I recently completed an experiment with Scottish Premiership teams to see what starting XI each side could play if they only used players that they had developed. I thought it would be interesting to try the same with Premier League teams.
The differences were as expected, the Scottish sides were predominantly players who came through youth teams before moving on to English clubs in their early 20’s. While the English results currently show the majority of the older players have stayed in their home country for all their career.
This will likely change over the coming years with clubs continuing to stockpile youngsters from all over the world, the likes of Jadon Sancho, Rabbi Matondo and Reiss Nelson have shown British players can settle and excel in foreign leagues. With Academies being used to produce players for transfer collateral as well as the first team, it’s likely more British players will move abroad and it should benefit the National teams.
Because players can often play for more than one club in their youth career, I’ve used the following criteria to assess which players are eligible for each team.
- Some players will be eligible for more than one side but can only be used once
- I’ve tried to ensure the player was at the club over the age of 16 or signed a professional contract there. This is to avoid Arsenal fans claiming Harry Kane for example
- If a club signed a player before the age of 19, he will be eligible providing he didn’t make a first-team appearance for a former club. (Loan spells to other clubs don’t count for this)
- The player must still be an active player or a free agent looking for a club.
To try and keep it fair I will only be using normal formations and players predominantly in their favoured position, although there may be the occasional full back slotted into centre back or vice versa. Finally to clarify I am a fan of a Scottish Premiership side so have no allegiance to any English teams so this is my honest assessment of the squads based on their current ability, not their past achievements or possible future ability.
I find the mere fact that Bournemouth are an established Premier League side incredible, having risen through the leagues quickly and playing nice football at the same time. Their rise can be attributed to outstanding transfer business rather than a focus on their own youth development.
It is sometimes overlooked but look at some of the deals they completed for key members of their squad – Harry Arter was a nominal fee from Woking, Steve Cook cost 150k, Charlie Daniels was 200k and Callum Wilson was 2.5 million from Coventry. Because of this policy and such a fast rise possibly preventing more youth players getting a chance, it’s a fairly poor side they would be able to field, albeit with a decent front two.
Sean Dyche has done a wonderful job to bounce back from relegation and firmly establish Burnley as a Premier League side. He’s built a solid foundation with a pragmatic approach, based on a solid defence and preferring to sign established professionals over promoting youth.
Dwight McNeil has bucked that trend and forced his way into the first team squad, so it’s clear Dyche will promote youth if they are good enough. This squad is mainly Championship level players which sees them ranked so low.
18) Brighton and Hove Albion.
Another side to impressively rise from League 2 to the top flight over the years, Brighton now possess a new stadium and brilliant youth facilities, but it will take a while to feel the full benefits from that work behind the scenes.
Realistically Brighton have either been pushing for promotion to the Premier League or establishing themselves in the top flight since 2012 which makes it less likely for youth to be given a chance to develop and settle in the first team. They’d have a decent defence but no real threat going forward.
This one was interesting to research purely because the Pozzo’s own Udinese, Granada and Watford. As a result, there are players over the three clubs that are on loan or they move between sides and it’s not always clear who belongs to which club. Watford also have six South American players out on loan for work permit reasons.
The young players Watford did bring through were predominantly when they were a mid-table championship club, so the players are mostly of that standard or worse. With no real stability in terms of management, it must make it more difficult to have a clear structure for younger players to come through when different managers will rate players differently. I would argue that only Young, Quina, Mariappa and potentially Assombalonga are Premier League standard here.
16) Norwich City
Another club who have spent the past few years either fighting for promotion or relegation which hasn’t left a lot of space for young players trying to break through. Daniel Farke has bled Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons into the side over the past couple of years and the Murphy’s broke through a few years ago, so there is a precedent for Norwich bringing players through, but not at a steady rate that can be relied upon.
15) Crystal Palace
Palace are elevated above the other teams so far mainly because of Wilfried Zaha, but also a sprinkling of other established top-flight players like Moses, Clyne and the emerging Wan-Bissaka. Usually placed towards the top of the bottom half, Palace have that problem where relegation is always a genuine concern, so they don’t have many meaningless games to give the youngsters much needed minutes.
It’s worth noting all the first team players in this line-up came through in the championship apart from Wan-Bissaka. I should add a side note that the keeper Curtis-Henry may or may not have played one league game for Peterborough before joining but I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt here.
Not the only side in history to trade the mediocrity of Mick McCarthy for a spell In League 1, Wolves have done well to bounce back albeit with a lot of money and Portuguese talent. This squad is similar to Palace in that almost all players were initially given a chance in the championship rather than the Premier League. With the money and ambitions of the clubs owners, it’s hard to see too many young players coming through so this could be an interesting one to revisit in 10 years’ time.
13) Leicester City
A decent striker away from ranking slightly higher on the list, Leicester would be able to field a solid line up. Andy King aside, the league winning team was constructed with incredible recruitment rather than academy players. Barnes, Choudhury, and Chilwell could all become established international players in the future and Brendan Rodgers is the type of manager who wants to play attractive football. The main issue with Rodgers is he tends to struggle after his first season or two in charge when he runs out of ideas.
