As we move closer to the start of the season, it’s at this stage that fans start analysing the squad list, namely which players to sign and who of the current squad will be sold, and who they hope won’t be sold.
And among all the names that will flicker up briefly on transfer sites over the coming weeks, there will be some genuine quality – players to get both the fans and the board excited.
So, here then is a pick of the best of the bunch from the lower leagues: players who’ve just moved, may move soon or have come off the back of a good season. What they all have in common is they’re worth keeping an eye on in 09/10. For virtually all of the names below, they face a defining season, either after a big move, a promotion, or to prove that the past 12 months haven’t just been a flash in the pan.
This isn’t a definitive list, more of a selection of up and coming players from League 1 down (I’ve made an exception for Jake Buxton) who may well be gracing the headlines or the transfer pages in the coming months. And if there’s a starlet at your club you’d like to highlight, tell us more about him in the comments.
Jake Buxton (Derby County)
When Nigel Clough went into his first pre-season as Derby County manager it was no surprise who he returned to raid his old club for. Defender Buxton was one of the lynchpins of Burton Albion’s Conference-winning team and was named the club’s Player of the Season.
The 24-year-old is an uncompromising yet classy centre-half who was one of the standout performers in non-league last season and deserved another shot at league football after experiencing relegation with Mansfield in 2008.
Some may raise their eyebrows at the step up but, as Michael Kightly and Paul Parry have shown, if you’re good enough you can move from the Conference to the Championship. After a couple of seasons of watching poor defences, Rams fans will be hoping Buxton will do the same for them as he did for Burton.
Fabian Delph (Leeds United)
Premier League fans are likely to be familiar with Delph, although may not necessarily have seen him in action. The 19-year-old midfielder is a regular in the transfer gossip columns these days after a stunning breakout season has seen him linked with the likes of Arsenal, Fulham, Villa and Everton.
Delph was always highly rated at Elland Road and this season has shown exactly why. The teenager has pace, power and a great awareness of the game, not to mention an eye for a spectacular goal, as witnessed against Brighton this season.
Delph scooped the Young Player of the Season award for both club and League 1 and manager Simon Grayson has said it may be hard to keep hold of his young starlet. Defences in League One will be hoping he moves on to a bigger stage sooner rather than later.
Paul Jones (Exeter City)
When a promoted team’s player of the season is their goalkeeper, it’s worth betting that keeper is something special indeed. Jones is still only 22 yet has clocked up 134 first team appearances for Exeter, including keeping clean sheets at both Old Trafford and Wembley.
The tall shot stopper has come a long way from the teenager who looked nervy on crosses and struggled with his kicking. Now Jones commands his area with authority and is the starting point for many attacks.
Several Championship clubs have been rumoured to be interesting in the former Leyton Orient trainee, but Exeter will be wanting to hang onto Jones as he’ll key a key player as they plan for the new campaign in League One.
Sam Saunders (Brentford)
Brentford’s new winger has come to League One the hard way and, at 25, knows this will be a season that could make or break his career. The former QPR trainee was released from Loftus Road and ended up at Carshalton before Dagenham and Redbridge swooped four years ago.
Since then Saunders has gone from strength to strength and, having found the net seven times last season, has also added goals to his game. Indeed, Saunders’ form was one of the reasons Dagenham were in the hunt for a playoff spot last season.
The Londoner also possesses a sweet right foot that can produce a pinpoint cross and should slot in nicely to Andy Scott’s style of play at Brentford this season. Saunders has never played at this level before and will be keen to show he’s got the ability to go even further.
Steve Morison (Millwall)
It was always going to be a question of when not if Steve Morison would move to a higher level. The former Stevenage targetman has been prolific in the last two Conference seasons and netted 67 league goals in three years for Boro. Once Stevenage failed to get promotion it was clear Morison would be moving on and Millwall were the team who won the race for his signature.
Twice an FA Trophy winner with Boro, this strong powerful 25-year-old has the striker’s instinct of being in the right place at the right time and being handed the armband at Broadhall Way last season added a sense of maturity to his game.
Morison may not find League One defences quite as accommodating this season but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of non-league’s most deadly finishers reach double figures in a Millwall side looking for a return to the Championship.
Nicky Wroe (Torquay United)
Paul Buckle’s signed a lot of players during his short time in charge of Torquay United but Wroe is possibly the pick of the bunch. A talented, scheming midfielder, Wroe was at the heart of all things that were good about the Gulls’ play last season and, more than once, completely ran the show.
Released four years after coming through the ranks at Barnsley, Wroe’s career seemed destined to go the way of so many other footballers who’d failed to fulfil their early promise when he found himself in the Conference with York. After a year with the Minstermen, Buckle came calling and the 23-year-old hasn’t looked back.
Plenty of clubs higher up the pyramid have been casting admiring glances in Wroe’s direction but if the Gulls hang onto him he could be a not-so-secret weapons for their climb up the league.
Reuben Reid (Rotherham United)
Reid’s early career could best be summed up as troubled and nomadic. The striker may have come through the ranks at Plymouth Argyle back in 2005 but that period included five different loan spells and confrontations with managers. Finally, though, it seems the talented youngster has found a home at a club who don’t properly have one.
Since moving to South Yorkshire, Reid has knuckled down and found a level of consistency not always present in his game, and 19 goals in all competition for 08/09 has been the result. He’s already written himself into Millers folklore by scoring winning penalties against both Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves in the Carling Cup last season.
But for their points deductions, Rotherham would have been in the hunt for promotion last season. Their fans will expect a top seven finish this time around and if Reid’s form continues, he could be the man to fire them there.
Exodus Geohagon (Kettering Town)
Geohagon may posses one of the most eye-catching names, and haircuts, in non-league football but it’s his performances on the pitch that have had Championship scouts furiously taking notes on this former West Brom trainee.
A man-mountain of a central defender, Geohagon’s partnership with Guy Branston at the heart of the Poppies back line was one of the reasons Kettering adjusted quickly to life in the Conference and, providing they can keep hold of the 24-year-old, he’ll be one of the players they’ll be building their second season in the non-league top flight.
Manager Mark Cooper has said it will take a “stupid” offer to take Geohagon away from Rockingham Road but there’s more than one club in the league prepared to write large cheques and it would be a surprise if the England C international was still in the Conference next season.