It seems like more and more prospects are announcing and advertising their expertise to the world of football each day.
The EFL is indifferent to that sentiment.
Due to the coverage and hype that swarms the top-flight, identifying the youthful jewels at the summit of English Football is an easy task for many.
But beyond those realms of wealth and limelight, there is no scarcity of young quality.Within the EFL, a plethora of supremely talented young footballers are proving to have a valuable impact in the rigours of senior football, wowing various audiences on a routine basis.
In this article, I will be assessing and analysing the ten best-performing teenagers outside the Premier League across the 2020/21 campaign.
- Kwadwo Baah
Kicking off the list is eighteen-year old Kwadwo Baah who, despite his tender age, has emerged as one of Rochdale’s most dangerous operators this term.
Born in Germany to Ghanaian parents, Baah moved to South Norwood at a young age and spent four years with the Crystal Palace academy before being released at the age of fourteen amidst a series of disciplinary issues.
Though much to his benefit, Baah was granted a second chance by the London-based Kinetic Academy, which subsequently paved his path to the Crown Oil Arena.
It is an opportunity of redemption that the wide man has duly seized with both hands, grabbing three goals and two assists in only ten starts for the Dale.
And the Rochdale flyer was handsomely rewarded for his combination of diligence and execution. Earlier this month, Premiership powerhouses Manchester City agreed a deal to bring Baah to the Etihad Stadium, evidencing the rewarding nature of hard work and desire.
This move will see Baah remain under the tutelage of Brian Barry-Murphy until the end of the campaign, and with his side currently in the trenches of a relegation battle, many will be hoping that the prodigy can engineer Rochdale’s way to survival.
- Brennan Johnson
Following on is another individual who is rapidly gaining an extensive range of plaudits in England’s third tier.
Brennan Johnson has been a creative centrepiece for Michael Appleton’s high-flying Lincoln City side, weighing in with five goals and three assists whilst on loan from Nottingham Forest.
A versatile forward boasting a skill set beyond his years, Johnson has been utilised in a multitude of positions across the attack this season.
However, Johnson’s most shining exhibitions of his prodigious prowess have occured whilst deployed on the left side of a front three, with six of his eight goal involvements coming in this role.
In particular though, Johnson’s firm area of speciality comes with his knack of drawing fouls, which has been produced to devastating effect.
Possessing quick feet, an agile edge and the ability to operate and manoeuvre in tight spaces, these qualities have transpired to fruition as Johnson has won an impressive six penalties for the Imps.
And following a series of spellbinding performances at the start of his spell at the LNER Stadium, the Nottingham native was honoured for his efforts with a first call-up for the Welsh National team, for whom he obtains eligibility via his mother’s side of the family.
The 19-year old starlet would go on to make his senior debut at the Liberty Stadium against USA back in November, appearing as a second-half substitute in a 0-0 draw.
Should Johnson continue to flourish in Lincolnshire, a reserved seat on the plane for EURO 2020 is a thoroughly realistic vision.
- Alex Mighten
Whereas Brennan Johnson is thriving away from the City Ground, Nottingham Forest winger Alex Mighten is currently developing an ambience of elation within the East Midlands.
Since joining the Forest youth set up aged nine, Mighten has enraptured club academy coaches with his captivating talent and ring of potential.
Now, the 18-year old’s plentitude of craft and flair is on show for Championship audiences to observe with an overriding consumption of awe.
Mighten has two goals and an assist to his name this season and it is worth noting that he has only featured in the starting lineup seven times. Coupled with this, the physical, testing essence of second-tier football never provides an unchallenging venture for young talent, making his inception all the more remarkable.
Marrying an aura of footballing architecture with a skilful, flamboyant willingness to drive forward in possession, the sky really is the limit for the England youth International.
- Tyrhys Dolan
After being released by Preston North End last Summer, Tyrhys Dolan has made Lilywhites ponder ‘what could have been’ now that he is impressing with cross-Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers.
And regular opportunities have come at a premium, too. Though it must be said, whenever Dolan has been appointed in the starting XI, the crafty young operator has truly advertised his aptitude.
Combining a dynamic presence with a creative enterprise, the former Manchester City academy player has found the back of the net three times and has provided a further two goals despite only registering five starts.
Encouragingly for all involved, the exciting winger is still nineteen years of age and, with time, is widely tipped to mold into a key component at Ewood Park.
- Nathan Collins
It is an unlikely, if exiguous sight to see a central defender bursting onto the scene in their teens.
But Stoke City’s Nathan Collins certainly betrays the narrative.
