In an ever-demanding league where results remain king, there’s still pressure on top-flight clubs to bring through their own young talent. It doesn’t always work out – sometimes youngsters have to move on to truly establish themselves in starting roles elsewhere – but the rewards are particularly fruitful when things do go to plan…
So which former prospects would current Premier League clubs now take back if they could? (For these purposes, any player training with a club by the age of 17 counts as an ex-academy option.)
Arsenal (Serge Gnabry)
The Gunners have a handful of former charges they’d happily call upon these days, but Gnabry is the standout choice.
At one point he looked on the verge of breaking into the first team on a regular basis under Arsene Wenger, but a serious knee injury kept him out for over a year. Upon his return he suffered a miserable loan spell at West Brom under Tony Pulis, and was eventually allowed to move on for good in 2016 after only 10 league appearances for Arsenal.
After fine spells at Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, Gnabry is now a regular for Bayern Munich, thriving in the Bundesliga and fast becoming a key option for Germany too.
Bournemouth (Danny Ings)
The Cherries have an ever-improving squad, but don’t have too many graduates who have gone on to better things elsewhere beyond Ings.
Injuries have taken a toll on the hard-working striker, but he remains a serviceable top-flight goalscorer and is again proving his worth this season at Southampton.
Rivals they might be, but Ings started out by coming through Bournemouth’s ranks – after being released by the Saints as a youngster – and scored eight times for them before moving on. He’d still be an asset now.
Brighton (Steve Cook)
Brighton don’t have a world-famous academy just yet. Gareth Barry would perhaps have been welcomed back in previous years, but at 37 that’s not so feasible now. Steve Cook, however, continues to prove himself as a reliable figure at the heart of Bournemouth’s defence and would certainly be a decent addition to his former club’s squad.
A starter? Perhaps not, given the importance of the Duffy-Dunk partnership, but Cook has taken a similarly long route to the top flight since leaving his first club seven years ago.
Burnley (Jay Rodriguez)
The Clarets have gradually established themselves as a Premier League side and hit their peak with last season’s seventh-place finish, but they’ve struggled in 2018/19 all over the pitch.
West Brom’s Rodriguez is a name from the past who could add a touch of class these days; he might never reach his pre-injury best, but is showing in the Championship this term that he remains a handy goalscorer and creator.
The local boy played 128 times for Burnley before departing in 2012.
Cardiff (Aaron Ramsey)
Suffice to say, Cardiff fans would welcome back their former Wales international who’s bound for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Sadly for them, Ramsey will soon be off for a new adventure at Juventus, but once upon a time he was the Bluebirds’ youngest-ever player aged 16 before joining Arsenal for £4.8m in 2008.
In the end, supporters were only treated to one season of Ramsey’s talents before his big move to north London – and how they’d love to see him back to help their survival cause.
Chelsea (Declan Rice)
West Ham fans can be forgiven for joyously proclaiming Rice as a prodigee of their own making; he has, after all, been with the Hammers since he was 14. But before that, he was Chelsea’s for much of his formative years.
Rice’s form in central midfield this season has earned him rave reviews across the board, and his intelligence, composure and style would surely interest Maurizio Sarri right now. If not him, then another top-six chief may well come calling soon enough.
Crystal Palace (Freddie Woodman)
In reality, a dearth of options for Palace in this realm. Victor Moses’ stock is at its lowest for some time, and Lewis Grabban isn’t of Premier League standard to make a major impact at Selhurst Park.
With Julian Speroni approaching the end and something of a goalkeeping crisis in south-east London, then, perhaps a nod to the future at ex-custodian Woodman might be more sensible.
The Newcastle shot-stopper – currently second in line at St James’ Park – left Palace’s youth setup in 2013 but has since developed nicely and won six caps for England’s under-21s.
Everton (Ross Barkley)
A choice of three for Everton, but narrow defeats and a relative paucity of goals suggest it should be an attack-minded player – so Ross Barkley over Shkodran Mustafi or Eric Dier (who spent time on loan at Goodison from Sporting as a 17-year-old).
Barkley only departed for Chelsea a year ago, but Everton would have kept hold of him if they could. At his best he possesses the drive, dribbling and goalscoring ability to be a serious threat in the final third.
Whether Everton, rather than Chelsea, would have helped him find that best level is up for debate. Right now, it’s hard to argue convincingly that anyone has yet.
Fulham (Moussa Dembele)
Fulham’s struggles this season clearly resonate with a newly promoted team failing to find the net as often as they need to – so imagine if they still had Dembele. Currently of Lyon after a £19.7m move from Celtic last summer, the Frenchman is enjoying a useful season with the Ligue 1 giants – so far, it’s eight goals in 22 appearances for Les Gones.
Dembele joined Fulham at 16 and played well over 50 games for the Cottagers before heading to Scotland. Now he’s a multimillion-pound forward, still only 22 and tipped for a future with the French national team.
Huddersfield Town (Josh Windass)
The Terriers don’t have too many options to choose from, meaning their standout option is a Championship-level player. Sadly for the Terriers, though, they’re likely to be a second-tier side themselves next term.
Josh Windass has come a long way since being released by Town as a youngster, progressing through non-league football and Accrington Stanley to arrive, via Rangers in Scotland, at Wigan.
An attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, he’d suit the technical needs – if not being a guarantee of the quality – that Huddersfield would require.