Pre-season is often the perfect opportunity for academy players and aspiring stars to make it big at their respective clubs. Today, the influx of money and investment in the game has made clubs in the Premier League and around the world heavily rely on transfers rather than their own youth systems.
Many of these future superstars go under-the-radar, by either rotting in the reserves or being sent on multiple loans which hampers their consistency. But every now and then, we witness players who explode onto the scene and take the footballing world by storm.
Here, we take a look at five youngsters who have impressed in pre-season so far and could be knocking on the first-team door for the upcoming 2019/10 Premier League campaign.
17-year-old Mason Greenwood has been labelled as one of the most exciting prospects at Manchester United on the back of his excellent showings in preseason. The teenager has featured in all of the Reds’ three friendly games in Australia and Asia so far, getting on the scoresheet against Leeds United and Inter Milan.
Mason Greenwood has no doubt been the stand-out performer in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team during the course of this month, dazzling the opposition defence with his blistering pace, quick feet and superb movement. The Norweigan hinted that he could even start their opening Premier League game against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
Manchester United, therefore, are preparing a much-improved contract for the youngster who currently earns only £800-a-week. Despite his age, the England U18 international has already made three senior appearances towards the end of last season and could play a more significant role up-front in the upcoming campaign, especially if Romelu Lukaku leaves to Inter Milan.
Solskjaer heaped praise on Mason Greenwood after the match against Inter Milan, comparing him to Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs.
“He [Mason Greenwood] reminds me a little bit of the Giggsy story. You can’t really send him on loan and for me he’s ready to be in this squad. The kid’s only 17 and he’s learning every day, training with these boys, he’s been with us the last few months and he’s grown in confidence, he’s grown in stature,” Solskjaer said.
United teammate Luke Shaw also backed the hugely-talented striker to have a successful career at Old Trafford whilst also highlighting his abilities. “It’s crazy. He’s got so much talent, it’s unbelievable. He’s both-footed, but that’s unbelievable for that age. He’s got the maturity level that’s so much above his age, but he’s confident and not cocky,” he said.
Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah announced himself in the club’s preseason tour of the United States this month as he scored three goals in two games against Bayern Munich and Fiorentina.
The 20-year old, who is highly-rated among Arsenal’s youth academy coaches, will surely feature in Unai Emery’s plans for next season. Though Nketiah has plenty of loan options following his brilliant performances in the States, the French manager has challenged him to stay in North London and fight for his place.
Eddie Nketiah could replace Danny Welbeck in the Arsenal squad after the Englishman departed as a free agent earlier this summer. A natural goalscorer, Nketiah could easily slot in for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette if needed.
The England U21 international believes that he has everything it takes to play for the senior team. “I feel like I have been improving until being at a stage now when I am ready to play regularly. I am trying to show in pre-season that I have developed and I am ready to show what I can do. I am ready to start playing regularly,” he said.
Eddie Nketiah also revealed Ian Wright and Thierry Henry as the two Arsenal icons whom he has looked upto for constant advice. “They are probably two of my favourites. I was with Ian Wright not too long ago and got some advice and it’s always nice to speak to those guys who have been your idols.
“I worked with Thierry as well [in the academy] and it’s great to get that advice off top strikers. Thierry was great for me, not just on the pitch but off the field as well.”
Unai Emery, after the International Champions Cup friendly against Fiorentina, said that Nketiah will have a role to play next season. “I said to him first be focused here. If you earn the right to be with us it’s because I can promise you that you are going to have minutes. But in those minutes you need to learn. And in the pre-season at the moment he’s playing like we want.”
Liverpool’s 19-year-old forward Rhian Brewster has impressively stepped up in the absence of Jurgen Klopp’s trusted front-three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in their preseason tour of the United States.
The trio, who contributed 69 goals in all competitions last season, are still on holiday following the excursions with their respective national teams. But Rhian Brewster, with his four goals in five appearances, has got Liverpool fans excited ahead of the upcoming Premier League season.
The U17 World Cup winner has a huge task of filling in the boots of recently-departed Daniel Sturridge, but Jurgen Klopp believes that Brewster is ready for a more significant role in his squad.
“I love the boy, he is fantastic player. Why should I play it down? Rhian Brewster is a top striker, he is a top talent and I have told him already that he has an important role this year – but how important depends on him,” he said.
