The finances, globalisation and intense scrutiny of managers in the Premier League has made it incredibly difficult for young homegrown players to get first team opportunities. Almost 70% of Premier League players now come from overseas, so a lot of the development of young English talent is being done in the lower leagues.
A quick look at the England squad right now reveals players like Harry Maguire, who made his name with Sheffield United, Dele Alli who came through the youth ranks with MK Dons, and Jamie Vardy who has risen from the depths of the non-league game.
Here are the last 7 EFL Young Players of the Year and Where Are They Now
7. Ollie Watkins - Brentford
Last season's recipient of the EFL Young Player of the Year award was Ollie Watkins of Exeter City. Watkins joined Exeter at the age of 9, and he announced himself in League Two at the start of 2016. He bagged 16 goals in 52 games for the Grecians last season, beating off competition from John Swift at Reading and Ryan Ledson at Oxford to win the award. A reported £1.8 million move to Brentford followed, and the versatile attack-minded youngster has had a good campaign, scoring 10 goals in 36 outings following the two-tier step up.
6. Lewis Cook - Bournemouth
It’s good timing for Lewis Cook’s inclusion in this seven, since the 21-year-old very recently made his England debut. He won the Young Player of the Year award in 2016 following a brilliant season with Leeds United, but things haven’t been straightforward for Cook since then. He joined Bournemouth in a move worth a potential £10 million the following summer, but made only six Premier League appearances in his first season at that level. An intelligent and technically gifted central midfielder, Cook has played much more football this season, and his potential is still massive.
5. Dele Alli - Tottenham Hotspur
Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on April 1, 2018 in...
Whilst it has been something of a slow burner for Lewis Cook in the Premier League, it was anything but for the previous years winner Dele Alli. In his first season in the top flight after joining Tottenham from MK Dons, while still only a teenager, Alli hit double figures from midfield. He followed that up with a remarkable season in which he scored 22 goals and became one of the first names on the England team sheet. Things have quieted down a little this season for Alli, who has had patchy form and scored only 12 goals so far this term, but he’s still only 21, and merely a victim of his own success.
4. Will Hughes - Watford
Touted for greatness from a young age, Will Hughes was supposedly being chased by the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona at the age of 17. He was 19 when he was named Football League Young Player of the Year, having helped Derby to a third placed finish and a play-off final, but still no move came. When a transfer did arrive, just last summer, it was one to the less-than illustrious surroundings of Watford. A gifted midfielder who is comfortable on the ball, Hughes has had some nasty injuries over the last couple of years, and he’s scored twice in 9 Premier League appearances for the Hornets so far this season. If the 22-year-old can stay injury free for a sustained period of time, we’d still back him to become a full England international.
3. Tom Ince - Huddersfield Town
Tom Ince of Huddersfield Town during the Premier League match between Huddersfield Town and Swansea City at John Smith's Stadium on March 10, 2018 in Huddersfield, England.
Tom Ince was a very deserved winner of the Football League Young Player of the Year award back in 2013, and he probably ought to have been named Championship Player of the Year as well. The young winger scored 18 goals and made 14 assists in 44 league appearances, and Blackpool would undoubtedly have been relegated without him. He left the Seasiders for Premier League Hull City, but dropped back into the Championship with Derby after failing to make much of an impact in East Yorkshire. Three bright seasons followed, and now aged 26, Ince is finally getting regular game time in the top flight at Huddersfield.
2. Wilfried Zaha - Crystal Palace
The only player in this seven who is still playing for the club they were named Football League Young Player of the Year with, Wilfried Zaha won the award in 2012. A fan favourite at Selhurst Park, Zaha scored 9 goals and made 5 assists that season. The quick and tricky wide man signed for Manchester United the following year, becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing as Manchester United manager, however the move probably came too early for Zaha. He rejoined Crystal Palace firstly on-loan and then on a permanent, and he is now widely considered to be both the club’s best player and one of the division’s best outside of the top six clubs.
1. Connor Wickham - Crystal Palace
Connor Wickham of Crystal Palace controlls the ball during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Southampton and Crystal Palace at St Mary's Stadium on September 21, 2016 in Southampton,...
A teammate of Wilfried Zaha’s at Crystal Palace, it’s probably fair to say Connor Wickham is less of a key man for the Eagles. Winner of the Young Player of the Year award in 2011, the centre-forward only scored 9 goals in his best season for Ipswich, although admittedly his game is not based solely on goals. He was signed by then Sunderland manager Steve Bruce the following summer in a deal worth a potential £12 million. It was a huge fee at the time, but the Black Cats recouped most of that money when they sold him to Crystal Palace in 2015. Wickham’s time in the North East was fairly unremarkable with the exception of a great little run of form which helped the club avoid relegation at the end of the 2013-14 season. He has 9 goals from 34 games for Crystal Palace to date.