Some soccer players develop at a much quicker rate than others and that’s why we see some of them make their professional debuts when they’re still teenagers. Most players join the youth academies of pro clubs when they’re still basically children and after several years of training some of them are ready to make the huge leap to the club’s senior side. Some teenagers can handle the pressure and skill level of top-tier soccer while others struggle and are never heard from again.
While English stars such as Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and James Milner made their senior debuts as teenagers they don’t make the list of the top 10 youngest Premier League players in history. The following 10 players all graced the football pitch when they were between 16 and 17 years old. Nine of the 10 players are still playing today while the other retired from the sport back in 2001. Many of them have been sent out on loan by their parent clubs and others have experienced relegation and promotion while others have had their development stalled due to serious injuries.
Each player has enjoyed a different level of success with a couple of them being household names to Premier League and England fans. Ironically, all 10 of the Premier League’s youngest-ever players were born in England. Some of them are still young enough to become soccer stars for their club and country in the future even though they may currently be playing in the lower divisions. This is a look at the 10 youngest players to set foot on a Premier League pitch.
10 James Vaughan - 16 years, 270 days
James Vaughan made his debut for Everton at the age of 16 years and 270 days back in April of 2005 in a 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace. It was an unforgettable day for the teenaged forward as he also scored a goal just three minutes before the referee blew the final whistle. Fans thought Vaughan would become an instant star, but injuries took their toll and he played in just 59 more games for the Merseyside club and added another eight goals. He finally left Everton in 2011 after several years and loans and hooked up with Crystal Palace, who were then still in the second-tier English Championship League. Two years later he joined Huddersfield of the Championship League and is still with the club as its captain. The 26-year-old Vaughan has appeared in 164 career club games has 39 goals to his name, but missed 12 weeks of the 2014/15 season due to injury. He’s also played for England at the Under-17, 19 and 21 levels.
9 Mark Platts - 16 years, 264 days
When Mark Platts took to the pitch for Sheffield Wednesday against Wimbledon in February of 1996 he was 16 years and 264 days of age. The young winger entered the game as a late substitute with his side up 2-1 that day as a replacement for English international Chris Waddle. Platts had made a name for himself at the national schoolboy level and big things were predicted for the English teenager. However, he appeared in just one more game with Wednesday and left three years later for lower division side Torquay United. He played 39 matches for Torquay before heading back to the Sheffield area and signing with non-league club Worksop Town, where he soon retired from the sport in 2001.
8 Jack Wilshere - 16 years, 255 days
English midfielder Jack Wilshere debuted for Arsenal at the age of 16 years and 255 days and is still with the club. He’s also carved out a decent international career for himself as well when he’s not injured. Wilshere’s first game for the Gunners came in September of 2008 in 4-0 win at Blackburn when he replaced Dutch international striker Robin van Persie. He then scored his first goal for the squad 10 days later in a League Cup match against Sheffield United. Wilshere’s fine play over the years earned him a spot with the England’s national side, but has suffered numerous setbacks due to injuries. He’s appeared in 148 matches for Arsenal over the years with 11 goals to his name and has also played 26 times for England’s senior squad. The 23-year-old was awarded with the Premier League’s goal of the season for the 2013/14 campaign, but missed several weeks again this year with another injury.
7 Jack Robinson, 16 years, 250 days
Liverpool put left-back Jack Robinson onto the pitch in May of 2010 late in their 0-0 draw at Hull City when he was 16 years and 250 days old. After that he was sent out on loan with Blackpool and Wolverhampton of the English Championship League. The youngster played well in the second tier of English football and was bought by Queens Park Rangers, who then sent him on loan to Championship League side Huddersfield last summer. However, his progress was halted when he sustained a serious knee injury. Robinson has played 10 times for England’s Under-21 team and also represented his country at the Under-16, 17, 18 and 19 levels. The 21-year-old could still make a name for himself in the Premier League.
