England Under-21s play their first fixture at this summer’s European Championship on Friday (v Sweden at 5pm). Which is the best eligible player each Premier League side has to offer as sacrifice for the Young Lions?
By ‘Other first-team players eligible for England U21s’, we mean any English player born on or before January 1 who played at least one first-team minute last season.
Arsenal – Rob Holding
Have you ever been made aware that Rob Holding is a superior centre-half in comparison to Fabio Cannavaro? The 21-year-old ended the 2015/16 season as part of a Bolton side relegated to League One, but the conclusion to this past campaign saw him emerge with a legitimate claim for a starting spot at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, and with an FA Cup winner’s medal around his neck. The Gunners might well sign a centre-half this summer, thereby pushing Holding back to the fringes of the first team, but the boy has a bright future.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Chuba Akpom, Calum Chambers, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Chris Willock
Bournemouth – Lewis Cook
The only footballing Englishman aside from the late, great Sir Robert Moore to lift a World Cup trophy. Lewis Cook’s achievements with England’s Under-20s in South Korea this summer are obviously not quite as celebrated as those who successfully brought football home in 1966, but it was an achievement nonetheless. And it was skippered by a player whose Premier League campaign had been decimated first by injuries, then by a lack of opportunities behind Jack Wilshere. Eddie Howe will surely know to give the 20-year-old a prolonged chance in the first team next term.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Aaron Ramsdale, Jordan Lee, Corey Jordan, Brad Smith, Baily Cargill, Matt Worthington, Harry Cornick, Jordon Ibe
Brighton – Solly March
Glenn Murray scored the goals. Antony Knockaert created them. Lewis Dunk prevented them. Bruno captained Chris Hughton’s side. But it was Solly March who scored the goal that sealed Brighton’s promotion. The winger scored the last of his three goals this season against Wigan in April, confirming the Seagulls’ rise to the Premier League. It capped a triumphant return for a player who missed 11 months of action with a knee injury suffered in 2015. The 22-year-old should continue to play a part next season.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Christian Walton, Tyler Hornby-Forbes, Ben White, Rob Hunt, James Tilley
Burnley – Daniel Agyei
Burnley are one of six Premier League clubs – Crystal Palace, Huddersfield, Stoke, Watford and West Ham are the others – not to boast a single first-team player with an England U21 call-up since qualification for the European Championship began in September 2015. That leaves Dan Agyei as the individual closest to breaking the curse. The 20-year-old forward made his first-team debut for the Clarets in March against Liverpool, and while he is as yet uncapped at England youth level, Sean Dyche reckons he is “a really good player”. He is also eligible for Ghana, mind. Who doesn’t love a good old international tug of war?
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Chris Long
Chelsea – Nathaniel Chalobah
Considering he has been farmed out a total of six times, to a different club on each occasion, Nathaniel Chalobah was likely rather surprised that he was not one of 39 players to be sent on loan by Chelsea last season. But the 22-year-old remained in the bosom of Antonio Conte, who rewarded him with 10 appearances and his first ever Premier League start. It would be nice, if not fanciful, to see the midfielder feature more often at club level, but at least he gets the opportunities for the Under-21s: James Milner (46) is the only Englishman to have ever played more games at that level than Chalobah (36).
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kasey Palmer, Lewis Baker, Isaiah Brown, Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke
Chalobah could be 55 with kids who’ve graduated from uni and still play for England U-21 https://t.co/TuyvUD3cfT
— #4. (@ThatMunichNight) June 5, 2017
Crystal Palace – Sullay Kaikai
Speaking about Crystal Palace youngsters Hiram Boateng and Sullay Kaikai last July, Alan Pardew offered the most reassuring message possible. “They are pushing hard but it’s a big hurdle for them to overcome,” he said. “I don’t think our fans should expect them to overcome it, but if they do it will be a massive bonus for us.” Lovely. He then shipped both out on loan – Boateng to League One Bristol Rovers and Kaikai to Championship Brentford – with the latter faring slightly better. Although that isn’t saying a great deal.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Hiram Boateng, Ryan Inniss, Keshi Anderson
Everton – Tom Davies
The rest of the Premier League is glancing over at Everton and envying their production line of young English talent, of which Tom Davies is the standard-bearer. The 18-year-old emerged as a bonafide first-team prospect under Ronald Koeman last season, but is yet to be capped by the Under-21s. In fact, the midfielder will be avoiding all tournament football this summer, with Everton requesting he be rested instead of called up for the U19 European Championship in July.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Jordan Pickford, Mason Holgate, Jonjoe Kenny, Tyias Browning, Brendan Galloway, Matthew Pennington, Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Huddersfield – Jordy Hiwula
To learn that Jordy Hiwula was the top goalscorer for Bradford last season as the Bantams reached the League One play-off final is impressive at first glance. To then discover that he only scored nine goals suggests that isn’t quite the achievement it seems to be. Still, the 22-year-old forward, formerly of Manchester City, had the nickname of ‘Deckchair’ bestowed upon him in school. So that’s something.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Joel Coleman, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Kyle Dempsey, Jack Payne
Leicester – Demarai Gray
Of all the people keeping a close eye on proceedings regarding Riyad Mahrez, none will be as keen to discover the Algerian’s fate as Demarai Gray. The 20-year-old featured 30 times for the Premier League champions after joining last summer, but only nine of those appearances came as starts. He was forced to play second fiddle behind a struggling Mahrez for most of the campaign, and his fate under Craig Shakespeare in the coming weeks is intrinsically linked with that of his teammate. If Mahrez’s wish is granted and he leaves the King Power Stadium, Gray will surely stay. If Mahrez sticks around, Demarai will depart.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes
Liverpool – Joe Gomez
With Dominic Solanke not able to grace the halls of Anfield as an official Liverpool player until July, one must look elsewhere for the club’s emerging English talent. And while the pickings here are about as slim as Gonzalo Higuain on his summer holidays, it is a player who barely featured last season who gets the nod over those Jurgen Klopp handed more opportunities to. Joe Gomez has been unfortunate enough to suffer two long-term injuries since the German was appointed manager in October 2015. He has yet to actually play in the Premier League under Klopp, but remains a versatile, promising young defender.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Connor Randall, Sheyi Ojo, Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria
Maybe Joe Gomez could be LB next season, he was excellent in that position before he was injured, just a thought #LFC
— Mike Simmons (@MikeSimmonsLFC5) June 10, 2017
Manchester City – Raheem Sterling
It is rare that Raheem Sterling is ever the elder statesman of any group, but when Pep Guardiola decreed that he, Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus were “the future” of Manchester City in January, Sterling was the house-buying designated driver. That he is still only 22 and therefore fully eligible for the Under-21s puts into perspective his rapid rate of development since his breakthrough at Liverpool. The winger himself will admit that this past season was not his finest, and yet only Sergio Aguero scored more Premier League goals (8), while Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva were his only two teammates to provide more assists (6).
