Best of 2012: Ten Young English Stars from 2012/13 NextGen Series [SLIDESHOW]
When it was launched last season, the NextGen Series was to herald a new era in competitive football for U19 players. The Champions League-like tournament for youngsters from top European clubs was meant to give future stars a taste of football at the highest level and offer them a wider platform to showcase their skills.
Developed, in part, by Watford academy manager Mark Warburton, the NextGen, even in its infancy, can point to unearthed stars like Liverpool's new teenage sensation Raheem Sterling and Dutch champions' Ajax's 18 year old Danish international, Viktor Fischer. And as the 2012/13 edition reaches its mid-point, IBTimes UK looks back through all the talent and the matches and selects the top ten England hopefuls.
Should these young men live up to their potential, then the country has ready replacements for England stalwarts like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney.
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Chuba Akpom is one of the most promising stars from the prolific youth academy at Arsenal Football Club. The England U19 international signed his first professional contract, with the Gunners, in October and has already caught the attention of Arsene Wenger. The veteran Frenchman included the 17 year old in the match squad for the final group stage match of the Champions League and then suggested the Newham-born talent would push for a regular first team place soon. In the lower levels, Akpom has consistently played in higher than expected age categories and the powerful forward has never failed to find the back of the net. He has five goals in 13 appearances for the England U17 side and three in three for the U19s. With Arsenal, Akpom scored a brace in the north London clubâ€™s 3-0 win over Olympique Marseille in the NextGen Series and is already a key member of Terry Burtonâ€™s Arsenal U21 side.
Shaquile Coulthirst burst into the spotlight in the NextGen Series after a fine hat-trick against La Masiaâ€™s best â€“ Catalan giant Barcelonaâ€™s youngsters. And what was even more impressive was that the match was in Spain; Spurs won 4-1. The 18 year old striker joined the White Hart Lane clubâ€™s academy last summer and immediately established himself as a potential star, top scoring for the U18s with 11 goals in 21 appearances. And just to confirm his rising star, Coulthirst scored a fourth NextGen goal in Tottenhamâ€™s 3-2 win over German club Wolfsburg. The youngster leads the tournamentâ€™s scoring chart with those four strikes, sharing top spot with team mate Alex Pritchard and Viktor Fischer of Ajax. And, incidentally, his performances at Mini Estadi in Catalonia have alerted both the Barcelona senior team and the La Liga clubâ€™s arch-rivals Real Madrid, according to the Metro.
Alex Pritchard (L)
Alex Pritchard has been in sublime form for Spurs in the NextGen Series. The 19 year old attacking midfielder scored his clubâ€™s fourth in the 4-1 rout of Barcelona, in Catalonia; a feat which also earned him interest from the Nou Camp outfit and Spanish champions Real Madrid. This is Prtichardâ€™s second season in the NextGen Series and he has a total of eight goals in the tournament, to date. Pritchard joined the Tottenham academy in 2009, from West Ham United. The Essex-born teenager, like Akpom for Arsenal, has generally played in higher age categories than youâ€™d expect; his debut for Tottenhamâ€™s U18 side was as a 16 year old substitute and he scored in the 2-0 win. And like Akpom, the Tottenham youngster was named as a substitute (unused) to the Spursâ€™ first team for a European game â€“ a 2011 UEFA Europa League group stage match at Greek side PAOK Salonika.
18 year old Adam Morgan is rated as one of the best youth prospects from Anfield in recent times and his performances have earned attention and praise from Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. The 37 year old ex-England international called Moran a â€śfantastic goal scorerâ€ť. And young Morgan has lived up to those words, with a brace in Liverpoolâ€™s 4-1 NextGen Series win over Norwegian club FC Rosenberg and a third strike in the 3-0 demolition of Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmundâ€™s youth team, in Germany. Goals have flowed domestically too, with 21 strikes in the U18sâ€™ league season last year and the FA Youth Cup (at home, against Manchester United). And a near-perfect year was capped off with his Liverpool senior team debut â€“ as a substitute in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League qualifier against Hearts of Scotland â€“ and first ever start â€“ in the return leg against Hearts.
