Future's bright for five stars of FA Youth Cup

Mark Fleming scouts the stand-out players from the country's top Under-18s tournament

Chelsea's victory in Tuesday's FA Youth Cup final was the club's first since 1961, when the side contained the likes of Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti, who between them went on to play 1,524 games for the club. Since then the competition has provided a stage for great players such as George Best, Paul Gascoigne, Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney.

However, in the past decade only eight players who have won the FA Youth Cup have gone on to earn international honours, and just one – Kieran Richardson – is English. Here are five young men from this year's competition with the potential to become major names – and four of them are English.

Josh McEachran, 17, Chelsea

An elegant, creative midfielder, McEachran was the undoubted star against Aston Villa on Tuesday night. He orchestrated Chelsea's triumph with a superb display of passing and dribbling from midfield that was reminiscent of a young Liam Brady.

The 17-year-old from Oxford, who has been with the club since he was eight, has caught the eye of the senior teams' manager Carlo Ancelotti and has recently been called up to train with the first team. Even in the afterglow of victory, though, the youth-team coach, Dermot Drummy, warned: "Josh is a wonderful talent but you have to be careful of pushing his body too far too quickly. Next year will be a deciding factor, to see how he grows. We know he has ability and the vision that you can't give a player. But how his body adapts will be decided by time."

Conor Clifford, 18, Chelsea

Clifford was the man of the moment for Chelsea when he dispatched a spectacular shot from 25 yards that won the cup with just five minutes left. The strike was reward for the gamble he took two years ago when he joined Chelsea from Crumlin United in his home town, Dublin, the club that produced Robbie Keane. Clifford has since developed into a hard-working midfielder who loves to tackle but also possesses a dangerous right foot.

Even though he is only 18, Clifford has already been capped three times at Under-21 level by the Republic of Ireland, and has featured regularly for Chelsea's reserve team this season. He resembled Frank Lampard with the way he scored on Tuesday, but his combative style probably has more in common with Michael Essien's game.

Gary Gardner, 17, Aston Villa

Villa had the bad luck to go into the final without their captain, and arguably their best player, after Gardner suffered a cruciate ligament injury. Gardner, who is the younger brother of Craig, who moved from Villa to Birmingham in January, had scored 14 goals before the injury in January, including a hat-trick – one goal with his left, one with his right and one with his head – from midfield in a 4-0 win over Rochdale in the third round of the FA Youth Cup.

Gardner, who has been at Villa since he was seven, is rated so highly that he twice played for England Under-20 team in last autumn's U-20 World Cup in Egypt where he was the youngest player in the squad at 17. The Villa manager Martin O'Neill believes he has the potential to become a hugely influential player.

Benik Afobe, 17, Arsenal

This 17-year-old striker from London's East End is widely thought of as the best of the next crop of youngsters to come from the Arsenal academy, where his goalscoring feats have marked him out. Afobe has scored 17 goals in 23 games for Steve Bould's Under-18 team this season, and before that he scored 120 goals at Under-16 level.

Quick and physically imposing, he signed professional terms with the Gunners earlier this year, and has regularly featured for the reserves, making his debut for them aged just 16 years and four days. He also is a regular up front for the England Under-17 side. Last year he trained with the Brazil squad and scored twice past the Internazionale goalkeeper Julio Cesar in a practice game.

Connor Wickham, 17, Ipswich

Tottenham lead the Premier League clubs chasing Ipswich's physically imposing striker, who is already 6ft 3in and 14 stone, and has been making his mark in the Championship in recent weeks. Despite just 10 senior starts this season, the 17-year-old finished as the club's second-highest scorer with six goals, three of them coming in the last six games. He also featured in the FA Youth Cup, scoring in the Ipswich 2-0 victory that knocked out the holders, Arsenal.

Wickham made his debut for Ipswich in April 2009 at the age of 16 years and 11 days, to become the club's youngest ever player. Likened to a young Wayne Rooney, but a lot bigger, he has scored a hat-trick in just 21 minutes for the England Under-17 team against Azerbaijan.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreEXCLUSIVE The Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor