Vincent Ralph picks a starting XI from the Premier League's best young talent.
Goalkeeper: Gregor Zabret (Swansea City)
Considering that goalkeepers are not regarded to be at their best until around the time most outfield players are packing their boots away, picking a teenage ‘keeper for this team is a challenge. But while Chelsea’s Jamal Blackman and Bradley Watkins of Aston Villa are worthy contenders, Swansea City’s Slovenian stopper gets the nod. He moved to the Liberty Stadium last summer, amid reported interest from both West Bromwich Albion and Sporting Lisbon.
Right-back: Calum Chambers (Southampton)
The Saints’ production line shows no sign of faltering, with Chambers following in the footsteps of the likes of Luke Shaw, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott in breaking into the first-team at a young age. Recently awarded a new four-year contract, huge things are expected of a player who can also play in midfield.
Centre-back: Nathan Ake (Chelsea)
Despite being more than capable at full-back or as a holding midfielder, Chelsea’s Ake is best in the centre of defence. Having moved to Stamford Bridge from Feyenoord in 2011, he made his Premier League debut against Norwich City on Boxing Day 2012. Having captained Holland at both under-17 and under-19 level, he is one of the next generation of impressive defenders waiting in the wings at Chelsea.
Centre-back: Andreas Christensen (Chelsea)
And here is another one – a 17-year-old Danish centre-back with the potential to form an impressive partnership with Ake should they both break into the Chelsea first-team in the years to come. Once of Brondby, the then-15-year-old reportedly opted to join the Blues over Manchester City, Ajax and Bayern Munich. An imposing figure in the backline, he could make to the very top of the game.
Left-back: Luke Shaw (Southampton)
The Southampton full-back is progressing at a rapid rate, and with both Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines getting on a bit, Shaw has every chance of being England’s right-back of choice for a decade. There is a rarely a club in the top flight that hasn’t been linked with a move for the 18-year-old. But having only recently signed a new contract at St Mary’s, and given the Saint’s current trajectory, why would he leave?
Right-wing: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Having burst on to the scene last season, the Liverpool winger could be forgiven for nursing a burst bubble or two following his more recent fortunes. Much like Wilfried Zaha, he will be looking back at an England debut against Sweden that seems a lifetime rather than a year ago. His boss Brendan Rodgers has already spoken about managing expectations, but he has a huge future at Anfield; he just has to be patient.
Central midfield: Ross Barkley (Everton)
The Everton midfielder is only a teenager for another few weeks, but his performances have already suggested he could be as good as he wants to be. He has a lot to learn to become the complete midfielder he is capable of being, but for sheer talent and tenacity, there is no way he wasn’t making this team.
Central midfield: Ben Pearson (Manchester United)
Perhaps the least known player on this list, the Manchester United midfielder has “the new Paul Scholes” written all over every performance. His confidence with the ball, his passing ability and even his body language are reminiscent of Scholes in his pomp. And while at just 18 he has some way to go to break into David Moyes’ first-team plans, his time will come.
Left-wing: Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)
What more is there to see about the Belgian winger who may just be the most exciting forward to pull on a Manchester United shirt since Cristiano Ronaldo. Those citing the example of Federico Macheda as a reason to not get carried away clearly haven’t seen Januzaj play. With outstanding vision and goal-scoring ability, and an innate talent that cannot be coached, he is going to be a true great.
Attacking midfielder: Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)
At just 16 years of age, you might not expect Zelalem to feature much for his club Arsenal for quite some time. But considering his rapid progress both at domestic and international level, it appears he will not be held back. The attacking midfielder recently made his first appearances for Germany’s under-17s, and along with the likes of Serge Gnabry could form the crux of the next generation of Arsenal’s attacking threat.
Striker: Isaiah Brown (Chelsea)
Regarded as one of the hottest prospects in English football, Brown was a West Bromwich Albion player up until the summer, when Chelsea won the race to sign the precocious forward. Had he stayed at the Baggies, he may already be if not a household name then certainly more familiar to neutrals. After all, he became the second-youngest player in Premier League history when he turned out for West Brom against Wigan back in May. But he is now a Chelsea player, something that he declared was a dream come true.
Honourable mentions: Hector Bellerin (Arsenal) Serge Gnabry (Arsenal), Jordon Ibe (Liverpool), John Lundstram (Everton), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea)
image: © Kieran Clarke