It is often an uphill struggle for youngsters to force their way into the first-team at Premier League clubs and then stake their claims to stay there, but pre-season is the perfect time to try and do just that. This summer has been no different, either.
A host of promising starlets have flourished in the spotlight over the last couple of weeks, with preparations now in full swing across the Premier League ahead of what will be another demanding campaign.
There have been wonder goals, fearless little flicks and jaw-dropping passes destined for the highlights reel so far – and here, Sportsmail has taken a look at the academy players doing their best to impress.
A host of youngsters, including Anthony Elanga (R), have impressed during pre-season so far
ANTHONY ELANGA (MANCHESTER UNITED)
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross may have been narrowly behind him, but Anthony Elanga showed all the prowess of a frontman ten years his senior by arching his body in the air and volleying home into the corner.
There were 30,000 Manchester United supporters packed around Old Trafford for the friendly against Brentford, and each of them rightly leaped to their feet to celebrate and show their appreciation.
‘When it went in I could hear the roar from the fans – it’s my first time playing at Old Trafford with the fans – and it felt special,’ Elanga said post-match.
That will not be the only time he experiences that, that’s for certain.
Elanga scored a superb acrobatic volley in Manchester United’s friendly draw with Brentford
United are now faced with a welcome headache over Elanga. It may be more beneficial for him to be sent out on loan for next season and play regularly, but he has also pressed home his claim to stay around the first-team.
Elanga also scored against Queens Park Rangers, a well-taken finish into the corner, and netted against Wolves on the final day of the Premier League last term. He has shown he is clinical, and his future is bright.
‘The boy is electric, has energy and enthusiasm, he’s really enjoying himself,’ Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. ‘He’s done himself the world of good. We know he’s a good player, we know he’s a good lad.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross was behind Elanga, who adjusted in mid-air to hook into the corner
‘He works so hard, he’s always smiley, bright, asking what more he needs to do, he’s so hungry to improve and get better. He can play wide left, wide right, up front… so anywhere along the front line. He’s going to be an asset.’
Able to play through the middle or on the flanks, Elanga looks as though he would help supplement United’s attacking ranks for the next campaign. His attitude and determination are also admirable, as highlighted by Solskjaer.
Opting for a humorous tale to describe Elanga’s eagerness to please, United boss Solskjaer added: ‘If you ask him at half-time to run over to the cricket ground and get us a drink, he’d do it. That’s the type of lad he is.’
ARMANDO BROJA (CHELSEA)
It is a very open secret that Chelsea are on the hunt for a new striker this summer, but perhaps they should also keep a close eye on their own youth system when thinking about talent for the future.
That is because Armando Broja has dazzled in pre-season, and looks to be closing in on a first-team spot under Thomas Tuchel. Born and raised in Slough, he has been a Chelsea player since he was 10-years-old.
He spent last season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem and now, back with his parent club, has set about trying to prove his worth in West London. It’s a case of so far, so good on that front, thanks to his live-wire showings.
Armando Broja will hope for more first-team chances with Chelsea over the next campaign
Broja came on as a substitute at half-time in Chelsea’s friendly against Bournemouth, and immediately looked sharper and more dangerous than Tammy Abraham, a team-mate set to suffer from the starlet’s progress.
All of his goal-scoring instincts were clear, with Broja smartly controlling inside the penalty area before picking out a tidy finish to level the scores. In that moment, all of the attributes that make him so promising were on display.
It was reported earlier this summer that Chelsea will hold talks with Broja over a well-deserved new contract, and it is also believed that Tuchel is strongly considering naming him in his Premier League squad for next season.
Broja netted against Bournemouth and is believed to be highly rated by boss Thomas Tuchel
Broja scored 11 goals during 36 games with Vitesse, helping them to finish fourth in the Eredivisie, and the expected clear-out at Chelsea – which has already seen Olivier Giroud move on – will free up several new spots.
He put pen to paper on a professional deal last year, and those terms are currently set to run down next summer. To avoid it ticking down for little reason, it makes perfect sense for Broja to commit his future there.
His debut came in March 2020 in Chelsea’s 4-0 victory against Everton in Frank Lampard’s time in charge, and Broja has gone from strength to strength since then. His form even saw him make his international bow for Albania.
DANE SCARLETT (TOTTENHAM)
One touch, bang. That was all Dane Scarlett needed to score for Tottenham in their friendly at Colchester, although unfortunately for him the flag was raised. It was a tight call indeed, but showed how razor sharp he is.
Scarlett, brought on at half-time, is one of a number of youngsters who have starred for the club during Nuno Espirito Santo’s first pre-season in charge, and will hope to play a big role this season with Harry Kane keen to leave.
He has a wonderfully direct style of running, a rapid turn of pace on the ball and awareness beyond his years. With all these aspects, Scarlett has many of the hallmarks needed to lead the line for the club in the future.
