’s developed. He also made his senior bow on the opening day of the Football League season.
U18 One to Watch: Josh Walker – A strong forward blessed with plenty of pace and no little flair, Walker impressed as a schoolboy last term and in an Under-18 team that will have a fresh and new feel to it this term, he promises much.
Follow @fulham_youth Follow @elgreeniouk
Less than twelve months after leading the Canaries to a first FA Youth Cup in thirty years manager Neil Adams found himself in a Premier League dugout as he tried (and ultimately failed) to keep Norwich City in the Premier League. He’s been given the job full-time, coming highly-rated as a result of his triumph over Chelsea, and has not been shy to include some of his boys in this season’s first team squad, most notably twins Josh and Jacob Murphy. The club is still active in sourcing players not handed scholarships by bigger clubs but they’ve also started to increasingly catch the eye of England scouts with players who’ve come through the ranks such as Aston Oxborough and Todd Cantwell.
U21 One to Watch: Adel Gafaiti – The Algerian Under-20 defender dipped his toe into the pro game last season with a loan spell at Oldham Athletic and will be hoping for more this season having been given a first team squad number at Carrow Road and joining the first team on their tour of the United States.
U18 One to Watch: Todd Cantwell – As noted above, Cantwell has been enjoying a summer away with England and has started to make a bit of a name for himself in scoring what was described as a ‘wonder strike’ in the Nordic Tournament. There’s plenty more of that to come in canary yellow.
Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers. Any academy capable of producing six players of their standard and reaping the rewards to the best part of £200m has to be placed at the very top of the tree and the Saints deserve all the credit in the world for the foundations they lay and the pathways they offer. A fabulous 13-14 at first team level was made possible by the performances of the players they’ve brought through the ranks and they found room to offer the next generation their fledgling steps in potentially replacing them. In truth they probably don’t have anyone quite as gifted as those moving on with their careers but where opportunities exist, talent will shine. Don’t bet against a Harrison Reed or an Omar Rowe being on that list in a few years’ time.
U21 One to Watch: Ryan Seager – The Under-18 league leading scorer from two years ago bridged both U21 and U18 football last term as he moves forward with his career. The St Mary’s exodus may offer him a clearer look at first team football with enough about him to suggest he could have at least as much of an impact as Sam Gallagher did last year. He has more craft and more versatility than the big forward and has been just as prolific in recent seasons.
U18 One to Watch: Richard Bakary – Bakary failed to earn a scholarship at Chelsea but was quickly snapped up by the Saints and they’re set to profit from a victim of the numbers game at Cobham. Capable of influencing things from either flank as well as playing through the middle there are elements of promise, although he has a lot more refinement required at this stage of his career.
Spurs were a disappointment last season as they didn’t really play as well as they’re capable of and so finished in the bottom half of the Under-21 league split and although they finished atop the South Under-18 league, they never really looked like winning it and were brushed aside by Everton in the Semi Finals. Ledley King and Ugo Ehiogu come into their coaching ranks for the new season, something that could work out very well for their abundance of highly capable defenders, and they’ll be hoping for better all round.
U21 One to Watch: Connor Ogilvie – Ogilvie seems to have been on the scene for years given his early exposure as an England Under-16 but he’s still only 18 years old and is maturing into a fine defensive prospect. Involved with the first team squad in last season’s Europa League, new manager Mauricio Pocchettino may find his attention turning towards the flame-haired centre-back (or left-back) before very much longer.
U18 One to Watch: Cameron Carter-Vickers – Staying with the defensive theme, Carter-Vickers starts his first season as a scholar already well ahead of the curve having played up an age group for the duration of 2013-14. He’s some prospect too, oozing class in everything he does at centre-back and looking every inch a star in the making.
‘The Academy of Football’ they might not be any more but West Ham still have the capabilities to produce solid players in the professional game. They have lacked a real breakthrough into their senior squad in recent years as Sam Allardyce’s transfer policy prefers a much more senior type but he has shown a desire to use the domestic cup competitions as a breeding ground and so every young Hammer has something to aim for.
