Every club wants to develop their own talent, and that is why most Premier League clubs plough tens of millions into their youth set-ups every season. For the top clubs, creating top class talent is hugely important so they don't have to keep buying entire squads. For lesser sides, a good academy can provide the most solid foundation for success, allowing the club to sell their academy products for huge profits, ensuring the financial security and future of the club.
For fans too, especially in the modern game in which it has become less common and in the Premier League more so than any other league, there are few greater sights than seeing a 'local lad', or at least an academy product gracing your clubs first team and mixing it in the Premier League with some of the finest players in world football. Arsenal, Tottenham and Southampton are currently the three teams with the most academy products in their first team squads.
Academy players in the Premier League tend to represent teams under-21 and under-18 sides, as well as often being loaned out to hone their skills at first team level. This is a list only of players who can be classified as 'academy' players, that is to say they have played very little or no first team football for their club. Young academy products who are already first team regulars are omitted. Here is every Premier League teams most exciting academy product:
20 Arsenal - Gedion Zelalem
Arsenal youngster Gedion Zelalem recently featured on our list of the 20 most talented teenagers in world soccer, and despite there being a plethora of talented youngsters at the Emirates, Zelalem was always a shoo-in for this list too. Alex Iwobi's recent emergence in the Gunners first team made the decision a little easier, reducing Zelalem's main competition to the likes of Hull City loanees Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden. Currently on-loan at Rangers, Zelalem has played 18 times for the Scottish giants and has been capped at youth level by both Germany and the U.S.
19 Aston Villa - Callum Robinson
Narrowly edging out Rushian Hepburn-Murphy for the title of most exciting academy product at Aston Villa is Callum Robinson. Unlikely to be a Premier League team much longer, Villa do at least have an impressive academy, with academy graduates Ciaran Clark, Ashley Westwood and Jack Grealish all currently in the first team squad. 21-year-old English forward Robinson could be the next player to join that trio and more, having already played five games for the club and currently impressing out on-loan at Preston. Robinson has long been considered a gifted youngster, and has been capped by England at under-16, under-17, under-19 and under-20 levels.
18 Bournemouth - Filippo Costa
None of the current Bournemouth first team squad came through the club's academy, although talented forwards Danny Ings and Sam Vokes both made the grade with the south coast side. The current academy is seeking improvements, which are rarely immediate, but Italian left-back Filippo Costa is the most highly-rated player in the club's youth set-up right now. Capped at every level from under-16 to under-20 by Italy, the 20-year-old is on-loan at Chievo Verona but will be hopeful of breaking into the Cherries first team next season.
17 Chelsea - Andreas Christensen
Chelsea's much talked about and well-renowned youth and loan system means the club has a vast array of gifted youngsters on their books, with no fewer than 34 players currently out on-loan. One of those players, and arguably the pick of the bunch at this moment in time, is Andreas Christensen. Already a full Denmark international with 4 caps to his name at the age of 19, Chelsea allowed the youngster to join Borussia Monchengladbach on-loan in the summer. Now 10 months into his two year loan deal, with something of a centre-back crisis, the Blues are currently undergoing a battle to try and find some way of bringing Christensen back to Stamford Bridge and end his loan deal.
16 Crystal Palace - Hiram Boateng
Previously regarded as a very good academy which produced the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Nathaniel Clyne, Victor Moses, Wayne Routledge and Ben Watson, all in a relatively short amount of time, the Palace academy has gone quiet in recent years. That may be due to a drop in academy standard of simply a rise in quality limiting the opportunities granted to youngsters at the club, either way, it took Hiram Boateng in February 2016 to end a four year absence of a Crystal Palace academy graduate making a debut for the first team. Now on-loan at Plymouth Argyle, the highly-rated 20-year-old midfielder is looking to come back after a couple of injury set-backs.