Isaac Hayden (C)
Defensive utility player Isaac Hayden has been an integral part of Arsenalâ€™s U17 side since he joined the Gunners in 2008, from Southend. The 17 year old no-nonsense centre back began his career as a holding midfielder but has adapted brilliantly to play in central defence as well, earning the captainâ€™s armband and appearances for the England U16, U17 and U19 sides in the process. He also signed his first professional contract earlier this season. Hayden made his debut for the latter category in October, against Italy. He made a total of 19 appearances for Arsenalâ€™s U18 team, who play in the FA Premier Academy League. And Haydenâ€™s 81st minute goal, at Underhill against Basque club Athletic Bilbao, ensured the young Gunners would progress to the knock-out stages of the 2012/13 NextGen Series; Arsenal won 4-2.
George Saville (2nd R)
19 year old George Saville is the captain of Chelseaâ€™s NextGen Series squad and the defender is an integral part of the Bluesâ€™ academy team. Saville transferred to Stamford Bridgeâ€™s youth teams from Reading when he was 13 and his versatility (he can operate in midfield and at left back when needed) means he is highly valued by the coaching staff. Saville is contracted to Chelsea till 2015 and his performances have already earned him playing and training time with the first team at the Bridge; he went on tour with the seniors for pre-season matches in the United States and Rafael Benitez called the youngster up for the clubâ€™s trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup. Saville scored in Chelseaâ€™s 6-0 drubbing of Norwegian side FC Molde in the group stages of the NextGen Series.
George Evans played a key role in Manchester Cityâ€™s six games at the NextGen Series this season, even if the Premier League championsâ€™ youngsters, like the senior team, failed to progress from the group stages of the tournament. The 18 year old midfielder has represented the England U16, U17 and U19 sides, with his debut for the latter age category coming earlier this year in a defeat to Germany. Evans is the son of a former City player, Ronnie Evans, and was included in the U17 squad which played the FIFA U17 World Cup in Mexico last year.
Aston Villa youngster Jordan Graham has been widely tipped as a potential goal scoring star for both club and country, following a 2011/12 Premier Academy League season in which he scored seven goals. The Coventry-born forward has continued in similar goal-scoring form this season as well, with a brace against Watford and a superb 30-yard goal against rivals Birmingham City. Graham has made four appearances in the NextGen Series, with a goal against Celtic to his name. Villa have qualified for the knock-out stages of the competition, with 10 points and second place in Group Four. Graham has 11 England U17 caps and five with the U16 side.
Conor Coady, the captain of the Liverpool U21 side, scored thrice in two matches against Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmundâ€™s youth side in the NextGen Series. And when we consider the German clubâ€™s seniors topped Group C of the Champions League this seasonâ€¦ with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Premier League champions Manchester City and Eredivisie winners Ajax for company, it is no surprise the 19 year old midfielder is so highly rated. Coady, whose playing and leadership style has earned him comparisons with club legend Steven Gerrard, has played for the England U16, U17, U18 and U19 sides. The teenager made history in 2010, when he became the first Englishman to lift an international trophy in 17 years â€“ when he led the countryâ€™s U17 side to success in the UEFA European U17 Championship, with victory over Spain in the final.
Conor Hunte (not in picture)
16 year old Chelsea attacking midfielder Conor Hunte debuted for the England U17 side in August, against Italy and has since won three caps in the division. He has seven caps for the U16 side, with one goal and has been impressive enough in his recent performances to be linked with a surprise transfer to Manchester City. In addition, since he has yet to sign a professional contract with the Blues', Hunte is also a target for Manchester United and Liverpool, according to reports by the Daily Mail. Hunte has been limited to substitute appearances in the NextGen Series so far. However, with the Blues having qualified for the knock-out stages of the tournament, expect to see a few more minutes on the pitch for the teenager.