U21 One to Watch: Jaanai Gordon – The young former Peterborough hot-shot left the Posh late in 2013 to pen a seven-figure deal at the Boleyn Ground and although he could be playing League One football this season, he’ll instead work on his game at Under-21 level in a bid to make the grade at an altogether much tougher standard.
U18 One to Watch: Reece Oxford – One of the perils of performing well for England Under-16s whilst at any club not amongst the powerful elite is finding your hot prospect being courted by them. That’s happened to towering centre-back Oxford this summer; his name linked with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. A promise of a lucrative contract when he turns seventeen appears to have convinced him to stay; it’s up to him to prove that he’s worth it.
Under-21 League only
In a season where a number of other teams stole most of the headlines at youth team level, Everton came through relatively unnoticed and claimed the 2013-14 Under-18 league title courtesy of a 1-0 win over Manchester City at Goodison Park. The fact that it was their second in four years has been almost equally ignored but the facts remain that the Toffees are amongst the most formidable teams in youth football. They’ve introduced another dozen or so scholars a year after a 17-man intake and whilst pathways into their first team haven’t always been there in recent years, the quality at junior level has.
U21 One to Watch: Brendan Galloway – Signed from a Milton Keynes Dons academy that has been producing talent in spades of late, Galloway is a precocious centre-back who had already featured for his previous club’s first team before moving north to Everton in early August. He’ll settle in at Under-21 level but don’t be surprised if he sees playing time in the cups at the very least.
U18 One to Watch: Delial Brewster – An attack-minded player with England representation to his name, he meshes technical subtlety with athletic prowess and is a handful for opponents to deal with. Already a regular at U18 level as a schoolboy, he’ll be looking to push on early and often.
It took some time to adjust to Category One football but Leicester proved themselves to be one of the surprise packages of the 2013-14 season, particularly at Under-21 level. The Foxes ensured a top eleven finish to take their place alongside the very best and are well on their way to producing more Liam Moores and Jeffrey Schlupps for the first team, particularly with so many recent England Under-16 and Under-17 representatives.
U21 One to Watch: Matt Miles – A player who looks very much in the mould that manager Nigel Pearson fancies, Miles will move up from youth team football ready to lead Steve Beaglehole’s team having donned the captain’s armband in pre-season. A big, powerful and robust type who loves to affect the play in central areas, he can really push on this year.
U18 One to Watch: Layton Ndukwu – A home-grown attacking midfielder who shone at youth team level last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ndukwu graduate to Under-21 football this season but for now he’s likely to be one of the Under-18 league’s very best players. Two-footed, skilful and creative, he too comes with England caps already.
Considerable investment in playing staff and infrastructure has seen Liverpool once again emerge as a genuine force at youth level but more impressive has been their desire to give genuine first-team experience to their best and brightest. Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan both made England’s preliminary World Cup plans and there’s a host of others bidding to follow them. Their ascension plan combined with a very active loan policy often sees their Under-21 and Under-18 sides all the more youthful but as Chelsea have shown year on year, that can often be a good thing.
U21 One to Watch: Jordan Rossiter – The England youngster has had a bit of a look in pre-season and is widely tipped to be on the verge of a breakthrough as something of a successor to Steven Gerrard. His style is certainly reminiscent of the Reds’ captain and his progress has been rapidly accelerated over the past couple of seasons in anticipation of big things to come.
U18 One to Watch: Yan Dhanda – The first-year scholar had a fantastic start to the season with England’s Under-17 team away in the Nordic Tournament and that should ensure he hits the ground running for his club. A former winner of Chelsea’s ‘Asian Soccer Star’ programme, he dazzles with his footwork and scores plenty of goals to boot.
Under-21 Semi Finalists and Under-18 Finalists; not a bad 2013-14 at all for Manchester City. Critics will often point out their expansive recruitment policy featuring star teenage names from across the globe but the club will rightly hit back by pointing out that they had seven schoolboys play for England Under-16s last season. The Etihad Campus is nearing completion as the latest sign of their bid for world domination and based on the quality of their football last season, there’s plenty of hope for the future.
