Best young Championship prospects
As we look back on another enthralling Championship season, it’s been a campaign in which English football’s second tier has seen a number of talented youngsters come through and catch the eye over the course of the campaign. With chances for young British talent still hard to come by in the Premier League, the Championship is often the initial proving ground for some of the best youngsters in the country, and this year has been no different. The problem for those teams in England’s second tier is when it comes to the summer and the Premier League clubs come sniffing around. There have been some real stand-out performances from young players this season that will not have gone unnoticed by the bigger clubs.
So which of the Championship’s best youngsters could be on the radar of a number of Premier League clubs this summer?
Benik Afobe (Wolves)
This might not have been a hugely successful season for Arsenal, although Arsene Wenger’s men are now as short as 1/2 with 32Red Canada and 2/7 with Betfair to win the FA Cup, but Benik Afobe knew he wasn’t going to be able to ever make an impact at the Emirates. After six loan spells lower down the leagues, including a prolific 22 games with MK Dons during the first half of the season, Afobe finally took the decision to leave Arsenal permanently in January, making the move to Wolves.
Since his arrival at Molineux, the striker has been one of the most consistent goalscorers in the Championship, scoring 13 goals in 21 appearances to end the season with 32 goals to his name in all competitions. While Wolves might be a decent bet for promotion with the likes of 32Red next season, that could change if their main striker leaves the club this summer. A number of Premier League sides were interested in Afobe in January and his goalscoring exploits this season could have convinced some of those clubs to come calling again over the next few months.
Lewis Dunk (Brighton)
One of the rare highlights for Brighton in what has been a dismal season for the south coast club has been the form of young centre-back Lewis Dunk. The 23-year-old found opportunities hard to come by at the AMEX last season, spending a month on loan in League One with Bristol City, but Dunk has been a virtual ever-present this year. Firstly under Sami Hyypia and latterly Chris Hughton, Dunk started 38 Championship games this year. He racked up a string of impressive performances and established himself as one of the league’s most consistent defenders. At 6’ 4’’, Dunk rarely loses an aerial battle and brings a real threat at the other end of the field in terms of set-pieces, scoring seven goals in all competitions this year. Despite finishing way down the table in 20th, Brighton only conceded 54 goals all season. Dunk’s presence in the middle of the defence was a huge factor behind their impressive defensive record. After winning the battle against relegation this season, Brighton will now be looking to fight off the threat of Premier League interest in their in-demand centre-back.
Lewis Cook (Leeds)
One of the real surprise packages this season in the Championship has been the remarkable maturity shown by those young players at Leeds United. While the club has been in disarray off the field, the form of the club’s youngsters ensured Leeds didn’t end up being dragged into the relegation battle. The youngest member of the latest crop to come through the ranks at Elland Road has been midfielder Lewis Cook, and the 18-year-old has wasted little time in earning some admiring glances from the Premier League. The England Under-19 international made 37 appearances in his debut season in the Leeds’ senior team, earning himself a new contract at the end of the season. But Leeds fans know better than to trust their club to hang onto their best talent just because they’ve signed a new deal, and those beleaguered supporters will be desperately hoping that things have changed and Cook is still a Leeds player come the start of next season.
Tyrone Mings (Ipswich)
Tyrone Mings has long been on the radar of a host of Premier League clubs, most notably Arsenal, and Ipswich’s failure to achieve promotion this season could end up hastening the left-back departure from Portman Road. Mings, who replaced Aaron Cresswell in the side following the full-back’s move to West Ham, was one of Ipswich’s best players this year, proving he is capable of playing in a number of defensive positions. While it’s been at left-back where Mings has played much of his football since breaking into the Ipswich side under Mick McCarthy, the 6’ 5’’ defender is more than at home in the middle of defence. It’s that versatility that makes the 22-year-old such an exciting prospect for Premier League sides. Released by Southampton as a teenager, Mings now finds himself being linked with moves to some of English football’s biggest clubs, and the Tractor Boys could be set to lose another of their best young players.