Championship Apprentice Award Winners – Where Are They Now?

The EFL Apprentice Award pays homage to those young starlets completing their scholarships before making the leap into professional football. 

In light of Leeds United’s 18-year-old talented academy graduate, Archie Gray, deservedly receiving the honours for the 2023/2024 campaign; here we take a look at the past ten recipients and their respective journeys.


2013/14 – Mason Bennett (Derby County)

Despite winning the award for the 2013/2014 campaign, the now 27-year-old made his debut for The Rams two seasons prior at the age of 16 where he still remains the youngest player to feature for Derby County in the EFL.

Featuring sporadically in the Championship, Bennett temporarily joined League Two outfit Chesterfield in 2014 to pursue regular minutes to enhance his development.

Upon his return to Pride Park, his hard-work was rewarded as he signed a long-term contract committing to the East-Midlands side.

Subsequent loan moves to Bradford City, Burton Albion, Notts County and Millwall followed between 2014 and 2020 as the winger struggled to breakthrough into the first-team.

Derbyshire born Bennett would eventually make the switch to Bermondsey permanent, with Millwall securing the attacker for an undisclosed fee following a promising temporary spell.

Across a two-and-a-half-year spell at The Den, the 2014 winner made 103 appearances for the club with 96 coming in the second tier.

Opting not to renew his contract, the former England U19 man instead put pen to paper with current employers Burton Albion in August 2023.

The Brewers’ ’11’ has featured 32 times in League One this season, finding the back of the net twice. In truth, it has been an underwhelming campaign for an individual coming into their prime years.


2014/15 – Lewis Cook (Leeds United)

Eerily similar to Archie Gray, Lewis Cook came through the Leeds United youth ranks before making his debut for the club, aged 17.

Within weeks, Cook had cemented himself a place on the team sheet, starting 33 times in the 2014/15 campaign, whilst recording 37 appearances in total.

The following campaign would prove to be yet another successful one for Cook, featuring 43 times for The Lilywhites whilst picking up more accolades, this time winning the ‘EFL Young Player Of The Season’ award.

The Yorkshire born tough tackling midfielder would depart the club at the end of the 2015/16 season amidst an undisclosed deal being agreed with Premier League outfit, AFC Bournemouth.

The 27-year-old has remained in Dorset ever-since, where he is currently enjoying his eighth season with The Cherries, amounting to 212 appearances.


2015/16 – Ademola Lookman (Charlton Athletic)

Ademola Lookman burst onto the professional scene in 2015, making his debut for Charlton Athletic at the age of 18.

Wandsworth born Lookman would finish the campaign with five goals and one assist from 24 Championship appearances with The Addicks who were ultimately relegated to League One, despite their young talent shining brightly.

Unsurprisingly, the 20-cap Nigerian international would continue to impress, with Everton bringing the tricky youngster to Goodison Park in January 2017 for an undisclosed fee, reported at £7.5 million.

This is where Lookman’s journey becomes quite tumultuous and unique.

Failing to make an impression for The Toffees, a loan move to Leipzig would see the 26-year-old back to his best.

As a result of returning five goals in 11 fixtures, the German outfit, to Everton’s delight, paid €18 million to bring the one-time apprentice winner to the Red Bull Arena on a permanent deal.

Despite this, Lookman would only feature 24 times for the club, whilst spending time on loan at Fulham for the 2020/2021 campaign, and with Leicester City in 2021/2022 respectively.

After an unsuccessful three years, Leipzig recouped €9.2 million back from their original payment, with the forward moving to Bergamo in Italy.

It’s with Atalanta where Lookman has flourished however. In 56 top-flight Italian fixtures, the sharp-shooter has returned 21 goals and 12 assists across almost two seasons.

There’s no disputing that’s an excellent return and sensational value for money on their investment.

As per transfermarkt, the 27-year-old is currently valued at €30 million.


2016/17 – Ben Brereton Diaz (Nottingham Forest)

Signing for Nottingham Forest in 2015 after showing promise in the Stoke City academy, Brereton Diaz made his debut for Forest in January 2017 at the age of 17.

