Football: Four young players to follow this season

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The Independent Online
ANDY AWFORD

(Portsmouth)

HIS precocious authority throughout Pompey's FA Cup run last season, when he was just 19, identified him as the best young central defender in the country. Quick and assured, never more so than in that epic semi-final against Liverpool, he is equally at home marking or as a sweeper, which his manager, Jim Smith, believes will prove to be his best position. Graham Taylor is monitoring his progress closely; so is half the Premier League.

CHRIS BART-WILLIAMS

(Sheffield Wednesday)

TREVOR FRANCIS took the plunge while other managers dithered last season, investing pounds 250,000 in a 17-year-old with just 36 League appearances for Leyton Orient behind him. The prodigy took to the First Division like a natural, impressing both in defence and in midfield, and only Francis's reluctance to ask too much of a young player too soon restricted him to 15 games. A regular place beckons.

RICKY OTTO

(Coventry City)

A LITTLE long in the tooth for a promising newcomer at 24, but an interesting character with bags of potential. Bobby Gould is second to none when it comes to unearthing and polishing little gems from the lower divisions, and Otto, plucked from Leyton Orient, has all the makings. His penetrative surges down the left wing caused plenty of problems for Oldham and Sheffield Wednesday in cup ties last season.

IAN WALKER

(Tottenham Hotspur)

RAY CLEMENCE should know a good goalkeeper when he sees one, and he sees one in the 20-year-old who played 18 League games for Spurs in preference to Erik Thorstvedt last season. Tall, brave and agile, he was looking the part when a blunder in the Cup-Winners' Cup tie away to Hajduk Split cost him his place. A temporary setback. First choice in the pre-season period, the England Under-21 international is the man in possession.

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