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Fulham’s best 21st century academy graduates: where are they now?

Written by George Rossiter on 27th June 2024

Our academy graduates have been in the news a bit recently. Ryan Sessegnon has been released from Tottenham, Matt O’Riley has won awards in Scotland, Harvey Elliott has been on the brink of the England squad, Marek Rodak has been let go after over a decade at the club and Jay Stansfield is on the verge of being a potentially key cog in Marco Silva’s side. So that got me thinking, who are our most successful academy graduates from this century and where are they now?

Zat Knight

The year is 1999. Young Rushall Olympic defender Zat Knight has signed for Fulham’s academy. Being semi-professional, Rushall Olympic are due no obligatory fee for the six-foot-six centre-half, but being a generous man, Mohamed Al-Fayed sends the club 30 tracksuits as a kind form of compensation. Knight went on to make his debut in the league cup in 2000/01 against Northampton Town. He would play 150 times in the Premier League for the club, before leaving for Aston Villa in 2007. In that time, Knight made two caps for England, playing twice in the summer of 2005 against the United States and Colombia. The defender retired in 2015, last playing for Reading. Now, in the summer of 2024, Knight has been participating in the popular TST tournament out in the States, playing for The CONCAFA SC.

Zesh Rehman

After making his debut for the club in 2003 against Wigan in the League Cup, Rehman went on to be the first British Asian player to play in the top division of English football. Joining the academy in the mid-90s, Rehman would eventually move on to join rivals QPR in 2006 after playing a bit-part role in Fulham’s first team for three seasons. The centre-back only retired two years ago, having played more than 100 times for Southern District FC in the Hong Kong Premier League. Up until 2019, he was playing international football too, amassing 25 caps across 14 years for Pakistan, scoring once. Having spent the last two years of his time as a player-coach, the route into a coaching career had begun. Rehman now finds himself as a development coach at Portsmouth on the south coast.

Matthew Briggs

When Briggs made his Premier League debut at the age of 16 years and 65 days in May 2007, he became the youngest player in the history of the Premier League. Some 12 years later, that record was broken by another man on this list, more on that later… Briggs would go on a number of loans in the following seven seasons before eventually permanently departing in 2014. After representing England from under-16 level all the way to U21 level, Briggs eventually declared for Guyana’s national team, making the last of his 17 caps in 2022, his single international goal coming in 2019. After hanging up his boots in 2023, Briggs returned to Fulham, with the role of an academy player care mentor. Like Zat Knight, Briggs also featured in this summer’s TNT tournament out in the United States.

Neil Etheridge

Admittedly, Etheridge’s Fulham career was hardly a successful one. His singular Fulham appearance came in a Europa League fixture against Odense, in which he could not stop Odense from scoring twice to force a draw at the Cottage, knocking Fulham out of the groups in the process. Despite this, Etheridge has forged a good career in the EFL, currently playing for Birmingham City. It is his international career, however, that he can be most proud of. Etheridge has 81 caps for the Philippines, being named national team captain in 2022. The keeper also has his own foundation set up in his home country in his name. Furthermore, he is the only Filipino to play Premier League football, after featuring for Cardiff under Neil Warnock.

Patrick Roberts

Perhaps the most ‘what could have been?’ player on this list. Felix Magath (yes him), pointed to Roberts as being an “extraordinary talent” after handing the then 17-year-old his Premier League debut in 2014. A year later, the teenager signed for Manchester City for a free believed to be £12m, with huge expectations attached to his name. However, his seven years at the Etihad included more loan moves than senior appearances for City, including at sister clubs Girona and Troyes. Thankfully, however, Pat seems to have found a home at long last. After joining Sunderland in 2022, Roberts has been a key cog in a Mackems side that have established themselves back in the second tier of English football. Alongside the likes of Jack Clarke, the winger has rediscovered the attacking flair and spark that got Fulham fans so excited about him a decade ago.

Moussa Dembele

While Dembele made his senior debut in the relegation season of 2013/14 against West Ham, it was the following two seasons where he really made his name in SW6. Across those years of struggle, it was he and Ross McCormack who forged a wonderful partnership up front to keep Fulham’s heads above water in the Championship. Frustratingly, he left to join Celtic in the summer of 2016, going on to win the treble twice in Glasgow. After half a decade in Lyon in which the striker scored 56 times in Ligue 1, Dembele now finds himself under the stewardship of Steven Gerrard in Saudi Arabia, playing for Al-Ettifaq. Despite a promising career in the French youth sides, Dembele is still yet to make a first cap for the senior national team.

Luca De la Torre

De la Torre always looked like one of those modern players with technical talent but a lack of physicality that would have him struggling in the English game. However, after moving to Dutch side Heracles in 2020, his talent really started to show. After becoming an exciting prospect in the Eredivisie for two seasons, LDLT signed for Spanish side Celta Vigo, where he still plays. The playmakers from San Diego is now a La Liga regular, and has been a mainstay in the United States Men’s National Team for the last couple of years. In 2022, after recovering from a muscular injury, Luca was named alongside current Fulham defenders Robinson and Ream in the USA’s World Cup squad in Qatar.

Ryan Sessegnon

Here is a man on the lips of many a Craven Cottage romanticist this summer. After his release from Tottenham, our Sess is available as a free agent, following a torrid spell with injuries which stopped his Spurs career from fully blossoming. His first Tottenham start came in December 2019, where he scored at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Unfortunately, that would be his biggest high at Spurs, scoring just two Premier League goals for the club upon returning from a promising loan at Hoffenheim. Come home, Sess.

Matt O’Riley

The fact that Scott Parker had the chance to blood O’Riley into a possession based side and instead eluded him of any real first-team opportunities is potentially one of the biggest of his flaws as a manager. After just one senior league game for the club, the London-born Denmark international fitted in seamlessly at Milton Keynes Dons in the 2021-22 season, earning a move to Celtic, following in the footsteps of Dembele. In his first two seasons at Celtic Park, O’Riley has won the league title in both seasons, earning his first Denmark call-ups and attracting interest from European clubs such as Atletico Madrid in the process.

Harvey Elliott

As previously mentioned, Matthew Briggs was once the youngest player in Premier League history, However, it was Harvey Elliott who broke that record, coming on away to Wolves at the age of 16 years and 30 days. Elliott had previously made his first team debut in the League Cup, remarkably at the age of 15. Following a successful loan at Blackburn after signing for Liverpool, Elliott went from strength to strength under Jurgen Klopp at Anfield. Elliott has eight goals in his 20 starts for England’s U21s side, prompting many to suggest he should have been considered for this summer’s European Championships squad.

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