6 Gary McSheffrey - 16 years, 198 days
Gary McSheffrey was 16 years and 198 days old when he made his first league appearance for Coventry in a 4-1 win at Aston Villa in February of 1999. The young winger was a star in the club’s youth system and played three more games with the senior side over the next 12 months. McSheffrey saw more playing time when Coventry was relegated to the Championship League in 2001 and was sold to Birmingham City in 2006 for the fee of four million pounds. He scored 13 goals in his debut season with Birmingham and helped the club earn promotion back to the Premier League. However, the team was relegated after just one season in the top flight. The club went back and forth between the championship and Premier Leagues and McSheffrey eventually headed back to Coventry in 2010. In 2011/12 the club was relegated to League One and McSheffrey was released the next year. The 32-year-old is now playing for Scunthorpe of League One.
5 Jose Baxter - 16 years, 191 days
Jose Baxter’s debut for Everton took place in August of 2008 in a 3-2 opening-day home loss to Blackburn when he was 16 years and 191 days old. He played 12 minutes that day and stayed with the Merseyside club for another three years and 13 appearances before leaving for Oldham Athletic of League One. Baxter left even though Everton offered him a new contract as he wasn’t happy with his playing time. He scored 17 goals with Oldham and then joined Sheffield United the next season. Baxter has 13 goals under his belt with United this campaign and the 23-year-old could find himself back in the Premier League next season if Sheffield earns promotion via the playoffs. He has also represented England at the Under-16 and 17 levels.
4 Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - 16 years, 176 days
Aston Villa handed 16 year, 176-day-old Rushian Hepburn-Murphy his senior debut in March of this year in their 4-0 win at Sunderland. Hepburn-Murphy came on with seven minutes to go when manager Tim Sherwood decided it was time to throw the young forward into the deep end. The teenager had impressed Sherwood by scoring 18 goals in 21 appearances for Villa’s youth team and both player and manager are hoping his goal scoring prowess will stay with him in England’s top flight. Hepburn-Murphy should get plenty of playing time in the future with a weak Aston Villa side that looks like it will narrowly avoid relegation this season. He’s also played four times for the England Under-16 side.
3 Aaron Lennon - 16 years, 128 days
Most fans know who Aaron Lennon is as he’s made a name for himself over the years in the Premier League and with the English national team. The 28 year-old is still playing with Everton after starring for several years with Tottenham Hotspur. Lennon made his debut against Spurs at White Hart Lane when he was a 16 year and 128-day-old member of Leeds United at the start of the 2003/04 season. Leeds were relegated at the end of the campaign and Lennon spent one more year with them in the Championship League. Lennon was sold for a million pounds to Tottenham in the summer of 2005 and the very next year he was playing for England in the World Cup. The 28-year-old speedy winger was sent to Everton on loan this season and has 33 goals in 413 career club games. He’s also played 21 times for England’s senior team with no goals to his name.
2 Izzy Brown, 16 years, 117 days
Izzy Brown first stepped onto the pitch as a Premier League player with West Bromwich Albion in a 3-2 home loss against Wigan Athletic in May of 2013. The attacking midfielder was just 16 years and 117 days old at the time. He played just four minutes that day, but Chelsea soon became interested in him. Even though West Brom had developed the youngster, Brown thought it was in his best interests to sign with the Stamford Bridge outfit and inked a deal with Chelsea in the summer of 2013 as a member of their youth academy. Brown’s now 18 and hasn’t played for Chelsea’s senior side as of yet, but he did make it as far as the bench for a League Cup match against Shrewsbury last fall as well as a January draw against Manchester City. Fans should expect to see more of him in the near future.
1 Matthew Briggs, 16 years, 65 days
The youngest player to ever appear in a Premier League match was one Matthew Briggs who made his debut for Fulham in a 3-1 loss at Middlesbrough back in May of 2007. Briggs was 16 years and 65 days old at the time and the 24-year-old is a fullback currently playing with Colchester of League One after his parent club Millwall of the Championship League sent him out on loan. Briggs has appeared in 27 games this season after dealing with injuries last year. He realizes he has to play well in the lower leagues before he gets another shot in with a top flight club in the future. Briggs has played for England at all levels up to the Under-21 squad, but has now switched his national allegiance to Guyana, where his mother’s family hails from. Briggs played 13 league games with Fulham and then had brief loan spells at Leyton Orient, Peterborough United, Bristol City and Watford before joining Millwall.