As players increasingly break through and peak at a younger age, the current Young Player of the Year criteria aren’t fit for purpose.
So rather than being aged 23 or under at the start of the season – meaning a 24-year-old Bernardo Silva is eligible for the prize this year – who deserves to be on a shortlist of those who were 21 or under before August 1, 2018?
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Alexander-Arnold hasn’t been as effective this season as in the second half of 2017/18, but that was inevitable. Young players enjoy a rapid rise to the top, before high-class opponents work out their flaws and subsequently exploit them. Alexander-Arnold’s task then becomes to improve the weakest parts of his game as a countermeasure.
Still, it’s hardly been a disaster. Alexander-Arnold has played 29 matches in the Premier League and Champions League, lost only three, and is first-choice right-back for the club that sits top of the table.
If the competition for places is punishing at international level (Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier might both be ahead of him in Gareth Southgate’s new flat back four), that only keeps Alexander-Arnold motivated to improve further. At the age of 20, he is extraordinarily mature and grounded – and long may that continue.
David Brooks (Bournemouth)
Despite winning the Toulon tournament with England in 2017, Brooks declared for Wales and already has 10 senior caps at the age of 21. Ryan Giggs has picked a wonderful time to take charge: Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the superstars, but around them flitter and float a range of young attacking options that include Brooks, Harry Wilson and Daniel James, with Rabbi Matondo, Ben Woodburn and Matthew Smith following in behind.
Of that group, Brooks is the most developed. Eyebrows were raised when Bournemouth chose to spend north of £10m to sign him after only nine Championship starts for Sheffield United, but the attacking midfielder would now be worth at least three times that were Eddie Howe to sell.
Brooks’s speedy adaptation to Premier League life has stood out most. He has 10 league goals and assists, and will comfortably pass the 2,000 league minutes mark in his first top-flight season. Before 2018/19, Brooks had played fewer than 1,500 career league minutes.
James Maddison (Leicester)
One of the benefits of Brendan Rodgers being named Leicester manager is that the club’s young players will feel cherished. Claude Puel deserves credit for putting faith in youth during his time in charge, but his brand of football and stop-start tenure risked allowing them to go stale.
The same cannot be said for Rodgers. When Maddison missed out on the latest England squad because Gareth Southgate pointed out that he doesn’t use a No.10, Rodgers immediately picked Maddison on the left and watched as he produced a virtuoso performance against Burnley. These things matter.
Maddison could consider himself unfortunate not to be part of England’s latest squad. No player in Europe’s top five leagues – not Lionel Messi, not Eden Hazard – has created as many chances this season. If Maddison might need to curb his tendency to shoot from distance quite so often, you can hardly accuse him of allowing that tendency to affect his creativity.