A piece of Premier League history was made last May when Harvey Elliott became the youngest ever player to grace the top flight.
Having been relegated at the start of April, Fulham’s season has been long over and thus caretaker boss Scott Parker felt it was a good time to give the 16-year-old a cameo in their 1-0 defeat to Wolves.
Elliott’s talent is well regarded within football circles and the young Londoner was again in the headlines today, after sealing a move to European Champions Liverpool. It is though uncertain how a teenager will develop over time, if they will mature both as a footballer and as a person. Figuring out who is cut out for the elite level and who will fall by the wayside is a tough, and often cutthroat, business.
As Michael Calvin wrote in his book No Hunger In Paradise, “only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football in England at any one time will make it as a Premier League pro.” That is a success rate of 0.012%.
Let that be a reminder not just to Elliott, but to all prospective talents sitting in football academies all over Britain, that simply getting on the pitch does not mean guaranteed success at the top level. This list proves testament to that.
The Premier League’s youngest ever debutants:
Harvey Elliott – Fulham
16 years, 1 month
The English midfielder made history when he came off the bench against Wolves, but it wasn’t the first time he entered the record books. He made his debut for the Cottagers against Millwall in the League Cup earlier on in the 2018/19 season at the age of 15 years, 5 months and 21 days! He beat Jordan Ibe’s record in that competition by three months.
“He is a technically gifted football player. A special talent. He has got a naturalness about him, an ease,” Fulham boss Scott Parker has said of Elliot. “He is very clean with the ball, can handle the ball very well for someone so young. ”
Now a Liverpool player, it will be interesting to see if the young winger can fulfil his undoubted potential.
Matthew Briggs – Fulham
16 years, 2 months, 4 days
Another Fulham youngster who got his chance in the first team as a 16 year old, Briggs’ career didn’t pan out as expected. The left-back made his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough at the Riverside in 2007, but would only make 30 senior appearances over the next seven years.
Briggs was sent out on loan four times, to Leyton Orient, Bristol City, Peterborough and Watford, before leaving for Millwall on a free transfer in 2014. He’s led the life of a journeyman footballer ever since and was last seen playing non-league with Maldon & Tiptree FC.
16 years, 3 months, 27 days
Marked out as an exceptional prospect when he made his debut for West Brom during a 3-2 defeat to Wigan Athletic in 2013, Chelsea quickly went about snapping him up and he signed a deal with the Blues that summer.
Brown’s progress has been predictable ever since, with a series of loan spells seeing him play for Vitesse Arnhem, Rotherham, Huddersfield and Brighton. He’s won an U21 Premier League crown, a Uefa Youth League winners medal, and was part of England’s successful campaign at the U17 Euros in 2014. But he is yet to gain the valuable experience necessary to make the step up.
The 22-year-old attacker has made 81 senior appearances across various levels, and has appeared just once for his parent club. he is currently on loan at Leeds United, where Marcelo Bielsa has given him just nine minutes game time in the Championship.
Aaron Lennon – Leeds United
16 years, 4 months, 7 days
The one true success story on this list, Aaron Lennon made his debut as a teenager when he was subbed on for Mark Viduka during Leeds United’s 2-1 loss against Spurs in 2003. Peter Reid must have had plenty of belief in the winger to bring him on in place of a known goalscorer when chasing a lead and his faith was proved correct. It wouldn’t do the manager much good though, as he was sacked in November of that season and the club were relegated by the end of the campaign.
Lennon left for Spurs for just £1m in 2005, where he would play for 10 years before moving to Everton. He’s won 21 England caps and currently plays for Burnley. When he made his debut, Harvey Elliott was just four months old.
Jose Baxter – Everton
16 years, 6 months, 9 days
Nuno Valente made way for Jose Baxter so that the teenager could make his first league appearance for Everton in the 78th minute of their tie with Blackburn Rovers in 2008. The Toffees lost 15 minutes later thanks to a late winner from Andre Ooijer (seriously, all these guys lost on their debut matches).
Four years and 15 appearances later he was released by the club and moved to Oldham Athletic on a free. After three years there he was sold to Sheffield United, who released him in 2016. He was picked back up by Everton and played in their U23 squad, before once again returning to Oldham Athletic, where he is a regular fixture in the League Two outfit’s midfield.