15 Everton - Ryan Ledson
Despite having a relatively poor league campaign, sitting in 12th place with a poor defensive record, Everton to have some mightily impressive young players in their first team squad. The likes of Romelu Lukaku, John Stones, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley are all very highly-rated players aged 22 or younger. In terms of academy players, things are still looking rosy for the Toffees, and the pick of the bunch is probably 18-year-old Ryan Ledson. The gifted young midfielder has played once for Everton and has represented England at four different youth levels; he is currently out on-loan, earning rave reviews for his performance with Cambridge United.
14 Leicester - Ben Chilwell
The brightest prospect at Leicester City is January signing Demarai Gray, but the 19-year-old wide man is already in and amongst the first team, ruling him out of this list of exciting academy products. That omission leaves two stand-out candidates; Joseph Dodoo and Ben Chilewell, and it is the latter who gets our vote. The teenage England under-20 international has played three times for the Leicester first team and had a brief loan spell with Huddersfield in the Championship. Although he of course has a great deal to learn defensively, Chilwell seems a competent tackler who is comfortable in possession.
13 Liverpool - Wilson/Kent/Ojo
It is difficult to split Liverpool's three gifted academy wingers, so we have taken the easy way out and opted not to do so. Harry Wilson broke Gareth Bale's record as the youngest ever Wales international, also taking Raheem Sterling's title as youngest Liverpool international in the process. Ryan Kent is an England under-20 international who has had a successful loan spell at Coventry, and Sheyi Ojo joined Liverpool for £2 million when aged just 14, and has since represented numerous England youth teams and had two loan spells to League One and the Championship. Other Liverpool academy players pushing for a first team berth include Joe Gomez, Cameron Brannagan, Jack Dunn and Ryan McLaughlin.
12 Manchester City - Jason Denayer
Manchester City have invested over £200 million ($285 million) on their brand new academy set-up, in the hope of creating home grown talent for the club capable of playing at the highest level. Joe Hart and Kelechi Iheanacho are the only current academy products playing in City's first team, but Jason Denayer is widely tipped to be the next. The 20-year-old defender won the SPL title with Celtic last season, winning the club's young player of the year award, and is currently impressing out on-loan with Galatasaray in Turkey. Already a full Belgian international, don't be surprised to see Denayer get regular first team football under Pep Guardiola next season.
11 Manchester United - Marcus Rashford/Andreas Pereira
Marcus Rashford may be on the cusp of becoming a full bonafide Manchester United first team player, but with only four league appearances to his name, the 18-year-old still qualifies for this list for the time being. The English youth international has made a huge impact in 2016, scoring five goals in eight games in all competitions for the Red Devils. Brazilian Andreas Pereira meanwhile has been highly regarded at Old Trafford since Alex Ferguson brought him to the club from PSV in 2011. Now aged 20, Pereira has made four league appearances for Man Utd and scored a stunning free-kick in their Capital One Cup victory over Ipswich.
10 Newcastle - Rolando Aarons
England under-20 international Rolando Aarons has been likened to Raheem Sterling, and not just in the sense that he was born in Jamaica but chose to represent England, but rather for his pace and work on the ball from wide positions. A left footed left-winger, Aarons joined Newcastle at 16 having been released by Bristol City. He has three Premier League appearances to his name this season, and made four appearances last season, scoring one goal. Now aged 20, Aarons will be hoping to step up his first team involvement next year, whatever league Newcastle are in.
9 Norwich - Josh Murphy
21-year-old forward Josh Murphy broke into the Norwich City first team during their promotion season but the arrivals of Dieumerci Mbokani, Steven Naismith and Patrick Bamford saw him drop down the pecking order. As a result, Murphy went out on-loan to MK Dons, where he has played 33 games and scored 6 goals this season, sometimes utilized on the wing and generally proving one of the club's most useful threats this campaign. Murphy will return to the Canaries in the summer and stake a major claim for regular first team football.
8 Southampton - Harrison Reed
The conveyor-belt of talent at Southampton shows little sign of slowing down. Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain are just some of their famed academy graduates, and the likes of James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett have now featured too regularly to qualify for this list. With those who have found regular first team football out the running, it was a toss up between Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher, and it is Reed who gets the nod from us. The 21-year-old ginger midfielder made his debut back in August 2013, and is now a regular for England's under-20s, but has made only one league appearance for the Saints this season.
