The 10 Series concludes now with 10 of the most exciting young Premier League players to watch in 2013. Part of The 10 Series brought to you by Just-Football.com. Follow this link for an introduction to The 10 Series (including criteria) and here for 10 of the best young players in Italy, France, Holland, Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga:
(Chelsea, 21 years old)
In a short space of time Oscar has already assimilated to the increased speed and intensity of both Premier League and Champions League football. Nimble in both body and mind, Oscar is consequently rarely rushed or hassled into losing possession – as sure a sign as any of the Brazilian’s raw talent. More experienced and well renowned footballers have turned up in England and taken at least a year to adapt; if they do so at all.
Oscar plays between the lines and directs play in the final third with all the simplicity and skill of a musical conductor. From interviews he has given since moving to England, Oscar is also clearly very confident in his own ability. “Whenever I have the ball at my feet I know exactly what to do,” he commented in one. Rafa Benitez has been more cautious with the 21-year-old since joining, restricting him to less playing time, but already Oscar looks like being a key player for both Chelsea and the Seleção for years to come.
(Liverpool, 18 years old)
Arguably the breakthrough player of the Premier League this season, Raheem Sterling’s rise from the kid whose name was whispered about with excitement in the corridors of Anfield to first team regular has been incredibly swift. Just a year before his integration into Liverpool’s first team as part of Brendan Rodgers’ new era this season Sterling was still playing for England Under-17s.
Putting faith in youth, Rodgers promoted the teenage whizzkid, who besides dazzling speed and impressive skill has also shown maturity and a remarkably cool head for one so young – adapting to the senior side, the quality of the players around him and Anfield’s high expectations with minimal fuss.
Already now a senior England international, Liverpool were quick to sign him to an extended contract. His final ball and decision-making do need improving, but Sterling’s potential is obvious.
(Manchester City, 19 years old)
After excelling at Fiorentina last season Manchester City were quick to swoop for Serbian international Matija Nastasic, shelling out £12million and also allowing Stefan Savic to move in the opposite direction after one disappointing season at the Etihad Stadium. At only 19 it was thought the young centre back would need time to adapt, particularly as he faced the difficult task of trying to wedge himself somewhere into the Premier League’s best defence.
Nastasic’s development has been so rapid however that within a few months he has already usurped Joleon Lescott as City’s first choice centre back next to Vincent Kompany, and Roberto Mancini was sufficiently confident in his young defender to play him in big Champions League games against the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
Though still learning and nowhere near the finished article yet, Nastasic’s technical attributes, reading of the game and quick distribution from the back makes him a good option, particularly in helping City build play rapidly from the back. Not even 20, he already looks like being a huge part of City’s future.
(Arsenal, 19 years old)
‘The Ox’ – as he is lovingly referred to by Arsenal fans – has built on his early promise at Southampton to become one of England’s most exciting young players. In terms of playing style and physical features the speedy right winger is in fact practically the antithesis of an ox.
True, the miniature 5’9 frame does belie a certain muscularity of build and the 19-year-old does possess a combative style both when in possession and when battling for the ball. But on the ball Oxlade-Chamberlain’s hurried approach, raw pace and blink-or-you-miss-it array of tricks and stepovers are more cheetah than ox. He can burst past defenders with speed or outmanoeuvre them with skill. He also boasts a wicked shot and likes to try it whenever an opening presents itself, no matter the distance.
Still not quite established as a first team regular at Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain is however rising to prominence with England with 9 caps to his name and one goal. The talent is there, the challenge now is to be more consistent.
(Wigan Athletic, 22 years old)
Via his slot on Sky’s Monday Night Football Gary Neville may well have done as much as anyone to alert the wider football public as to James McCarthy’s huge potential, but there is no doubting the Scottish-born Republic of Ireland international’s ability. The Wigan midfielder is in the top 15 players in the Premier League in terms of average passes per game with 57 (as of 9/1/2013) – ahead of the likes of Juan Mata, Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini – acting as the reliable metronome that keeps Wigan’s midfield ticking.
Another aspect of McCarthy’s game worthy of praise is his striking tactical awareness and in-game intelligence. With three at the back and two wing backs flying forward, Wigan’s tactics rely on central midfielders who are both positionally sound at all times and good at distributing the ball.
McCarthy is both, and at 22 only continues to improve, which has led to interest from a number of Premier League clubs at the higher end of the table. “From a technical point of view he can play in any team in the world and he will do one day,” declared his manager Roberto Martinez boldly. An exaggeration perhaps, but the potential is certainly there.
(Southampton, 21 years old)
Crystal Palace’s thriving academy has produced a number of exciting young players in recent years. Alongside the likes of Victor Moses, Wilfried Zaha and Wayne Routledge, Nathaniel Clyne is another Palace graduate, and the South Londoner looks to have a very promising future indeed.
