As we move towards the World Cup in Brazil next year, a lot of things have been said about the state of the English game and whether we have enough youngsters coming through to replace the current crop of veterans. Once the World Cup finishes, players such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole will likely hang up their international boots to let the current batch of youngsters fight for their places to be ready for Euro 2016.
It has been reported that there are fewer English players playing in the Premier League today than ever before. In fact, English footballers account for just 32.26% of all minutes played in the Premier League and it is the lowest home-grown ratio across all major European leagues according to Opta statisticians. However, the issue is not just the quantity, but also the quality, as even when the ratio was a lot higher we still failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
Former England captain Alan Shearer said: "These are tough times for English football at the moment. Everyone is aware that English football is not as healthy as it should be and I'm afraid it is all going to take time." So what is being done to rectify the situation?
"The Premier League is one season into the implementation of its £340M Elite Player Performance Plan, the number one stated aim of which is to develop more and better home-grown players," a Premier League spokesman said.
"Significant progress has already been made with club academies independently audited, coaching hours and provision increased, and new competitions established."
One club that surely provides the blueprint for the development of home-grown players is Southampton Football Club. Many youngsters have burst onto the scene from the conveyor belt of their academy such as Matthew Le Tissier, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and of course the world's most expensive player, Gareth Bale.
This year, Southampton are playing with six Englishmen in their team and sit proudly in fifth position in the Premier League. On the opening day of the season against West Bromwich Albion, they became the first team to field three English U18 players when Callum Chambers joined Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse on the pitch. Together with Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne, they have six players who could all be England regulars come Euro 2018. It doesn't stop there for Southampton, though, as their Under 18's are performing well and many other players are likely to be given a chance in the years to come.
So, who are the youngsters that are coming through the academies or players that have already started to make an impact in the Premier League?
Starting with the goalkeeper's jersey we already have Joe Hart (26) who, as long as he can regain his top form, should be England's number one shot stopper for years to come, but Jack Butland (20) can provide able cover. In defence we have the Manchester United pairing of Phil Jones (21) and Chris Smalling (23), Tottenham's Kyle Walker (23) and the Southampton pair of Luke Shaw (18) and Nathaniel Clyne (22).
In midfield we already have Arsenal's Jack Wilshere (21) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (20), Everton's Ross Barkley, who has already made his full England debut at the tender age of 19, and also 22 year old Andros Townsend of Tottenham who grabbed his England chance with both hands by excelling against Montenegro and Poland. Ravel Morrison (19) is finally fulfilling his potential at West Ham and let's not forget Theo Walcott who is still only 24. It is obvious that we have plenty of talent in this area.
Finally, it is in the attacking position where we look thin on the ground at present. We currently have Daniel Sturridge (24) and Danny Welbeck (22) who both lead the line for England going into next year's World Cup. Wilfried Zaha, Harry Kane and Saido Berahino, all 20 years old, are performing for England U21's.
In conclusion, the immediate future looks bright with plenty of English talent available in the Premier League, and measures have been put in place to continue producing the next generation of England players. Over the next couple of years we can expect to see many more young English players make it through their respective academies and into the Premier League.
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