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Monday, August 13, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: August 11, 8:53 PM UK
Premier promise

Mark Lomas

Career progression in the Premier League can be difficult for young players, with the high stakes of the modern game often preventing clubs from throwing their teenage talents in at the top-flight deep end. However, there were plenty of examples in 2011-12 of precocious youngsters rewarding their managers' faith, including Danny Welbeck at Manchester United, James McClean at Sunderland and Premier League Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker, who had only ever started two league games for Tottenham prior to last season. Here, ESPN selects five players who could make waves in 2012-13.

Nick Powell (18, Manchester United)

On May 27, Powell was thumping home Crewe Alexandra's opening goal at Wembley as they secured promotion to League One. On August 15, there is a very real chance that he will be making his Premier League debut for Manchester United. Since making a 3 million switch to Old Trafford, which saw him unveiled at the same time as marquee signing Shinji Kagawa, Powell has taken the bull by the horns. His impressive displays on the club's pre-season tour of South Africa and China have left many tipping him for more first-team action than had initially been predicted, akin to Phil Jones in 2011-12. A technically proficient attacking midfielder with an eye for a goal - he netted 16 for Crewe last season - Powell may need to bulk up a little before he can assert himself on the bustling midfields of the Premier League, but Sir Alex Ferguson is convinced of his abilities, describing the teenager as "clever with his play" and "not just a twinkle toes". If Ferguson is looking to build a team of ball players in a bid to emulate Barcelona, the addition of Powell to the likes of Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Kagawa could prove a very astute move. What's been said: "He's a fine prospect. He has an unpredictable style and can play off the cuff. He can pull things out the hat that you don't expect... he has a great first touch and he's not afraid. He seems a confident lad and he's integrated straight into the squad. He walked in with his shoulders back as if he's meant to be here, and that's a great start to his career here." Rio Ferdinand is impressed with his new team-mate.

Oscar (20, Chelsea)

While Eden Hazard was Chelsea's most expensive summer acquisition, Oscar may well prove to be the club's best bit of business. A roving attacking midfielder who can play centrally or out wide, the Brazil international - who has often been compared to Kaka - arrived at Stamford Bridge after starring at the London Olympics, where he was the tournament's outstanding player. A product of Sao Paulo's academy, Oscar made his breakthrough in the club's first team at the age of 17 before moving to Internacional after a legal wrangle over unpaid wages. A virtuoso display in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup final - he scored a hat-trick as Brazil beat Portugal 3-2 - saw him explode onto the radar of Europe's top clubs, and it was Chelsea who beat off the opposition to secure his services. As an indication of how influential Roberto Di Matteo believes he can be, Oscar has been handed the No. 11 shirt previously worn by Blues idol Didier Drogba. What's been said: "He is a fantastic player, one of the youngest to push through to the Brazilian national team, and he will be a fantastic signing for us. Oscar is a very exciting young talent, a creative midfield player who scores goals. He will add a lot of options and solutions for us in midfield.'' Di Matteo on his Brazilian recruit.

Raheem Sterling (17, Liverpool)

Liverpool supporters were entertained for ten years by a fearless winger with Jamaican roots who had arrived at the club from London (well, Watford); Raheem Sterling has much in common with John Barnes and the Kop faithful believe that they have a player capable of enthralling them for a decade as Barnes once did. Reds scouts persuaded the club to cough up 600,000 to bring a 15-year-old Sterling to Anfield from QPR in 2010, and the Rs could cash in to the tune of 5 million if he fulfils his early promise. In the mould of Barnes and Steve McManaman, the Kingston-born attacker is a natural born dribbler - the sort of risk-taker able to captivate a crowd but who, at his young age, is also likely to frustrate. Sterling is the third-youngest player to have ever played for Liverpool, with former boss Kenny Dalglish recognising his creative impact in the Reds' 2011-12 NextGen campaign and subsequently handing him a debut against Wigan earlier this year. Some electric performances in pre-season have led to questions about whether his ascent to regular first-team football may be forthcoming, but manager Brendan Rodgers has suggested a loan could be more likely. Whether at Anfield or elsewhere, though, Sterling has the pace and skill to make an impact in the coming season. What's been said: "He has certainly impressed me. He's quick, he's skilful and he has definitely got goals in him. He's going to be a special player for Liverpool and I think he could really make an impression this season. He's a good kid who wants to work hard. Raheem has got that mentality where I don't think anything will faze him. He's competitive and he's a strong boy." Joe Cole praises a player with whom he is likely to compete for a place in the Liverpool team.

Steven Caulker (20, Tottenham Hotspur)

Having seen Kyle Walker return to White Hart Lane after a season-long loan spell and make a significant impact as a first-team regular, centre-back Caulker will be aiming to emulate his team-mate in 2012-13. Walker developed into a consistent Premier League defender while at Aston Villa and Caulker progressed at a similarly impressive rate during his time at Swansea last season, helping the Welsh side keep clean sheets against the likes of Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Darren Bent as he played 26 league games. The Spurs academy graduate, who cemented an excellent year by playing in all four of Great Britain's matches at the London Olympics and signing a new four-year contract with Spurs, has comfortably stepped up a division in each of his past three seasons, having played for League One Yeovil and then Bristol City in the Championship. Now the imposing defender - strong in the air and with the ball at his feet - will be battling Michael Dawson, Jan Verthongen and Younes Kaboul for a place in Andre Villas-Boas' starting line-up. What's been said: "Steven has had a fantastic season... He has made a massive jump in his career and the more he can play the better he will become. He will become a great asset for Tottenham I am sure." Caulker's manager at Swansea last season, Brendan Rodgers, sings his praises.

Mehdi Abeid (19, Newcastle United)

Joining Newcastle's francophone revolution when arriving from Lens last summer, Abeid struggled to force his way into Alan Pardew's plans in 2011-12 with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Cheik Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa all ahead of him in the pecking order. However, he has impressed in pre-season outings - netting his first goal for the club against Fenerbache and scoring a stunning effort against Gateshead - and Pardew has hinted he could feature more in the coming season. Having done much work to improve physically over the past 12 months, Abeid, an attacking midfielder who can also play as a second striker, can expect to be given opportunities in the Europa League along with fellow youngsters James Tavernier and Sammy Ameobi. But should Abeid's cultured right foot be given a platform, the France Under-18 and Algeria Under-23 international is likely to find more first-team chances, particularly with Tiote heading off on African Nations Cup duty in January. What's been said: "We are delighted to bring Mehdi to the club. He is a bright young talent and we think he has an exciting future ahead of him. After an impressive trial with us earlier in the year, I am looking forward to working with Mehdi and developing his talent." Newcastle legend and reserve team coach Peter Beardsley welcomes Abeid to the club with open arms. • Follow Mark Lomas on Twitter: marklomasESPN


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