Owen Beck (Liverpool – on loan at Bolton Wanderers) born 2002, Defender.
After a number of years associated with Liverpool as a schoolboy, Owen became a scholar at the club and did well enough to earn a professional contract with them. He has continued making good progress over the last couple of seasons as a member of their older development squad, impressing enough to be incorporated in first team training sessions at times. That in turn has led to him making his first team debut when making a brief appearance at the end of a fourth round Carabao Cup match last season. This was followed by a slightly longer involvement in the next round’s game as well as a few bench duties for league games and an FA Cup match. The decision by the management team at the club for Owen to be exposed to first team football this season resulted in a loan arrangement with Portuguese club Famalicao after their promotion to the Premeira Liga. With Owen only experiencing bench time in the first few matches, a change in strategy occurred and he is now on loan at Bolton. His aim now will be to accumulate as much experience as possible in League 1 situations and display that he can perform successfully at that level.
Oliver Hammond (Nottingham Forest) born 2002, Midfielder.
Oliver played in a double digit number of games for the Forest U-18 team when still affiliated with the club as a schoolboy. He then began his time as a scholar with them in the summer of 2019 and over the next two seasons appeared in all but two games for the team. During his second season as a scholar, he also appeared in a dozen games for the U-23 team and then last season played regularly for them after becoming a fulltime professional. His good progress at that time was also recognized when given his first team debut in the second round Carabao Cup match. Forest’s promotion to the Premier League has resulted in them signing a plethora of new players but Oliver has continued to impress management and was on the bench for the first two league matches as well as being inserted into the game for the last quarter of their Carabao Cup tie. Even if playing time is not available for him, he will surely benefit from training with high quality players. Oliver’s first involvement with Wales teams occurred last season with his selection for the U-21 squad and it is expected that he will add quite a few more caps to the three he has already collected.
Luca Hoole (Bristol Rovers) born 2002, Defender.
At the start of his second season as a scholar with the club, Luca was involved with the first team as they conducted pre-season preparations, making his first team debut a few weeks later when introduced as a substitute in an EFL Trophy game. There were a few occasions on the bench for first team league matches, but it was largely a time of gaining experience until he attained regular first team selection last season. He was certainly an important player for the team as they secured promotion from League 2 and this season has performed very competently at League 1 level. Predominantly used as a right sided defender, he has displayed his versatility by also operating confidently in a central position when necessary. Last season Luca gained his first cap at U-21 level for Wales after having previously represented the nation with the U-19’s. His aim going forward will be to produce performances that will earn him an opportunity to be challenged at higher levels of football in the future.
Eli King (Cardiff City – on loan at Crewe Alexandra) born 2002, Midfielder.
Eli played for the Cardiff U-18 team in five different seasons after making his debut for them as a fourteen year old. His time as a scholar with the club culminated with him becoming a fulltime professional in 2021 and last season his abilities resulted in being given an opportunity with the first team. He performed well enough to be regarded as a likely important future player for the Bluebirds, but for the present the management team have agreed for him to be loaned to Crewe for the season. He has already played in three League 2 matches for them and the experience of playing regular first team football will undoubtedly benefit him. Eli’s first involvement with Wales teams began at U-15 level and he continued doing so as an U-16 and U-17 player. Unfortunately, the lack of U-19 opportunities during the pandemic caused him to miss out on getting that intermediate level cap, but last season he did represent his country with the U-21’s. He will now want to consolidate his place in that squad and aim to be playing at a level that will see him challenge for selection to the senior squad in the future.
Tom Sparrow (Stoke City) born 2002, Midfielder.
Joining the Stoke academy as a fifteen year old schoolboy after previously being affiliated with Wolves, Tom became a scholar at the club in 2019. He progressed well enough to offered a professional contract last year and moved on to be part of the U-23 squad. A short term loan period with Telford last season gave him his first experience of first team football. It was certainly beneficial for him and later in the season he was integrated into first team training after the return to his parent club. This culminated in him making his first team debut in the last league game of the season. This season, Tom is very much a part of the first team squad and has added three more appearances to his resume along with a number of other instances on the bench. Tom is another who began representing Wales as an U-15 and played through the various levels before gaining his first U-21 cap when introduced off the bench last season.
Five young guns who have been selected for the U-21 squad announced this week. They have all played an amount of first team football already and are on a path to quickly amass more experience at that level of football. This bodes well as a representation of the quality available to the selectors and increases the possibility of the team being able to put a strong challenge for qualification for a finals tournament. This in turn will ultimately be beneficial for the senior squad in the seasons ahead.