Each Premier League Club's Greatest Academy Player (Beckham, Gerrard, Rooney & More!)

Published on 26 July 2023 at 13:00

In the FFP and state-backed era of the Premier League, having a rich, talented academy system is still a truly incredible asset to Premier League teams. We’ve seen some legendary academy groups in the last few decades, from Manchester United’s famous ‘Class of ‘92’ to the immense talent emerging from Southampton in the 2000s, here’s our pick of each current Premier League side’s most famous academy alumni. 


AFC Bournemouth: Danny Ings

Released by boyhood club Southampton at the age of 10, Danny Ings’ tenure within the Bournemouth academy saw him eventually make the senior squad as they fought for promotion up the football league. 


A truly underrated talent in seemingly every division he’s played within, his form and potential at Bournemouth saw even the likes of Newcastle and Liverpool scout him, before Eddie Howe and Burnley eventually secured Ings’ services in a big transfer coup. 


Arsenal: Tony Adams

A man who has represented the North London side like no one could even come close to, Tony Adams isn’t just the biggest academy graduate for Arsenal, but maybe to come out of London period. 


Debuting against Sunderland at just 17-years-old, he would evolve into the most proficient, formidable English defender of his generation, helping the Gunners to win league titles in three different decades. 


Aston Villa : Jack Grealish

Even when he joined the academy at just six years old, it wouldn’t be a surprise if many of the Aston Villa hierarchy knew they had something special on their hands with Jack Grealish. 


As technically gifted as they come, Grealish would help carry Villa back to the Premier League, before his eventual transfer to Man City saw him net the club a cool £100m for his services: even in departing the club, he continues to serve Aston Villa to this day. 


Brentford: Kevin O’Connor

As versatile on the pitch as he was committed to the club, Kevin O’Connor is an immensely heralded figure in Brentford folklore. 


Joining their academy in 1995, O’Connor would go on to make 462 appearances for the Bees, including over 200 appearances as their captain, and now serves as the assistant coach for the first team, having seen the club rise to great new heights in the past few seasons. 


Brighton: Lewis Dunk

Initially joining the South Coast set up for their under-12s, Lewis Dunk has gone to become a modern hero for Brighton in their continued ascension up the football league table. 


Imperious in the air and within the heart of the defence, Dunk became captain of the side in the 2019-20 season, and has since helped the club compete in Europe for the first time in their history.

Burnley: Jay Rodriguez

A cult hero at Turf Moor, and a remarkably consistent player across the Championship and Premier League despite a career plagued by injuries, there’s no surprise Jay Rodriguez finds himself on this list.


The only youth player kept on by then-manager Steve Cotterill, Rodriguez has repaid the club’s faith in him with 52 goals in 229 starts, and has helped the Clarets be promoted to the Premier League twice across his two stints with the club. 


Chelsea: John Terry

Like how the aforementioned Tony Adams can be considered ‘Mr Arsenal’, there’s no denying that John Terry embodies everything that is Chelsea Football Club.


Joining the Blues at 14-years-old, Terry would soon embark on a 19 year journey with Chelsea that would see him captain the side to Premier League and European glory, establishing him as perhaps the greatest player in the club’s history. 


Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha

Having only recently departed for Galatasary, Wilfried Zaha stands as easily the greatest Crystal Palace of this generation, and rivals the likes of Ian Wright for their greatest of all time. 


Across two stints with the club, he helped the Eagles win promotion back to the Premiership (where they remain to this day), and has been a near-constant bright spark in an otherwise rugged underdog side dependent on his skill and technique. 


Everton: Wayne Rooney

There’s your ordinary player breaking onto the scene, then there’s Wayne Rooney. 


Whilst he did serve two spells with the Toffees (and scored some wonderful goals in the process), Everton’s greatest export deserves that moniker alone for his performance against Arsenal: the then 16-year-old Rooney’s winner made him not only the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history, but also ended Arsenal’s 30 match unbeaten run and catapulted the future England legend into superstardom. 

Fulham: Chris Smalling

Listed by the London club as an academy graduate, Smalling made his Premier League debut for Fulham against Everton in the 2008/09 season. 


From then on, Smalling evolved into a dependable defender wherever he went, anchoring the defence in Fulham’s miraculous Europa League run, selected by the likes of Van Gaal and Mourinho and Man Utd, and winning the Man of the Match award in Roma’s UEFA Conference League final against Feyenoord. Smalling by name, Smaldini by nature. 


