Barnes stalked by clubs hunting for the 'next Walcott'

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The Independent Online

The discovery of Theo Walcott has proved that there are rich pickings in the Championship for those who do their scouting, and already the Premiership's biggest clubs are jostling to sign the next big teenage talent in the division. Giles Barnes is still only 17, but already Derby County are considering whether to cash in on a midfielder who has been tracked by Everton, Manchester United and Newcastle.

A powerful, quick attacking player who does not turn 18 until August, Barnes has already played 20 matches for Derby and is now regarded as the most sought-after young player in the Championship since Walcott was bought by Arsenal in January. Derby would like to keep him as they recover from a season that saw them finish 20th, but the £52m debt inherited by the new owners may force them to sell a player rated at £3m.

Derby are still without a manager after the dismissal of Phil Brown in January. Talks have stalled over a new contract for Barnes, who remains on a modest three-year deal he signed last summer. The new regime under Peter Gadsby, the chairman, has told the player that he must wait until a manager is appointed before contract talks can begin but in the meantime he has become the subject of intense interest from the Premiership.

David Moyes was at Derby's last game of the season, against Sheffield Wednesday, to watch Barnes and his interest is serious - Everton failed with a bid to buy the player in the summer. Manchester United's chief scout, Jim Lawler, was also at the match to watch Barnes, who has been compared to Frank Lampard in style.

Barnes signed professionally for Derby in August last year and broke into the senior team this year, playing 20 games for the club where he became a regular under the caretaker manager, Terry Westley. Liverpool were the next side to try to sign Barnes, inviting him to spend a week training with the first team with a view to signing him on a permanent deal - it is a tactic that Rafael Benitez has introduced to test potential young signings.

On that occasion, Brown asked Liverpool to make an offer and the Merseyside club decided not to take a chance on a player Benitez had not seen play with his first-team squad. When Barnes scored a memorable goal for Derby's under-18 side in the FA Youth Cup defeat to Blackburn Rovers, he caught the eye of Premiership scouts.

Newcastle United and Tottenham have been asked to be kept up to date with his progress. Arsenal have also watched the player.

A clause in his contract meant that Barnes was entitled to re-negotiate his deal after he had made a certain number of senior appearances, although Derby are still yet to take up that option.

Barnes was acquired by Derby from Nottingham Forest's academy for a compensation fee. The Derby academy has become one of the strongest in the country under Westley, who became caretaker manager after Brown was dismissed, and in January 2005 they sold the England Under-21 midfielder Tom Huddlestone to Tottenham for £2m. The goalkeeper Lee Camp has also played for the Under-21s and Welsh defender Lewin Nyatanga has also impressed.

The consortium led by Gadsby took over Derby in April and it has already invested £25m. Mike Newell had been considered as a new manager but was then ruled out. The next option is thought to be Joe Royle, who resigned from Ipswich Town earlier this month.

The Championship's young talent

* GARETH BALE, 16. Club: Southampton

Position: Left-back. Nationality: Wales

* OWEN GARVEN, 18. Club: Ipswich Town

Position: Midfielder. Nationality: Rep of Ireland

* CAMERON JEROME, 19. Club: Cardiff City

Position: Striker. Nationality: England

* DAVID NUGENT, 21. Club: Preston North End

Position: Striker. Nationality: England

* LEWIN NYATANGA, 18. Club: Derby County

Position: Central defender. Nationality: Wales

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