U21 One to Watch: Thierry Ambrose – His first season following a move from Paris Saint-Germain could hardly have gone better as he finished as the leading Under-18 scorer in Category One football and made waves at Under-21 level in two separate City teams competing for honours. He’s ripe to step up and do it all over again for Patrick Vieira’s side in 14-15.
U18 One to Watch: Elan Assiana – One of those seven England U16 internationals, Assiana is a modern-day football in every way. He has the imposing presence and physique to boss the game either in defence or midfield accompanied with the technical education of a top-flight academy like City’s.
It’s been an unusual couple of years in the red side of Manchester as far as youth development goes. They’ve made back to back Under-21 League Finals, beating Tottenham before relinquishing their title to Chelsea back in April, but at Under-18 level they’ve often seemed to lack a little impact and presence. Their squad is very home-grown and can often appear as if it lacks potential but the results speak for themselves and they remain the club to follow as the breakout campaigns of Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson will testify to. With plenty of schoolboys eager to push onto the next level, it would be foolish to sleep on the Reds.
U21 One to Watch: Ashley Fletcher – Having shown that he’s more than a match for Under-18 defences, Fletcher will progress to Under-21 level seeking to make the same sort of strides as occasional strike partner Wilson. His prolific streak in front of goal last season suggests he’s well placed to make good on those ambitions.
U18 One to Watch: Marcus Rashford – United’s recent Milk Cup success in Northern Ireland saw Rashford and Demetri Mitchell picked out for special attention after running riot in a week of spectacular performances. Rashford gets the edge for this selection for his eye-catching performances as a schoolboy and there’ll be plenty more in the next ten months.
Follow @ManUnitedYouth Follow @khoazany Follow @MrMujac Follow @DoronSalomon
Whilst their first team have experienced a wild ride in the past two years, Sunderland’s youth sector has been putting together a very solid body of work that has seen them established as a top eleven team at Under-21 level and an Under-18 team capable of beating anyone else on their day. A clearout at the upper end of things over the summer has streamlined their playing squad meaning they should be progressive and exciting over the coming twelve months, especially if Gus Poyet’s squad leaves room for one or two to make a push for senior football.
U21 One to Watch: Lynden Gooch – The American midfielder caught the eye of his national team’s Under-20 selection this summer and then proceeded to impress when playing for the United States. His continued development could yet catch the eye of Poyet, who has never been shy of giving youth its head, particularly in his area of the team.
U18 One to Watch: Andrew Nelson – Nelson had a breakthrough season in the youth team last year despite being a schoolboy and his goalscoring displays towards the end of the game provide room for positivity as he embarks upon his scholarship.
Under-18 League only
The Liam Brady era is over at Arsenal in the biggest changes to their setup in a generation. The much-feted Irishman has been replaced by Dutchman Andries Jonker, who has brought a couple of coaching compatriots with him in a bid to raise standards that have undoubtedly dropped in recent years. A busy summer recruiting more than half a dozen foreign scholars should see things pick up quickly on the pitch but Jonker’s big task is to get things firmly back on track at Hale End to provide Arsenal with a bright post-Arsene Wenger future, whenever that may be.
U21 One to Watch: Gedion Zelalem – The latest ‘hype’ from the Arsenal academy is an American-German midfielder with Ethiopian heritage and first-team appearances already to his name. Wenger has repeatedly spoken of his desire to integrate him into the first team squad at the Emirates but Zelalem was found wanting far too often last season and needs to grow both in size and in influence this season before he gets a real shot at breaking through.
U18 One to Watch: Chris Willock – The middle child of three footballing brothers, fleet-footed Chris has taken well to the spotlight for club and country, displaying flair, trickery and an abundance of ability for Arsenal at Under-21 level in pre-season and for England’s Under-16s and 17s. He’ll get his fair chance to step up to the 21s full time.
Follow @AFCAcademy Follow @jeorgebird Follow @DeanAFC1989
Villa are what they are and that’s a good thing as far as they’re concerned. Their output is consistent and relatively prolific and whilst they may lack in terms of top-end players, they do nonetheless manage to turn out boys capable of making a difference. Jack Grealish and Callum Robinson are lined up for big seasons after breaking into Paul Lambert’s squad last time out and their new scholar intake includes three or four players who’ve made a name for themselves with England already in their careers.
