The future is bright.

An outrageously talented XI of England prospects aged 21 or under

Gareth Southgate is blessed with some truly world-class players. England are currently ranked as the second favourites behind France to win the European Championships in Germany this summer.

There’s talk of this being a new ‘golden generation’, but up-and-coming talent continues to emerge – suggesting that the Three Lions should be there or thereabouts on the international stage for many more years to come.

The likes of Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka are still young and may yet have their best years ahead of them, but there are also several outrageously gifted prospects coming through that are even younger.

We’ve compiled a full team of future stars aged 21 or under. Could England be set for world domination with this lot?

GK: James Trafford

Exceptional between the sticks in England’s UEFA Euro Under-21 Championship triumph last summer, Trafford was talked up as a future No.1 – prompting Burnley to spend £15million on his signature.

He instantly usurped fellow Manchester City academy graduate Arijanet Muric, who shone in their promotion last term.

Trafford, 21, has endured a difficult debut season in the Premier League and recently found himself benched by Vincent Kompany.

But this steep learning curve will be immensely valuable for the youngster, who still has the potential to develop into a top-quality ‘keeper.

Southgate thinks so, having called up Trafford for this first time despite his recent struggles between the sticks.

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RB: Samuel Iling-Junior

Strictly speaking,  Iling-Junior isn’t really a right-back: he’s more of a winger who’s been deployed as a wing-back in his fringe role at Juventus this season.

But that versatility is good enough for us, and we had to fit the 20-year-old in somewhere.

“I don’t think there is a ceiling to his potential,” youth coach Saul Isaksson-Hurst told The Guardian.

“I was hoping he might have been given more chances this season but he has become a first-team regular at Juve and is there or thereabouts.

“Any young player wants to be playing as much as possible but I don’t think he will be too disappointed with how it has gone. He loves the club and the city and is happy there.

“But the transfer window is open and you never know what could happen because everything can change with one phone call.”

Tottenham have been strongly linked. Watch this space.

CB: Levi Colwill

Chelsea have balanced the books by selling off a number of their prized academy assets in recent years, while Conor Gallagher continues to be rumoured to make a money-spinning move away.

But Colwill is one Cobham starlet that the club appear adamant about building their future around, having turned down big bids from Brighton after his successful loan there last season.

The 21-year-old has been a regular for Mauricio Pochettino’s Blues this season and his form was rewarded with a senior Three Lions debut back in October.

CB: Jarrad Branthwaite

Manchester City, Manchester United and even Real Madrid are said to be keeping tabs on Everton’s latest star in the making. He’s been the Toffees’ best player this season and appears destined to follow John Stones’ path to a Champions League club.

He’s just received his first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad and is in line to make his debut against Belgium. It could well be the first cap of many.

LB: Rico Lewis

The Manchester City starlet has played more on the right and in midfield than he has at left-back – but that’s the role that Southgate used him on his England debut, while Pep Guardiola has given Lewis the nod there in games against Tottenham, Brighton and Burnley.

Lewis, still just 19, hasn’t had as many starts this season as he might have hoped. And it’ll be interesting to see what position he nails down in the long term.

But for now his versatility and technical ability make him a valuable asset for his club and country.

CM: Kobbie Mainoo

The clamour for Mainoo to feature for England has been wholly understandable, such has been his remarkable rise since making his Premier League debut for Manchester United less than six months ago.

“He’s a fantastic player,” says Gary Neville.

“To come into Manchester United’s team at any time is really difficult and he’s come in at one of the most difficult times in the club’s recent history and he’s just stood out as someone whose temperament and composure is off the scale.”

“It looks like he’s got the world at his feet for the next 10 years.”

He’s not the only high-profile pundit that’s been bowled over by Mainoo.

CM: Archie Gray

Gray only turned 18 earlier this month. But he’s been a near ever-present in Leeds’ promotion push this season, albeit mostly slotting in at right-back.

But he got an opportunity to show what he can do in midfield, where his future lies, away to Chelsea in the FA Cup – and stole the show with a man-of-the-match display at Stamford Bridge.

We thought we might’ve got a bit carried away by declaring him the future of England’s midfield, but he’s since been fast-tracked to the Under-21s and namechecked by Gareth Southgate as one he’s keeping an eye on for the senior set-up. Believe the hype.

READ: Leeds United’s Archie Gray might actually be the future of England’s midfield

CM: Jude Bellingham

Bellingham plays and carries himself with the air of a 34-year-old veteran. He’s already one of the best players in the world and the fact that he’s still only 20 freaks our nut.

FWR: Cole Palmer

Always talked up as one to watch for the future while on the fringes of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City squad, this season has been the first in which Palmer has enjoyed regular opportunities – and he’s evidently relishing it.

Chelsea might be enduring another miserable mid-table campaign, while their youth-focused recruitment strategy has raised considerable questions, but that underperformance only makes Palmer’s performances all the more impressive.

By any measure, the 21-year-old has been one of the finest young players in European football this season.

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READ: The 10 Under-21 players with the most goals & assists in Europe in 2023-24

ST: Morgan Rogers

Rogers isn’t an out-and-out No.9, and can play in a variety of roles across the forward line, but he was utilised at centre-forward in Middlesbrough’s League Cup semi-final with Chelsea – and caught the eye with a wonderful goal in the Smoggies’ 6-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

A week later, Villa completed a £15million deal to sign the 21-year-old. He’s yet to open his account for Unai Emery’s side, having only made a handful of cameo appearances.

But we expect to see the England Under-21 international continue to develop his game in the coming months and years.

FWL: Jamie Bynoe-Gittens

Tipped to follow in Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham’s footsteps, as a promising young Englishman at Borussia Dortmund, Bynoe-Gittens is yet to go stratospheric just yet.

But he’s shown a few glimpses of his quality and has inevitably been linked with several Premier League clubs, including Arsenal.

You only need to look at his San Siro goal, in Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 victory over AC Milan earlier this season, to see why Europe’s elite are keeping tabs.

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