It’s October, and things are shaping up nicely across the EFL. Some players have continued their blistering form of last year. Others have improved on their past campaign, like goal machines Dwight Gayle and Josh Morris. This was an especially good weekend, with 101 goals scored. You lucky things.
There are three players, though, who I’ve taken an interest this week, and between them they won the Championship, League 1 and League 2 Apprentice Awards at the end of last season. In light of their potential, I’ve decided to take a look at their season’s so far.
Ademola Lookman – Championship Apprentice Award 2016 (Charlton Athletic)
This young winger hit some exciting form at the end of the 2015/16 season. Largely a left winger, Lookman made his first team debut at 18 years old in November 2015. He only took another month to bag his first goal, with a brace coming less than a fortnight later as he made a great start to professional football.
His club form has even been rewarded with an opportunity on the international stage. This year he’s played 5 times for the England U19 side, starting three out of the national side’s four games at the U19 European Championships this summer. Now 19 years of age, he’s played twice for the U20s as well amongst a plethora of Premier League talent.
Across the summer his potential resulted in a handful of transfer rumours, reportedly interesting the likes of Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Liverpool. So far he’s notched 39 games already, an impressive 26 coming as starts. 8 goals from the wing for a team that, for the past two years, has rather struggled in both the Championship and, this season, in League 1 is something to be proud of as well.
One issue persists though – and perhaps suggests why he remains at Charlton.
While Addicks fans admire his talent there have been doubts about his work ethic and capacity to carry out his defensive responsibilities. My conversations with Charlton fans and research into fan forums tells me he sulks a little too much and doesn’t give his left-back enough help, leaving the left side heavily exposed.
From what I’ve seen of the lad he could be knocking on a few Premier League front doors before long, but it didn’t take long for me to come to the same conclusion about his attitude. Maybe the rumours linking him with the big clubs, or his time with Premier League players on international duty, has left him frustrated. At his age though, Lookman will learn very quickly the virtues in being more of a team player and I still tip him – as do many – to do well.
James Bree – League 1 Apprentice Award (Barnsley)
Predominantly a right-back, but capable of playing in the middle, 18 year old James Bree has established himself as a solid and regular choice at Barnsley after becoming the club’s second youngest player in May 2014. The Tykes have produced some defensive talent in the past – John Stones springs to mind, but he’s by no means alone – and they’ve unearthed another gem here.
Just one yellow card to his name in 31 starts, plus nine more substitute appearances, hint at a very controlled and adept full-back. With the Yorkshire club just four points outside the play-offs, he isn’t looking out of place in the Championship this season and, at such a young age, you couldn’t pay him much more of a complement than that. There’s no question he’s first choice for the position.
One worry is a persistent hamstring injury that seems to flare up every time he gets a good run of games going, limiting his game time this season. Manager Paul Heckington has come out and said this season that the youngster needs more protection from his club and, given his talent and potential, that’s something they’d be very wise to invest in.
Let’s hope these niggles don’t let him down. Currently fit, I’m keeping a very close eye on this excellent prospect and I hope that, in ten or twelve games time, he’s still fully fit and showing what he can do. If he can do that I can see bigger clubs coming for him before long.
Fully deserving of the 2016 League 1 apprentice award for me. One to watch.
Ben Godfrey – League Two Apprentice Award 2016 (York City)
While Lookman and Bree were relegated and promoted respectively last season, Ben Godfrey is also plying his trade in a different division. He, however, swapped League One for Championship with his transfer to Norwich City earlier this year.
His earliest footballing success came as skipper of the York and District U13s in 2011 in their English Schools FA Trophy win against Southampton. He was initially snapped up by Middlesbrough at this point, but released again soon after and, following trials with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds Utd, returned to his boyhood club York.
The commanding defensive midfielder made his first team debut at just 17 years of age against Yeovil in August 2015, making 11 more appearances that season. His only goal to date was a lovely top-corner finish against Plymouth in November 2015 in a 2-1 defeat. Despite just playing a handful of games, Norwich were convinced to snap him up in the January transfer window.
Since then, he glistened in pre-season but is yet to make a single start for The Canaries. He featured in the EFL Cup win at Everton and scored in their previous 6-1 cup win against Coventry, and seems to be someone Alex Neil rates highly. However, where James Bree is touted as needing a little more protection, Neil is guilty, in my opinion, of giving Godfrey a little too much. His capabilities are perhaps a little more deserving of a chance with the big boys.
It’s much harder to say how far this esteemed young talent can go, but his physique and mentality bely his age and these are the sort of things managers look for when they sign youngsters. Here’s hoping he gets a bit more of a run out soon.