Featuring 18 times for The Reds, the Stoke-on-Trent born attacker returned three goals and three assists, an impressive display in his debut campaign.

Progressing into the 2017/2018 campaign, Diaz performed formidably once again, scoring five times as well as picking up two assists across 35 fixtures.

However, deemed surplus to requirements at The County Ground in August 2018, the Chilean international moved to fellow Championship outfit Blackburn Rovers on loan, with the deal being made permanent in January 2019.

Across a five year period at Ewood Park, the versatile forward would net 47 goals alongside providing 16 assists, a fantastic return on the Lancashire club’s investment.

Upon the conclusion of his contract in July 2023, Brereton Diaz was heavily linked with Premier League outfit Everton, however Spain would ultimately be the destination with Villarreal foiling the Toffees.

Things haven’t gone exactly to plan in Castellón though, with the 25-year-old only featuring 14 times in La Liga this season, leading to his temporary departure back to England with Sheffield United in the Premier League.

Despite sitting lowly at the bottom of the table, the Blades loanee has rejuvenated their attack with his pace, power and pin-point finishing. In 8  appearances, their ’11’ has bagged four goals and grabbed an assist.

Although the former award winner has struggled to adapt to life in Spain, Brereton Diaz has proved more than capable in England’s elite division.


2017/18 – Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)

Ryan Sessegnon exploded onto the scene as a promising, tricky 16-year-old ‘prodigy’ at the beginning of the 2016/17 Championship campaign.

Operating anywhere along the left-hand side, Sessegnon marked his debut campaign with 25 appearances in the second tier, with a healthy attacking output consisting of five goals and three assists.

Rightfully so, many were excited to see how the teen would develop throughout the 2017/18 Championship season.

46 matches, 15 goals and six assists later, the then 17-year-old completed a clean sweep receiving the Championship Player of The Season, Young Player of The Season alongside the Championship Apprentice Award as well as featuring in the Championship Team of The Season.

Undeniably playing a crucial role in Fulham’s promotion to the top-flight, the Wandsworth born man continued his hot streak into the Premier League, resulting in his inevitable sale, with Tottenham Hotspur snapping up the youngster in August 2019 for €27 million.

Unfortunately, Sessegnon’s fairy-tale story takes a dark turn. In a move which had the makings to propel and fulfil his potential, injuries have haunted the 23-year-old throughout his Spurs career.

Since swapping Craven Cottage for the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium five years ago, the former Hoffenheim loanee has only featured 57 times, with 38 of these coming in the Premier League.

With time still very much on his side, Ryan Sessengon has the capability to become the star many predicted, however, has his body already exceeded its limits?


2018/19 – Max Bird (Derby County)

Burton born Bird first featured in the Championship for Derby County in 2018 as a 17-year-old, where he would end the campaign on the cusp of the senior side having made four appearances in the league and receiving the Apprentice Award.

The 23-year-old would eventually cement his place in the side the following season featuring 22 times for The Rams.

With Derby’s impending financial troubles, the club turned to the youth, with Bird coming to the forefront recording 75 appearances in the second division across the next two-seasons, with the midfielder totalling 101 Championship outings by the age of 21.

Although Pride Park was now a League One venue, Bird remained at the club for the 2022/2023 season.

After failing to secure promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking, speculation filled the air on whether the 23-year-old would follow fellow academy graduate Jason Knight in departing the club for opportunities elsewhere.

A summer move would not materialise, however as soon as the winter transfer window arrived, Derby reluctantly cashed in on their asset, with Bristol City raiding the club after signing Knight and former loanee Haydon Roberts.

Despite this, and to the delight of Paul Warne, their 198-time appearance maker would remain at the club until the end of the campaign to bolster their promotion efforts.

Derby currently found themselves on the brink of a return back to the Championship, sitting in second with two games left to play.


2019/20 – Jude Bellingham (Birmingham City)

There was once a time where world renowned superstar Jude Bellingham was a Championship player.

