The Dele Alli effect: Lower League Talent

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 30:  Moussa Dembele of Fulham makes a break during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Everton at Craven Cottage on March 30, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 30: Moussa Dembele of Fulham makes a break during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Everton at Craven Cottage on March 30, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

For the richest English clubs it is rather easy to attract quality players from abroad, as their colossal TV rights allow them to pay large salaries. With 17 teams among the world’s top 30 in terms of income (an increase from 14, as per this year’s edition of the Deloitte Money League), the Premier League is set to continue its dominance in the transfer market.

A large influx of foreign players makes it difficult for homegrown talent to find their place in the league, but it would be unfair to completely connect the obvious decline of Premier League academies to this. It is true however, that only a handful of the top flight clubs give their own junior players a proper chance. Chelsea and Man City dominate in youth football, but they rarely, if ever, include those youngsters in their first team squads.

Recent developments in English football have, however, shown that homegrown players may be just as good as those from foreign shores. Jamie Vardy, Danny Ings and even Chris Smalling made it from non-league to national team. But the two “young guns” with the biggest impact are surely Dele Alli and John Stones.

The Everton defender made it through the ranks of Barnsley FC before receiving an England U21 call. David Moyes was impressed enough to make him his last Everton signing in January 2013, and since then the young Yorkshire boy has gone from strength to strength. During the summer, Everton declined Chelsea’s 40 million offer, in what has proved to be a good decision, as Stones’ price has gone up, with many top European clubs interested in signing the Barnsley-born defender.

Dele Alli’s success was even quicker. A year ago he was signed by Spurs, after excelling at MK Dons. He was immediately loaned back to his hometown club, in order to help them get promoted to Championship football.

Alli’s introduction to Tottenham’s first team was a key ingredient in turning a Europa League side into possible title hopefuls for the first time in decades.

The success of Stones and Alli has attracted a lot of attention nationwide, so it came as no surprise that many mid-table clubs turned to the Championship and even League One for their January reinforcements. Some deals have already been concluded, others may be finalized before the transfer deadline, while many more players are set to be promoted to Premier League football at the end of the current season.

Today, we cast a glance at a group of players who spent the first half of this season outside of top level football, but whose move to the Premier League is a done deal. We kick off with the guy you surely know all about.

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JUNE 04: Jamie Vardy (L) and Charlie Austin pose during the England press session held at St Georges Park on June 4, 2015 in Burton-upon-Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND – JUNE 04: Jamie Vardy (L) and Charlie Austin pose during the England press session held at St Georges Park on June 4, 2015 in Burton-upon-Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Charlie Austin, QPR to Southampton

The fact that Charlie Austin ended up in the Championship after an outstanding previous season is shocking indeed. Out of QPR’s 42 goals in their ill-fated campaign, he scored 18 and assisted for five more, but for some reason not a single of the many Premier League clubs in need of a proven goalscorer decided to splash out on him. Austin’s contract with Rangers was out in the summer, so the West-London team decided to cash in on him while they could. Once January came most of those clubs were ready to make deal, but it was Charlie’s turn to say “No”. He finally agreed on a move to Southampton, in what is widely considered a major coup for Ronald Koeman.  Austin (26) missed a lot of games this season due to injury, but still managed to score 10 goals. He has scored in the double digits in every season since he turned 19, and has made it to more than 16 goals in his last four campaigns.

Sam Byram, Leeds to West Ham

It has been twelve years since Leeds last played in the Premier League, but their academy keeps producing talented players, like James Milner, Aaron Lennon, Fabian Delph and Jonathan Howson. Sam Byram’s introduction to senior football eclipsed even those four – he was unanimously proclaimed the Player of the Season in 2013, at still under 20 years old. He was picked for England’s U20 World Cup squad, but had to withdraw due to an injury, which hampered his progress and caused him to miss half of his team’s matches in the following season. For a short period, there was a genuine fear that Byram would never get back to his previous form, but this season, he was indeed back to his best. Quite a few Premier League clubs fought for his signature this January and even though Everton seemed to be closest to the deal, he decided to sign for West Ham. No doubt that his family influenced the decision – before they moved up North when Sam was 12, the Byrams lived in Essex and supported the Hammers. Byram started his senior career as right back, but has since proved he can be versatile, playing in midfield and on the right wing as well.

