There is nothing more satisfying in football than seeing a youngster or academy graduate break through into the first team.
Every season a handful of teenagers enter the footballing psyche and have us all excited about how far they can go — especially if it’s for your team.
Fans are desperate for ‘the next x’ or insert location with famous player (‘Stockport Iniesta’, ‘Croydon De Bruyne’, etc.) to burst onto the scene and save your club a pretty penny in the transfer market.
Clubs like West Ham (known as the Academy of Football — and who just sold Declan Rice for a British-record fee) pride themselves on having a talented production line. Indeed, there are already high hopes in east London that they’ve unearthed ‘the next Rice’.
But, what of other clubs? The Premier League is awash with precocious stars every which way; some who may be prominent fixtures in the 2023/24 season and are already making significant headways this pre-season.
Every club has one talented tyro, a wishful wunderkind upon whom all fans pin their hopes on. Here we look at those individual stars who could be the next to emerge. So, read on for every Premier League club’s most exciting young player…
Arsenal – Ethan Nwaneri
Ethan Nwaneri was 15 when he made his Arsenal debut last season. Let that sink in for a minute. When most of us were using school jumpers for goalposts on a concrete playground, Nwaneri was rubbing shoulders with footballing heavyweights on a pristine Premier League turf. The kid looks destined for greatness.
Indeed, he is the youngest Premier League player ever — and Arsenal, of course, have high hopes for him. After a contract dispute was finally settled earlier this summer, with several Premier League clubs look to turn his head, cough cough Chelsea cough cough, he is now looking to kick on in north London.
Hale End has a formidable reputation when it comes to developing talent. Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah are all a tremendous advertisement. The likes of Harry Kane, Serge Gnabry, Eberechi Eze and Emiliano Martinez have all also been on the books at some point. Nwaneri is in capable hands.
Aston Villa – Cameron Archer
Cameron Archer recently starred for England as they won the U21 European Championship earlier this month, scoring twice in the tournament. He went into the biennial showpiece having flourished in a loan spell for Middlesbrough as they reached the 2022/23 Championship play-offs, netting 11 goals in 20 games.
There are high hopes at Villa Park that Archer is now ready to return to the club and play a part for Unai Emery’s side this forthcoming campaign. With the Europa Conference League able to offer more opportunities, the 21-year-old will be hoping to get a chance to shine, and Emery could certainly do with the depth.
Also keep an eye out for Jacob Ramsey’s younger brother, Aaron, who also thrived on loan at Boro last term and is expected to break through in the not-too-distant future. There are some at Villa Park who have even suggested that Aaron is superior to his older sibling. The proof, of course though, will be in the pudding though.
Bournemouth – Milos Kerkez
A summer signing from AZ Alkmaar, 19-year-old Milos Kerkez won’t be joining Bournemouth to put out the training cones. The teenage sensation has joined for around £15m, so you get the sense Andoni Iraola intends to play him — and one Premier League club already knows all about his talents. West Ham met AZ in the Conference League semi-finals last season, and the former Milan academy player was a standout name. Fans in east London are a tad bemused that their club didn’t move for him given his impressive showing, but West Ham’s loss is Bournemouth’s gain. He is an exceptionally good, attack-minded full-back.
Brentford – Kim Ji-soo
Thomas Frank has a pretty good track record of identifying unknown talents and transforming them into stars. The Bees naturally have to flourish in this department to keep up with the Premier League heavyweights who can blow them out of the water with gargantuan sums of wealth.
Kim Ji-soo is one player they believe can develop accordingly and save them a few bob down the line. The 18-year-old stands at 6ft 4in and joined from Seongnam FC last month. Compared to Kim Min-jae by media outlets in his native South Korea, the teenager has the same anatomical profile and playing style to match the now-Bayern Munich defender, which would suit Brentford’s set-up perfectly.
Brighton – Simon Adingra
The Seagulls have established themselves as the real-life ‘Football Managers’ in recent seasons, mopping up unheralded gems from across the globe, blooding them in and making them household names. Simon Adingra could be the next to explode onto the scene. When Brighton snapped him up last summer, he’d just finished the 2021/22 Danish Superliga season with the most take-ons of any player (70). He then spent last term on loan at feeder club Union Saint-Gilloise and smashed it with 15 goals and 15 assists in all competitions. The 21-year-old is now ready to take the Premier League by storm. Watch this space.
