Young ballers came up big in the Premier League last season, with some of the country's brightest young talents continuing their journey to the top of the game and other new wave stars making their presence felt at the top level for the first time.
Whether it was Chelsea's youth revolution – spearheaded by Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount – guiding them to a Champions League place, Bukayo Saka putting in performances good enough to earn him the nickname of 'Hale End Hagi', or Mason Greenwood becoming the first 18-year-old to hit double figures in the Prem since Wayne Rooney, new talents stole the headlines in 2019/20.
This season should be no different. With COVID leaving clubs more financially exposed than ever before, and less transfer activity happening as a result, expect to see PL managers turn to their young ballers to bail them out as the fixtures pile up.
We've looked at every Premier League team and picked out one young player who could have a season to remember in 2020/21. Get to know the youngest in charge.
1. Emile Smith-Rowe
Position: Attacking Midfield
Fresh from an impressive loan spell at Huddersfield in the second half of the 2019/20 season, this England U20 international could be ready for regular first team minutes at the Emirates this season. Brave on the ball and adept at dribbling, Emile Smith-Rowe will be motivated to compete for the Mesut Özil shaped hole that currently exists in Arsenal’s midfield and given Mikel Arteta’s readiness to give his talented young gunners minutes at first-team level, it’d be smart to expect the 20-year-old to get a taste of the action sooner rather than later.
2. Kaine Kesler
Club: Aston Villa
Position: Right Back
Jack Grealish aside, Aston Villa’s academy has struggled to produce high-level talent over the last several years, but there are signs that could be about to change. The club’s hierarchy has made youth development a major focus again, and rapid right back Kaine Kesler is thought to be the first stand-out product of the new project. The Birmingham-born player was named as a substitute in Villa’s game with Everton towards the end of last season, and has travelled with the first team for the pre-season camp in Wales. Still only 17, Kesler will undoubtedly start the season with the U23s but expect him to feature in cup competitions and push for a regular place in the squad as the Premier League season enters its final stages.
3. Jayson Molumby
Club: Brighton & Hove Albion
Position: Central Midfield
This midfielder was making Carabao Cup appearances for Brighton as many as three years ago, but he’s been biding his time in the club’s rapidly-improving development programme until having a breakthrough season on loan with Milwall in 2019/20. The energetic midfielder is a box-to-box throwback and his energy levels made him a firm favourite at The Den, where he made 40 appearances in all comps. He’s already started off the season in style with his international debut for Ireland.
4. Lewis Richardson
Dwight McNeil aside, Burnley aren’t renowned for handing early opportunities to young players – but Lewis Richardson is the hottest prospect in the U23 side right now, and could push for inclusion as the season progresses. He signed his first pro contract with the team earlier this year and has been banging in goals at every level – including six goals in his first U18 appearance and a hat-trick for the U23s just three months later. He’s also scored goals for England youth teams and made the bench for Burnley in the Carabao Cup last season. This young hitman could be one to watch.
5. Eberechi Eze
Club: Crystal Palace
You already know this guy is a serious talent – but his Premier League arrival will be eagerly anticipated and if pre-season is anything to go by, Eze and Zaha’s link up could cause serious problems for any team in the division. The 22-year-old attacker has built a reputation as one of the most talented players outside of the top flight over the past two seasons, and scored 14 goals for QPR in 2019/20. The Greenwich-born player grew up less than 10 miles away from Selhurst Park, and now brings pace, tek and an eye for goal back to South London. Whisper it quietly, but get him on the plane for Euro 2021.
6. Tino Anjorin
Position: Attacking Midfield
Chelsea’s homegrown revolution was one of last season’s great subplots and while Frank Lampard’s major activity in the transfer window makes a similar theme less likely, Tino Anjorin is a baller who could yet make waves in 2019/20. The midfielder has rejected a loan move in a bid to keep training with Chelsea’s first team. He was one of eight CFC Academy debutants from last season, making two appearances for the first team including a Premier League debut before the COVID shutdown. Anjorin made 23 appearances for development teams and scored 11 goals in total last season, showcasing his attacking instincts.
