Anyone who has followed our work for a while will know that we have long been exponents of the talent in the non-league pyramid.
Thankfully, we are not alone!
This time last year, we produced a substantial report on George Harmon, then plying his trade in the Vanarama National League South, given the impressive profile his 42 appearances produced as a progressive full back who, at 21, was continuing to demonstrate the potential evident in his earlier career at WBA.
We alerted clubs to the undoubted potential of Harmon, the report itself being downloaded numerous times, and were delighted to see him make the progressive step in joining Scottish Premiership side Ross County.
But perhaps even we were surprised as to the strides Harmon has made this season, making 23 appearances and maintaining the sort of profile that had helped us identify his potential a season ago, with starts against Rangers and Celtic as early as August.
Harmon isn’t alone in making the progressive steps from National League to Scotland with great effect. Dipo Akinyemi took fantastic form for Welling over three seasons, scoring 18 in 37 games in 2021-22, into the Scottish Championship with Ayr United. Their brave decision was rewarded with 20 goals and 8 assists during his first year north with him crowned this season's Cinch Championship Player of the Year.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Akinyemi recognised the talent still in the National League: "There are plenty of players who are in and around my age who think they are in exile playing in the National League. At Dulwich Hamlet I used to play with Ethan Pinnock and he's gone on to the Premier League with Brentford".
So who might be next to make the transitory journey north, away from the National League in search of similar success?
One player with a similar profile to George Harmon is Welling's Chi Ezennolim, this season's Player's Player and Fans Player of the Season. Originally a product of Millwall's youth system, Ezennolim has finished an impressive second season in full time football.
A progressive left back, Ezennolim is capable of posing an attacking threat through dribbles, crosses and progressive passes but pairs this with successful interceptions and duels when compared to peers in National League North and South. He even possesses the extra threat of an impressive long throw.
Since taking the decision to turn down Welling's contract offer, Ezennolim's next move will be an interesting one and should certainly consider the type of move North that worked so for well for former National League talent.
Other National League players that look to have the tools needed to make the step up to the Scottish top flight include Regan Booty, Jesse Debrah and Emile Acquah.
Creative midfielder Regan Booty has been one of Maidstone’s few positives this season, topping their goal contribution chart from defensive midfield. There has never been any question over Booty’s ability, but injuries have stood in his way thus far. However, both last season and this term Booty has got himself leaner and fitter, and he has played almost every minute on offer in a Maidstone shirt.
Booty is very much a deep lying midfielder, one who distributes and creates from his withdrawn position. He dominates almost all areas for construction. Defensively he has added increased duel engagement to his game and has a high success rate both in the air and in defensive duels. He’s also a leader, playing an instrumental part in their NL South win last season. Booty was rightly rewarded with an England call up this season and, with his contract expiring, would be a fantastic addition for someone who wants to improve their midfield output or increase distribution to their front line.
Jesse Debrah has been regarded as one of the league’s brightest young players for some time now, and for good reason. Debrah is a physical specimen, one who is dominant in the air and strong in the tackle. He’s also comfortable enough playing out from the back and is a progressive ball carrier, one who brings the ball out from the back with regularity.
His long stride and turn of pace allow him to venture with the ball into opposition territory, an attractive trait in a modern day defender.
At 22 the former Millwall U21 was one of the younger picks for the recent England C squad, but he was also one of the most experienced selections. He moved from Croydon to Halifax showing he is willing to move for football and in 2021/22 he formed part of a Halifax defence that conceded the fewest goals in the league, a side that finished 4th. This identifies that he is no stranger to the pressures experienced playing in a side that are pushing for honours.
Following a difficult time at Southend, which included 1,850 minutes of EFL football in L1 & L2 Acquah has found his feet at Maidenhead. The 22 year old offers a fantastic blend of strength and mobility that he has learnt to use to lead a forward line, contributing to 13 goals this season and another player rightly rewarded with an England C cap.
Despite his 6ft 3" frame, Acquah has a high success rate in dribbles, passing accuracy across a range of distances and has an eye for a smart pass that makes him ideal in linkup play as well as a focal point for the attack.
While one of the obvious impacts of Brexit has been English clubs raiding Scotland for some of its youngest and brightest stars, a reverse trend seems to be that English players at the lower end of the footballing pyramid - many of whom have benefited from beginnings in prestigious English academies - are choosing the journey North to make greater progressive steps in recovering the potential of their early career and are flourishing in their new surroundings.
It will be interesting to see who is brave enough to make the next move.
About Analysts Bar
Originally founded in 2021 by fellow Notts County fans Colin Sisson and Richard Ogando, Analysts Bar offer data analysis and talent identification services to the footballing industry and related media.
Colin and Richard recently welcomed popular National League Blogger and Analyst Tom Williams to the team ensuring they can continue to provide a comprehensive range of football data services and analysis to clubs, players, and coaches at all levels.
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