Burnley – James Trafford
When England conceded a penalty in the dying embers of the U21 Euros final against Spain earlier this month, it looked as though they would concede their first tournament goal and head into extra-time. Instead, James Trafford denied Abel Ruiz from 12 yards, and won England a first trophy since 1984. Trafford, for his part, kept a clean sheet in every game. Having spent the last two seasons on loan at Bolton, where he won the club’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ award last term, the 6ft 6in 20-year-old has now moved to Burnley from Man City for £15m. It’s a hefty fee, but his blossoming career suggests it could prove a snip down the line.
Chelsea – Levi Colwill
Cobham naturally has several stars coming through the ranks — and a handful of burgeoning wonderkids snapped up from elsewhere — not least Andrey Santos, Cesare Casadei, Angelo Gabriel, Lewis Hall and Ian Maatsen, all of whom have featured pretty extensively under Mauricio Pochettino so far.
But the one to really catch the eye is Levi Colwill. Another who flourished in England’s U21 Euros win earlier this month, despite conceding that late penalty in the final, the 20-year-old was sensational on loan at Brighton last season and even persuaded the club to bid a club-record fee for his services. Chelsea naturally rejected it.
Liverpool have been another club heavily linked with his signature, such is the promise on his shoulders, but Chelsea appear adamant that he’s not leaving Stamford Bridge this summer. Aggressive, elegant and supremely talented on the ball, Colwill has all the attributes of a Pochettino defender.
Crystal Palace – Jesurun Rak-Sakyi
South London has long been a hotbed for emerging talent, but Palace haven’t always been able to exploit their catchment area. The likes of Jadon Sancho, Emile Smith Rowe, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham were all born a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park, but were snapped up by more luxurious academies across England. Jesurun Rak-Sakyi looked to be another who slipped through their net, but he transferred across from Chelsea in 2019.
The Southwark-born forward has gone from strength to strength since joining the Eagles four years ago, already racking up two Premier League appearances and enjoying a breakthrough season on loan at Charlton Athletic last season, in which he scored 15 League One goals and earned the club’s Player of the Year award. There are now high hopes the 20-year-old can return to Palace this forthcoming campaign and really cause a splash.
Also keep an eye out for 18-year-old David Ozoh, who was handed his top-flight debut by Patrick Vieira last term — becoming the club’s youngest Premier League debutant in the process — and won the Eagles’ U21 Player of the Season award. The Valencia-born England U18 international plays with a physicality and maturity that belies his still tender years and is considered to be the hottest prospect to emerge from the academy in years.
Everton – Thomas Cannon
Thomas Cannon made two Premier League appearances for Everton last season pre-Christmas, but he really came to the fore after joining Preston on loan in January. The Republic of Ireland U21 international bagged eight goals in 20 Championship games and really announced himself to senior football. There is now clamour from the Goodison Park faithful for him to be given a serious look-in next term with former academy prospect Ellis Simms recently joining Coventry permanently.
Fulham – Luke Harris
Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho, Eberechi Eze, Ryan Sessegnon, Moussa Dembele, Fulham’s talent factory has been very productive in recent years, and Luke Harris looks like the latest sensation off that conveyor belt. The Jersey-born midfielder was handed three Premier League appearances by Marco Silva last term and has featured extensively this pre-season. A delicate and balanced midfielder, the 18-year-old has all the technical and stylistic qualities of an archetypal Silva player.
Liverpool – Ben Doak
Anfield is stacked full of young talent, and Jurgen Klopp has certainly shown few aversions to handing out opportunities. Stefan Bajcetic was the breakout star last term, but the German has also overseen the first-team transitions of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones. Fans will now be hoping Ben Doak can be the next youngster to attract Klopp’s attention and force his hand.
The 17-year-old joined from Celtic in March 2022 and made his top-flight debut in December, subsequently becoming the youngest Scottish player to appear in the Premier League. His ceiling appears limitless, a notion reinforced by his recent pre-season showings, leading Klopp to declare: “Ben Doak, oh my God, it’s so much fun to watch this kid. He is just a joy to watch.”
His twinkle-toed feet and mazy runs have been a standout quality this summer, even upstaging serial trickster Luis Diaz at times. Now that takes some doing.
Luton – Joe Taylor
One of the more extraordinary stories on our list. In just 18 months, 20-year-old Joe Taylor has gone from being a part-time, non-league footballer and barman to a Premier League player. Struggling to break into King’s Lynn Town’s first team, he was loaned out to ninth-tier Wroxham in 2021, where he scored 21 goals in just 13 games and prompted Peterborough United to swiftly snap him up two years ago.
