On New Year’s Day 2011, The Independent published a piece entitled ‘Eleven for 2011: The young stars who will light up football this year‘.
It’s always interesting to look back and see the divergent paths of those that were once considered the best young players in the country. One or two have gone on to reach the heights expected of them, while others fell some way short of expectation – as invariably seems to be the way.
More than a decade on, we’ve decided to revisit the players they earmarked as special. Here’s what they’re doing 12 years later.
The striker was picked out during his first loan away from boyhood club Arsenal. He scored eight goals that year whilst at League One Huddersfield, who missed out on promotion via the play-offs.
He spent a further five loans away from the Gunners before joining Wolves on a permanent transfer in January 2015. Afobe subsequently scored 10 Premier League goals in 63 appearances for Bournemouth before returning to Molineux in 2018, while an Anterior cruciate ligament injury at Stoke left him sidelined for nearly a season.
Still just 29, he remains a Championship striker with Millwall.
“Caulker is currently proving himself at the heart of the Bristol City defence, where his impressive performances earned the 18-year-old the Football League young player of the month award for November ” noted the Independent in their write-up of the then-teenage centre-back.
He was on loan with the Robins at the time, while he eventually returned to parent club Spurs to make 28 appearances over the course of the 2012-13 campaign under Andre Villas-Boas. It was during that season he earned a solitary England cap.
But a nomadic and erratic few years followed, including an eyebrow-raising loan as an emergency striker at Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. He’s since spoken candidly about his alcohol and gambling addictions, and is currently plying his trade at Turkish Super Lig club Fatih Karagumruk
Chalobah was just 16 but already making waves as one to watch at Cobham a decade ago.
The midfielder was a favourite of Gareth Southgate’s at England Under-21 level, going on to make one senior appearance for the Three Lions, but he never quite made the grade at Chelsea – he remain on their books until 2017, when he joined Watford on a permanent deal after six loans away.
He went on to make 84 appearances for the Hornets, including 38 in their promotion-winning campaign back to the Premier League, and helped Fulham return to the top flight last May.
Younger brother Trevoh remains at Stamford Bridge and is perhaps unfortunate not to start more often under Graham Potter.
Manchester United academy graduate Cleverley was famously part of the side that beat Arsenal 8-2 in August 2011, but he struggled to kick on following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement a couple of years later.
After a couple of unsuccessful years at Everton, he’s since become a handy asset at Watford and will hope to guide them back to the Premier League in the early months of 2023.
Young brother of lower-midtable stalwart Craig Gardner, Gary recovered from an ACL injury suffered as a youth to catch the eye in Aston Villa’s academy at the turn of the 2010s. He made his senior debut in a loan at Coventry in November 2011 – the first of seven loans away – with 42 appearances for his boyhood club amid them.
In 2019, he made the move to local rivals Birmingham City, where his older sibling now serves as technical director.
“A striker, he won the club’s young player of the year award, the Jimmy Murphy prize, at the end of last season (2009-10),” noted the Independent.
So it was a fair shout, but they chose the wrong twin. While Michael has made close to 200 Premier League appearances and earned a dozen caps for England, Will has made his living lower down the pyramid – he’s currently at Wigan, where he’s scoring goals regularly for the first time in his career.
A familiar story: a handful of first-team appearances (eight) at the big club where he was much-hyped in their academy (Arsenal), a decent number of loans away (Scunthorpe, Watford, Norwich, West Ham) before eventually finding his level in the Championship (Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Bristol City).
In 2023 he’s found at Luton Town, making headlines by somehow evading a red card for this.
Was Henri Lansbury lucky to get away with just a yellow card for this kick against Swansea this afternoon? 🤯
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) September 18, 2021
Named the Birmingham City Academy Player of the Season in the 2007–08 season, Mutch eventually broke through during the Blues’ first season back down in the Championship, 2011-12.
He briefly looked like scaling heights as a standout player for Cardiff during their 2012-13 promotion season, and as a rare bright light with seven goals in 35 Premier League appearances during their unsuccessful fight against relegation.
But the midfielder didn’t do a great deal at Crystal Palace during his four years on their books, and subsequently seems to have spent his late 20s like a rich kid on a gap year: he went to Canada (Vancouver Whitecaps), South Korea (Gyeongnam) and Norway (Aalesund) and Australia (Western Sydney Wanderers followed by Macarthur FC).
He is currently unattached.
The Independent identified interest from Arsenal, Liverpool and Fulham midway through Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 2010-11 breakthrough season with Southampton.
The Gunners ended up winning the race for his signature, while a move to Liverpool came much later – in 2017.
Over 200 Premier League appearances and 35 England caps isn’t bad going, but curiously his 10 goals for Southampton in 2010-11 remains his career-best season tally.
He’s won the Premier League, the Champions League and three FA Cups and he’s still just 29, yet there remains a sense injuries have held him back.
A serial trophy-winner at Manchester City, Sterling was one of England’s best players at Euro 2020. But things have nose-dived somewhat since; the winger is yet to impress at Chelsea and lost his starting spot in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup side.
Still, he’s by far the best shout on this list.
Then a teenager breaking through at Crewe, it was observed that “Powell has attracted attention from all the big Premier League sides and further progress this season will mean that he is snapped up before long” – though it took until the summer of 2012 for his big move to Manchester United to eventually come about.
Powell is currently starring at Stoke City, but the Premier League looks a long way away for the former United midfielder.