Born in the Irish town of Leixlip, Collins was snapped up by the Potters aged fifteen and has since sculpted into a chief figure in the heart of their backline.
In spite of his youth, Collins already towers over his peers with an imposing 6’4 frame and uses this to frequently overcome opponents in physical battles, as well as offering a goal threat at the other end of the field.
At just nineteen, a glittering career beckons for the defensive colossus.
- Lee Buchanan
Derby County’s Lee Buchanan is the latest embodiment of an extremely fruitful youth system at the club.
At the tender age of nineteen, Buchanan has flawlessly transitioned to Championship football this season, establishing himself as a virtual ever-present in Wayne Rooney’s resurgent Derby side.
Equipped with attacking endeavour, defensive solidity and a contesting aura in aerial duels, Buchanan perfectly fits the bill of a modern-day fullback.
Occasionally, the Derby academy product has played slightly higher as a wing-back, but for the large majority of the campaign, the left-back role has assumed his ownership.
And as Buchanan continues to gain valuable experience, further improvement is imminent by all accounts. With twenty six appearances under his belt this season, a promising career undoubtedly lies ahead.
- James Garner
The second Trentside-based inclusion here, midfield maestro James Garner is embracing a bulk of success since moving to Nottingham Forest on loan in January.
Before making the move to Nottinghamshire, Garner had spent time at Watford in the first half of the 2020/21 campaign. Disappointingly though, the youngster proved to be an inconsistent feature during his short spell at Vicarage Road, failing to nail down a starting spot.
As of present, Garner is showcasing what he can produce when licensed a regular starting berth, and why he is held in such high regard back at Manchester United.
For a nineteen year old, Garner’s vast skill set is genuinely sensational.
Last season’s recipient of the Red Devils’ U23 Player of the Year, Garner has displayed an appreciable eye for a pass and can already marshal the tempo of the game.
Typically, Garner tends to sit deep as a midfield pivot but frequently drives forward and progresses possession to create chances further upfield.
Additionally, Garner is not the sole beneficiary from the switch. Since his arrival, Chris Hughton’s side have only tasted defeat once, that being a narrow 1-0 loss away to Swansea City.
And as a result of his riveting displays, a passionate cult following has been attached to the prospect, with Forest supporters regularly waxing lyrical over their new signing.
- Joao Pedro
In contrast to a pick of some of the names emblazoned throughout this list, Watford’s Joao Pedro was not an unknown quantity before the beginning of the season.
Amongst Brazil’s most highly-sought after prodigies prior to his journey across the Atlantic, Pedro had previously been courted by the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool- an assuring indicator of how gifted the former Fluminese man is.
Similarly to Richarlison who was also snapped up from the Rio De Janeiro-based outfit, the Hornets are widely tipped to make a sizable profit on Pedro before long.
That would come as little surprise to those who have watched the nineteen year old bedazzle Championship defences all year long, weaponizing his buoyant Brazilian flair to sensational extent.
At the time of writing, the ingenious forward tops the goalscoring charts at Vicarage Road with nine strikes, and his form from now until the end of the campaign will be crucial if the Hertfordshire side are to return to the Premier League.
- Michael Olise
An enthralling, enchanting individual with a touch of class to his game, some of England’s leading sides have been put on red alert following Michael Olise’s mesmerising displays for Reading.
More often than not, the Royals have appeared a far more fluid, effective unit when Olise is gracing the field.
At nineteen, the versatile attacker sits at the summit for assists, big chances created and key passes per match amongst his colleagues at the Madejski Stadium, which serves as a strong illumination of the importance that Olise holds.
Olise also possesses the serviceable gift of versatility. Over the season, Olise has found success deployed both as a winger and playing in the number 10 role.
Unsurprisingly, recent reports have cited the likes of Leeds, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham as potential destinations, providing Reading with a gargantuan mission to keep the English playmaker in Berkshire beyond the Summer.
- Harvey Elliott
The youngest name on this list, I believe that inventive maverick Harvey Elliott is also the most gifted.
Blackburn Rovers have gained lengthening praise for their exploits in the final third, and the seventeen year old sensation has been paramount to that.
Weighing in with a league-high nine assists paired with five strikes of his own from the right wing, very few Championship players have been able to emulate or eclipse Elliott’s stunning displays.
And undeniably, the English attacker still has a broad learning curve ahead of him, but the early signs evoke a rightful degree of excitement.
For me, Elliott has done more than enough to warrant the opportunity of strutting his stuff at the highest level next season.
Should the Liverpool loanee continue to blossom, it only seems a matter of time before the Anfield crowd are gripped by his valiant virtuosity.
Would you add any others to this list? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image credit nottingham forest