Which Championship youngsters could Premier League clubs take a punt on?
Patrick Roberts’ Manchester City switch has caused quite the kerfuffle, prompting questions about whether the move will stall the 18-year-old starlet’s career.
Yet as the famous Sir Matt Busby adage goes, “if they are good enough, they are old enough”, and Roberts now has the chance to prove himself with a Premier League giant.
With that in mind, Coral writers consider which other talented young-guns from the Championship could be plucked for their clubs for a shot in the top tier. Read on to find out the five we reckon could do a job beyond their years…
Will Hughes (Midfielder, Derby County)
It seems as though England Under-21 regular Hughes has been threatening to burst on to the Premier League scene for an age, though his continued quiet development at Derby should be commended.
At 20-years-old, though, and with over 130 first-team appearances under his belt, composed conductor Hughes could do well to take stock of his options, especially following the Rams’ failed promotion push.
Slight but no push-over, intelligent orchestrator Hughes’ rarefied skillset needs to be nurtured by a patient club. Far from ready for the top four, the Englishman could find a fitting home with Roberto Martinez at Everton (11/4 with Coral for a top six finish), or a stable midtable club such as Crystal Palace or Stoke City, who both concentrate on possession play.
So far loyal to boyhood club Leeds (10/1 for promotion), who also boast the likes of sought-after midfield duo Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt, Byram is still the most likely to leave and fetch a high price for the fallen Yorkshire giants.
Able to play anywhere down the right flank, consistent Byram should be aiming to impress at a lower-half club like Aston Villa or Leicester City, as England’s full back berths look far from nailed on in the immediate future.
Josh Vela (Midfielder, Bolton Wanderers)
Bolton’s boy wonder firmly established himself at the heart of Neil Lennon’s squad last season, making 29 Championship outings. A reliable performer already at 21, Vela could make a solid top tier player, but may benefit from tutoring at the highest level.
Lennon said of the Salford-born starlet: “Vela caught my eye more or less straight away. What I liked about Josh was that athletically he is very good – he can get around the pitch. He is composed on the ball and didn’t look out of place.”
Somewhat a Jack-of-all-trades at the moment, having being deployed in the right and centre of defence, as well as in midfield and on the flanks, Vela must cement a regular spot, though his all-action displays have apparently already caught Liverpool’s attention.
The Reds roster is a little too ambitious at the moment, but Vela could hone his potential in the bottom half with Sunderland, who require depth in multiple roles.
Benik Afobe (Forward, Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Afobe was unlucky to exit the UEFA Under-21 Championship with England’s Young Lions after being drafted in as a last minute recruit, yet his outings for Wolves following a winter window move from Arsenal linger impressively in the memory.
While the versatile 22-year-old has not long been strutting his stuff at the Molineux, 13 strikes plus five assists demands attention and will not have gone unnoticed. There looks to be a Premier League striker merry-go-round in the offing, and perhaps the left out party will take a punt on Afobe. Bournemouth, Villa or West Bromwich Albion could be a snug fit.
Demarai Gray (Winger, Birmingham City)
No Championship list based on potential could miss out highly-rated Gray, who was previously targeted by Bournemouth. The Birmingham Blues were unwilling to sell then and, having tied the talent to a new contract, would likely be tough negotiators.
However, much like with Roberts, the 19-year old may be worth forking out for now before his stock rises further. Should the Cherries have dropped their interest, perhaps West Ham United under Slaven Bilic may take the plunge and thrill fans by developing an exciting youngster.
Gray’s teammate David Davis said of the starlet: “He could end up this season as one of the best players in the Championship. I can’t see why not.
“In training at the minute I wouldn’t like to play against him – let’s put it like that,” added the midfielder.