7 Stoke - Oliver Shenton/Julien Ngoy
Julien Ngoy was for a long time considered the hottest prospect at Stoke City, but doesn't quite seem to have made the progress once expected of him when the Potters saw off the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid to secure the then 15-year-old's signature. Since then, 18-year-old Stoke-born midfielder Oliver Shenton has arguably surpassed the talented young Belgian in terms of the pecking order at the Britannia. Shenton has played twice for Stoke, and earned praise from Frank Lampard at one time. He faces stern competition for places at Stoke, but will be pushing for a loan move should he not be in line for more regular game time next term.
6 Sunderland - Lynden Gooch
With Duncan Watmore, the outstanding young talent at Sunderland, now a full first team player, he was out the running for this list. In terms of players still in the Sunderland academy, the most promising is now one Lynden Gooch. Born in California to a British father and an Irish mother, Gooch has represented the U.S. at under-20 level. He has played only once for Sunderland, coming in this seasons Capital One Cup, but has had two loan spells, one with Gateshead and the other with Doncaster.
5 Swansea - Kenji Gorre
21-year-old winger Kenji Gorre joined the Swansea City setup in 2013 with some pedigree, having already been part of the academies at both Manchester United and Manchester City. The quick-footed Dutchman made one Premier League appearances for the Swans last campaign, and has spent part of this season on-loan in the Eredivisie with ADO Den Haag. Since returning to the Liberty Stadium, Gorre hasn't played a game, with the Swans embroiled in a relegation scrap and being unlikely to view this as the ideal time to start blooding youngsters, but things could be different for Gorre next season.
4 Tottenham - Alex Pritchard
The oldest player on this list, Alex Pritchard is 22-years-old, but is still essentially an academy player at Tottenham having made only 2 appearances for the clubs first team and having spent this season (and the three before that) all out on-loan. Currently with West Brom, Pritchard made a big impact at Brentford last season, and has won 9 caps for the England under-21 team. Pritchard faces a tough task breaking into a strong Tottenham team next campaign, especially with game time seemingly limited at the Hawthorns, but he has time on his side undoubted ability.
3 Watford - George Byers
With 57 appearances in all competitions to his name, Tommie Hoban is too much of an established first team player to be considered for this list. Whilst Obbi Oulare may only have played one game for Watford's first team and be more highly-rated, but having only joined the club last year, he can hardly be considered an academy 'product'. Instead, we turn our attentions to George Byers, formally a Scottish under-16 and under-17 international. The now 19-year-old has played one league game for the Hornets and probably needs a loan spell under his belt before being considered for more first team action, but is highly rated by the backroom staff at Vicarage Road.
2 West Brom - Tyler Roberts
Having only turned 17 earlier this year, Tyler Roberts is one of the youngest players on this list. He is the standout player in the West Brom academy despite his tender years, and has made West Brom's bench a few times already, suggesting a first team appearance under Tony Pulis is not far away. Eligible to play for either England or Wales, Roberts opted for the latter, and has already trained with Chris Coleman's first team squad. Regarded by West Brom's coaching staff as a more gifted player than Saido Berahino was at his age, Tyler Roberts clearly has immense ability and the chance to become a real star.
1 West Ham - Reece Oxford
Quite possibly the easiest decision of any team on this list, Reece Oxford has all the tools to become a world class footballer, providing he has the right mentality and desire, especially in having to deal with the immense hope and expectations which have been placed upon him from such a young age. Oxford broke a 93 year record to become West Ham's youngest ever player in August 2015, and became the second youngest Premier League player of all-time a month later, when he made his mightily impressive league debut against Arsenal.
Capable of playing as either a central defender or midfielder, Oxford has been withheld from first team and international action by West Ham due to fear of burnout, but now aged 17, his involvement is likely to be gradually stepped up imminently.
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