There were a really varied and interesting set of responses to the question I posed to the group a few days ago about which individual player in the Premier League you'd take to build a team around. There wasn't as much Chelsea bias as I might have expected (the fans of other teams popping in and saying their piece certainly helped there), and there were some very interesting and thoughtful answers. I've quickly profiled everyone nominated in the original thread, and we'll see what happens when we put these guys to a vote.
David Luiz is a 23 year-old centre back who plays for Chelsea and Brazil's senior side. Recently signed from Benfica on a £21M transfer, Luiz is rumoured to be on a five and a half year contract worth under £40,000 per week. A somewhat unorthodox defender, happy to run with the ball and pick out arcing passes, as well as displaying all the 'usual' traits of centre halves. Ferocious in the tackle and strong in the air, Luiz looks set to develop into one of the top defenders in the world as the decade progresses.
Arsenal's 19 year-old midfield prodigy has already vaulted into 'grossly overrated' territory after his impressive display against Barcelona, where he was comfortably the best midfielder on the pitch thanks to incisive movement and inch-perfect passing. For some reason, a one-game sample has now convinced the British media that he is in fact better than the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, which is... peculiar, to say the least. At any rate, Wilshere is a fine all-around central midfielder with the potential to be a standout England player. His ultimate position may be at the tip of a midfield three.
Jay Emanuel Thomas
20 year-old Jay Emmanuel Thomas is yet another product of Arsenal's youth academy. Currently on loan at Championship side Cardiff City, 'JET' has constantly impressed with the Arsenal reserves, producing sublime skill and superior finishing at the drop of a hat. He's yet to make the jump to the top level, however, but the skill is certainly there to make him an excellent striker in years to come.
Gareth Bale, 'Welsh* Jesus,' Tottenham's wondrous winger. The 21 year-old was widely considered to be cursed as little as 15 months ago, having never been on the winning side in a Premier League match, but is now one of the most sought-after players in the world. While he isn't particularly useful on the defensive side of the ball, he has a habit of absolutely devastating defenses that give him any space on the left side. Blessed with speed, power, unerring crossing, and surprising finishing, Bale might just be the pinnacle of wingery-ness.
*I am convinced 'Sindarin' is a more appropriate designation.
Jack Wilshere may be getting all of the attention, but in 19 year-old Rodwell Everton have developed a player with as much potential as Arsenal's prodigy. Rodwell is naturally far more defensive than Wilshere and thus far more likely to be quietly effective without people drooling over him. With size, impressive technique, and an eye for breaking up attacks before quickly releasing his teammates, Rodwell is going to be one of those players that everyone loves, and he'll probably still manage to be under-appreciated thanks to his position.
Mario Balotelli runs his mouth. A lot. Having talked his way out of Inter Milan in a transfer which cost Manchester City a cool £24M, Balotelli has managed to annoy most of England by declaring himself to be the second best player in the world, with only Barcelona's Lionel Messi ahead of him. From most young strikers, this would be a total joke, but it's even more annoying from the Italian, because he does have the raw ability to be at that level someday. His technical skills may be unmatched in the Premier League, and he has the pace to embarrass defences. Injuries are keeping him out of the spotlight for now, and his attitude may well prove detrimental to his development, but if the 20 year-old buckles down and turns into the player everyone suspects is lurking inside... watch out.
Theo Walcott first rose to public awareness when Sven-Goran Eriksson picked him to join England in their 2006 World Cup Finals campaign at the tender age of 16. He never played, and has had an up and down career with Arsenal since. Once known as a pure speed merchant (he's almost certainly the fastest player in England), he's had some success in improving his delivery, positioning, and finishing. However, none are at a level where he could really get away with losing a step, and his constant injury problems threaten to do just that. The good news for Walcott, now 21, is that the improvements in his game are coming thick and fast - he may well be an excellent all-around forward by this time next year.
Chelsea darling Josh McEachran is a 17 year-old with perhaps more raw passing ability than the rest of the squad combined. He's never started a Premier League match, but in the Champions League his play against Marseilles was astonishing - he finished with over 105 passes, comfortably higher than the entire Marseilles midfield. Not a great tackler but with reasonable positioning, McEachran's ability to work the ball out of danger and find an outlet marks him out as a passing prodigy. Chelsea are developing their prize as a deep-lying playmaker, but he could see time in a more attacking role as well. He has everything to prove before we can truly compare him to most of the rest of the players on the list, but the future's looking very bright.
By far the oldest player on the list, 26 year-old Branislav Ivanovic is a versatile defender capable of playing centre back and right back at an truly elite level. Unlike Luiz, who's a ball-player and distributor, Ivanovic is a pure blood-and-thunder destroyer who racks up an unusual amount of goals for a centre-half. Excellent on set pieces and from both ends of the pitch, Ivanovic has just signed a new five and a half deal worth £70,000 per week. With that price tag and his age, there are real doubts that Ivanovic will be an efficient asset come a few years from now, but he's an excellent player in the here and now.
England's number one goalkeeper at age 23, Joe Hart looks set to anchor Manchester City's side for at least the next decade. Being a true shot-stopper is a good recipe for being a top keeper, and Hart's reaction speed and agility give him the tools to succeed in that regard. He commands the penalty area well, but his distribution is somewhat suspect (though improving) and he's still prone to the occasional gaffe. However, in goalkeeping years Hart is still very very young, and he's already playing at the absolute top level. When you could consider the room he his to improve, that last statement is scary.
Sturridge, 21, has a left foot many would quite happily die for, and he's also been described by Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti as the quickest striker he's ever coached. Pace and finishing are Sturridge's watchwords, but he's not a pure poacher, with the ability to send in 20-yard thunderbolts if the defence drops off and gives him space outside the box. Far from a finished product and yet to start a game with Chelsea, Sturridge has been packed off to Owen Coyle's finishing school at Bolton, where his three goals in three games suggest that he's very close to being truly ready for the big stage.
Liverpool's 24 year-old Brazilian midfielder Lucas has been disparaged for his entire Premier League career, mainly for not being the flashy creative type that most people expect Brazilians to be. Instead, he's a quietly effective defensive midfielder, whose supreme positioning blocks off attacks without really forcing him to make too many challenges. He's also incredibly adept on the ball, and might be the best distributor-from-the-back in the league. Criminally under-rated.