Paul Hill runs his eye over the exciting, young talent outside the Premier League already attracting attention this season.
With attendances propelling it to become the fourth most watched league in Europe; coupled with the exposure and overall standard of football on show, the nPower Championship is slowly but surely becoming the second Premier League. Furthermore, a domino effect on Leagues One and Two has been a bi-product of this, with the third and fourth tier's level of quality ever increasing.
It seems natural then, that more Football League players will gradually rise to the forefront of the British Footballing landscape this term and get snapped up soon enough by bigger clubs. But before this occurs, here is a selection of potential stars of the future that you can expect to hear a great deal more of in the coming months-
MAX CLAYTON - CREWE ALEXANDRA
The production line at Gresty Road is nothing short of ridiculous, with the likes of Danny Murphy, Robbie Savage and more recently, Nick Powell just some of the names that have graced the Cheshire club's turf. 18 year-old Clayton is the next graduate on everyone's lips, a forward in a mould similar to a young Michael Owen, he has already captured the League One Young Player of the Month award this term. His boss, Steve Davis, has gone as far as to harness the opinion that he could be even better than his compatriot, Powell, who recently sealed a huge move to Manchester United, stating that he is ahead of the recent Old Trafford arrival when you consider where Powell was at this stage last season, and that was at a lower level.
RYAN HALL - SOUTHEND UNITED
If it wasn't for a last minute deadline day hitch, this 24 year-old left sided player would be lining up for Ian Holloway's high-flying Blackpool side in the Championship this season. Instead he is still plying his trade in the depths of League Two, but don't expect this to be for long. He is a class above in the fourth-tier, with his 14 goals from midfield and first place in the division's assist table last season overwhelming verification of this. Don't be surprised if Hall is a replacement for the possible departures of Thomas Ince and Matt Phillips at Bloomfield Road in January.
FREDDIE SEARS - COLCHESTER UNITED
When this 17 year-old burst onto the scene in 2007 and scored a debut goal against Blackburn Rovers, it seemed England had found a long-term partner in attack for Wayne Rooney that would come to dominate the international scene for years to come. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and the young capital-born player now finds himself plying his trade for Colchester in League One. Still only 22, he has enough time to make it back to the top; a drop in level coupled with an increase in confidence may just be the perfect antidote to take this much-touted player back to the tip of the English game. A statement West Ham Legend Julian Dicks agrees with- 'You never know, he's at Colchester now and sometimes a player needs to drop down a level or two get their confidence back. He may eventually prove himself.'
JOSH McEACHRAN - MIDDLESBROUGH
Granted, it would be hard for most players to get in Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea side considering the acquisitions made this summer, but when you're a young English midfielder with little experience to call upon, the task is almost impossible. This is why a season long drop into the Championship may be the making of Josh McEachran. The ball-playing midfielder has settled straight away into Tony Mowbray's attacking Middlesbrough side, with the emphasis on keeping the ball and playing short, sharp passes. This is a style he is use to and perfectly suited for. A certain Tom Cleverly springs to mind; a productive season in the Championship with Watford proved the gateway to him becoming a regular for Manchester United and England. The parallels between him and McEachran are never-ending. It wouldn't be silly to think this Oxford born 19 year-old could also achieve these feats within a couple of seasons.
JAY SPEARING - BOLTON WANDERERS
Another loanee from a Premier League club, Liverpool's Jay Spearing was a regular in Kenny Dalglish's Anfield side last term only to find himself to be turfed out by Brendan Rodgers as soon as he took over the reigns in the summer. This tenacious defensive midfield was a rare bright spark for The Red's last term and should be a class above in Owen Coyle's side. Expect him to be one of the standout stars of the Championship season in a Bolton team that will enjoy the Lion's share of possession in games. Still only 23, the taste of Premier League football will make him even hungrier to succeed at the top level, and ultimately on the international stage.
JORDAN RHODES - BLACKBURN ROVERS
The secret is out. 28 goals in 39 appearances in 2010/11, 39 in 43 in 2011/12 and now 5 in 5 this term, not to mention the 12 in 12 he has for Scotland under-21s. There is more of a chance that this man will score rather than the opposite in every match he plays. Blackburn recently broke their transfer record to purchase this goal-scoring machine, along with the record paid for a player at that level of football. 3 weeks in, it already looks like a sound investment. A thought echoed by Julian Dicks- 'He just seems to have an absolutely fantastic goal record, he should be a star of the future.' Expect the Championship to be a stepping-stone in what could escalate to be a fantastic career for this grounded, young Scotsman.
Paul Hill @paulhill3