12) Newcastle United
Newcastle are not renowned for having a thriving youth academy but when you look at this side it’s clear they do have some talent in there. The main issue tends to be that most of these players had to move away or broke through during the seasons in The Championship. I don’t want to delve too much into the way the club is run, but it’s easy to think that a lack of stability in the management team and the playing staff coupled with a lack of playing time will see most young players want to move away.
11) West Ham
Only Jermain Defoe remains from the famous graduate classes of the late 90’s and early 00’s with Defoe, Carrick, Ferdinand and Lampard among those who came through. The move to the Olympic Stadium has been paired with throwing a lot of money at signings in an attempt to get some immediate success and create some positive PR with the club being uprooted from the Boleyn Ground. Declan Rice is the standout player to break through in recent years in a line up that still boasts plenty of top-flight experience.
10) Sheffield United
Kicking off the top 10 is the Blades and they’ve an incredible defence. The central three features two of the first choice England defence right now and the experience of Jagielka. The midfield holds them back from featuring even higher, but David Brooks has impressed many with his silky skills at Bournemouth. They may be up against it this season so don’t expect many players to break through this season.
9) Aston Villa
Villa are a team who have consistently given young players a chance and it shows in this line up along with the number of decent players who were left out. Filled with experienced Premier League players and with Jack Grealish being the standout. Grealish understandably stood out in the championship but did sometimes struggle when Villa were last in the top flight. It will be interesting to see if he can still control a game against better opposition.
Wayne Rooney aside, it does feel like Everton have produced a lot of players who promised to be great but didn’t manage to reach their potential. Players like Ross Barkley, Jack Rodwell, Victor Anichebe, and James Vaughan all showed great promise, but their careers fell off for different reasons.
Admittedly Barkley still has time to rectify that but might find himself needing a move depending on how highly the next Chelsea manager rates him. On the other hand, they have a lot of promising young players breaking through who could go on to be great players, but that remains to be seen.
A producer of plenty of Premier League talents but the only one who could be described as approaching elite would be Harry Kane. Spurs could be entering a transition period with the feeling growing that Pochettino may have taken them as far as he can, key players like Eriksen and Alderweireld making noises about moving on and a first full season in a new stadium can be unpredictable.
Most of their young players have had to go on loan to play regularly so there aren’t many indications of academy players establishing themselves in the upcoming seasons – except maybe the promising Oliver Skipp.
I think along with the Chelsea squad (coming a bit later) that this team could easily rank higher if this was revisited in a couple of years. Players like Ryan Kent and Harry Wilson have been outstanding on loan and could step up to the first team over the next few years. This is a great set of young players that could excel if given the chance to play first-team Premier League football over the next few years. The main drawback is like Liverpool before Van Dijk arrived – the defence does look shaky.
The players Arsenal have produced over the years are probably fitting of where the club is right now – they are good, sometimes even brilliant, but probably not good enough to finish in the top four. The move to The Emirates stadium resulted in a change of strategy towards the playing squad with a focus on younger – and ultimately cheaper- players which saw Arsenal fall from title contenders to a Europa league calibre team over the years.
Revisit this in five years and I think Chelsea would easily be top. A well told story of stockpiling younger players from around the globe is starting to pay off with a few of them starting to break into the first team. Depending on whether the transfer ban stands and how the new manager wants to approach things, its easy to see Mount, Abraham, Tomori and Hudson-Odoi playing regularly next season. It remains to be seen if Chelsea do want to play these guys or just want to develop them to sell on, but this is a side stacked with talent.
Quite possibly a decent goalkeeper away from topping the list. Liverpool’s unofficial feeder team for the past few years, Southampton have both developed their own players and traded well by signing talented youngsters before selling them on for a big profit. They have survived a relegation scare and have a highly rated manager in charge who looks to be able to get the best out of his players, expect the production line to keep going.
2) Man City
So close to the top spot but slightly lacking in defence. City’s recent successes can still be attributed to throwing eye-watering amounts of money at the first team, however, they have transformed their youth academy and are starting to see the benefits with players like Phil Foden starting to break through.
Although they barely saw the first team, players like Diaz, Sancho, Ntcham, Gunn and Denayer were sold for large amounts and possess great ability. You can argue whether the stockpiling of talent helps or hinders players but there’s no doubting City have produced some serious talent over recent years
1) Man Utd
Which brings us to number one on the list. Unlike “the class of 92” the best players in this line up were bought in from other clubs at a young age. Manchester United are at a real crossroads right now in terms of a squad rebuild so there may be opportunities for Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood, Tatith Chong and others going forward to establish themselves, but they haven’t really shown first team quality just yet.
Remember this list is based on current ability, so I would expect Liverpool, City and Chelsea to rank higher in the future if their players fulfil their potential and United don’t start to bring more youngsters through. However, for now this team features Premier League, La Liga and World Cup winners, meaning it just has enough to top the list.
Follow Tom on Twitter @scoutscottish