LONDON, August 13: From Ryan Giggs to Raheem Sterling, via Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas, the English Premier League has long been fertile breeding ground for up-and-coming talent. With another Barclays Premier League season ready, there would be many who would try to emulate the success of their previous champions. Here, AFP Sports profiles five young players for whom the 2014-15 campaign could provide a launchpad to stardom.
1. Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
After a fine season with Southampton that saw him dislodge Ashley Cole from the England squad, Shaw became the fourth most expensive defender in history when United paid an initial fee of £27 million ($45.6 million, 34 million euros) to take him to Old Trafford. New United manager Louis van Gaal’s decision to introduce a 3-4-1-2 formation should suit the buccaneering 19-year-old, who will have sole responsibility for providing width on the left flank. “Luke is a very talented young left-back with great potential,” said United assistant manager Giggs, the club’s last great left-sided player. “He has developed immensely during his time at Southampton and has all the attributes to become a top player.”
2. Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
Zouma, 19, signed for Chelsea from Saint-Etienne in January for a fee of around £12 million before being loaned back to his formative club until the end of the 2013-14 season. The tall, powerful centre-back has been given Chelsea’s number five shirt by manager Jose Mourinho and scored his first goal for the club in a friendly against Slovenian side Olimpija Ljubljana last month. Although John Terry and Gary Cahill will start the campaign as first-choice centre-backs, Chelsea’s commitments on four fronts mean that the France Under-21 international should get opportunities to impress. “Mourinho said to me, ‘Are you ready?’” Zouma told Chelsea TV shortly after arriving in July. “I told him, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.’”
3. Calum Chambers (Arsenal)
Chambers started last season as Southampton’s second-choice right-back behind Nathaniel Clyne, but after breaking into the first team, he was signed by Arsenal for a reported initial fee of around £11 million. The 19-year-old produced very sure-footed displays in his three pre-season appearances despite playing in an unfamiliar role at centre-back. “I am impressed by Calum’s character, by how quickly he is adapting and how secure he is when he plays,” said new Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta. “He is mature, a normal guy and I think he is going to be a very important player for us in the next few years.”
4. John Stones (Everton)
Having started his career with home-town club Barnsley, Stones joined Everton in January 2013 and broke into the first team last season, making 26 appearances in central defence and at right-back. The 20-year-old’s performances caught the eye of England manager Roy Hodgson and he was put on standby for the World Cup, appearing in pre-tournament friendlies against Peru and Ecuador. “He’s just a player that’s never really flustered,” said Everton team-mate Leighton Baines. “He’s got fantastic composure. He’s a really good footballer, made for the international scene to play centre-half, because he’ll take the ball out from the back and rarely gives it away.”
5. Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur)
An injury to Neil Taylor enabled the dashing Davies to establish himself as Swansea City’s first-choice left-back in the 2012-13 season and he held onto the role last season despite Taylor’s return to fitness, playing in 34 league games and scoring twice. The 21-year-old Wales international joined Tottenham in July in a part-exchange deal involving Gylfi Sigurdsson and will now compete with Danny Rose and Jan Vertonghen for the left-back berth at White Hart Lane. “I had never thought or wanted to leave Swansea, but an opportunity like this doesn’t come up often in your career,” he said.