On the 1st of April 2013, Aston Villa under 19s became European Champions. The NextGen Series in 2012-13 featured some elite clubs from across Europe including Inter Milan, Chelsea, Juventus and Barcelona. In the group stages, Villa came up against Sporting Lisbon, PSV and Celtic. Tony McAndrew’s side would eventually qualify after beating all three opponents despite losing their two opening games in the group stages. They finished second on ten points, two behind Sporting Lisbon.
In the first knockout game Villa came up against Ajax, a team steeped in youth team glory in the past. The side in Claret and Blue came out as 2-1 winners on the night. Olympiacos were the next side for the Midlands side to face. An early goal in the tie sent Villa on their way to a semi-final against Sporting Lisbon, who they had previously faced in the group stage. The game finished 3-1 after two goals in extra time sealed the place in the final for the Villains.
The final was against inaugural champions, Chelsea. A side who had beaten Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal on route to the final. Two penalties settled the game. Both were scored by Aston Villa, leaving them European champions. The question is what happened to the team that started that final in Lake Como?
Brad Watkins is now a 26-year-old goalkeeper and sadly his career has mainly gone downhill since winning the NextGen series. There is very little information out there about Watkins but what we do know is that he had two loan spells away from Villa Park in 2013 at Tranmere and at Chelmsford City in 2014. According to Transfermarkt, he is currently without a club. Having left Villa at the end of his contract he joined Slough although there are no stats from his time there. Unfortunately, Watkins has ultimately been unsuccessful despite good signs early on.
Joshua Webb currently plays his football at National League North, sixth tier, Kidderminster Harriers. After leaving Villa in 2016 he made a move to Scotland with Kilmarnock where he made very limited appearances and left at the end of the season to join Kidderminster where he may still be, but like Watkins there is minimal information about Webb. He did make seven appearances for England youth teams in the past showing that he was rated highly when he was young but it hasn’t worked out as he or Villa fans would have wanted.
Bradley Lewis is an English born Irish national player who is currently without a club having been released from Halesowen. He left Aston Villa in 2014 after 21 appearances for the club at youth level. He made two appearances for Irish international youth teams including the under 21s. In 2016, he moved to Halesowen who are in the seventh tier of English football and after yet another unsuccessful spell he was released in 2019. Like every other player on this list so far, he has ultimately not made it at the top level.
Janoi Donacien stayed at Aston Villa until 2017 when he was released. He had made loan spells away from Villa including two stints at Tranmere Rovers before a move to Wycombe Wanderers and finally Newport County in 2015. He joined Accrington Stanley on a free transfer where he had two successful seasons before a loan move to Championship side Ipswich Town which was made permanent in 2018 for an undisclosed fee. As of 2021, the defender is on loan at Fleetwood Town, from Ipswich, where he has made four appearances. Donacien hasn’t been overwhelmingly successful in his career but has experienced some good moments in his career since the NextGen win, unlike many members of the team.
Lewis Kinsella joined Aston Villa from Arsenal in 2011 and made his way up to the under 23s by 2013. He had two loan spells away from Villa, one at Luton Town and one at Kidderminster Harriers neither of which were made permanent, making a total of 16 appearances across both spells. In 2016, Kinsella left permanently to Colchester United. He made 15 appearances for the U's in the 16/17 season before being shipped off to Aldershot Town on another free transfer in January of the 17/18 season. He has made over 82 appearances for Aldershot in almost five years at the club. Although he hasn’t been successful at a high level, he has recently established himself as a first team player and this could result in a move in the future if he plays to a high standard in the National League.
Since the NextGen Series Josh Barton’s career has gone downhill very quickly. In July 2013 he left Villa, joining semi-professional, Northern Irish side Portadown where he made 18 appearances scoring one goal and getting two assists for the club. He joined Dungannon in 2014 where he made ten appearances and got one assist. He left on a free transfer in 2015 but it is unknown where he moved to. Overall, an unsuccessful career despite such a bright start.
