Featured image courtesy of Chris J Dixon and available for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
For some time now, the EFL has been the breeding ground for future top-level prospects. The likes of Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli, Riyad Mahrez and Harry Maguire all learned their trade outside the top flight, braving through away trips on cold Tuesday nights to the likes of Carlisle United and Plymouth Argyle whilst others enjoyed their cosy Premier League academy lifestyles.
The rough, tough style of lower league football has often been credited as character-building for such players; it is also the regular senior football at such a young age that gives players the advantage over their top-flight counterparts.
Though this list does not contain all of them, we are beginning to see some shining talents emerge outside of the first division with the likes of Leeds, Brentford and Fulham all benefitting from the success of their younger players last season. Let’s have a look at some of the future stars currently playing their trade outside of the Premier League to keep an eye on in the coming campaign.
Bryan Mbuemo – Brentford
Perhaps the most obvious on this list with the Frenchman forming part of Brentford’s lethal ‘BMW’ front three that tallied 57 league goals between them last time out, Bryan Mbuemo could play an integral role for the West London side with his striking counterparts likely to depart for Premier League football this summer after Brentford’s play-off heartbreak.
25-goal Ollie Watkins and ‘could nutmeg a mermaid’ Saïd Benrahma have both been linked with moves to Premier League; as a result, it may well be that Thomas Frank has to rely on Mbuemo for both creating and scoring in the final third. Though even at just 21-years-old, nobody would question his ability to become Brentford’s main man in lieu of his departed teammates. An energetic, exciting forward capable of scoring all types of goals in all sorts of situations, he can no doubt be the man to turn to in West London for goals having netted 15 this season.
And it’s not just goals that he can offer – the former Troyes man tallied 8 assists last season and would be a compliment to whomever the Bees bring in as replacements. He will certainly be one to watch in the Championship this season as the West London outfit look to build on last season’s success in their new ground.
Peter Kioso – Luton Town
Joining from Hartlepool United in January under previous manager Graeme Jones, Luton Town defender Peter Kioso will be on the search for more opportunities in Nathan Jones’ side over the coming season as the Hatters look to once again retain their place in the second tier.
The 22-year-old, born in Dublin, started his senior career after his release from MK Dons’ academy with Dunstable Town, the Bedfordshire-based club for whom Manchester United legend George Best twice made an outing under Barry Fry in the 70s. After shining for the Blues in the South Midlands league, Kioso signed for Hartlepool to make over 60 appearances in the fifth tier for the Monkey Hangers.
Impressing scouts across the EFL in his time at Victoria Park, the defender was then snapped up by Luton last January in a deal reported to be worth just over £100,000. Though he would only go on to make one appearance for the Championship side, a minute-long cameo against relegation-destined Hull City in the penultimate game of the season, Kioso remains one of the hottest prospects both for the Bedfordshire outfit, but also across English football.
Louie Sibley – Derby County
Another standout name on this list is Derby County’s 18-year-old Louie Sibley; the midfielder tallied 5 goals in 11 games last season whilst also providing 2 assists.
Sibley, who will turn 19 on the opening weekend of the season, cemented his place in Philip Cocu’s side immediately after the Championship recommenced and started all but one of Derby’s final 10 games – including a stunning hat-trick performance against promotion-hopefuls Millwall at the Den. His long-range effort against Blackburn at Pride Park also went on to win the club’s Goal of the Season award.
Though his professional experience is somewhat limited compared to some of the other names on this list, the faith shown in him by Cocu – who made over 200 appearances for Barcelona in his playing career – demonstrates the ability that he possesses. It will remain to be seen whether the Birmingham-born Ram can carry on his end of season form into the new campaign – but if he does, he will certainly be ‘one to watch’.
Luke Woolfenden – Ipswich Town
21-year-old Ipswich Town centre-half Luke Woolfenden also makes the list after an impressive full debut season at Portman Road.
After successful loan spells at Bromley and Swindon Town, the latter of which seeing him net twice in the league and register as many assists, the academy graduate earned a spot under Paul Lambert last campaign, allowing him to start all but four league matches.
Woolfenden’s confidence is what makes him so special to Ipswich; not just capable of keeping things tidy at the back, he also has the tenacity to drive forward with the ball and create opportunities for his teammates. In every sense he defines the term ‘modern centre-half’.
Flynn Downes – Ipswich Town
Another Tractor Boy making the list is Flynn Downes, and it’s not just his catchy chant to the tune of ‘House Every Weekend’ that has made him a hit at Portman Road this season.
The midfielder made 29 appearances for Lambert’s side prior to lockdown, scoring twice and assisting once in the process, and has rightfully earned himself plaudits – but he did pick up a worrying 10 yellow cards in the process. A skilful and physical player capable of bullying those far superior his age, the Brentwood-born has made himself known as a midfield enforcer in Suffolk.
Though consequent to his success, Downes has attracted interest from a host of Premier League clubs over the past year since his arrival on the scene at Portman Road; both West Ham and Crystal Palace have recently been noted with interest in the 21-year-old, but Town are said to be holding out for a £4million fee. Were he to remain at Portman Road, the midfielder would be an asset to Lambert’s side as they continue their re-build.
David Kasumu – MK Dons
After failing to build on being handed his debut under Keith Millen in 2018, David Kasumu finally broke into the MK Dons first-team squad at the beginning of last season and made an instant impact in Bletchley at the age of just 19.
Scoring his first professional goal against arch rivals AFC Wimbledon and then topping that with a strike away to Blackpool just a few weeks later, the midfielder cemented his spot in Paul Tisdale’s plans and made a name for himself as a hard-tackling, energetic midfielder – though this often led to finding himself in trouble with the man of the middle. A change in management made no difference as he quickly adapted to the more attacking, exciting brand of football under Norwich City legend Russell Martin.
The departure of Alex Gilbey, who last week joined Charlton for an undisclosed, six-figure fee, may open up more opportunities for the 20-year-old – but he will need to improve his discipline if he is to be in with a chance of becoming an MK Dons regular.
But who else should we be looking out for next season? With League One and Two teams eagerly looking to cut their wage expenditure in light of last week’s salary cap ruling, we could be seeing far more youth players given that ever-important chance. Let us know who you think should be added to the list!