Thirty minutes into this past Sunday’s Community Shield match between new-look Manchester United and reigning Premier League champs Leicester City, Foxes defender Danny Simpson tried to clear the ball, and it only made it as far as the center circle. Jesse Lingard — Manchester United academy product Jesse Lingard — gathered it up just inside Leicester’s half and, six seconds and as many Leicester defenders later, put United up 1–0.
And then he Hit Dem Folks. Because we don’t dab no more.
While this was the second goal in two appearances for the United winger at Wembley (the first of which was a bee sting into the top corner to win the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace last season — damn), his career, on a whole, has been frustratingly uneven. Incisive runs are often punctuated by one too many feints or a wayward cross that needs explaining.
Lingard needs to figure out those extra steps and go-nowhere passes now. If a footballer’s appreciable peak is somewhere in his mid-to-late 20s (Zlatan Ibrahimovic excepted; he seems to be aging like wine), Lingard, who turns 24 in December, is aging out of the cruelly, unfairly small window of “young and full of promise.” And with Manchester United’s recent signing of Armenian spark plug Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund, it’s hard to imagine Lingard holding on to the starting job past the first couple of fixtures. The game is the game.
While big-name signings will always get the headlines and soak up the majority of the preseason speculation, there’ll be plenty of young players looking to break into regular first-team soccer. Following these kids is entertaining. If you get in on a player early, you get that warm, fuzzy sense of false ownership over his success. Like you liked Lingard before liking Lingard was cool (I did). So it raises the question: Who are the promising young players of this upcoming Premier League season?
Leroy Sané, Manchester City
City recently ditched their buy-now-win-now mentality and started chasing younger transfer targets, which is especially horrifying now that they’ve finally appointed Pep Guardiola, Molder Of Young Minds, as gaffer. Sané, a 20-year-old who City signed for around €50 million at the beginning of August, is the most exciting of these young players. Sané came into his own with German club Schalke 04 last season, scoring three match-winners with his first three Bundesliga goals. If he can adjust to the English game, which is a big “if,” the German winger will be able to contribute a lot, reasonably quickly.
He’s at his best cutting in from the right onto his favored left foot, and it’s unclear whether he even knows how to spell fear, let alone feel it. Case in point: Sané snatching the soul out of Luka Modric in a Champions League fixture two seasons ago.
Sané’s first touch occasionally fails him. But it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine Pep being able to iron that out, and fashion him into one of the greatest wingers ever.
Reece Oxford, West Ham
Reece Oxford made his first-team debut for West Ham against Arsenal early last season, played against the Best Attacking Midfielder In The Premier League Mesut Özil and neatly put him in his back pocket. This was especially fun and hilarious — in the cosmic sense — because two years before, Oxford was on Twitter pleading for Arsenal to bring Özil to the Emirates. He was 14 at the time.
Yeah. Reece Oxford put the clamps on Mesut Özil at the ripe old age of 16. And while plenty was made of Oxford’s debut, only two starts followed, both of which ended with him being subbed off at the half. He finished the season with nine appearances in total, which is nothing to sneeze at for a person who can’t even legally buy distilled alcohol in England. But Oxford will hope to turn those nine appearances into a more prominent first-team role this season. It remains to be seen if Slaven Bilic will feature the teenager more this year, but if not, there’s a host of other teams who’d love to have a center back already on the cusp of Figuring It Out at such a tender age.
Oxford is a hybrid player who’s comfortable sitting in the hole, being an enforcer at the center of the park. Likely suitors are Manchester United and Tottenham, who actually had him in their academy, but let him leave, back in 2011.
Nathaniel Chalobah, Chelsea
Chalobah’s just returned from one of his six — six — loan spells away from Stamford Bridge, the most of recent of which was a stint with Napoli in Serie A. He did some pretty cool stuff there.
Since Chelsea recalled the 21-year-old midfielder from Italy, he’s been doing some pretty cool stuff this preseason, too.
Though nominally better than a lot of midfielders are at this age, Chalobah repeatedly finds himself surplus to the manager’s requirements (whoever that Chelsea manager is, at any given moment). Nonetheless, he’s shown he can fill the holding midfielder role, and has the requisite boldness and skill to crack a game open with that dazzling solo effort. He could make a real push for first-team Chelsea appearances, if new manager Antonio Conte decides the England U-21 international is worth gambling on.
Josh Onomah, Tottenham
The 19-year-old — also an academy product — appeared for Tottenham in 19 games last season, seven of which were Europa League matches. And while Onomah did a fine job when called upon by manager Mauricio Pochettino, he didn’t do a particularly memorable one.
Onomah’s playmaking ability is promising and he could be really good in a few years, but there’s a glut of midfielders at White Hart Lane (Nacer Chadli, Érik Lamela, Dele “THE GAWD” Alli, who’s just a year Onomah’s senior) who are really good, right now. But with midweek Champions League fixtures to worry about, Onomah could find his way onto the team sheet for some domestic games, and he’ll look to make the most of whatever few chances he’s given early on.
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Thanks to Anthony Martial’s tweaked hamstring, serendipity, and Wayne Rooney having already been sidelined for some time with a knee injury, Louis van Gaal had no choice but to put Rashford in the spotlight last season. And he basically did that slide-to-headstand thing that Columbus Short did in “Stomp the Yard,” and everybody was like WOOOOOOOAHHHHHH I’VE NEVER SEEN THAT BEFORE THIS DANCE BATTLE’S DEFINITELY OVER THOUGH THAT ROUTINE WASN’T DISCERNIBLY BETTER THAN THE ONE THAT CAME BEFORE IT.
With Ibrahimovic getting his fuck you season in at Old Trafford this year, there are some doubts about the 18-year-old’s place in Jose Mourinho’s side. Only the Special One knows, but at the very least, Ibrahimovic and Rashford seem to be getting along.