Liverpool: Steven Gerrard

Signing for the Reds professionally at 17-years-old, Gerrard’s rise into the club’s greatest ever player is truly remarkable. 


Made captain in 2003, Gerrard’s list of iconic moments reads list a wikipedia entry of modern football’s greatest feats: spearheading the comeback in Istanbul, defying West Ham in the FA Cup final, THAT win over Real Madrid, Gerrard is a player the likes of which Liverpool may never reproduce from their academy. 


Luton Town: James Justin

Tipped to be a future star on both the domestic and international stages, James Justin became a fixture for Luton at just 18-years-old, scooping numerous individual accolades in over a century of appearances for the club. 


Helping transform the team’s fortunes, Justin adapted from a versatile midfielder into a frighteningly quick and composed full back, and will likely be in the England conversation for the rest of his career.


Manchester City: Phil Foden

Whilst Kieran Trippier also found his first footing in the beautiful game as a part of Man City’s academy, no player epitomises its modern transformation into a hub of aspiring prodigal talent than Phil Foden. 


Stockport-raised and moulded by the Guardiola style of play, Foden has become a key part of this new era at Manchester City, with many hyping Foden to be the club’s leading figure for at least another decade, etching his name alongside the likes of Vincent Kompany and David Silva as a modern club legend. 


Manchester United: David Beckham

Though you could make an argument for any member of the Class of 1992 to be the choice here, David Beckham is the man who became a true global superstar both during and after his spell at Manchester United. 


From the inch-perfect set pieces to the dazzling ability during play, Beckham was an unparalleled wonderkid in the Premier League at the time, and many find it a travesty that he didn’t win the Ballon D’or during his time with the Red Devils.


Newcastle: Paul Gascoigne

With the club’s greatest ever player in Alan Shearer instead being a part of Southampton’s academy, the man who many believe is the most talented Englishman to lace a pair of boots instead takes the nod here. 


Debuting for his boyhood club in 1985, Gascoigne’s talent and prowess was visible from day one and for all to see. Though he’s better remembered for his exploits elsewhere and for the national team, Gazza still remains ‘one of their own’ in the North East. 


Nottingham Forest: Wes Morgan

Far from their heydays under Brian Clough, much of Forest’s academy has gone on to enjoy success within the Midlands, but perhaps none as much as Wes Morgan has achieved. 


A former Premier League and FA Cup winner with Leicester, Morgan’s leadership capabilities (and trophy cabinet) have gone nearly unmatched in the modern era of Premier League captains. A cult icon of the beautiful game, here’s hoping Nottingham Forest continue to produce such talent following their recent return to the top flight. 


Sheffield United: Kyle Walker

The best full back of his generation and in strong contention for the best full back ever produced in the Premier League era, Kyle Walker was a Sheffield starlet first before he made the eventual move South to Tottenham Hotspur.


Heralded as one for the future, Walker’s career would soon explode at Manchester City, becoming a key member of Pep Guardiola’s team, where he has seemingly capped off his City career in the greatest way possible as a move to Bayern Munich surely awaits…


Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane

Love him or hate him, Harry Kane is the perfect modern striker when it comes to his talent. 


Signing scholarship terms at 16-years-old, Kane’s evolution as both a player and leader is like nothing ever seen in a Spurs player: both his club’s and country’s record goalscorer, if he manages to break Alan Shearer’s goalscoring record in the foreseeable future, then there’s no doubt of his status as one of the truly legendary academy graduates delivering for the club.


West Ham United: Frank Lampard

Joining the youth team in 1994 in the footsteps of his childhood hero Frank McAvennie, Lampard is just another name who was earmarked for success from the very beginning.


Credited with ever-improving his form and that of those around him at West Ham, Lampard would make his mark on English football forever in the heart of Chelsea’s team for much of the subsequent decade.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: Robbie Keane

Had it not been for the financial troubles that plagued Wolves at the time, there’s a good chance that Robbie Keane could have cemented his place as a legend at Molineux. 


His country’s top scorer and a dangerously prolific player wherever he went, Robbie Keane eventually secured a record fee for a teenager in the First Division. 


Add comment


There are no comments yet.