The next Dele Alli – Profiling the brightest League One talent


The third tier of English football has gained somewhat of a reputation as a proving ground for some of the most exciting emerging talents in recent years.

With notable names such as Ademola Lookman, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Spurs main man Dele Alli all earning their stripes playing for League One clubs over the last few seasons, it comes as no surprise to see a fresh crop of talent emerging.

From a midfielder dynamo likened to a current international star, to the first player born in the 21st century to feature in the football league, let take a look at ten of the most promising players currently starring for teams in the third division of English football.

Ezri Konsa

Date of birth: 23rd October 1997 (20 years old)

Club: Charlton Athletic

Position: Defender

Rumoured interest: Liverpool, Everton

Charlton fans say: “Konsa Reads the game well and is good in the tackle”

Emerging from the impressive Charlton Athletic youth system to make his league debut in August 2016, academy graduate Konsa is one of two Charlton youngsters to make it onto this list.

Joining the club as a 12-year-old, the big centre back has gone on to make 44 league appearances for The Addicks as a virtual mainstay in their defensive line over the last couple of seasons.

Interest from Merseyside giants Liverpool and Everton come as no surprise as the England Under-20 international looks to help his side towards a promotion push.

Conor Chaplin

Date of birth: 16th February 1997 (20 years old)

Club: Portsmouth

Position: Forward

Rumoured Interest: Bournemouth

Portsmouth fans say: “A pacey, fearless player always willing to take people on”

With three seasons of Football League experience under his belt, local lad Chaplin is one of the more experienced prospects on this list despite just leaving his teenage years.

Possessing fine close control on the ball and a clear footballing intelligence beyond his years, the 20-year-old has been tearing up defences since his debut in 2014.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Chaplin hasn’t made his way up the leagues sooner – major clubs have been sniffing around since late 2015 and as the diminutive forward continually improves, it seems like only a matter of time until a Premier League big boy comes calling.

Callum Brittain

Date of birth: 12th March 1998 (19 years old)

Club: MK Dons

Position: Defender

Rumoured Interest: Tottenham, Chelsea

MK Dons fans say: “Brittain’s story can an inspiration for younger players in the MK Dons academy”

A relative unknown prior to the 2017/18 season, reported Tottenham and Chelsea target Callum Brittain has had a breakout few months at MK Dons.

A member of the star studded England Under-20’s, Brittain has Premier League players all around him on the international stage and could soon be one.

Establishing himself with a brief loan move away to Icelandic side Þróttur Reykjavík last year, 19-year-old Brittain has been an ever-present in defence since his return to England.

With a no-nonsense attitude and solid defensive capabilities, he looks destined to play at a higher level.

Joe Aribo

Date of birth: 21st July 1996 (21 years old)

Club: Charlton Athletic

Position: Midfielder

Charlton fans say: “Aribo has bags of energy – and a sweet left foot”

Following a stunning midfield display in a 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers (a match in which Aribo claimed three assists) Charlton boss Karl Robinson compared the youngster to world-class playmaker Dele Alli, a player Robinson developed at MK Dons when the England international was just 16-years-old.

With such high praise given to such a young talent, former Staines Town man Aribo has a high billing to live up to indeed.

Possessing good stamina and an admirable passing range, the London lad will look to command more of a regular starting spot this year alongside fellow hotshot Ezri Konsa.

The guidance of Karl Robinson will be key to the future of the 21-year-old.

Matt Clarke

Date of birth: 20th September 1996 (21 years old)

Club: Portsmouth

Position: Defender

Rumoured Interest: Watford, Brighton

Portsmouth fans say: “Built like a train, and so good in the air”

Clarke’s short career to date has been unconventional to say the least. Another defensive player to make the list, he began his career at Ipswich as a highly rated young player.

A loan spell at Portsmouth subsequently materialised into a permanent deal with the club and at just 21, Clarke has gone on to make 78 league appearances for Pompey proving to be a key component in a team that conceded just 40 goals en route to winning the 2016/17 League 2 title.

