English football fans are often guilty of hyping up emerging talents, the allure of youthful promise one that excites supporters like little else.
Throughout the years we’ve seen several stars burst onto the scene as precociously talented teenagers, but whilst some fulfil that promise, there are plenty more who fall by the wayside.
As an exciting generation of English players heads to Euro 2020 this summer, there is a whole host of names looking on and wondering what might have been had it not been for misfortune or mistakes.
We’ve decided to look at some notable former prospects whose careers have stagnated of late, here are five former wonderkids who need a move this summer.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was once hailed as the future of Chelsea after emerging from the club’s academy ranks, with the west London side having once struggled to integrate their best prospects into the senior side.
Loftus-Cheek has instead seen a host of graduates – including the likes of Mason Mount and Reece James – move past him to become Chelsea regulars, whilst a series of setbacks have prevented the now 25-year-old from becoming a first-team fixture.
The midfielder impressed during a loan spell at Crystal Palace during the 2017/18 season before earning his opportunity under Maurizio Sarri the following campaign, having formed part of the England squad that reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Loftus-Cheek enjoyed the best period of his career during the 2018/19 season as Chelsea won the Europa League, scoring 10 goals in 40 appearances across all competitions.
His season ended disastrously however, as he missed the aforementioned final with a serious Achilles injury sustained in a post-season friendly in Boston – an injury that would rule him out for a year.
It proved a long road back for Loftus-Cheek and one he has struggled to bounce back from, being handed a handful of Premier League appearances at the tail-end of last season, before enduring a difficult loan spell at relegated Fulham in 2020/21.
The England international failed to show signs he could get back to his rampaging best at Craven Cottage and his next career move is crucial, with Lazio and former manager Sarri linked of late.
Ross Barkley finds himself in a familiar situation this summer, the midfielder having often appeared at a career crossroads in recent years.
Once the exciting home-grown hope of Everton, he irked his boyhood side in leaving for Chelsea, a move that was designed the help the midfielder reach the heights many had expected following his initial emergence.
Despite flashes of his talent it has proven a disappointing spell in west London, with the England international signing on loan for Aston Villa during the 2020/21 season in search of regular first-team football.
Chelsea had hoped Barkley’s move would either see him recapture enough form to warrant inclusion in their side, or raise his value significantly to earn a move to Villa Park or elsewhere.
Instead, the midfielder faded badly following a bright start and found himself on the fringes during the Premier League’s run-in, his stock arguably at its lowest since leaving Everton three-and-a-half years ago.
Barkley has not been capped by England since October 2019 and must find a home if he is to have any chance of forcing his way back into Gareth Southgate’s plans, with former Everton boss David Moyes reportedly interested in handing the 27-year-old a career lifeline at West Ham.
Is the time right for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to leave Liverpool?
It’s proven largely a story of hard luck and heartache for the midfielder on Merseyside, having hit more than his fair share of obstacles since completing a £35m move from Arsenal in 2017.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s debut season saw him force his way into Jurgen Klopp’s side and play an important role during the Reds’ run to the Champions League final, his all-action energy and third-man running providing the perfect link between a workman-like midfield and the front three.
Enjoying arguably the best period of his career, he sustained a serious knee injury in the semi-final win over Roma and spent 366 days on the sidelines during a lengthy rehabilitation.
The 27-year-old finished as Liverpool’s leading scorer behind their front three during a 2019/20 season that delivered Premier League success, but another knee injury ruled him out for the opening four months of last season.
After returning in December he struggled for opportunities and started just two league games for the campaign, raising questions regarding his long-term future at Anfield.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has enjoyed a number of fine moments in a Liverpool shirt, but is too young and too talented to waste the peak years of his career in a back-up role.
Injuries are part and parcel of professional sport, but it is difficult not to think ‘what if?’ when talented players see their careers wrecked by fitness issues.
Jack Wilshere was hailed as English football’s brightest talent after coming through the ranks at Arsenal, starring as a teenager for the north London side with his technical ability drawing comparisons to elite names on the continent.
Wilshere starred during the 2010/11 season to be named as PFA Young Player of the Year and in the division’s best XI, the future seemingly bright for a midfielder with the world at his feet.
The injury nightmares that would haunt his career started that very summer after fracturing his ankle in a pre-season friendly, the beginning of several issues that mean Wilshere has never again reached 30 league games in a campaign.
He remained with Arsenal until 2018 – having a spell on loan with Bournemouth to regain fitness – before joining West Ham on a free transfer, a move that failed to reignite his fortunes.
Released by the Hammers he rejoined a Bournemouth side now in the Championship, but his short-term spell has come to an end despite maintaining his fitness with the Cherries.
Unwanted in the second tier, it is a remarkable fall from grace and the 29-year-old free agent will now consider his options with Celtic amongst the teams linked.
We’re well aware the labelling of Phil Jones as a former wonderkid opens us up to ridicule, but long before the days of endless internet memes and contorted facial expressions was a defender tipped for a huge future in the game.
Such was Manchester United’s faith in the centre-back, Sir Alex Ferguson boldly claimed the youngster could be the Red Devils’ greatest EVER player following his retirement in 2013.
Sir Alex Ferguson once said that Phil Jones could be Manchester United's best EVER player! 😲 pic.twitter.com/z8jveJgoTd
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) January 10, 2020
Ferguson got most things right during a record-breaking managerial career, but his assessment of Jones’ potential has not gone as initially hoped.
It’s easy to forget the 27-cap England international is still a Manchester United player, having been omitted from the club’s squad for the 2020/21 Premier League season in what should be the defender’s prime years.
The 28-year-old was part of an England squad for a major tournament as recently as the 2018 World Cup and could still prove a valuable addition for a top-flight side prepared to gamble this summer.
Fickle fans and the internet can prove a cruel place for players out-of-form and out-of-sorts, and Jones – who has not featured for the club for 16 months – will need to prove his fitness after an injury nightmare to secure the move he so desperately needs.