The FA Youth Cup has long been recognised as a potential platform for stars of the future, offering top-level juniors a rare chance to compete for silverware.
Whilst Premier League academies and Football League centre’s of excellence are more interested in performance at an early age, the opportunity to test the stars of the future in such a prestigious tournament is one that teams rarely overlook.
It’s Chelsea who took the honour this season, beating Blackburn 4-1 on aggregate last night despite losing to a solitary goal at Ewood Park.
The Blues’ U18 side is full of potential first-teamers, and in honour of their achievement, GMF decided to pick the five best players to make their mark in the competition at an early age…
Ryan Giggs/David Beckham/Nicky Butt – Manchester United (1992)
Having already broken into the first team, opponents were already well aware of an 18-year-old Welsh winger’s talents as the Red Devils overcame Sunderland, Walsall, Manchester City, Tranmere and Tottenham en-route to the final.
Giggs was actually omitted from the first leg of the final against Crystal Palace, but goals from Butt (2) and Beckham gave the Old Trafford outfit a 3-1 advantage on their travels.
The second-leg, staged a month later, finished 3-2 in United’s favour, with Giggs the instrumental figure on this occasion as Sir Alex Ferguson’s crop of future stars sent the Eagles packing.
Michael Owen – Liverpool (1996)
Liverpool have only won the FA Youth Cup three times in their illustrious history, and the first of those victories came back in ’96 when a young Owen inspired the Reds to victory against West Ham United.
After beating Bradford, Luton, Sheffield United, Manchester United and Crystal Palace on the way to the final, the Merseyside outfit took their first steps to the trophy by winning 2-0 at Upton Park in the first leg.
A team that included Jamie Carragher took the field at Anfield in the second leg, but it was Owen who stole the show – and opened the scoring – in-front of over 20,000 fans as Liverpool secured a 5-1 aggregate victory. Frank Lampard was the Hammers’ scorer.
Joe Cole/Michael Carrick – West Ham United (1999)
‘The Golden Generation’ at Upton Park, a team full of future stars smashed Coventry City 9-0 on aggregate to bring the trophy to East London.
Joe Cole was the inspiration, creating chance-after-chance at the heart of a midfield alongside Michael Carrick, winning the first leg at Highfield Road 3-0 before doubling that scoreline in the second 90 minutes.
A young Chris Kirkland had no answer for the Sky Blues, as they joined Stockport County, Walsall, York City, Arsenal and Everton on the scrapheap.
Wayne Rooney – Everton (2002)
Considering the Toffees didn’t actually win the trophy in 2002, it’s potentially a surprise to think that Rooney makes the list.
However, the England striker was showing his staggering potential throughout the competition, scoring eight goals in eight games, including one in the final against Aston Villa as Everton went down 4-2 on aggregate.
His ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’ t-shirt became legendary on Merseyside after scoring in-front of live TV cameras in the first leg of the final at Goodison Park, but a man-of-the-match performance at Villa Park wasn’t enough to land the trophy.
Jack Wilshere – Arsenal (2009)
The England international stole the show during the first leg of the final against Liverpool, scoring from the penalty spot and creating two other goals in the 4-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium.
Over 33,000 people were in attendance to witness the stars of the future in north London, but it was Wilshere who shined brightest, showing glimpses of his potential ability for club-and-country in the future.
The second-leg went the way of the Gunners also, winning 2-1 at Anfield and 6-2 on aggregate, with Wilshere once again the main protagonist on the night as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas lifted the trophy.