Fulham’s academy is renowned for the development of outstanding young players and have been churning out accomplished footballers for many years now under the watchful eye of director Huw Jennings. Fulham fans don’t need to be reminded of the exploits of Ryan Sessegnon or Moussa Dembele, whilst both Marek Rodak and Steven Sessegnon have shown signs of being the next homegrown youngsters to slot into the senior side.
There is great excitement about the next generation of young talent currently making their way through the Motspur Park pathway. Both Jay Stansfield and Sylvester Jasper have starred for the under-18 side that is currently top of their Premier League division and the pair were rewarded for their outstanding form with first-team debuts by Scott Parker.
The depth of talent extends deeper still and, in this article, I’ve highlighted the progress of three outstanding under-16 talents, who have the potential to excel at the highest level for the Whites in the years to come.
Michael Olakigbe is a versatile winger, at home on either flank, and comfortable with both feet. The youngster plays his football with real flair and has made great progress since joining Fulham from QPR in the summer of 2018. Olakigbe honed his prodigious skills at the East Soccerbase Academy and he is eligible to represent either England or Nigeria at international level. At just 15, the fact that Olakigbe has made two appearances for the under-18s – scoring against Reading last Saturday – and he was named on the bench for the U23s against Stoke City as well.
Olakigbe hopes to emulate the stellar performances of Wilfried Zaha, who he considers his idol, in the Premier League in the future. You can’t fault his ambition, but given his undoubted talent you wouldn’t bet against him making his mark in the senior team in years to come.
Xavier Benjamin is a strong, athletic centre back, who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, making him ideally equipped to be a very modern defender. He has the confidence to dominate opposing forwards and is also vocal on the field of play, marking him out as leadership material in the future. and his vocal ability sets him up to be a leader in the future. Benjamin’s ball-playing ability means he is finely attuned to Fulham’s footballing philosophy and you can why the club have high hopes for him at this relatively early stage in his development.
Benjamin has already been sponsored by Puma, which is an unusual development at such a young age, but suggests that plenty of people have noted his talent. The centre back has already represented England at under-15 level and has already featured twice for the under-18 side this season. He was another youngster to be included on the bench for the recent PL2 fixture against Stoke at Craven Cottage and has shown character to battle back from an ankle injury, which interrupted his exposure to under-18 football. Benjamin believes he can go on to play Premier League football, although his immediate target will be laying claim to a regular spot in Steve Wigley’s side.
Stefan Parkes is a versatile full back, who usually plays on the left side of a back four. The youngster is yet another defender who is confident in possession and is viewed as one of the most promising prospects within the academy.
Parkes arrived from Brentford as an under-12 when the Griffin Park club opted to abolish their academy structure. The pathway for Parkes has already been set by the meteoric rise of the Sessegnon twins and he certainly has the ability to follow in their footsteps. He has already featured for the under-18s, breaking into the side at the tender age of fifteen last season and not looking at all out of place.
The full back has also had to come to terms with an injury that has limited his participation during this campaign, but his talent has not gone unnoticed. Parkes, already a regular in the England youth set-up, captained his country’s under-15s against Belgium and his composure and maturity has impressed plenty of observers. He recently played his first full ninety minutes against Tottenham for the under-18s and will have his sights set on continuing his outstanding development to date.