After posting yesterday's article on Nathaniel Chalobah, I decided to take a look at the various other youngsters who had excellent seasons last term. While some, notably the crew from Southampton, had continued their rise at club level, others had stalled. The most obvious one, Wilfred Zaha, inexplicably remains on Manchester United's bench despite the performances of competitors ranging from the average to the ridiculous. The other name that stood out was Stoke's Jack Butland.
I'll admit, Butland first came to my attention through Football Manager, where his potential is somewhat legendary for fans of the game. A product of Birmingham City, Butland earned a spot in the first team under Chris Hughton in the Championship, not breaking through until the 2012-13 season. What is most surprising is that this debut came three days after his first senior cap for England, making him the youngest ever England international goalkeeper. With such a shining resume, it was inevitable that the big clubs in England would snap him up in January. What happened next is most peculiar.
Rejecting a 6 million pound move to Chelsea - where, admittedly, he would be behind Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, two of the best goalkeepers in the world - Butland elected to move to Stoke, where, instead of being behind two world-class keepers, he would only be behind one - Asmir Begovic. While he did remain at his original club for the rest of the season to continue his growth, like Zaha, upon his arrival at Stoke he was unsurprisingly left on the bench by new manager Mark Hughes, who preferred experienced keeper Thomas Sorensen as his back-up keeper. Left in such a predicament, only six months after spurning the European champions for fear of being a third-choice keeper, Butland was understandably unhappy.
Unlike Zaha, whose rise has mirrored Butland's ascension to the Premier League, Butland was able to force a loan to Barnsley in the Championship. It was the perfect move for everyone - with Barnsley's first-choice keeper out with an injury, Butland was ensured valuable minutes, and, given that the loan was a three-month emergency loan, Stoke had the option to use Butland in January should Begovic's long-mooted transfer to one of the top four clubs become a reality.
Much like Chalobah and Chelsea, this leaves Butland and Stoke in an interesting situation come January. Butland has been a mainstay of the Barnsley side that sits rock bottom in the Championship, but his raw potential simply cannot be ignored. With Manchester City's on-going goalkeeper predicament, Asmir Begovic has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester; such a move would improve Butland's chances of first-team Premier League actions immensely. However, Butland is still only 20 years old - incredibly young for a goalkeeper - and would likely be best served continuing his development in the Championship. Whether or not that comes about remains to be seen.
As for Butland's international development, there is every chance that he could be on the plan to Rio. Joe Hart's continuing nightmare at Manchester City, coupled with John Ruddy's rather ambivalent form this term, leaves Butland and QPR's Robert Green as the only two goalkeepers in England with senior international experience. Fraser Forster is almost certainly a lock for Rio - whether as number one or two goalkeeper remains to be seen - but for now, the race is on to see if Butland can help turn Barnsley's season around and earn that spot in Hodgson's final roster.