He appeared 15 times for the Posh in the first half of last season in League One, before Luton acquired in services in January. He made just nine Championship appearances but did come off the bench and score in the play-off final penalty shootout win for the Hatters. The Wales U21 international will now be hoping to really kick on and cement a consistent starting berth in the big time.
Man City – James McAtee
City have one of the more outrageous academies in world football, but Pep Guardiola can often find it hard to integrate the starlets into his first-team, such is the traffic jam of world-class talent in the food chain — but he has high hopes for James McAtee. The 20-year-old won Sheffield United’s Young Player of the Year award last term as the club clinched promotion, while he already has two Premier League appearances from the campaign prior. Nicknamed the ‘Salford Silva’, there are reports that Guardiola is a huge fan and plans to keep him around next term as he reinvents his midfield post-Ilkay Gundogan.
Man Utd – Kobbie Mainoo
Kobbie Mainoo made three appearances under Erik ten Hag last term and one in the Premier League, and he has already been utilised extensively this pre-season. The teenage star appears destined for great things and played an absolute blinder in Man Utd’s recent 2-0 pre-season win over Arsenal. Coming up against Mikel Arteta’s much-vaunted midfield three of Declan Rice, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz, Mainoo bossed proceedings and dominated the centre circle during his time on the pitch. He looked comfortable, formidable and slick. He is expected to have a breakthrough year in 2023/24.
Newcastle – Lewis Miley
Lewis Miley was set to go with England to the U17 Euros in May, but Eddie Howe blocked the move so he could feature in Newcastle’s final three matchday squads. He duly did, even appearing off the bench against Chelsea on the final day of the campaign. The 17-year-old is the brightest prospect to emerge from Newcastle’s academy in years, and is expected to be heavily involved in the first team this season, hoping to enjoy a similar trajectory to recent academy star Elliot Anderson.
Nottingham Forest – Dale Taylor
Not one for next season, as the 19-year-old has been loaned out to Wycombe Wanderers for the campaign, but keep an eye out for Dale Taylor in the future. The teenage forward impressed during a loan spell with Burton Albion last term and already has two senior caps for Northern Ireland. If he shines for Wycombe, then who knows, maybe Steve Cooper could be tempted to put the chequebook away.
Sheffield United – Daniel Jebbison
On the pitch, Daniel Jebbison scored one goal in 16 games in the Championship for Sheffield United last season, though he was restricted to 485 minutes. Recently turning 20, Jebbison played for England at the U20s World Cup but was then called up to Canada’s 60-man provisional squad for the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup, leaving his international future up in the air. Jebbison has also been linked to the likes of Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, having scored in the Premier League in 2020/21.
Tottenham – Alfie Devine
Another name for the long-term, Alfie Devine impressed in pre-season under Ange Postecoglou but looks set to be loaned out for the 2023/24 campaign. Devine particularly shone in midfield against West Ham in Australia before also playing out on the wing. Him leaving isn’t a guarantee just yet, so keep an eye on this.
West Ham – Divin Mubama
Talking of shining in pre-season, Divin Mubama was one of the stars for West Ham on their tour of Australia. The 18-year-old was part of the West Ham team to win the FA Youth Cup last season, also finishing as top scorer, and was a constant threat to senior defences in pre-season. Mubama is eyeing a stay at West Ham this season too, hoping to fight for a spot.
“The main goal is playing, get as many games as I can, keep impressing the gaffer when I can,” he told BBC Sport recently.
“The only thing I can do now is impress in training. These games like this matter for me as I get an oportunity and run out. As long as I keep doing what I am doing, hopefully I get opportunities.”
Wolves – Joe Hodge
Another youngster looking to get regular playing time in the Premier League this season is Irish midfielder Joe Hodge, who has been a big part of Wolves’ pre-season preparations. The 20-year-old joined Wolves two years ago from Man City and made his Premier League last season in a defeat to Chelsea, one of six appearances he would make in the top flight.
“I want to play every week – that’s what I want to do,” he said recently.
“I know it’s not realistic and I’m not going to, but my aim is to work as hard as I can, train well every day, and when I get the chance try to do my best.
“That’s a challenge – with the quality in the squad, it’s not an easy thing to do. I’m just doing my best and trying to learn from all of the players and the gaffer, and see where that takes me.”