Liverpool were linked with a host of attacking players in the beginning of the transfer window, including the likes of Timo Werner and Nicolas Pepe. However, Klopp has revealed that the club won’t make any big-money moves this summer, as they are banking on the likes of Rhian Brewster and new signing Sepp van den Berg to shine next season.
Rhian Brewster is yet to make his competitive debut for Liverpool but already boasts a Champions League medal having been on the bench against Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid.
Irish teenage sensation Troy Parrott has caught everyone’s eye in Tottenham Hotspur’s preseason games tour of Asia. The 17-year-old striker has looked extremely sharp in the white shirt.
Remarkably, Parrott hasn’t scored in any of the preseason games so far, but his performances have made Spurs fans drool over the youngster. Though he is an out-and-out striker, Parrott does not shy away from dropping into midfield to pass the ball around comfortably and create space for others. He also takes up excellent positions on the wings and his movement in the final third is brilliant.
He partnered Harry Kane against Manchester United following his brilliant performance in the 3-2 win against Juventus, showcasing how he can also play a number 10 role behind the striker. Both Fernando Llorente and Vincent Janssen have left the club and Troy Parrott could definitely be considered as cover for Kane.
Even at his tender age, the Ireland U18 international is very much looking a part of Mauricio Pochettino’s set-up with fans already clamouring for him to be called upto the senior squad for next season.
The Argentine manager claimed that he will see if Troy Parrott will be a part of his side. “Today, (a part of the senior set-up) yes. Tomorrow I don’t know. We’re working with the (young) players, trying to provide the best platform and possibility for them to perform and be comfortable with the first team.
“He’s still so young but we’ll see what happens at the end of the transfer window. If we have the squad that we have today, of course he’s going to have the possibility to be with the first team.”
Ireland manager James McCarthy also hinted that Troy Parrott could earn his first international cap as early as September.
“A friendly is a friendly and I do have some ideas on that but my concern is Switzerland. But if Troy Parrott is in and around the (Spurs) first team he has every chance of being involved in that, for sure,” he said.
“If he is playing in the Tottenham team I’ll use him for the first-team squad. Whether he starts for Tottenham on August 10 (when the Premier League begins), who knows but it’s great for his development and progression.
“And if he’s playing in the first game of the season, if he’s starting and playing for Spurs, he’ll have to be a shoo-in for the squad.”
18-year-old Adrian Bernabe has been one of the sparks among Manchester City’s crop of youth players in their concluded preseason tour of Asia.
The Spaniard, who many allude with a young David Silva because of his short height and silky hair, showcased his immense potential in the Blues’ opening friendly against West Ham United in the Premier League Asia Trophy earlier this month.
The midfielder was deployed on the right-wing by manager Pep Guardiola and quickly caught fans’ eyes with his passing, dribbling and immaculate vision. He found Silva with an incredible lofted ball in the first half. The teenager’s brilliant showing earned him a start against Wolves in the final.
Adrian Bernabe then made substitute appearances in Manchester City’s next two games, rounding off an excellent preseason with a late assist in their 3-1 win against Yokohama Marinos on Saturday.
Manchester City snapped up Adrian Bernabe from Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy last year, which is the reason he is blessed with an immense range of passing and twinkle-toed feet.
Given Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad, earning a place in the senior team could still be a long way for the youngster. Adrian Bernabe could, however, learn from the likes of Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, both products of City’s youth team destined to be superstars in the future.
Other notable names
Tammy Abraham (Chelsea)
The 21-year-old forward has taken up the number 9 shirt at Chelsea following his excellent goal in the friendly against Barcelona. The former Aston Villa man will hope he can make an impact under Frank Lampard this season.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis (Manchester City)
Pep Guardiola and senior members of the Manchester City squad were reportedly ‘blown away’ by the 17-year old’s performances in the club’s pre-season tour of Asia.
Dion Sanderson (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
The 19-year-old showed exactly why he is highly-rated among Wolves fans with excellent displays against Newcastle and Manchester City at right wing-back in the Premier League Asia Trophy earlier this month.
Oliver Skipp (Tottenham Hotspur)
Many will remember Spurs’ 3-2 win against Juventus in the International Champions Cup friendly because of Harry Kane’s wonder goal from the halfway line. However, the 18-year-old greatly impressed in the defensive midfield position, providing Mauricio Pochettino with another splendid option in the middle of the park.