Progressing through the ranks at youth level, the Stourbridge-born midfielder was handed his debut just weeks after his sixteenth birthday.

It’s from here where the 29-cap English international’s career has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

As previously mentioned, despite only being 16, Bellingham’s impact was significant, recording 41 appearances, with 32 of those coming as a regular starter.

It’s to no real shock that he would receive both the Championship Young Player of The Season Award alongside the Apprentice Award for his efforts.

Regarded as a truly generational talent, whilst playing with maturity beyond his years, German giants Borussia Dortmund would capture the energetic youngsters signature for a reported €30 million in July 2020.

Although his senior career with The Blues was brief, the legacy left behind was that of a legend, ultimately leading Birmingham City to retire the number ’22’ shirt.

Trading in the Championship for the Champions League, Bellingham continued to impress and dominate with his physicality and high intensity play-style.

After spending three seasons at the Signal Induna Park, the 21-year-old would take the next step in his star-studded career, signing for Real Madrid, a dream for any footballer.

It would take €103 million to prize away Dortmund’s superstar, making him the most expensive Englishman to date.

As we meander into the closing stages of the season, Los Blancos’ ‘5’ has been integral in their title charge, contributing 16 goals and four assists  all coming from midfield.

Currently enjoying his fourth successive UCL campaign, where he’s netted and tee’d up four goals apiece, whilst participating in both Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022, Bellingham is certainly one of the world’s best.


2020/21 – Will Trueman (Sheffield Wednesday)

In a list full of so many success stories, there was always bound to be one that failed to progress, and in this case, that is Will Trueman who won the award whilst on the books of Sheffield Wednesday.

A product of the The Owls academy, the 21-year-old would enrol on a two-year scholarship with the Championship outfit.

Interestingly, Trueman had never featured for the senior team upon claiming the Apprentice Award.

The midfielders only appearance would come in the EFL Trophy in the 2022/23 scoring against Leicester City on his debut.

As a result he was loaned out to seventh tier Mickleover, where he would sign permanently upon the expiry of his contract with Sheffield Wednesday.

Although Trueman currently finds himself in the non-league pyramid, it’s not uncommon to see players develop at the level and return to the EFL stronger, years later.


2021/22 – Ryan Howley (Coventry City)

Ryan Howley, who has been capped for both Wales U19 alongside Wales U21, has been attached to the Sky Blues since the age of six.

Born in Nuneaton, the 20-year-old received the award having made one substitute appearance in the 2021/22 campaign.

Currently still on the books of Coventry City, the midfielder has made eight appearances for the Championship outfit, with five of those coming in the league.

In order to gain valuable experience and first time minutes, Howley has spent this campaign on loan in Scotland with Dundee FC, making 11 appearances in the Scottish Premiership.

Furthermore, the Coventry City youngster’s current contract at the CBS expires in June 2025,  suggesting next season will be make or break for the youngsters future.


2022/23 – Ashley Phillips (Blackburn Rovers)

It’s been an enthralling 12 months for Ashley Phillips. Breaking into Blackburn’s first team towards the end of the 2022/23 Championship campaign, the now 18-year-old’s impressive performances landed him a dream move to Tottenham Hotspur.

Signing for £2 million after triggering his release clause, the towering central defender spent the first half of this campaign amongst the Spurs first team, being named on the bench eight times amidst an injury crises in the back-line.

With the turn of the year, and the January transfer window, Phillips now finds himself at Home Park, on loan at Plymouth Argyle.

Although not necessarily the most glamorous defender at times, the youngster has performed reasonably well and at times showcased his class on the ball, alongside his blistering recovery pace despite his tall frame.

Phillips has appeared 16 times in the Championship for the Pilgrims, including 14 starts.


Ten different players, ten very different journey’s which demonstrates that whilst being highly regarded as a youngster, not all will become world beaters.

On the other hand, there’s the select few whose potential and continued development will certainly ensure that they play at the very top for a long period of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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