Matty Foulds, Bury to Everton

Despite missing out on Byram, the Toffees did manage to seal the deal for 17-year old Matty Foulds from Bury. For some time now, Everton have looked to the English Football League in their search for talent, as proven by their previous signing of John Stones from Barnsley. Both before and after Stones, the Goodison club pursued the same strategy, bringing in Luke Garbutt (Leeds, 2009), Brendan Galloway (MK Dons, 2014), and Mason Holgate (Barnsley, 2015) to the Premier League. Both Holgate and Foulds seem to be long-term defensive solutions for the club. Foulds’ senior career is only two games long so far, having played for Bury against Leicester and Accrington Stanley.

Benik Afobe, Wolves to Bournemouth

Part of the January signing spree aimed at keeping AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League, Afobe has already managed to score for his new club. That is also exactly what the young player did at Wolves previously, and what attracted so many clubs to him. Born in East London, Benik joined Arsenal’s Academy when he was six, and his free scoring got him a place in the talented team that brought England their first U17 European title. Arsenal’s long-standing problems with promoting attacking players led to him leaving for MK Dons in 2014, but he hit form so fast, that Wolves signed him within five months. In each of the last three half-seasons Afobe managed to score at least 11 goals, giving Cherries’ fans high hopes, even though his nine million fee did raised some eyebrows.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Demarai Gray of Birmingham City is tackled by Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Birmingham City and Leicester City at St Andrews (stadium) on August 1, 2015 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – AUGUST 01: Demarai Gray of Birmingham City is tackled by Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Birmingham City and Leicester City at St Andrews (stadium) on August 1, 2015 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Demarai Gray, Birmingham to Leicester

Honestly speaking, we were quite shocked to see Demarai play for his hometown club this long. This wonderfully talented winger played his first senior matches at the age of 17. By the time he was 18, the whole country knew who Gray was, as his skills were often shown on TV and his demolition of Reading in December 2014 received a lot of attention. Since then it was only a question of time when Gray would get the opportunity to play at the highest level. Last year Demarai signed new contract that included a 3.7 million release clause, and incredibly low figure for a boy with over 80 senior games at the age of 19 and twelve youth caps. His move to Leicester may be a perfect one as well, since he will stay in the Midlands to play under no pressure whatsoever, for a club that has already achieved its preseason target.

James Tarkowski, Brentford

The young Mancunian was the headlines for the wrong reasons last Friday, as he refused to play for his team at Burnley. It was a highly symbolic decision, as Brentford recently refused Burnley’s approach for him (six months ago they didn’t want to sell him to Fulham either). Back in January 2014, Brentford used their well-known knowledge of advanced stats to sign the then 21-year old center back from lower mid-table League One club Oldham. It proved to be a brilliant move, as his market value rose ten-fold within two years. At the moment, Tarkowski is rated at number six in the Championship (and the youngest in the Top 30 as well), according to whoscored.com, and has attracted interest from West Brom. If not this January, he is expected to be competing in the Premier League within 18 months.

Andre Gray, Burnley

Guess what – Andre moved from Brentford to Burnley in August (just before the two teams met; which can’t be a coincidence, as Burnley is also after Brentofrd winger and league’s highest rated player Alan Judge). Unlike Tarkowski, he didn’t refuse to play during his protracted transfer saga (which included three other Championship sides and West Ham), but he did ask not to be included in the team, as he felt distracted. In the end, the Clarets paid 10 million for him (both clubs’ record), but passing on a player who scored 16 goals in his first Football League season (his previous teams were Hinckley and Luton in the Conference) was not an option. And did they get it right – Gray has already scored 16 goals this season (two for Brentford, 14 for Burnley), even though we are only half-way through it. The fact that Gray is the third Burnley striker mentioned here (Austin, Ings) must surely mean something.

