The National League has proved to be a fertile hunting ground for EFL clubs in recent years, with Football League sides quickly waking up to the fact there is plenty of talent being developed in the non-league game’s premier competition.
With just under half the division consisting of former EFL outfits and the vast majority of teams now operating on a full-time basis, it should perhaps be no surprise the standard of football on display in England’s fifth tier is constantly improving.
This has undoubtedly piqued the interests of clubs higher up the food chain, who have been quick to snap up some of the National League’s top talent in recent seasons.
League One promotion contenders Peterborough United have been one of the most enthusiastic buyers, recruiting the likes of Joe Ward (Woking), Idris Kanu (Aldershot Town), Ricky Miller (Dover Athletic) and Serhat Tasdemir (AFC Fylde), as part of a transfer policy that has seen Posh pay significant fees for a host of prodigious prospects.
But they’re certainly not alone, with Max Kilman’s 2018 move from Maidenhead United to Premier League Wolverhampton Wanderers proving even sides in the top tier are keeping an eye on the National League for a potential bargain.
Kilman went on to make his top-flight debut last season and has started three Europa League matches this campaign, but which of the National League’s current crop of young stars could soon be set for their big move?
With the January transfer window just around the corner, here are five players who are sure to be on the radar of EFL clubs up and down the country…
1. Kabongo Tshimanga – Boreham Wood
Boreham Wood are fast becoming one of the National League’s go-to destinations for first-class talent, after selling two of their star players to Football League clubs in the summer of 2018.
Attacking duo Morgan Ferrier and Bruno Andrade joined Walsall and Lincoln City respectively, following a campaign in which Wood made the National League play-off final only to lose to Tranmere Rovers.
The Hertfordshire club have struggled to set the league alight to quite the same degree in 2018/19 or so far this season, but they have produced two of the division's most sought after youngsters in Sorba Thomas and Kabongo Tshimanga.
While 20-year-old academy graduate Thomas in certainly one to watch, it is Tshimanga who looks ready for his big move after 12 goals and two assists in 25 league matches this season.
The 22-year-old striker has an incredible goalscoring rate of 0.49 per 90 minutes and has had more touches in the box than any other National League player at 5.16 per 90.
And when you consider that 55.56 percent of the England C international’s shots have been on target (the fourth highest in the division), it becomes apparent Tshimanga is one of the most potent ‘fox-in-the-box’ finishers outside of the EFL.
The MK Dons academy graduate has demonstrated he's been able to make the step up to the fifth tier after enjoying a 24-goal season in the National League South with Oxford City in 2018/19.
It surely can’t be long before a Football League side look to make a move for Boreham Wood’s No.9.
2. Jack Taylor – Barnet
Our Moment of the Week comes from @BarnetFC and Jack Taylor! ?
The midfielder bagged another well taken goal, this time against Fylde ⚽
How impressed have you been with his form this season? pic.twitter.com/jJhhiv1hE6
— Vanarama (@Vanarama) December 11, 2019
Barnet’s academy system must rank as one of non-league football’s most prolific in recent years. A staggering nine youth team graduates have pulled on the Bees’ black and amber shirt in league matches this term, with the likes of Ephron Mason-Clark, Harry Taylor and Wesley Fonguck all impressing during manager Darren Currie’s tenure at The Hive.
But there is one player who is standing out above the rest this season – Jack Taylor has caught the eye with several stunning strikes in 2019, alongside a sense of composure on the ball that is rarely seen at this level.
Taylor has already made over a century of appearances for the Bees despite being just 21, and his four Ireland Under-21 caps hint at the esteem in which he is held among the wider football community.
It’s not hard to see why. The creative midfielder has made more through passes than any other current National League player at 2.34 per 90 minutes, with 39.58 percent accuracy – the third-best in the division.
Barnet are top of the possession table so far this term with an average of 58.2 percent of the ball per match, and Taylor is the metronome that keeps things ticking over.
It could be argued that he is indispensable to the Bees' promotion challenge, after contributing seven goals and four assists in 24 matches. But every player has a price and it would be no surprise if a large bid came in for the talented playmaker this January.
3. Ethan Chislett – Aldershot Town
Times have been tough for Aldershot Town in recent years. The Shots only avoided relegation to the National League South at the end of 2018/19 because Gateshead were demoted for financial breaches, and they have struggled during this campaign under the stewardship of manager Danny Searle.
But one glimmer of hope in a challenging season has been the form of attacking midfielder Ethan Chislett, following his arrival at the Recreation Ground last summer.
Chislett had originally been in the Aldershot Town academy until the age of 15, but returned to the club after impressing at Southern League side Metropolitan Police – helping the men from Molesey to a play-off final and the first round of the FA Cup.
He has made the step up with ease, scoring six times in the league this season and putting in a series of man-of-the-match displays that will certainly have caught the eye of any visiting scouts in attendance.
The 21-year-old can play out wide or behind the striker and excels with the ball at his feet. His dribbling success rate this season is 65.75 percent (the fifth highest of any National League player), and his crossing ability isn’t bad either – a cross completion rate of 40.48 percent is within the division’s top ten.
Aldershot’s star man could be crucial to their chances of avoiding the drop, but would the club be able to turn down a sizeable offer if it were to come their way this January?
4. Elliot Osborne – Stockport County
Congratulations to @ozzz_96, who has picked up the Goal of the Month Award for August 2019, for this memorable strike against Eastleigh! ⚽️
Well deserved Elliot, what a strike it was! ? ? pic.twitter.com/t0uEExmwOC
— Stockport County (at ?) (@StockportCounty) September 9, 2019
Stockport County’s Elliot Osborne will be hoping for a second bite at the cherry when it comes to EFL success, after a 2016 move from Nantwich Town to League One Fleetwood Town saw the midfielder depart Highbury Stadium without making a single third-tier appearance.
The Stoke-born number ten did enjoy 11 appearances on loan at League Two Morecambe in 2017/18, and his recent performances suggest that it may not be too long until he makes a return to the Football League.
Osborne has been in scintillating form for Stockport during their first campaign back in the National League, after helping the sleeping giants win promotion from the National League North last season.
Now 23, he is starting to look like the complete midfielder and has registered seven goals and six assists since August this year. That’s the fourth most assists in the league to date, and a shooting accuracy of 47.1 percent (within the division’s top ten players) indicates that the goals will continue to flow in 2020.
With Stockport sitting on the edge of the play-off places, Osborne may well fancy his chances of reaching the promised land of the EFL with the Hatters this season. But if he doesn’t then there is sure to be a queue of clubs lining up for his services.
5. Jake Andrews – Torquay United
Jake Andrews has been making a splash in the seaside town of Torquay after joining the Gulls on a permanent basis from Bristol City in the summer.
The goalscoring winger was already familiar to United fans after a memorable loan spell at Plainmoor in 2018/19, when he struck 12 times in 32 appearances as Torquay romped to promotion from the National League South.
That eye-catching campaign included a hat-trick against Oxford City and a goal in the Gulls’ title-clinching match against Eastbourne Borough, but Andrews has shown no signs of slowing down during his first half-season in the National League.
Five goals and five assists have contributed to Torquay United’s impressive goal tally of 43 strikes in 25 games, and sees him rank fifth in the assist charts going into the Christmas period.
With Gary Johnson’s men suffering an injury crisis in recent weeks they will be even more reliant on the creative instincts of Andrews over their upcoming games, if the Gulls hope to arrest a slide that has seen them lose five league matches in a row.
But it would be no great surprise if one or two EFL sides in need of goals from midfield already had the Bath-born wideman on their shortlists for January.