10. Carla Humphrey (Arsenal Ladies/Reserves) Many may not have heard of Carla Humphrey, but trust me, you will soon enough. The Arsenal and England under-19 winger was the WSL Development League top-scorer in 2013/14 with 22 goals in 20 appearances, firing Arsenal to a league and cup double.
Humphrey is very quick, has a fantastic first touch and has a seemingly natural ability to beat goalkeepers from long range. It will be interesting to see if Arsenal allow her to take the step up to become to the first team as a more competitive and professional environment would really help her development.
9. Caroline Weir (Arsenal Ladies) Caroline Weir would feature higher on this list had she recreated the class she displayed for the reserves at first team level. Her free kick ability is sublime and she has the first touch, pace and turn required of any aspiring number 10.
The coaching staff at Arsenal have high hopes for the Scot, who has struggled to adjust to the pace of the WSL. However, it is only a matter of time before she acquires enough match-experience for it all to click in to place. The attacking midfielder is another promising Arsenal youngster who needs more game time.
8. Jessica Carter (Birmingham City Ladies): Jessica Carter’s story is a special one. The versatile and level-headed defender was discovered as a 16-year-old playing grassroots football in Birmingham. A few months later, she put in a player of the match performance to help Birmingham City Ladies knock Arsenal Ladies out of the Champions League in a historic moment for the club.
Carter’s debut season in professional football was made even sweeter by a call up to the England squad for the under-20 World Cup finals.
7. Natasha Flint (Manchester City Women): An unknown entity at the start of this season, Natasha Flint secured a two-year senior deal with Manchester City at the age of 17, such was the impression she made on coach Nick Cushing during training in pre-season.
Flint has since gone on to establish herself as a prominent member of the first team squad, making 14 appearances and scoring three goals. The attacking midfielder has impressed so much, she has earned a call-up to Mo Marley’s under-20 World Cup squad.
6. Katie Zelem (Liverpool Ladies): The 2014 Women’s Super League was set to be Katie Zelem’s breakthrough season, but a shoulder injury kept her side-lined for the first half of the season.The attacking midfielder returned to the first team immediately when she was available for selection by Matt Beard, who signed her from the Manchester United centre of excellence last year.
Zelem has been tipped to go on to become a central figure for England and Liverpool in the coming years. She will play a prominent role in the final weeks of the season upon her return from the under-20 World Cup.
5. Martha Harris (Liverpool Ladies): The 2014 PFA Young Player of the Year secured a pre-season move to champions Liverpool after a sensational breakthrough season at Lincoln Ladies.
Martha Harris has made 10 appearances so far this season, working hard to force her way into an established back line at full-back. Her game will only improve under the tutelage of experienced defenders Becky Easton, Gemma Bonner and Lucy Bronze.
Harris is highly rated by England staff, who selected her in the prestigious under-20 squad currently in Canada for the World Cup.
4. Jackie Groenen (Chelsea Ladies): A recent addition to Emma Hayes’ squad, Jackie Groenen is one of the most exciting developing talents in women’s football. She is currently adjusting to the physicality of English football but has still managed to make a significant impact for Chelsea in their bid for WSL glory this season.
At only 19, the fact that she has had five more appearances than Ji So-Yun this season is a reflection on how highly she is regarded by the coaching staff at Chelsea. Groenen plays with maturity that can only be garnered by having match experience. She notched up 55 appearances and 14 goals in the Bundesliga by the time she moved to Chelsea.
The Dutch and Belgian coaches are waiting nervously as the midfielder ponders which nation to represent at senior level.
3. Danielle Carter (Arsenal Ladies): England under-23 international Danielle Carter was a candidate for Arsenal’s player of the season last season, as she added eight valuable league goals from the wing in Kelly Smith’s absence. She was rewarded with a call-up to the senior England side, but has since struggled to retain her place after a difficult start to the season with Arsenal.
In recent weeks, Carter’s and Arsenal’s fortunes have experienced a dramatic turnaround, and she now looks set to surpass her goal scoring total from last season, with five goals to her name already. There is plenty more to come from Carter who already has an impressive CV, boasting two FA Cup medals and first place at the World University Games in 2013.
2. Nikita Parris (Everton Ladies): The Everton forward has been touted as one of the most exciting prospects in English football since her early teenage years. Parris featured at under-19 level for England as a 16-year-old and her career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
The 19-year-old has scored eight goals so far this season in what has been a miserable campaign for the Toffees. Her early season form saw Everton embark on a successful FA Cup run that saw them finish as runners-up.
If Everton become the first team to be relegated to WSL 2, a whole host of clubs will be after the striker’s signature. A big move may be her key to the England senior squad, although her pace and lethal touch in front of goal will not have gone unnoticed by Mark Sampson.
1. Francesca Kirby (Reading Women): Reading’s Fran Kirby is undoubtedly the future of English international football. The 20-year-old is the only player from the second tier to be called up to England senior side in the WSL era.
Scoring 32 goals in all competitions last season for Reading, Kirby is the lead goal scorer in the entire WSL with 13 goals in 12 games. Kirby’s rare talent is immediately apparent to any onlooker and she has been tormenting defences across the country since breaking into the Reading first team four years ago.
Kirby starred in Reading’s 2-0 shock victory over Arsenal in the Continental Cup, leaving experienced internationals Yukari Kinga and Casey Stoney red-faced on countless occasions.
Her blistering pace, ability to spin-off defenders and dribble with such ease is reminiscent of a classic Brazilian winger. As long as Reading have her in their side, promotion will be a realistic target. The future is very bright for Kirby, but then again, so is the present.
Who would be in your top 10? Do you feel that the Development League can stunt the development of players after the age of 18? Which clubs in your opinion have good youth policies?
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