Aston Villa are champions of the 2020-21 FA Youth Cup, and their best and brightest youngsters can take inspiration from previous winners going all the way to the very top.
Those to have made a name for themselves in the prestigious Under-18 competition include World Cup and Champions League winners and some truly world-class talent.
Here’s one player from each of the 10 winners in the 2010s that have made it in the senior game.
2010: Jeffrey Bruma – Chelsea
Chelsea’s first FA Youth Cup victory since 1961 began an era of domination in the competition, in which they made it to nine of 11 finals, winning seven.
Back in the era of two-legged finals, they drew 1-1 away to Aston Villa before coming from behind to win 2-1 at home in the second leg.
More than a few members of that young Blues side went on to make a living around Europe, the Football League and non-league, but not many made it to an elite level. At the time, 17-year-old Josh McEachran was the most hyped. He made 22 appearances for Chelsea’s first team but never quite reached the heights expected and is now turning out for MK Dons in League One.
Eleven years on, the pick of the bunch is probably Bruma. The centre-back has been capped 25 times by the Netherlands and won two Eredivisie titles with PSV. He’s currently at Wolfsburg but has struggled to find game time in recent seasons.
2011: Paul Pogba – Man Utd
Cast your mind back 10 years ago, and there were two youngsters from Manchester United’s 2011 Youth Cup-winning side that were on equal footing in terms of their reputation as the next big thing.
Speak to anyone involved behind-the-scenes at United at the time, and they’ll tell you Ravel Morrison was one of the most astonishingly talented young footballers they’ve ever seen. But he never managed to realise that potential.
The same can’t be said for Paul Pogba. His return to Old Trafford might not have yielded the silverware he envisaged, but he shone for Juventus in four successive title wins, resulting in him becoming the Premier League’s all-time most expensive signing when he rejoined in 2016.
He’s also the only one on the list to have won the World Cup.
2012: Nathan Ake – Chelsea
Chelsea thrashed Blackburn Rovers 4-0 in the first leg of the 2012 final before the sheen was taken off a little with a 1-0 defeat at Ewood Park.
Of that side, Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah, John Swift and Lucas Piazon have all gone on to forge careers for themselves, albeit not quite at the highest level some might have expected.
Ake was 17 at the time and went on to make 17 appearances for Chelsea, but he ended up on the loan carousel and it was only at Bournemouth where he found himself with regular Premier League opportunities. Following the Cherries’ relegation in 2020, Manchester City signed the Dutch defender for a reported £41million.
2013: Josh & Jacob Murphy – Norwich
The Canaries shocked Chelsea in the 2013 final, becoming the only side to break the Blues’ seven-year domination of the competition.
Chelsea still boasted Ake, Baker, John Swift and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but they were beaten home and away by Norwich, who won 1-0 at Carrow Road and 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. Few of those players quite made it – the majority are playing non-league – while striker Carlton Morris has finally just left, joining Championship side Barnsley.
In both legs, Morris was flanked by the Murphy twins, who were hugely hyped at the time. Neither quite reached the European level some tipped them to, but they’ve forged decent careers in the top two tiers.
Josh has made 97 appearances for Cardiff since he joined in 2018, while Jacob has worked his way back into the fold at Newcastle United after a couple of loans away.
2014: Andreas Christensen – Chelsea
Christensen featured in the heart of defence in both legs as Chelsea conceded six goals to West London rivals Fulham in the 2014 final but still won via a bonkers 7-6 triumph on aggregate (3-2 away, 5-3 at home).
Of that crop, Ola Aina, Izzy Brown, Jay Dasilva, Dominic Solanke, Jake Clarke-Salter and Loftus-Cheek have all enjoyed various levels of success, but none can hold a candle to Christensen.
The Denmark international has looked like Ricardo Carvalho reborn under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their 2021 Champions League final victory over Manchester City. He followed that up with one of the most joyous goals you’ll see all year in front of Denmark’s fans at Euro 2020.
🇩🇰 Scintillating first-time effort from distance by Andreas Christensen!
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) June 21, 2021
2015: Tammy Abraham – Chelsea
Abraham may have fallen out of favour under Tuchel amid question marks over his future at Stamford Bridge, but few can accuse the forward of not fulfilling his potential after scoring three of Chelsea’s five goals in the 2015 final against Manchester City (5-3 on aggregate).
Having filled his boots during Championship loans to Bristol City and Aston Villa, he was finally given a proper chance at his parent following Frank Lampard’s appointment and the transfer embargo back in 2019.
He finished as Chelsea’s top scorer in 2019-20 and looks destined for a strong career wherever he ends up.
Honourable mention to Fikayo Tomori, too.
2016: Mason Mount – Chelsea
2017: Callum Hudson-Odoi – Chelsea
Hudson-Odoi featured alongside Mount in behind striker Ike Ugbo in the 2017 final against a Manchester City side that boasted Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden.
Ugbo and Foden were on the scoresheet in a 1-1 first-leg draw in Manchester before Jody Morris’ Blues thrashed City 5-1 in the second leg. Hudson-Odoi scored the third of five goals that day and has since made the seamless step-up to the first team, attracting interest from Bayern Munich in the process.
The winger is yet to stake his place as a regular starter, but there’s plenty of time yet. He’s still just 20.
2018: Reece James – Chelsea
James featured alongside Marc Guehi and Trevoh Cholabah in a back three in the 2017 triumph and continued his development under Morris the following year along with Hudson-Odoi, who notched twice in the final.
He continued at centre-back, in a back four and then a back three, as Chelsea made it five-in-a-row in style, thrashing Arsenal 7-1 on aggregate.
Billy Gilmour and George McEachran also featured on that occasion, but it’s hard to look beyond James – arguably England’s best right-back where there’s an abundance, and flawless in a Champions League final victory.
2019: Neco Williams – Liverpool
Wales defender Williams featured for Liverpool as they beat Manchester City on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the first one-legged final. It’s the first time the club won the trophy since 2007, when Jay Spearing was probably the best of the bunch.
Twenty-year-old Williams will hope to go further than Spearing, but he may need to leave Anfield to do so, having been capped more times for Wales (13) than handed Premier League appearances (12) for his boyhood club.
With it unlikely that he usurps fellow Kirkby academy graduate Alexander-Arnold anytime soon, Williams will reportedly push for a transfer this summer in a bid to find more regular opportunities. According to The Athletic, Liverpool will hold out for £10million for his signature.