5 EFL prodigies that will play in the Premier League
With January around the corner, we look at the EFL youngsters who the big boys are sniffing around.
Jude Bellingham (Birmingham)
Bellingham is the boy.
He became Birmingham’s youngest ever first-team player after starting against Portsmouth in the EFL Cup first round in August.
At just 16, he is more than a year younger than the second-youngest player to feature in the Championship this season.
That’s right. Sixteen years old – the same age when most children are taking their GCSEs.
Not that he has let that faze him. The ball-playing midfielder has nailed down a spot in the Birmingham team, featuring 17 times in all competitions and scoring twice.
He is a classy operator who likes to take on the opposition – he has completed the second-most dribbles in the Birmingham side – and operates with a maturity that belies his age.
He has also been capped at both Under-16 and Under-17 level for England.
With plenty scouts now following his progress, and reports of Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich all sniffing around, St Andrew’s will be a nervy place in January.
Nathan Ferguson (West Brom)
When you’re wanted by Jose Mourinho after making just 16 first-team appearances, then you must be doing something right.
Tottenham have monitored the 19-year-old full back since he broke into the West Brom team at the start of the season, regularly sending chief scout Brian Carey to watch him.
It’s not just Spurs that fancy Ferguson, either, with Crystal Palace also reportedly keeping an eye on him.
Such is the interest in the teenager, West Brom have offered him a five-year contract extension that would increase his salary from £1k to £20k per week.
It would be richly deserved for Ferguson, who has become an integral part of the promotion-chasing Baggies’ defence since his first senior appearance against Nottingham Forest on the opening day.
He averages more tackles per game than any other West Brom player and can also get forward, contributing a goal and an assist in the league.
With his current contract up in summer, don’t be surprised to see interest in him intensify in the coming weeks.
Nathan Collins (Stoke)
Stoke’s start to the season would have been enough to make plenty crack.
The Potters are third-bottom in the Championship and have already moved on one manager.
That makes 18-year-old Collins’ ascension to the first team even more impressive.
The Irishman was made Stoke’s youngest ever captain for their EFL Cup first-round victory away to Wigan, when he had a goal dubiously taken off him.
He has only featured six times for the first team this season, having had both injury problems and suspensions to deal with, but he clearly remains in the plans of new manager Michael O’Neill, who said in a recent interview that he has “a lot of qualities” and “is going to be an important player for us.”
Potters fans might wish his comeback is delayed until after the January transfer window.
Luke Matheson (Rochdale)
Remember the name? Yep, he’s the teenager that made every back page in the country after equalising at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup third round.
The day after that goal, Matheson was back at school sitting a psychology exam and is now studying for three A-Levels while playing for Rochdale.
But, judging by his development up to this point, he can be confident of a decent career in football.
An athletic right-back, Matheson has been capped five times for England at Under-18 level and has featured 18 times for Dale so far this season.
The 17-year-old was also rewarded with his first professional contract in October, having been in Rochdale’s academy since the age of nine.
After signing the deal, he told the club website turning professional was a ‘dream come true,’ but it could yet get even better for him.
Dennis Politic (Bolton)
To call Politic’s first-team breakthrough a happy accident is a bit of an exaggeration, but the chaos at Bolton has seen him fast-tracked to the starting XI.
The club started the season on -12 points and, with just seven contracted players, had little choice but to throw the 19-year-old in from the start.
And what an impression he’s made.
Despite playing alongside youth-team players who are not ready to make the step up for a large part of the season, Politic has stood out.
The Romanian youth international has made 18 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice.
The nature of playing for Bolton this season has meant there have been plenty more lows than highs – they have conceded five or more on six occasions and had to wait until late October for a victory.
But to have performed well in spite of that shows an impressive level of maturity and mental fortitude.
It’s something that has caught the eye of Aston Villa and Wolves, both of whom are reportedly interested in him.
Given the unsettled situation at Bolton this season, it may be hard for them to keep hold of their asset if the big boys come calling.
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