7. Ellis Simms
Since being released by Manchester City at the age of 16, Ellis Simms has joined Everton and forged a reputation as one of the most prolific bagsmen in youth football. In 2018/19, Simms finished as the U18 PL’s top scorer – ahead of highly-rated prospects including Mason Greenwood, Folarin Balogun and Bobby Duncan – with 32 goals in 21 games. He followed that up with 13 goals in a curtailed PL2 campaign after stepping up to the U23s, and was rewarded with a spot on the bench during Everton’s final games of the season. While well stocked in wide areas, Everton’s only two recognised strikers are Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean – Ellis Simms will give them some support this coming season.
8. Antonee Robinson
Position: Left Back
Earlier this year, Antonee Robinson was on the verge of completing a shock £10m move from Wigan Athletic to AC Milan, until his medical picked up an irregular heart rhythm that curtailed the move. Fast forward to this summer and Wigan’s relegation meant Fulham were able to pick up the athletic left back for just £1.9m. Robinson’s main attribute is his outstanding pace, which means he can join attacking moves with overlapping runs but also cover himself should the opposition be on the counter. If Fulham’s season is to be a successful one, this baller will have a big part to play.
9. Sam Greenwood
Club: Leeds United
Leeds United’s capture of Sam Greenwood earlier this summer was a surprise to many, with the young hitman already making waves in England and Arsenal set ups. While his new club say he’ll join the U23s for this season, most suspect he’ll be pushing for the first team before the season is out. The young hitman has already scored his first goal for Leeds U23s and his ability to play with both feet will make him an asset for Marcelo Bielsa’s tekky side anywhere across the front line.
10. Luke Thomas
Club: Leicester City
Position: Left Back
Ben Chilwell’s mega-money departure for Chelsea this summer has left a big space at left back for Leicester City this coming season, and young defender Luke Thomas will be fighting for a chance to make the spot his own. The technically-gifted defender made three Premier League appearances last season and actually grabbed an assist in the club’s 2-0 win over Sheffield United, with Brendan Rodgers describing him as “amazing”. He was named the club’s Development Player of the Season for 2019/20 and will almost certainly be rewarded with a full-time spot in the Foxes squad this season.
11. Rhian Brewster
Whether it’s at Liverpool or not, this is the season that Rhian Brewster finally puts the Premier League on notice. The young striker’s loan spell at Swansea City in the second half of last season finally gave him a taste of first team football, and finally gave him a platform to remind everyone why he’s such a prospect. He finished with 11 goals in 22 games, with a particularly prolific run in Project Restart that fired Swansea to the play-offs. Now back at Liverpool, Brewster has scored goals in pre-season but the club’s inability to sell their “deadwood” has given rise to reports they could look to sell the Dagenham D-Studge instead, with no less than six Premier League clubs rumoured to be interested. Wherever he ends up, Rhian Brewster will bag in the Premier League this season.
12. Jayden Braaf
Club: Manchester City
Since joining the club from PSV in 2018, this tekky wideman has been the outstanding talent in Manchester City’s academy. He scored 9 goals in 16 PL2 games last season and picked up the club’s U23 Player of the Year award, before training with the first team ahead of their Champions League games with Real Madrid and Lyon. As with any young baller at Man City, there are concerns over how clear his route to the first team is, but Leroy Sané’s departure does present an opportunity for Braaf to impress Pep Guardiola. One thing is certain – the club don’t want this Jayden to end up leaving, and succeeding, like their previous Jadon.
13. Teden Mengi
Club: Manchester United
Position: Centre Back
Teden Mengi ended last season as a member of the senior squad – travelling with the team to Germany for the Europa League knockout stages – and he’s started the new season in the same manner, being permanently upgraded from the U23s to the senior squad. The composed defender has been singled out for praise in pre-season by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, saying Mengi has “something special” about him and making comparisons with Matthijs de Ligt captaining Ajax at the same age. With an updated squad number for the new campaign, United failing to add major reinforcements to their team, and fixtures coming thick and fast, expect Teden Mengi to become the latest Carrington prospect to graduate to the Premier League.