Riccardo Calder has the ability to play in a variety of appearances including left-back, left-wing and central midfielder. He had four loans away from Villa including Dundee, Doncaster twice and Lincoln City making 44 appearances. Following these loan spells he moved to Inverness on a free transfer where the former England under 17s international, made 33 appearances, scoring two and assisting one in his first season. He was jailed in December 2018 for assault and after serving time in prison, he joined Bradford PA in 2019. Since this move to Bradford, he has been on three spells at other clubs including Telford, Nuneaton Borough and Rushall Olympic. It is unknown how many appearances he has made in recent years but it is clear he hasn’t made it at the top level of football and isn’t remembered by many Villa fans despite his early promise.
Samir Curruthers is currently playing for Hemel Hempstead Town. He is one of the few players on this list that has made any form of first team appearance for Villa, having made three appearances between 2012 and 2014. Having left Villa in 2013 on loan to MK Dons he scored two and assisted five in 23 league games, his loan was made permanent. He played for two seasons in which he made 85 appearances scoring two and assisting 16. Despite a large number of games and a decent output Curruthers was let go for an undisclosed fee to Sheffield United in January of the 16/17 season. He played 12 games for Oxford where he only notched one assist and as a result of this he was sold to Cambridge United on a free transfer. He failed to get any goals in ten games for Cambridge and was sold in 2020 to Hemel Hempstead where it is unknown how many appearances he has made. Although he hasn’t been a massive success, he has at least been able to forge a career in the lower leagues since leaving Villa, more success than most on this list.
Whatever happened to Jack Grealish since the NextGen series? He became part of the first team, made his debut against Hull, got to an FA Cup final, scored his first goal against Leicester, got relegated and captained the club back to the Premier League.
Back in 2013, he was sent out on loan to Notts County to get some minutes in a first team. While he was out, he made 37 appearances scoring six and assisting seven. He says that the move was one of the best things he ever did to develop his career.
Three seasons in the Championship helped him to develop even further in a Villa shirt, 95 appearances and 33 goal involvements despite two long injury layoffs just helped to prove himself as a key player for the Villains. In the Premier League, he has excelled and at the time of writing has six goals and 12 assists in just 21 games which has seen his name up in lights being involved in conversations about big money transfers and individual awards. He is the star man and club captain; no other player on this list can even come close to the success he has had.
Graham Burke won the top scorer award at this tournament and as a result, he was held up in high esteem as a good young player and potentially a future Villa player who would score lots of goals. This wasn’t the case and he never got his chance in the Villa first team, he did have two loan spells but only scored one goal in ten games across two loan spells and as a result, was let go by Villa in 2015 on a free transfer. He joined Notts County and between 2015 and 2017 he scored two goals in 36 games and due to this lack of goals he was yet again released but this time he joined his hometown club Shamrock Rovers. His form did pick up during his time back in Ireland as he scored 18 goals in 41 games in the 17/18 season. This good form led to Preston North End picking him up for £315,000. Yet again it didn’t work out at Preston and he has since had two loans away at Gillingham and Shamrock Rovers. Still, at the Rovers, the Dublin born striker has 11 goals in 24 appearances, showing that he still does have ability, he just needs to show it at the top level.
One of few players to play in the Premier League on this list Robinson did make four appearances for the Villa first team between 2013 and 2016 but scored no goals. Loan spells away from Villa Park at Preston and Bristol City led to a free transfer to the Lilywhites in 2016. The Irishman was there for three years making 110 appearances, scoring 29 goals and getting 16 assists in that time. In the summer of 2019, he joined newly promoted side Sheffield United for £7 million where he made 17 appearances only scoring one goal in a very successful season for Chris Wilder’s side. Halfway through the season, he moved on loan to highflying West Bromwich Albion in the Championship. 16 games under Slaven Bilic and three goals helped the Baggies to promotion at the second time of asking. In a straight swap deal with the blades, his move was made permanent and so far this season has scored two goals, including a good finish in a 3-3 draw with Chelsea. One of the most successful players on this list, he can be proud of the career he has had although he may have hoped for more chances this season under Bilic and Sam Allardyce.
Overall, most of these players have largely been unsuccessful in their careers. Despite a few acceptances, in general, these players haven’t lived up to the high expectations set early on. Let's hope that a larger number of the current crop of Villa youth level players can have good careers and improve the Villa first team for the future. Players such as Jacob Ramsey, Louie Barry and Carney Chukwuemeka, to name a few, can develop into quality players and make a name for themselves in the big leagues.