Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Reiss Nelson… millions of pounds’ worth of talent that would get any Premier League academy boss purring.
Throw in Tottenham winger Ryan Sessegnon, Leicester’s Demarai Gray and Manchester United starlet Angel Gomes and there is the foundation of a strong future England side.
These youngsters have one thing in common – their first taste of the spotlight was showcasing their talents during “street” skills sessions with friends in west London.
Dan Gayle is the man who began capturing the teenage prodigies on video as they honed their technique among the best youngsters in the country.
He did so through his social media video channel FFDTV, which he set up to showcase a free-spirited style of football, with an emphasis on style and flair.
Now, seven years on, he has built on the original bunch of stars’ success by opening an academy that aims to give other young hopefuls the chance to sign professional contracts.
‘If you get nutmegged, you get nutmegged’
FFDTV began with mates meeting up in parks to do tricks and skills and ballooned into an internet sensation.
Gayle would post videos of his friends showboating on Instagram and before long the clips started to get traction, but the channel’s big break came when future stars Sancho and Nelson began attending sessions.
“It just blew up from there – everyone started talking about it, the video reached about 60 countries,” said Gayle, 31.
As word spread, young players from all over the country wanted to get involved to showcase their talents in front of the FFDTV cameras.
“It was a certain calibre of player and everyone knew what they were in for when they came down,” said Gayle. “If you get nutmegged, you get nutmegged and it could go viral – that’s just part of it!
“It was more skills-based sessions, just three v three or four v four where you express yourself. No rules, just street football – how they learned to play.
“There’s nothing like playing in the park with your mates, but competitively – and you know the cameras are there and you don’t want to get embarrassed. It’s so different to being in the academy.”
The emerging success of ‘Team FFD’
‘Team FFD’, as the stable of players who took part in Gayle’s sessions have become known, brought together some of the most talented players in the country. The nature of the football on show meant most were technically gifted flair players blessed with an arsenal of tricks.
And they were beginning to enjoy success on the field as well – many of England’s Under-17 World Cup-winning squad in 2017 had been to a FFD session at some stage.
“It’s like a football family, off the pitch the boys are very close,” said Gayle. “There is a team of us now who all believed years ago that the English game would change and you would see a lot of young, skilful players. That’s what we thrive on.
“When we started, we wanted to show England have got players that people more often than not you would associate with South American countries or Spain – that was a special time because that age group was just world class.”
That Under-17 World Cup-winning side boasted Team FFD stars such as Sancho, Hudson-Odoi, Gomes, Manchester City playmaker Phil Foden, Crystal Palace midfielder Nya Kirby and Monaco defender Jonathan Panzo – the first player born in the 2000s to appear in the Premier League.
Sancho has excelled both in the Bundesliga and Champions League since his move to Borussia Dortmund and has been a regular in Gareth Southgate’s recent England squads.
Chelsea winger Hudson-Odoi, heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich in January, also made his Three Lions debut earlier this year, before suffering an Achilles injury.
Forward Abraham, back with Chelsea after numerous loan spells, is another to have been capped by England, while Foxes winger Gray has a Premier League winner’s medal and left-sided player Sessegnon featured regularly in the top-flight for Fulham last term before joining Spurs in the summer.
Meanwhile, one of the early members of Team FFD, and childhood friend of Sancho, is Arsenal forward Nelson. The teenager impressed on loan at German side Hoffenheim last season and has emerged as part of the Gunners first-team squad this year.
Coaching the next generation of stars
With many of Team FFD’s original members now fully fledged professionals, Gayle and co have set about trying to create a path to the professional game for other aspiring youngsters.
They set up an academy two years ago to train and improve their players, and give them a chance to put themselves “in the shop window” with games against professional clubs; there is also a smart phone app where scouts can follow their progress.
It has proved successful, too.
After whittling down thousands of applicants to a pool of players they felt comfortable working with, the academy team have seen two of their charges sign professional contracts at Championship outfit Derby County, several go on trial with Premier League sides and others earn moves to Portugal and Sweden.
“We take pride in being able to identify and develop young players,” said Gayle, who has established good relationships with a lot of professional clubs.
“The main goal is to show that you can play free, that being yourself is the best way to be. You don’t have to be skilful but you have to understand your strengths.
“Everybody’s journey is different – some players are in clubs since before they are 10 years old and some arrive later. We’re offering something different, something extra. That’s something I take a lot of pride in. That represents us.”