14. Yannick Toure
Club: Newcastle United
Yannick Toure is a baller who could follow Sean and Matty Longstaff as the next NUFC academy graduates to make the jump to first team football. Signed from BSC Young Boys in 2018, Toure is a versatile striker who has good all-round play. In 13 PL2 games last season, he scored three goals and made three assists, showcasing his ability to link up play, not just finish it. The highlight of his season came against Sunderland’s development team when he secured an important derby day dub with a goal at St. James’ Park.
15. Ethan Ampadu
Club: Sheffield United (on loan from Chelsea)
Fresh from a season-long loan with RB Leipzig in which he struggled for game time, Wales international Ethan Ampadu is hoping a spell with Sheffield United could finally land him as a big Premier League talent. The Chelsea-owned player is a slight, but technically gifted, defender who is particularly effective building attacks out from the back – which could make him a huge asset for Chris Wilder’s tactical system. Ampadu already has 15 caps for Wales and is talked about as a future national team captain.
16. Alex Jankewitz
Position: Centre Midfield
Alex Jankewitz is the next big prospect to come from Southampton’s famed academy, having taken home the club’s ‘Scholar of the Year’ award in 2019/20. The composed midfielder, who sets the tempo of his team’s play with defensive acumen and precision passing, made 35 appearances in PL2 and the U18 PL last year, before putting pen to paper on professional terms for the club. He has all the tools to make a leap to senior football further down the line in 2020/21.
17. Dennis Cirkin
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Position: Left Back
Dennis Cirkin has featured regularly for Tottenham in their pre-season friendlies and is set to stay at the club for the forthcoming season and compete with Ben Davies and Ryan Sessegnon for the first team’s left back spot. The Irish-born defender is a confident attacker and put in impressive performances for Spurs in the UEFA Youth League, and represented well for England at U16 and U17 level. Having captained the team’s youth sides on several occasions, Cirkin is well thought of in North London and could feature throughout the season.
18. Rekeem Harper
Club: West Bromwich Albion
Position: Centre Midfield
Three years on from making his Premier League debut as only the second baller born in the 00s to kick it in the top flight, Rekeem Harper is back in the big league and better equipped to make a name for himself. After struggling for game time at the start of last season, Harper played his way back into the WBA team as they secured promotion, featuring in every matchday squad from February onwards. The Baggies will need to utilise their full squad in what’s sure to be a difficult season, so Harper will need to grab his opportunity when it inevitably arises.
19. Mipo Odubeko
Club: West Ham United
West Ham fans have every right to feel aggrieved at the departure of Grady Diangana this summer, but perhaps young bagsman Mipo Odubeko can be their silver lining. Since joining from Manchester United in October 2019, Irish-Nigerian striker Odubeko has done all that can be asked of him. He scored 11 goals in just 10 appearances across the U18 PL, PL2 and the FA Youth Cup last season – and has already been scoring for the Hammers’ development sides in pre-season. This guy looks like a natural finisher and with West Ham’s attacking options being relatively thin, a couple of unfortunate injuries could present Odubeko with an opportuity to shine. You can’t ignore numbers like his.
20. Fabio Silva
One of the most surprising transfer moves of the summer was Wolves’ capture of Fabio Silva, one of the highest rated prospects in Portugese football, from FC Porto. Silva made 21 appearances in 19/20 – his only season as a pro baller – and scored three goals, becoming the youngest goalscorer in Porto’s rich history. The £36 million fee attached to his name looks hefty right now, but the young player clearly has pedigree and will improve fast under Nuno’s coaching, and from playing alongside an experienced and classy number nine like Raúl Jiménez. His progress will be fascinating to see over the next 10 months.