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Top ten young players to watch

There is rarely a more thrilling sight on a football pitch than the exuberant, fearless performance of a young genius in full flight. Pele's performances at the 1958 World Cup, Michael Owen's storming run and finish against Argentina and Wayne Rooney's beginning-of-an-era goal for Everton against Arsenal are all obvious examples. But who are the players that will demand recognition this season, the young talents destined for greatness?

For every Rooney there is a Francis Jeffers, so identifying exactly which of the hundreds of young hopefuls will make a definitive breakthrough is something of a risky enterprise. Here, Soccernet selects the ten tyros who we expect to be the leading figures of their generation.

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal): The Arsenal prodigy has been generating fevered anticipation for two years, but 2010-11 could be the season in which he makes the breakthrough. Called-up by Fabio Capello for England's friendly against Hungary, Wilshere, still just 18, has bulked up following a successful loan spell at Bolton last season and Arsene Wenger looks ready to keep him in the Arsenal fold. He is already the club's youngest ever league and European performer, now is the time to see if he can live up to those comparisons with Liam Brady, Dennis Bergkamp and Lionel Messi.

Nathan Delfouneso (Aston Villa): Like Wilshere, this 19-year-old striker already enjoys a lofty reputation and is seen as a future England international. He has been tipped to make the breakthrough for the past two summers and should improve on his one Premier League goal in 13 substitute appearances this season. Delfouneso, who has been compared to Thierry Henry, represented England Under-19s over the summer so may not start the campaign in the Villa team, but it will be a surprise if he does not end it as a prominent player for Martin O'Neill. With pace, skill and technique all in his armoury, Delfouneso is a striker of real promise.

Phil Jones (Blackburn): Attracting comparisons with John Terry may be a dubious honour at present, but for an English centre back emerging from the ranks of a Premier League club, it is high praise indeed. Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce had no hesitation in doing just that after Jones enjoyed a superb league debut against Chelsea in March. Unfazed by facing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, Jones displayed real maturity and presence and went on to make a further six starts before the end of the season. The 18-year-old has already been linked with Arsenal but signed a new contract in May.

Gael Kakuta (Chelsea): At the age of 18, Kakuta was inadvertently thrown into the public eye last season when Chelsea were famously banned from making signings for two transfer windows having been found guilty of inducing him to break his contract with Lens. The CAS later lifted the suspension, and with the controversy firmly behind him, Kakuta will be keen to make a real impression for the club that risked so much to bring him to Stamford Bridge. Injuries permitting, he has been a star for the Chelsea academy, and after his eye-catching performances for France Under-19s this summer, Kakuta surely has a chance of adding some flair to the senior midfield given Joe Cole's departure and Deco's imminent exit.

Dean Parrett (Tottenham): John Bostock was supposed to be the golden boy of Tottenham Hotspur following his high-profile arrival from Crystal Palace, but instead it is his colleague and fellow midfielder who is being tipped to make an impact this season. Parrett has spent the summer with England's Under-19 side and given Spurs will be conducting both domestic and European campaigns, expect the Hampstead-born 18-year-old to feature on Harry Redknapp's bench this season. His first-team contributions have been limited to the Europa League thus far but Parrett is blossoming into a real talent and could enjoy his breakthrough season.

Dani Pacheco (Liverpool): Reds fans were limited to frustrating glimpses of the young Spanish forward last season as he made just seven appearances as a substitute. With Rafa Benitez reluctant to blood him in the Carling Cup, Pacheco is very much an unknown prospect outside of Merseyside but at Melwood, his ability is appreciated. Operating as a second striker, and boasting excellent technique, the 19-year-old graduate of the Barcelona academy proved his talent with some superb performances for his country's Under-19 team this summer. If Roy Hodgson unleashes him this season, there could be another Spanish star in the making at Anfield.

Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool): The midfielder is another bright hope for Liverpool having joined the club from Charlton for a fee of £1.7 million in May. Shelvey, 18, scored eight goals in 49 appearances for Charlton, becoming their youngest ever player and goalscorer, and has earned England recognition at youth level. Although Liverpool possess strength in depth in midfield - with Alberto Aquilani, Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard in Hodgson's ranks - Shelvey is an important homegrown player and should be a frequent presence on the bench next season. The fact he cites Steven Gerrard as his personal inspiration will endear him to his new supporters.

Tom Cleverley (Manchester United): As the latest Fergie fledgling to attract attention, it is hoped that the 20-year-old will be in the Beckham, rather than the Chadwick mould. Cleverley came of age during a loan spell with Watford last season as he scored 11 goals for a struggling Hornets side. Further evidence of his progression came during pre-season when he scored twice for the senior side and this England Under-21 international appears ready to make his mark. Such is Cleverley's promise, Sir Alex Ferguson has seemingly decided against sending him on loan again, despite interest from Wigan and Newcastle.

Andy Carroll (Newcastle United): For the vast majority of young Geordies, emulating heroes of the past such as Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer is a dream that will never be achieved. But Andy Carroll, born in Gateshead in 1989, has done just that after being handed the club's No. 9 shirt for the start of the new season. Carroll may have a propensity for a dodgy haircut and attracting off-field controversy but he is also a real talent - either in the air or with the ball at his feet. The striker became Newcastle's youngest ever player in European competition when making his debut against Palermo in 2006 but it was last season that saw him rise to prominence, with Carroll scoring 19 goals as the Magpies won promotion. Newcastle continue to maintain a stony silence over allegations that Carroll broke Steven Taylor's jaw in a training ground incident in March, but there will be plenty written about the tall forward if he continues his development this season.

Jordan Henderson (Sunderland): The archetypal local boy made good, big things are expected of Henderson this season at Sunderland and he recently won his first call-up to the England Under-21 side. The midfielder made as many as 23 Premier League starts last season, winning the club's Young Player of the Year trophy, and has also impressed in pre-season, scoring against Hoffenheim and Leicester City. Now 20, Henderson will be looking to retain his place in the Sunderland first team and impress for Stuart Pearce's Under-21 side with his energetic displays in the centre of midfield or wide on the right. Born in the city, Henderson has been with Sunderland since the age of eight but this could be the season in which he truly comes of age.

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