U21 One to Watch: Janoi Donacien – The big Caribbean defender will look at Ciaran Clark, Nathan Baker and Shane Lowry from recent years and consider himself unlucky not to have had a chance at following their steps out of the Villa academy and into the Premier League; perhaps moreso given Villa’s defensive woes under Paul Lambert. Armed with a new two-year deal, could this be his season?
U18 One to Watch: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy – Yep, another England Under-16 international with tremendous physical attributes and a keen eye for goal. Academies up and down the country and producing them with ever-increasing regularly but Hepburn-Murphy stands out for his determination and clinical touch.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The first of two newcomers to Category One, Brighton have been ambitiously pursuing excellence for a good few years now and following their long-awaited move to the Amex Stadium they set their sights on state-of-the-art facilities. An aggressive policy of sourcing out-of-favour scholars from clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal has boosted their on-pitch product and having now made the grade they can look forward to accelerating their plans. Chelsea fans in particular will be well aware of their recent work with Liam Bridcutt and Rohan Ince shining, Ben Sampayo and Anton Rodgers getting a decent shot and now Daniel Pappoe and George Cole hooking up with the Albion this summer.
U21 One to Watch: Christian Walton – Walton contests the England Under-19 goalkeeping gloves with Chelsea’s Mitchell Beeney and has more than held his own when given the opportunity to impress. He stands a chance of a regular first-team squad place backing up David Stockdale under Sami Hyypia this season and will be all the better for doing so.
U18 One to Watch: Jordan Maguire-Drew – It’s always impressive for a 15 year-old to feature at Under-21 level and that’s exactly what Maguire-Drew did back in December for the Albion before threatening to establish himself in the team and almost bypass Under-18 football. Whatever level he turns out at now they’re a Category One team, he’ll be a problem for opposing defences.
Reading’s academy has been extremely strong in recent years but last season was an important milestone for the club at all levels. They largely eschewed the transfer market and instead really began to trust some of those developed down at Hogwood Park, leading to Jordan Obita being named Player of the Season. They’re very good at Under-21 level and reached the FA Youth Cup Semi Finals only to lose out over two absurd matches with Fulham and they’re fancied to go well again in 2014-15.
U21 One to Watch: Dominic Hyam – A big defender making strides at the Madejski and for Scotland’s youth teams, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a chance at Championship football this year. He’s as consistent as they come and a real presence at the heart of the defence, giving him every chance of making the grade.
U18 One to Watch: Amadu Waritay – Reading moved quickly to secure the former Crystal Palace midfielder and he showed why towards the end of last season when given more extended playing time last season. He has a languid, relaxed style of play and likes to get forward to make a difference in the final third.
West Bromwich Albion
A West Brom team featuring Isaiah Brown, Jerome Sinclair and Yan Dhanda for 2014-15 would have stood a strong chance of running the table at Under-18 and FA Youth Cup level, but the Baggies have been the club hit hardest by defections elsewhere as Brown took his talents to Chelsea last summer and Dhanda joined Sinclair on the road to Liverpool at the same time. Those losses hit them hard as they’ve lacked attacking depth as much as anything else but they do still have a host of fine players who are led by an innovative coaching team that’s keen to integrate the likes of futsal into their development.
U21 One to Watch: Callam Jones – A young centre-back with budding potential, his consistently high standard of play for the Baggies and for England have seen him rewarded with a first team squad number this summer and whilst opportunities may not be there immediately as Albion appear set for a relegation battle, his time will come.
U18 One to Watch: Jonathan Leko – Young striker Leko, still a schoolboy for 2014-15, is a real handful with his combination of freakish size and skill. His star could shine brightly over the next year or so as he’s expected to play an important part for England’s Under-17s as they bid to retain their European Championship title.
Not on the fixture list
Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Derby County, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Stoke City, Wolves
Tomorrow, we complete the preview with an in-depth look at Chelsea.