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: John Stones, Tosin Adarabioyo, Patrick Roberts
Manchester United – Marcus Rashford
Well, according to those football demigods over at the CIES Football Observatory, Paul Pogba is the only Manchester United player more valuable in the current market than Marcus Rashford. That is, of course, only when the 19-year-old is not shunted out to the wing and is afforded an opportunity to express himself. How regularly will that happen if Alvaro Morata arrives at Old Trafford?
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe, Demetri Mitchell, Josh Harrop, Angel Gomes, James Wilson, Scott McTominay
Newcastle – Rolando Aarons
It doesn’t seem long ago that Arsenal and Manchester City were the vultures circling Rolando Aarons, a winger predictably and laboriously likened to Raheem Sterling upon his Newcastle breakthrough. To say his progress has been stalled by injuries would be an understatement; he has careered off the road and crashed into a ditch. The 21-year-old still boasts more potential than most, but that must be translated into the real thing soon.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Freddie Woodman, Jamie Sterry, Daniel Barlaser, Isaac Hayden, Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, Ivan Toney, Adam Armstrong
Southampton – Nathan Redmond
For Nathan Redmond, this will be his third Under-21 European Championship. The Young Lions suffered group-stage exits on both of the previous two occasions, but the forward will be hoping to make it third time lucky in Poland. Provided Claude Puel’s replacement displays more attacking intent than an ageing turtle, Redmond will surely soon earn the move to Liverpool written into every Southampton player’s contract.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Harry Lewis, Jack Stephens, Matt Targett, Harrison Reed, Jake Hesketh, Josh Sims, James Ward-Prowse, Sam McQueen, Sam Gallagher, Olufela Olomola
Stoke – Lewis Banks
Saido Berahino misses out on eligibility by five months. Jack Butland was born ten months too late. Shay Given is just 17 years, eight months, two weeks, two days too old, and a little bit too Irish. Which leaves Under-23s captain Lewis Banks, named the youth side’s player of the year in May, as a rather underwhelming candidate for this role. Mark Hughes really hates young players, doesn’t he?
Swansea – Alfie Mawson
He is English. He is 23. He is a centre-half. He joined a Premier League club from Barnsley. But the similarities between £5m Alfie Mawson and £47.5m John Stones end there. The former impressed in his first season at Swansea, although he was a regular member of a defence that conceded more goals than every other team except for Hull. Mind you, that didn’t exactly harm Harry Maguire’s reputation.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Jay Fulton, Matt Grimes, Oliver McBurnie
I bet Alfie Mawson is easily worth £70 million #swans
— Ryan Thomas (@wardiaz85) June 15, 2017
Tottenham – Dele Alli
A father and his son; a photo finish; Darius Danesh’s Colourblind and absolute perfection. Some things in life are close. The decision as to which English player at Tottenham eligible for the current U21 squad is the best is not one of them. Dele Alli is in his own postcode in his own town in his own county in his own country in his own continent in his own galaxy.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Anton Walkes, Eric Dier, Josh Onomah, Marcus Edwards, Harry Winks, Shayon Harrison
Watford – Jerome Sinclair
That Watford sought to loan out Jerome Sinclair in January having signed the striker from Liverpool the previous summer tells its own story. The subsequent chapter chronicles the striker’s temporary spell at Birmingham, where he failed to score in five appearances, and did not feature once in the Championship survivor’s final 11 games of the season.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Tom Hoban, Andrew Eleftheriou, Brandon Mason, Dion Pereira, Michael Folivi
West Brom – Sam Field
If Tony Pulis describes a performance as “smashing” and adds that you are “very much a big part of this club’s future”, you listen. The West Brom manager has apparently ‘angered’ the FA by pulling young midfielder Sam Field out of the Under-19 European Championship in July, with the 19-year-old instead reporting for duty at his club’s pre-season training camp in Austria.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Kane Wilson, Jonathan Leko
West Ham – Reece Oxford
Since shackling Mesut Ozil on his Premier League debut aged 16 in August 2015, Reece Oxford has played 131 top-flight minutes. The 18-year-old was sent on loan to Reading for first-team chances in January, but started just two games of 18 games and played 200 minutes. That is 331 minutes of a possible 6,930 for a player whose opportunities for development have been pretty much non-existent.
Other first-team players eligible for England U21s: Reece Burke, Marcus Browne, Ashley Fletcher