Stars in the making?

Every season without fail, one or two promising young players will discover a new level to their game and start to live up to their billing as the next big thing.

Jack Rodwell

Jack Rodwell: The break-out star of the 2010/11 season?

It might be due to a change of position or club, exposure to regular first-team football or just playing alongside better players week-in-week-out. Examples that immediately spring to mind include Frank Lampard, once a plodding midfield general at West Ham before an eyebrow raising £10m move across the capital saw him blossom into the free-scoring box-to-box phenomenon he is today.

Another late bloomer was Arsenal’s all-time record goalscorer Thierry Henry, who failed to find the net in his first eight games as a Gunner and looked incapable of dealing with the physical demands of English football.

Henry joined the North London club after a dismal spell on the wing at Italian giants Juventus. After playing only a minor role in France’s World Cup triumph on home soil, he hardly looked like a world-class prospect when Arsenal snapped him up for £10m. It was Arsene Wenger’s decision to deploy the Frenchman as an out-and-out striker that transformed him into one of the world’s finest players in his Arsenal heyday.

Last season’s breakout performer was James Milner, a talented if slightly inconsistent winger during his spells at Leeds and Newcastle of whom Graeme Souness once famously remarked: ‘You’ll never win anything with a team of James Milners.’ Souness may still be right on the trophy front after Aston Villa were beaten by Manchester United in last year’s Carling Cup final, but since Martin O’Neill moved the 24-year-old into centre midfield he has flourished, attracting interest from big-spending Manchester City this summer.

Tottenham Hotspur’s Michael Dawson is another player who stepped out of his team-mate Ledley King’s shadow last season to earn plaudits for his commanding displays at centre-back. Dawson appeared to find a new level to his game last term, cutting out the costly errors that used to blemish his performances on the road and at White Hart Lane. After England’s debacle in South Africa, Dawson is likely to be rewarded for his excellent club form with a regular berth in the senior international side.

So which players from the Premier League’s stable of young talent will raise their game and put down a marker in the forthcoming campaign? Here are three players that could make a big splash next season.

1. Lee Chung-yong

The tricky South Korean winger had an impressive first season in the Premiership, nailing down a regular berth in a struggling Bolton side and chipping in with four goals and numerous assists. Before his move to England, Chung-yong was a target for Manchester City, but turned them down in search of regular first-team football. After a series of impressive displays last season, speculation linked the fleet-footed winger with a move to Liverpool.

Chung-yong was also one of his country’s star performers in South Africa, scoring against Argentina and Uruguay before the Taeguk Warriors crashed out in the last 16. With Bolton set to play more open, expansive football under Owen Coyle, Chung-yong should once again catch the eye and it would not be a surprise if one of the big clubs comes knocking in January.

2. Jack Rodwell

Possibly the Premier League’s worst kept secret, Rodwell has been on the radar for a while and is being tipped to make the step up to the England senior set-up this season. Already attracting admiring glances from Arsenal and Manchester United, Rodwell was mainly used as a substitute by David Moyes’ last season, as the Everton boss tried to keep a lid on his most precocious talent. However, due to an injury crisis at Goodison Park, Rodwell enjoyed a decent spell in the first team and duly impressed in his preferred defensive midfield role. In the pulsating 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Rodwell was the most composed player on the park, distributing the ball quickly and effectively and breaking up play in a mature performance that belied his tender years. A solo run ending with a smart finish past Van der Sar in Everton’s 3-1 win over Manchester United also underlined the midfielder’s ability going forward.

Rodwell is likely to start the majority of games this season as Moyes’ rewards the youngster for pledging his loyalty to the Toffees, and if the 19-year-old fulfills his undoubted potential there is every chance he will be picking up PFA honours come the end of the season.

3. Adam Johnson

Johnson has long been tipped for the top after coming through the ranks at Middlesbrough, earning favourable comparisons with the club’s other youth team graduate, Stewart Downing. In reality, Johnson is on another level to the one-paced, one-footed Downing. It may have taken the 23-year-old a while to find his feet in the Premier League, despite regularly being linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid before he had even made a significant impact in the Middlesbrough first team, but Johnson certainly made an impression last term. Comfortable with both feet and boasting great speed, close-control and dribbling skills, Johnson scored some outstanding goals in the Championship before Manchester City snapped him up for what now looks like a bargain £7 million.

