The 2015/16 season was, again, a very good season for youngsters. Players such as Demarai Gray, Marcus Rashford, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Kelechi Iheanacho and Dele Alli impressed the world, with the latter in particular creating an incredible impression for a then-nineteen year old.
Now, with the new season beckoning, I have identified 5 young talents who may well go on to emulate the successes of the aforementioned footballers.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Southampton
Newly signed from German giants Bayern Munich, Højbjerg is a truly fantastic footballer. Aged just 20, the Dane already has 15 full international caps, and features regularly. An already-experienced midfielder, he spent the last two seasons on loan at Bundesliga clubs Augsburg and Schalke 04, and so has plenty of experience of playing to a high standard, but was underused at Bayern, which made him keen to leave the Bavarian side.
Although he will be facing competition from a strong Southampton midfield, Højbjerg is likely to play a significant role at St Mary’s next season, with the rumoured £12 million transfer fee suggestive of the fact that Southampton were determined to sign him.
Joining up with top class midfielders like Jordy Clasie and Dusan Tadic will undoubtedly help Højbjerg as he strives to make an impression at Southampton. Deployed mainly at defensive midfielder or in a central midfield capacity, he will provide more defensive screening and cover for Southampton’s back line, compensating for the departure of stalwart Victor Wanyama.
He has the potential to become one of the league’s best, and with the help of new manager Puel, he may just achieve this.
Dominic Solanke, Chelsea
An exciting striker with an eye for goal, Dominic Solanke is the latest English striking hotshot to burst onto the scene. Quick and powerful, he spent last season on loan at Chelsea feeder club, Vitesse Arnhem, and established himself as a regular starter, even grabbing 7 goals in 25 appearances in the Eredivisie.
What makes it more impressive is that he’s only 18.
With a successful loan spell behind him and Chelsea’s attacking options looking relatively sparse, it’s likely that Solanke will make his breakthrough this season. He’s proven himself worthy of game time, and contrary to Mourinho, who tends to restrict youth footballers from starting regularly, Conte may well see it fit to involve the talented teenager in his plans for the campaign. Capped by all English youth teams, ranging from the u-16s to the u-21s, Solanke has wowed in the Eredivisie at such a young age, so what’s to say that the youngster can’t do the same in the Premier League?
Jason Denayer, Manchester City
When you look at Denayer’s credentials and achievements, it seems laughable that he hasn’t been given a chance to prove his worth in the Premier League as of yet. The 21-year old has been loaned out for the past two seasons, enjoying spells at Celtic and Galatasaray, respectively, but has never made a senior appearance for his club. A full international with Belgium, he has seven caps to his name, and featured during the European Championships.
His chance for Premier League football may arise soon, though. At 21, he has reached his potential and is seen by some as the perfect eventual replacement to fellow countryman Vincent Kompany.
Strong and very fast for a centre-back, Denayer should be given a chance next year. He is of invaluable use to City – a talented, young international footballer, already on the books at the club, it really is a no-brainer. Expect to see him feature regularly next season.
Lewis Cook, Bournemouth
It’s not often that a 19-year old can claim to be his club’s best player, and most valuable individual. In fact, it’s not often that a young, Championship midfielder is signed for a fee with the potential to rise to £10 million. Regardless, this is the case for Lewis Cook. A veteran of over 70 appearances for Leeds United, Cook made the switch after the appointment of Garry Monk, and looks set to take the league by storm. The England u-19 international, who joins a side vying to compete with the very best in the league, will undoubtedly be considered a regular starter next season, presumably preferred to the likes of Dan Gosling and Andrew Surman. He has been touted with a move to the Premier League for a long time, and Bournemouth did well to ward off interest from bigger clubs, such as the reportedly-interested Liverpool. Deployed mainly as a central midfielder-cum-winger, Cook’s composed and mature approach to football will no doubt see him become a huge asset to Bournemouth over the coming campaign.
Jonathan Leko, West Bromwich Albion
Any of those that watched Leko perform last season at West Brom will need little guidance to understanding the sheer talent possessed by the attacker. At the age of 17, the Kinshasa-born forward has already established himself as one of the game’s biggest up-and-coming talents, along with his teammate, Wales youth international Tyler Roberts. Making his Premier League now at the humble age of 16, Leko made 5 league appearances last season, but expect him to make many more next year.
He’s quick and blessed with fantastic feet, enabling him to change direction or pass a defender with skill. Trickery comes naturally to this young man;perhaps explaining why he’s often disposed on the wing and in the attacking midfield role, just behind the striker. Here, he is allocated room to run at the defensive line with freedom, as oppose to being clamped down with the responsibility of holding the ball up, or making runs to bypass the defence. Only just 17, Leko stands at 6″0 – the perfect height for a forward not entirely devoted to any position in particular. With Saido Berahino expected to make his move to Stoke City or Spurs, expect considerable space to be allocated for Jonathan Leko this year. If given the opportunity, he could take the league by storm.
About the author – Tomos Knox
Tomos is a football writer whose work mainly focuses on the Premier League, International and European football in general. He is an avid football fan and first turned to football blogging in 2014, and has since been published by the likes of The Guardian and FourFourTwo. He was shortlisted for ‘Young Blogger of the year’ in 2014 at the Football blogging awards. You can follow Tomos here: tomosknox.wordpress.com