At six foot two, the central defender is a powerhouse at the back and has admirable experience and composure for his age.

Ryan Ledson

Date of birth: 19th August 1997 (20 years old)

Club: Oxford United

Position: Midfielder

Rumoured Interest: West Ham

Oxford fans say: “Ledson shows composure and enthusiasm in the middle of the park”

Much like Matt Clarke, Ledson learnt his trade at a club higher up in the footballing pyramid and in fact was highly thought of at Everton, so much so that it came as a bit of a shock when the midfielder swapped the Blue of Everton for the bright yellow of Oxford United.

Clearly in search of regular first team football, it has proven a mutually beneficial move for both club and player as Ledson has proven to be a crucial cog in an impressive Oxford side that play some excellent football.

Ledson could draw comparisons to current Stoke and Wales midfielder Joe Allen with his ability to effortlessly dictate tempo when needed.

Callum Styles

Date of birth: 28th March 2000 (17 years old)

Club: Bury

Position: Midfielder

Rumoured Interest: Everton

Bury fans say: “Callum has not stopped improving, a future star in the making”

Upon making his football league debut in May of 2016, Callum Styles achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the first player born in the 21st Century to make a senior appearance in the English professional game.

It’s no coincidence that Styles was selected in the first place – the central midfielder oozes class on the ball and as the youngest player on our list, his talent more than measures up with those around him.

A steady intake of Bury youngsters made their way into the first team towards the end of last season and 17-year-old Styles is the pick of the bunch.

With Everton’s recent acquisitions from League One clubs (Ademola Lookman and Dom Calvert-Lewin to name a couple) the Merseyside club seem the most credible of the interested sides.

Tsun Dai

Date of birth: 24th July 1999 (18 years old)

Club: Bury

Position: Midfielder

Bury fans say: “Comfortable with the ball and a good reader of the game”

Dai Wai-Tsun (Known simply as Tsun Dai to Bury supporters) burst onto the scene in mid 2017 and the versatile defensive midfielder has received much acclaim from supporters both in England and his native Hong Kong.

Living and playing in his homeland up until 2012, 18-year-old Dai is a product of the Reading youth academy and swapped allegiances for Bury just this year.

Highly rated by the club, the youngster is one of a number of promising youth products to be fast tracked into the first team picture by former manager Lee Clark.

One of only two Hong Kong born players to appear in the English Football League, Dai is a permanent fixture in the sports section of the South China Post and his stardom is sure to rise.

Leo Da Silva Lopes

Date of birth: 30th November 1998 (19 years old)

Club: Peterborough United

Position: Midfielder

Rumoured Interest: Arsenal

Peterborough fans say: “A young player with promise and natural pace”

Similarly to Bury prospect Tsun Dai, Leo Lopes was not born in the UK but instead made his way to Peterborough United via Lisbon, Portugal.

Don’t be deceived by his heritage, young Lopes is a versatile player able to cope well with the physical side of the English game despite his small frame

Able to play in a multitude of positions, the youngster is perhaps at his best playing a wide midfield role which allows him to utilize good close control and agility.

Part of the first team picture at Peterborough since the age of just 16, 67 league appearances since 2014 make for impressive statistics for the Portuguese who has only just turned 19.

Brandon Thomas-Asante

Date of birth: 29th December 1998 (18 years old)

Club: MK Dons

Position: Forward

MK Dons fans say: “A great talent, it’s important for young players like him to make their mark”

Young forward and reported Crystal Palace target Brandon Thomas-Asante another MK Dons player to make the list.

Scoring his first senior goal in a recent FA Cup tie against part-timers Spennymoor Town , Thomas-Asante has pace, power and impressive flair on the ball. Although performing at his best in a central position, he is just as capable of operating just behind the striker in an attacking midfield role or on the wing, versatility sets him apart from a lot of other young attacking players in the league.

Although eligible to represent both Ghana and Jamaica at international level, he has the potential to represent England on the world stage should he continue his progression for The Dons.

The Author

Joe Moon

Writing enthusiast currently studying English at The University Of The West Of England.

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