Dane Scarlett has caught the eye for Tottenham and will look to impress Nuno Espirito Santo
While Scarlett couldn’t find the net against Colchester like he did at Leyton Orient, he certainly handled Nuno a dilemma for the new season. With potential this great, it would be harsh to leave the starlet out of his plans.
Jose Mourinho certainly believes the sky is the limit for Scarlett, having labelled his former player as ‘phenomenal’ and even tipped him to enjoy a bright future on the international stage with England.
He said: ‘I know he’s still very young, just 17, and it is probably too early for the next World Cup, but Tottenham Hotspur have a striker in Dane Scarlett, who, if everything goes well, is going to be phenomenal. For England, there is lots of promise.’
Scarlett scored against Leyton Orient and has been tipped for a bright future by Jose Mourinho
In his show of faith, Mourinho gave Scarlett his senior debut last season, brought him off the bench in two Europa League ties, and also handed the striker his Premier League bow against West Brom in February.
Scarlett was also in superb form for Spurs’ youth teams last team, scoring 17 goals in 16 U18 Premier League games, including 10 in his first eight matches. He also netted eight times in eight Premier League 2 and FA Youth Cup clashes.
Mourinho, of course, was sacked by Tottenham in April, and Nuno was hired to replace him permanently in June. Part of his job will be working out what lies ahead for Scarlett, and doing his best to further his development.
KAIDE GORDON (LIVERPOOL)
Not even Kaide Gordon would have expected to have made such a big impact at Liverpool in such a short space of time. It’s been a whirlwind pre-season for him, but there is no doubting that the club have a real player on their hands.
Gordon headed to Anfield in January and has impressed since being called up to the first-team for their training camp in Austria. He first dazzled in the 30-minute friendly against FC Wacker Innsbruck, and also impressed against Mainz.
With a silky first touch, a low centre of gravity and a tendency to play the ball forward as much as possible, it is little wonder that Gordon, who is just 16 years of age, seems to seamlessly fit into this team.
Kaide Gordon has dazzled Liverpool’s senior stars and coaching staff since joining from Derby
The deal that brought Gordon over from Derby County may cost Liverpool as much as £3million, a figure that marks a reasonable investment for a player with bundles of talent. He has already begun to pay it back with his performances.
Gordon emerged quickly in the Championship, having hailed from a football family to fully immerse himself in the sport. He played against Birmingham City last December as a late substitute, a reward from Wayne Rooney.
‘He deserved it,’ Derby boss Rooney, who is understood to be one of Gordon’s childhood idols, had sad. ‘I brought him up to train for a week to see how he reacted and he was one of the best trainers.
Gordon (left) arrived for a fee that may rise to £3million and is destined to star for Liverpool
‘He’s been training at the same level – if not to a better level – than a lot of the other players.’ High praise, certainly. But any hopes at Pride Park of Gordon continuing to blossom there were quickly scuppered.
Just a month on, one of their most prized assets moved to Liverpool. Since then, he has caught the eye of his ‘massively impressed’ senior team-mates, according to reports, and will continue to do so.
While a first-team spot doesn’t appear likely for him in the near future, Gordon can expect to slowly be eased into the rigours of football at that level. Provided Liverpool are patient with him, he may well become a world-beater.
MIGUEL AZEEZ (ARSENAL)
The latest Hale End academy product tipped for a bright future at Arsenal is the tricky Miguel Azeez. Born in Camden, he is a boyhood supporter of the club, and joined them aged five before coming through the ranks.
Azeez is widely-regarded in the youth system, having made his Under-18s debut at 15, and proved he was capable of making the step up. From there, his career has been a dizzying rise to the top, culminating in this pre-season.
Arsenal stepped up their preparations for the new season by beating Watford 4-1, after goals from Eddie Nketiah, Alexandre Lacazette, Kieran Tierney and Azeez – and it was perhaps Azeez’s effort that stole the show.
Miguel Azeez is another product of Hale End and scored in Arsenal’s 4-1 victory over Watford
During his second-half cameo, Azeez looked assured on the ball and got his reward for his hard work late on in the friendly. Nicolas Pepe played a quick corner to him, and he shifted quickly before bending one into the corner.
To those seasoned watchers of academy games, that came as no surprise. Azeez has notably baulked up during the off-season, too, adding a whole new dimension to his game. That stands him in good stead for more first-team action.
Azeez was named on the bench for Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Slavia Prague last season, as well as the Premier League fixture against Sheffield United, and this appears to be a strong sign that Mikel Arteta will begin to call on him more.
It seems unlikely that Azeez will make an impact straight away for the club, but supporters will certainly expect him to be handed minutes in cup matches next season. He will surely take his chance with both hands.