TH­ESE SEVEN CAN BE MAG­NIF­I­CENT

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

LET’S hear it for 2016, a year that brought us a Pre­mier League fairy­tale, a na­tional de­ba­cle (the Eu­ros, not Brexit) and a slew of stars for the fu­ture.

Who, last Christ­mas, had heard of Mar­cus Rash­ford? Who thought Burn­ley’s Michael Keane would make the Eng­land squad? And who’d have dreamt that our in­ter­na­tional hopes would hang on a 20-year-old kid nur­tured by MK Dons?

Tal­ented young­sters are ev­ery­where, just wait­ing to be un­earthed. As Jamie Vardy and Char­lie Austin prove, the EFL is full of them.

So, as we en­ter the sev­enth year of the decade, here are seven Foot­ball League star­lets set to shine in 2017.

Jack­son Irvine – Bur­ton Age: 23

BUR­TON broke their trans­fer record to snatch the Aussie mid­fielder from Ross County in the sum­mer – and what a bar­gain that £330,000 looks now.

The flaxen-haired 23-year-old has scored seven times in his 23 games this term – a third of the Brew­ers’ to­tal – and been branded “mag­nif­i­cent” by the usu­ally un­der-stated Nigel Clough.

“There’s a lot of money slosh­ing about in the Cham­pi­onship and we haven’t got much of it,” said the former Eng­land striker. “A quar­ter of mil­lion was a lot for us, but Jack­son has been su­perb.”

Like a mod­ern-day Gus Poyet, the ex-Celtic trainee is an ex­pert at ar­riv­ing late to fling him­self at crosses. Three of his goals were head­ers and the oth­ers close-range strikes.

He won’t beat a man and he’s no pass master but, when it comes to de­liv­er­ing at the busi­ness end, Irvine has ice in his veins. It would be a sur­prise to see him at Bur­ton beyond the sum­mer.

Harry Smith – Mill­wall Age: 21

THIS time last year, 6ft 5ins striker Smith was ply­ing his trade in the Ry­man League for Folkestone In­victa.

To­day, the 21-year-old is de­vel­op­ing into one of the hottest prospects in League One.

A dou­ble on his de­but in Novem­ber’s EFL Tro­phy win against Lu­ton put down a marker. A goal on his first league start swiftly fol­lowed. And, when Smith then blasted a hat-trick against Brain­tree in the FA Cup, ev­ery­body sat up and took no­tice.

“Harry has had to adapt, hav­ing never been a pro,” said Lions boss Neil Har­ris, who made Smith wait three months for his de­but.

“He has had to catch up fit­ness-wise and learn what it means to be a good pro­fes­sional foot­baller – get­ting in early and stay­ing late, do­ing the gym work as well as en­joy­ing your­self on the train­ing pitch. It takes time but he’s get­ting there.”

Six goals in eight games sug­gests he has ar­rived.

Ethan Am­padu – Ex­eter City Age: 16

IT’S easy to over-hype pre­co­cious young play­ers, es­pe­cially when they de­but at 15. The tragic story of Sonny Pike is tes­ta­ment to how quickly it can all go wrong. But this boy is the real deal. Tech­ni­cally adept, phys­i­cally im­pos­ing, ma­ture beyond his years. “I look at Ethan and he plays like he’s 35,” said Gre­cians boss Paul Tis­dale. “He’s a fab­u­lous young tal­ent.” Nom­i­nally a cen­tre-back, Am­padu can play any­where across the back four or in mid­field, where his pass­ing range and can­non­ball shots can wreak havoc. Manch­ester United, Chelsea, Liver­pool – all have in­quired, though Ar­se­nal, where his dad Kwame is an academy coach, are likely to win the race. That is likely to be sooner rather than later, so catch him while you can.

Sam Gal­lagher – Black­burn Age: 21

IN a sea­son largely bereft of hope, the goals of Southamp­ton loa­nee Gal­lagher have brought a glim­mer of light to the dark­ness en­velop­ing Ewood Park. Per­haps be­cause he has rarely scored in bursts, or be­cause Rovers are strug­gling at the ugly end of the di­vi­sion, his ef­forts have largely gone un­her­alded. But nine goals in 23 matches – only five play­ers have net­ted more – is no mean feat, es­pe­cially in a strug­gling side.

With Char­lie Austin in­jured and goals in short sup­ply on the south coast, fans are clam­our­ing for the 6ft 4ins pow­er­house to be re­called from his sea­son-long deal. That would be a dis­as­ter for Rovers and, in truth, lit­tle use to Gal­lagher. Thank­fully, it seems Saints boss Claude Puel is of the same opin­ion.

Ge­orge Cooper – Crewe Age: 20

NAMED League One ap­pren­tice of the year in 2015, leggy mid­fielder Cooper is now the master of Crewe’s mid­field.

Af­ter a strong pre­sea­son, man­ager Steve Davis chal­lenged him to add con­sis­tency to the tech­nique and ath­leti­cism that yielded a first-team de­but at 17. His re­sponse is hugely im­pres­sive.

Sev­eral man-of-the-match dis­plays have been capped by five goals in 28 games, sur­pass­ing his tally for the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons com­bined. Throw in four as­sists, in­creas­ing savvy and a com­bat­ive edge and you’ve got a player who, nur­tured cor­rectly, could fol­low in the foot­steps of Crewe alumni David Platt and Danny Mur­phy.

Liam Moore – Read­ing Age: 23

AS Le­ices­ter stormed to the Cham­pi­onship ti­tle in 2014, home-grown cen­tre-half Moore was be­ing hailed as the fu­ture of Le­ices­ter’s de­fence.

“He’s done fan­tas­ti­cally,” said coach Steve Walsh. “He reads the game very well and is quick with a good spring. He will get bet­ter on the ball as he gets more ex­pe­ri­enced and starts to come out and play. He has great pas­sion and drive. He’s a great prospect.”

Yet, at the start of this cam­paign, the 23-year-old didn’t have a squad num­ber and was train­ing with the Un­der-21s. Clau­dio Ranieri seemed un­con­vinced of his Pre­mier League class. Since Moore joined Read­ing on Au­gust 20, the Roy­als have kept seven clean sheets in 17 games. Of their five de­feats this term, two came be­fore Moore ar­rived and he watched their heav­i­est loss, a 5-0 thrash­ing at Ful­ham, from the stands while serv­ing a one-game ban.

Moore was un­lucky at Le­ices­ter. Given only 11 Pre­mier League games, he was sup­planted by Robert Huth and for­got­ten amid the eu­pho­ria of what fol­lowed. But he al­ways had the abil­ity. Now, un­der the tute­lage of a former star cen­tre-half in Jaap Stam, he’s show­ing it.

Liam Man­dev­ille - Don­caster Age: 19

AC­CUSED by gaffer Dar­ren Fer­gu­son of fail­ing to seize his chance in early Novem­ber, teenage striker Man­dev­ille has de­liv­ered the per­fect ri­poste.

A sen­sa­tional free-kick against Grimsby was the academy grad­u­ate’s sev­enth goal in his last nine games, a run that put Donny top of League Two.

Strong, un­selfish and al­ready en­trusted with penalty du­ties, it is easy to see why Novem­ber’s EFL player of the month is be­ing eyed so en­vi­ously.

Jack­son Irvine

Sam Gal­lagher

Liam Man­dev­ille

Ge­orge Cooper

Harry Smith

Ethan Am­padu

Liam Moore

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