England coach Fabio Capello must surely regret leaving Johnson behind at the expense of Shaun Wright-Phillips, who ironically can’t get into the Man City first-team due to his club mate’s superb form on the left-hand side. Having had the summer to rest, Johnson’s first full season in Man City colours promises to be even more productive, and a regular berth in the England senior side is surely within his grasp.

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8 Comments on “Stars in the making?

  1. You bloody love Lee Chung Yong.

    Rodwell is an easy one, as is Johnson. But how about, Rafeal and Smalling at United. I think Ramsey if he can come through injury will be one to watch. The boy Bale is still very very young and deserves a mention as potentially one of the great left backs around at the moment.

    The biggest secret out there due a breakout is Geoffry Bruma at Cheslea, who has 2 apps forChelsea but has just been called up for the Senior Dutch team, now that is a great name to look out for.

    The list could go on of course.

    • Fair point – wasn’t necessarily going for hidden gems though, more the players I think will have a big impact this season and establish themselves as top tier players, like Lampard, Henry, Rooney etc did in the past. Bale is a good shout, I would say that like Dawson, he’s a player who finally reached his potential last season after a poor start to his Spurs career. Obviously Wilshere and Gibbs will be ones to watch, not been convinced by Smalling at all from what I have seen of him – think Ferguson made a mistake there. Be interesting to see how Phil Jones comes along at Blackburn too – got him in my Fantasy team squad.

  2. Agreed. A great article as ever. Just thought I’d play devils advocate.

    Phil Jones is an interesting one, I like Smalling, think he has the attributes and has the attitude too. He is from non-league so hopefully he will have the right attitude rather than the kids e.g. Micah Richards, who have had it on a plate since they were 5.

    Bale needs to have as good, if not better season this year to cement how good he really is.

    You bloody LOVE Lee Chung Yong!

  3. Thierry Henry “late bloomer”? What because he took 8 games to score at Arsenal? Quick google shows that he ended that season with 26 goals, not bad for someone at the geriatric age of 22, and who’d already played for Monaco, Juventus and in a World Cup Final. Clearly time for Wenger to bomb Jack Wilshere out of Arsenal. He’s 18 and we can’t wait forever.

  4. This is an interesting article, kind of reminds me of the back of the Merlin sticker book with the page ‘rising stars’ featuring the likes of Jamie Forrester and Adie Mike.

    I’ll have to keep an eye on Lee Chung Yong! Only seen glimpses because lets be honest who wants to watch Bolton.

    Here are some of my suggestions for next seasons ones to watch:

    1) Javier Hernandez or ‘Little-pea.’ Nippy frontman in the mould of a young Owen. Might come into his own if United suffer some injuries and Fergie has no other option to throw him in. He cant do any worse than Berbatov last season!

    2) Mark Beevers. This is a bit of a wild punt but he’s awesome on champ man and blossoms into a rock at the back. Currently at the Owls who may have to offload, I’m sure he could ply his trade well at a lower tier club like West Brom. Be this seasons Roger Johnson.

  5. Ha found this comment on a forum (I still have my 94-95 sticker album somewhere):

    “I’m just looking at the 1994 edition, and at the back they have a ‘Rising Stars’ page, with the players they believe are ‘going all the way to the top’.

    The players they have on there are Steve Froggatt, Ian Selley, Neal Bartlett, Adie Mike, Neil Shipperley, Darren Caskey, Jamie Forrester and Darren Eadie!”

  6. WS – I wasn’t saying he was a late bloomer at Arsenal as such – what I meant was it was only when he became an out-and-out striker that he made the step up to being a truly world class player. Yes, he won the World Cup, but he was a passenger in that team and hardly set the World Cup alight. You might recall how France had to rely on Lillian Thuram for goals in the semi-final, while Blanc got their shot-shy strikeforce out of jail against Paraguay. I remember watching Henry in one of his first Arsenal games against Derby when he was on the wing – he didn’t beat the full-back once and made Emile Heskey look confident. I thought then that he would return to France with his reputation tarnished. How wrong I was, as Wenger crafted him into one of the world’s best players.

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