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.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home