Thursday, August 11, 2011

Teenage Dream.

After a wait of what feels like an eternity, the premier league is back this weekend. This year, the general consensus is that the premier league title is most likely to be a three-horse race between the old wealth of Manchester United, the nouvelle riche of Chelsea, and the even newer nouvelle riche of United’s “noisy neighbours” Manchester City. Hot on their tails will be the two North London teams Arsenal and Tottenham, and Liverpool, all of which have had their share of head-turning transfer activity in the summer, whether it be getting players into the club, or certain players voicing their desires to leave. With the influx of big-name, big-price acquisitions, it is often easy to overlook the younger players who make just as much of an impact. Here are ten British players all 21 or younger, who will be sure to make and impact for their respective teams in the upcoming season.

11. Martin Kelly, Liverpool (born: Whiston, Merseyside, age: 21)
10. Tom Cleverly, Manchester United (born: Basingstoke, age: 21)
09. Marc Albrighton, Aston Villa (born: Tamworth, Staffordshire, age: 21)
08. Dan Gosling, Newcastle (born: Brixham, Devon, age: 21)
07. Jack Rodwell, Everton (born: Southport, Merseyside, age: 20)

06. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool (born: Sunderland, age: 21)
This time last year, Jordan Henderson was a fairly low-key local lad at Sunderland, not doing anything wrong, and quietly going about his business. This Saturday, however, he faces his old – and lifelong team – as a Liverpool player, with the weight of the £16million price tag hanging over his young head. Having impressed for Sunderland, he tirelessly went on to play for England in their U21 tournaments, in which, like their senior counterparts, they failed miserably. But it’s this kind of boundless energy that won him their Young Player of the Year accolade for two years running, and has the red half of Liverpool smacking their lips at their bright young thing. The majority of football critics believe that fourth place this year is Liverpool's for the taking, and it will be interesting to see the part Henderson plays in their quest for it.

05. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal (born: Caerphilly, Wales, age: 20)
When Ryan Shawcross made that horror tackle that put Ramsey’s promising career on halt 18 months ago, Arsenal fans were, quite rightly, furious. Because, up until then, Ramsey’s game epitomized all that is good about Arsene Wenger’s football mentality, and he slotted into their midfield perfectly. After a long – and what must have seemed like an eternity – of a recovery process for the lad, he made baby steps back into the football world, including a match-winning goal and Man-of-the-Match performance against Manchester United last season, as well as being named Wales captain. Fresh faced and clean shaven, Aaron Ramsey has a squeaky clean image that is only too rare in the footballing world these days, and has the skill to bring out the best in all of Arsenal’s attackers.

04. Danny Rose, Tottenham (born: Doncaster, age: 21)
The Woody Allen references came in thick and fast in the North London derby of April 2010, when Danny Rose, who’s appearance on the Spurs teamsheet for such a sizzling fixture caused everyone some puzzlement – until he hit a thunderbolt of a volley from 30metres out way past the reach of Manuel Almunia and into the goal. Since then, his appearances in the premier league have been limited, and he is unfortunate in that the position he occupies the same position as Gareth Bale, who, himself, is the latest wunderkind to emerge out of White Hart Lane. But, as his performances in the Euro U21s demonstrated, kid’s got tonnes of potential and has vowed to fight for his place at Spurs to demonstrate as such. Although, to be honest, no matter what ace things he does over the next twenty years, nothing will ever come close to *that* goal.

03. Josh McEachran, Chelsea (born: Oxford, age: 18)
News of Michael Essien’s long-term injury was met with groans and grimaces around West London. For, whilst the Ghanaian had a pretty need-to-train worthy season last year, just his general presence as an anchor in Chelsea’s midfield gives all the rest of the team a welcome sense of security. But, with every cloud comes a silver lining, and it is time for young Joshua to fill Essien’s boots. As with Wilshere, McEachran came up through Chelsea’s ranks, so he automatically gets points for that, but furthermore, he is a classy, measured footballer, who, unlike the senior players at the team, eschews the garish lights of nightclubs like Tiger Tiger. This little tiger burns bright on his own accord.

02. Danny Sturridge, Chelsea (born: Birmingham, age: 21)
When Chelsea shelled out £50 million of Roman Abramovich’s oil money for Fernando Torres in the transfer window this January, very little consideration was really given for Sturridge. He was loaned out to Bolton, but the English Meeja were far too busy rubbing their hands together at how miserably the Torres/Drogba strikeforce was misfiring to notice that Chelsea’s youngest forward was happily banging them in for Bolton, whilst Torres could not hit a cow’s arse with the proverbial banjo. Whilst Torres struggled to adapt to Chelsea’s style and formation, Daniel Sturridge adapted brilliantly to Bolton’s game. The boy continued to impress for England in the Euro U21s tournament, as well as for Chelsea in pre-season, wherein he bagged a brace against Rangers in their latest friendly. Much has been made of Chelsea’s acquisition of 18-year-old wonderkid Romelu Lukaku, but I was much more measured in processing the news, as we already have more than enough forwards, and I worry that the signing of Lukaku will mean that, once again, Sturridge is unfairly bumped down the Chelsea pecking order, when his form suggests that he deserves quite the opposite.

and, even as a Chelsea fan, first place has to be reserved for, the one, the only...

01. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal (born: Hitchin, Herts, age: 19)

With his garish Christian tattoo plastered across his forearm, penchant for drunkenly hollering in a “don’t you know who I am?” manner at cab drivers and tendency for putting his nose in where it’s not needed on twitter (witness all the Spurs fans jump on his back when he gave his two cents over the whole Luka Modric-to-Chelsea saga affair earlier this Summer) as well as status as a baby daddy at the ripe young age of 19, Jack Wilshere has all the DNA of an England has-been. But, for all his off-pitch travails, one thing cannot be denied: boy has talent. He was one of the few bright spots for Arsenal fans last season and impressed on the big Champions League platform as well in the domestic league. A firm fan favourite due to his emergence through the Arsenal ranks as well as the fact that he’s a Stevenage boy (which is the closest Gooners are gonna get to local, let’s be honest), and that he wears his heart on his sleeve, and most of all, that he’s a bloody good footballer. Fast, skilful, and with a passing range that would impress even Xavi, Jack Wilshere is exactly the kind of no-guts-no-glory midfielder that Arsenal, and England, need.

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