Every season a new wave of youngsters breaks through the ranks to take centre stage on one of the biggest stages of world football, the English Premier League. The 2013/2014 season was no different in this respect, and plenty of young starlets took to the pitch in a bid to prove that they can be amongst the best in the world. I, myself, have no doubt that at least one of these will be named amongst the elite in the future and they are all destined for glory if they continue as they have been doing.
1. Luke Shaw
Southampton Football Club
Southampton Football Club have had an excellent season, after years in turmoil following their relegation from the top flight at 27 successive years and then going into administration and being relegated to the third tier of English Football. This is in no part down to the exceptional English talent they place great emphasis on in their line ups. Despite their troubles, Southampton have always had an excellent academy, breeding top class talents such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, next in line is 18 year old left back Luke Shaw. Alongside Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert, Nathaniel Clyne, and Adam Lallana, Shaw has been a key part of Southampton's excellent season under Maurio Pochettino. Since the beginning of the season heads have been turning towards the excellent young left back, and with the World Cup just around the corner the calls for him to be on the plane to Brazil come June have been increasing in volume. Despite being only 18, Luke Shaw has already made his England debut, and there is no doubt, barring any major catastrophes, that he will push Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines out of the door in the next few years and become the first choice England left back.
How long he will stay at Southampton remains to be seen. Walcott and Chamberlain were both shipped out to Arsenal for hefty transfer fees early in their careers, but that was at a time when Southampton were struggling financially. They are in a much more stable situation at the moment, but talk of a £30 million move to one of Europe's elite has been in the pipeline for months now, with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea all rumoured to be interested. If Southampton manage to keep hold of their young star, along with their other talented players, they are in for a bright future.
2. Raheem Sterling
Another team that has had an excellent season is Liverpool. With one game to go, they still have a chance of lifting the Premier League trophy for the first time in history, it would be their first top flight success in a huge 25 years, and they have already secured the best finishing position in the league since the 2008/2009 season. One major player in this race for glory has been 19 year old winger Raheem Sterling. Raheem Sterling broke into the Liverpool side in the 2012/2013 season under Brendan Rodgers and has been a key part of Liverpool's attack since then. With dazzling pace, great ball control and an awareness beyond his years, Sterling is destined for greatness. Despite his best efforts, Sterling's contribution has been slightly overshadowed by the incredible striking partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez but, make no mistake, he has been absolutely vital in Liverpool's season.
Along with a host of inexperienced players, Sterling has been tipped to make the plane to Brazil in June, with Roy Hodgson watching him closely and probably trying to decide whether it is worth the risk taking a host of youngsters to the biggest stage in football.
3. Adnan Januzaj
In stark contrast the the previous two entries, Manchester United have had a dreadful season. Finishing outside the top three for the first time in Premier League history and their worst position in the league since 1987, it has been a dismal performance. This comes after the retirement of the great Sir Alex Ferguson and the appointment and subsequent sacking of his successor, David Moyes. Should Moyes have been sacked so soon? It remains to be seen.
But there were a few rays of hope during Moyes' rein at Old Trafford, one was getting Wayne Rooney to agree to sign a new contract. Another was the emergence of a 19 year old Belgian attacking midfielder named Adnan Januzaj. Januzaj impressed in his full debut for Manchester United, starting against Sunderland and scoring twice to come from behind and secure a 2-1 win. Due to his impressive debut season, multiple European powerhouses have begun monitoring Januzaj, with rumours abound that Juventus and the ultra-rich Paris Saint German are ready to make a bid in excess of £30 million to secure the young starlet's services.
Recently, Januzaj committed his future to the Belgium international side, this was subject to speculation due to him being eligible to play for a number of countries including Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Albania, Belgium and, eventually, England.
4. Romelu Lukaku
Another one of Belgium's up and coming superstars, Romelu Lukaku is a 20 year old striker who signed for Chelsea after impressing during his debut season at Anderlecht, ending up as top scorer in the Belgian Pro-League. Since moving to Chelsea he has been unable to break into the first team squad there, and has been sent out on full season loans twice, first to West Bromwich Albion and then to Everton.
During his loan spells he has become key members of both West Brom and Everton sides, and at the age of just 20 he has two full Premier League seasons behind him, averaging just under a goal every two games. Lukaku has shown he is cut out for the physically demanding Premier League, and standing at 6"3 with a muscular build it is no surprise. Despite his tender years, Lukaku already has 27 international caps and is part of a young Belgium squad who are set to become a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Jose Mourinho has been lamenting his lack of striking options for the whole of the 2013/2014 league season and, with Lukaku continuing to impress, he is sure to feature in Mourinho's plans next season. Especially since Chelsea have lacked a world class striker since the similarly built Didier Drogba left the club.
5. Ross Barkley
Since David Moyes' departed Everton for the seemingly greener pastures of Manchester United, new manager Roberto Martinez has brought a new sense of youth and vibrancy through the ranks at Everton. Ross Barkley is one of those young starlets, breaking into the Everton side at the start of the season, he has been a key player in helping Everton secure 5th place in the Premiership, featuring in 34 league games out of a possible 37. At the age of just 20, this central attacking midfielder has already been lauded as the next Paul Gascoigne and England's answer to Michael Ballack. He has also been mentioned in the same breath as legendary midfielder Ronald Koeman.
As is the case with Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw, the support for Barkley to be in the England squad for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil has been growing all season. Already a full England international player, Barkley's performances have just continued to improve and he has shown that he can cut it in the big games as well.
It was hard to leave a lot of players out, such as the impressive Saido Berahino for West Brom and the reformed Ravel Morrison at West Ham. This being said, the future is most certainly bright for the Premier League and, looking at my top list, for England and Belgium.
Belgium have been tipped as future powerhouses for years now, ever since their young starlets started shining so brightly, with young Belgians playing for top clubs all over Europe. So it was no surprise that some Belgian players showed up in the list. What is more surprising is the future the England team. England's future has been perennially pessimistic, with the old guns of Gerrard and Lampard declining with age having never really cut it on the International level and no new wave of youngsters shining brightly.
However, this season, that long awaited new wave has emerged and crashed onto the shores of the Premiership. With the World Cup just over a month away, this will be giving Roy Hodgson that old football cliche of the best kind of headache: A selection headache. Does he stick to the old guns of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and the like, or does he bring in fresh, invigorating faces such as Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling? We shall have to wait to find out!