Raheem Sterling (Liverpool, 17)
At Anfield, they’ve had to get grimly accustomed to long waits. This season, though, it seems at least one of them may finally come to an end. If this isn’t exactly going to be Liverpool’s year, then it may well be Raheem Sterling’s.
Indeed, there has been excited expectation about the winger for so long that it’s easy to forget just how young he is. At only 17, you can understand why he had Kenny Dalglish so eager to keep him under wraps and Brendan Rodgers talking of first sending him out on loan.
Sterling, however, has already made a habit of hastening his career. The most precociously gifted English youngster since Wayne Rooney started to demand attention exactly a decade ago, he had forced himself into the QPR under-18 side by the age of 14 and brought a £600,000 move to Liverpool just months later. That figure will rise to £5m depending on the success of his career, but very few doubt that will be the case.
Lightning fast but with the technical ability to maximise that pace, Sterling has been excellent in pre-season friendlies and already given Rodgers cause for thought about that loan move. Whatever happens, he’s likely to also give defenders cause for alarm.
Samir Carruthers (Aston Villa, 19)
Samir Carruthers may have not have quite created the buzz of some of his underage compatriots like Robbie Brady but it’s quite possible that, this term, the pacey young Irish midfielder will bound ahead of all of them.
For one thing, Carruthers has already appeared in the Premier League, making appearances for Villa against Liverpool and Manchester United last season.
Secondly, he may well benefit from good timing. Having just broken through to the first team, he now finds himself under a manager, in Paul Lambert, who has proven himself very open to developing young talent. Last year, Norwich’s squad had the lowest average age in the Premier League, with Anthony Pilkington able to testify as to the benefits of that. So far, Lambert has been happy to use the assertive 19-year-old in preseason friendlies.
Tenacious but technical, Carruthers was born in Islington and has Moroccan, Italian and Irish heritage. As it stands, the land of his grandparents have won out with Carruthers becoming a key member of Paul Doolin’s under-19 squad.
Serge Gnabry (Arsenal, 17)
Serge Gnabry has already bucked an Emirates trend in his exceedingly short career: when it came to leaving Stuttgart last summer, the then-16-year-old opted to join Arsenal rather than Manchester City.
You could understand if Arsene Wenger held him in high regard for that reason alone. But, as goes with saying, Gnabry offers so much more.
A powerful presence who can play anywhere across attacking midfield, Gnabry has been compared to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in build and Theo Walcott in pace. All of that is also augmented with some hugely impressive technical ability.
Wenger is understood to have big plans for the German youth international and he could well make a breakthrough this season.
One big caveat to all this, though: like a few Arsenal youths before him, Gnabry grew up supporting Barcelona. At the moment, he wouldn’t look out of place among their graduates.
Ross Barkley (Everton, 18)
At this point, Everton know all about nurturing ferociously gifted young players. They’ve already seen Wayne Rooney and Jack Rodwell blaze through their esteemed Finch Farm academy and on to even higher stages. And now, after careful handling by David Moyes and an initially inconsistent start to his Premier League career last season, Ross Barkley looks primed to properly explode onto the scene. In more than one way.
Already in a pre-season friendly against Dundee United, the 18-year-old illustrated he can fill the space that used to be occupied by Tim Cahill by bursting into the box and powering home a header. It is just one of a number of positions Barkley is adept in.
Talked about at Everton for years, he is a strong, composed player well capable of controlling midfield and picking the right pass.
That may ensure that the Goodison Park club have the pick of the English youngsters — and it won’t be for the first time.
Rory Donnelly (Swansea, 20)
It’s funny how football works. Last season, Brendan Rodgers stepped in to ensure Swansea won the race to sign the highly sought-after Coleraine striker, with the manager then making it his business to publicly praise Donnelly.
And the team that ran the Welsh club closest for the transfer? Rodgers’s current club Liverpool.
In saying all that, though, it would be difficult to argue that Donnelly did not make the right choice. Aside from the fact that the step-up at Anfield would be much more daunting, Swansea have proven much more willing to blood young players. That philosophy will surely only continue with the calculated appointment of Michael Laudrup.
As for when Donnelly’s introduction will come, Rodgers said earlier this year that Swansea were only waiting for the striker to physically mature. Otherwise, he has almost every attribute required for a modern forward.
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