Clyne is an assured young right back who has unquestionably helped bolster Southampton’s defence since joining last summer. Positionally he is both alert and clever and his timing in the tackle is often very good, using his pace and often standing his ground until precisely the right moment to intervene.
As of January 9th 2013 he was in the Premier League’s top 20 for successful tackles per game ahead of the likes of Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra. The 21-year-old is also good on the ball, keeping things simple in possession for the Saints and pushing forward to help in attacking areas whenever needed.
Clyne’s athleticism and natural fitness also bode well – he rarely missed a game at Palace and the same is true at Southampton.
(Liverpool, 20 years old)
When Liverpool won the race to sign teenage sensation Jonjo Shelvey back in 2010, Charlton fans were frustrated their star player had been sold at a price they deemed a pittance. Fast forward a few years and it is easy to see why. At a fee of around £1.7million plus add ons, Liverpool found themselves a bargain.
Now a full England international having made his debut against San Marino as a substitute, Shelvey has all the technical quality necessary to thrive in the Premier League and has begun to show glimpses of his eminent talent since being integrated into the first team by Brendan Rodgers.
A versatile, tricky player who drifts across midfield popping up in different areas of the pitch, Shelvey is tenacious, has good vision and a delightful improvisation about his game. His clever passing brings others into play and he also possesses that bit of bite and aggression needed at the top level. If he continues to develop at the same rate Liverpool have a real gem on their hands.
(Tottenham Hotspur, 21 years old)
I first spotted Steven Caulker at the UEFA Under-19 European Championships in 2010 and although he had the ‘English defenders disease’ of hoofing the ball upfield at the earliest opportunity (as with the whole team in fairness), defensively he looked a very solid player. Well built, pacey and dominant in the air, there was an air of John Terry about the Tottenham Hotspur youngster although I still felt he needed to improve with the ball at his feet.
This aspect of his game has clearly developed in the years since. A loan spell at Swansea City helped, under the tutelage of pass-and-possession obsessive Brendan Rodgers; during Caulker’s time there in 2011/12 he was the Premier League’s 3rd best defender in terms of passes per game with an average of 61.5 (behind two other Swansea players, naturally). The youngster also excelled in loan spells at both Yeovil Town and Bristol City where his name was prominent in end of season awards at both clubs.
Caulker has now developed into a full England international and Spurs were quick to hand him a long-term contract upon his return from Swansea. Younes Kaboul’s injury has given him regular game time at White Hart Lane this season and the promising Londoner just keeps improving.
(Manchester United, 18 years old)
Crewe Alexandra’s youth development system is the stuff of legend in English football and with Nick Powell it looks as though the Railwaymen have produced yet another gem. Coveted by a host of Premier League clubs before Manchester United pounced to sign the teenage midfielder in a deal that could reach £6million, Powell has it all – the skills, the touch, the technique, vision and awareness.
But there is something else about his game that makes Nick Powell such an exciting prospect. An intangible. That X-factor, if you will. He has an aura about him; slightly short of a cocksure swagger but close enough.
An infinite cool. A focused, almost distant gaze – as though he is above all the pressures that come with making a multimillion pound transfer from League One to one of the biggest clubs in the world because he already knows he is destined for the top. Peter Morse, a former Crewe academy coach, says “Powell’s character is as unusual as his god-given ability. He was distinctive in another way,” Morse told FourFourTwo magazine. “Cool, distant, aloof even.”
This definitely resonates with what I’ve seen so far. When he scored his first goal for United against Wigan, Sir Alex Ferguson declared Powell the eventual successor to Paul Scholes. The 18-year-old, who can play anywhere upfront or in midfield, shrugged it off casually – as if it was nothing. Watching how this incredibly exciting talent develops in the coming years will be very interesting indeed.
(Newcastle United, 19 years old)
Considered as something of a Cheick Tiote-lite on Tyneside following a summer move from Coventry City, Gaël Bigirimana is already gradually imposing himself at Newcastle United despite his tender age.
A tenacious, hard-working midfielder with wonderful athletic ability and natural pace, Bigirimana’s story is a remarkable one. The Burundi-born youngster moved to England with his family in 2004 and only got his chance in professional football after he spotted Coventry City’s training ground on a trip to the supermarket Asda and went to ask for a trial. The Sky Blues signed him and in 2011/12 he was named the npower Championhip’s Apprentice of the Year before Newcastle swooped to sign the midfielder.
Bigirimana or ‘Bigi’ as manager Alan Pardew calls him, opened his account for the Magpies with a sweetly struck left foot goal from 20 yards in December, and while Pardew has stated he is only in the side due to Newcastle’s injury crisis, Bigirimana looks to have all the ability required to excel in the Premier League.
Which young Premier League players will you be watching closely in 2013? Have your say by leaving a comment below.