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:   Jordan Rhodes (R) of Blackburn Rovers shoots past Thomas Heaton, Goalkeeper of Burnley for the opening goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Burnley at Ewood Park on March 9, 2014 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
BLACKBURN, ENGLAND – MARCH 09: Jordan Rhodes (R) of Blackburn Rovers shoots past Thomas Heaton, Goalkeeper of Burnley for the opening goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Burnley at Ewood Park on March 9, 2014 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Jordan Rhodes, Blackburn

We now make a short trip to Ewood Park to spare a word or two for the guy who, for the first time in years, looks set to miss out on the Top scorer race. Jordan Rhodes has been extremely prolific ever since his loan to Brentford seven years ago. His scoring stats for the last six full seasons (three apiece at Huddersfield and Blackburn) read as follows: 23, 22, 40, 30, 25, 21. The fact that he’ll be 26 in February just serves to show there’s more than enough potential in him for a Premier League club to take the risk. After all, when he moved to the Championship from League One there were claims he wouldn’t be able to continue his goalscoring feats, but his ratio only fell from 0.63 to 0.56 goals per game. He had injury problems this autumn (for the first time ever – he missed only two games in the previous three seasons), hence only eight goals so far this term, but his ratio is currently at 0.67. Even if he drops to 0.40 per game, surely a top flight club wouldn’t say no to a striker with a 15-goal tally.

Emyr Huws, Huddersfield

Now up the hill to Rhodes’ former team. A couple of seasons ago, Huws was touted as Wales’ next big thing, and even compared to Sergio Busquets. At age 20, he debuted for the Welsh senior side and soon after got his shot at Man City, playing in a Cup game. Llanelli-born Huws started early with Swansea, but he moved to Man City when he was 15 and enjoyed great success with their academy. At the time he was mentored by both Patrick Vieira at the club and Michael Owen, whose agency takes care of the youngster. In the summer of 2014, he moved to Wigan in order to get more playing time and “help them win promotion back to the Premier League”. It turned out Huws would spend half a season away from the pitch due to an injury, whilst the Latics’ season ended in shocking relegation. Emyr decided not to join them at the third level, and moved to Huddersfield. This autumn, he played some good football, with five goals and three assists from central midfield, plus slotted in his first goal for Wales against the Netherlands. At the moment, his priorities seem to be staying in the Championship and getting his name on the Welsh squad list for EURO 2016, but we should expect to see him at the top level sooner rather than later.

Moussa Dembele, Fulham

We’ll end this list with the guy whose name sounds familiar, as does his career history. Three and a half years ago, a midfielder called Mousa Dembele moved from Fulham to Tottenham. These days a teenage winger named Moussa Dembele (notice the extra “s”) is also getting ready for a big move from Fulham, probably to Tottenham as well. The previous Dembele arrived in England as an established player and Belgian international. The latter came through the ranks of PSG before Fulham snapped him up when he was 16. He was given his Premier League debut when he was 17, but has really stepped up over the past eight months. First he was a France top-scorer at the U19 EURO, where the team were beaten by Spain in the semis. Since the start of this season, he’s been the key player for Fulham, scoring 11 goals in all competitions. Now Dembele is at a crossroads – his contract is out this summer, which means Fulham can sell him now, or he can leave for a small compensation at the end of the season (Monaco and Wolfsburg have already seized the opportunity to contact him six months before his contract expires). Many European teams are interested in signing him now, including Man Utd and Juventus, but Spurs seem to be in pole position. Last January, they signed Alli from MK Dons only to send him back on loan immediately. This time around, that is probably not an option, as Dembele stated he would rather see his contract out and then negotiate with clubs, then be sold and then loaned back for the rest of the season (it makes sense as players without contracts usually get larger salaries than those who come with transfer fees). Either way, Dembele’s immense talents will be on show at the top level very soon. 

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