We continue our top 100 players 21 and under with the Potential category. These players are grouped by talents who are yet to fully lock down a position at club level, yet possess a high ceiling.
Name: Pietro Pellegri
Style: Football is a beautiful game for the emotions it can wrench out of us and one touching moment last season involving a 16-year-old Pellegri demonstrated that so poignantly. The teenager is the youngster goalscorer in Serie A history. When he went on to become the youngest player ever to score a Serie A brace during Genoa’s 3-2 defeat to Lazio, the assistant manager wept. Why? Because it was proud father Marco who was sat on the bench. It was a great feel-good story but it is just one small chapter Pietro’s career. Indeed, the elegant striker is a darling of Italian football and it’s easy to see why. A hulking presence inside the box, the 6ft4 – and still growing – No9 is well developed both physically and mentally. He is a fine blend of deft touch, tenacity and aerial prowess, so naturally his role model is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The teenager has an amazing future ahead of him and behind him is quite the lineage of Italian strikers. His unique tools has earned him a call up to the Azzurri set up and after making the short move from Genoa to Monaco in January, goals have already followed. If he requires anymore examples to take inspiration from, then former Monaco man Kylian Mbappe is the shadow cast.
Forecast for 2019: Pellegri showed signs of immense promise while playing in Italy and although persistent groin problems have hampered his time at Monaco, he’s still burgeoning his glowing reputation. The Genoa-born forward has one goal in Ligue 1 from three substitute appearances so far this season as he hunted and swallowed up a Bordeaux centre-back before expertly finishing from his incisive grab. He has the perfect environment to develop his undoubted talent further and with an aging Radamel Falcao in the final phase of his career, Pellegri is primed to succeed the Colombian and join the procession of supremely-gifted footballers to have flourished at Monaco.
By Alex Rea
Name: Carles Alena
Position: Centre midfielder
Style: A product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy possessing a wand of a left-foot and wearing the No10 shirt for Barcelona B, comparisons to Lionel Messi are obvious and well, a little lazy, but Alena is certainly an impressive player. Alena’s close control and sublime trickery naturally hallmarks any scouting report, yet it’s his splendid passing ability which headlines his talent palette. The dancing feet are used to open up passing lanes and whether long or short, Alena is extremely accurate and cute with his delivery. He is so good at transitioning into the attacking third through the centre and then releasing a perfectly placed ball for team-mates ahead of him. Weaknesses emerge when you examine what he does off the ball because he doesn’t quite have that positional intelligence, but that is certainly something which can be worked into his game.
Forecast for 2019: Ernesto Valverde is certainly a huge admirer of Alena but he suffered a damaging tendon injury at the conclusion of the 2017/18 campaign and only returned to training in September. He has been given the No26 shirt for the senior side this season and is expected to be used in rotation. However, with Barca’s front three loaded with talent and the attacking midfield role taken up by Philippe Coutinho, the Catalan favourite will see his opportunities limited. He alongside Malcom, Arturo Vidal and Denis Suarez could be set for a frustrating year.
By Alex Rea
Name: Rhian Brewster
Style: A Chelsea prodigy – how many times have you heard this – Brewster left the club at age 15 despite being on their books from the age of seven because he didn’t see a clear path to the first-team. Patience must be preached with this precocious talent but that’s not something he demonstrates on the pitch as Brewster is always in a hurry to rack up goals. A pure No9 in every sense of the role, he is a predatory forward with lethal finishing ability and piercing pace, yet the key lies within his mentality. Unlocking those attributes is his confident swagger which could be illustrated by his old backflip celebration, but he’s intelligent as well and that has to be underlined. Brewster knows when to drop in and link play, how to use his speed to prize open space and then opt for the most efficient finish. You’ll no doubt have heard about his exploits in England’s U17 World Cup success as he topped the goalscoring charts and you will hear a lot more about him in the future.
Forecast for 2019: One of the main reasons Jurgen Klopp opted against bringing in a new striker during the 2018 summer window was because of his faith in Brewster. The striker agreed a new five-year deal in January and although he is yet to taste Premier League football for the first time, he was included in the matchday squad at Crystal Palace last season. He is sidelined until December due to an ankle injury but once he’s back on his feet, expect the talented teenager to compete with Daniel Sturridge as Roberto Firmino’s understudy.
By Alex Rea
Name: Timothy Weah
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Style: Supporters of the United States should be thrilled about the talent coming their way with Weah joining Christian Pulisic as a fine European export. Weah is still just a teenager but big things are expected of the forward having carved out a position within Thomas Tuchel’s squad. He is, though, still very raw as evidenced by a half-time substitution against Guingamp in September, but an opportunistic strike against Caen a week earlier – his first in Ligue 1 – gave rise to what he can offer. That goal incidentally arrived 8594 days after his father, the iconic George Weah, had last found the target for the Parisians and of course comparisons with the greatest African player of all the time are being made. They must be tempered, however. Weah is blessed with speed and he can sustain that for long periods and in long sprints as well. Where he falls down is using that agility. He is often caught offside and looks a little out of place with the rhythm of the game. It’s important to remember he is still a teenager but the fundamentals to be an elite striker are certainly there.
Forecast for 2019: There was talk of Weah possibly heading out on loan in January having seen his opportunities sliced since the early goings. Already a full international with the United States, he is certainly capable of taking on a more prominent role at club level, although that obviously will have to come elsewhere given the ridiculous riches Tuchel owns in attacking areas. He had opportunities to develop elsewhere in the summer but ultimately remained in the French capital to learn from the likes of Neymar and Edinson Cavani. However, when January arrives, the New York born star will likely be loaned out.
By Alex Rea
Name: Alexander Isak
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Style: There are two developments in Isak’s fledgling career which point to promise. The first is his rejection of comparisons with fellow Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the other is repelling Real Madrid. While Ibra and Isak are indeed two tall and powerfully built strikers with those physical advantages melded to technical talent, the former has always been bold and brash, the latter altruistic and more of a team player. That’s not a criticism of Ibrahimovic incidentally, but it’s important to note the contrast between the two because that mature trait directed the other key mark on his timeline. The teenager was keenly targeted by Real Madrid in 2016 but instead of following in the tainted footsteps of fellow Scandinavian sensation Martin Odegaard, he left AIK for Borussia Dortmund. The Bundesliga giants have a well-earned reputation for nurturing young talent, giving the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all the ingredients necessary to blossom into elite-level strikers. And that’s the category Isak can develop into because he’s an archetypal modern striker, a complete forward who can drop in to drive the build-up phase with a devastating right-foot to finish off attacks. He’s adept as a lone frontman but that desire to link up with others means he can play in a two as well, although his passing accuracy needs some work as he can be imprecise. Tactical understanding is another area for improvement, but Isak is still very young and areas for refinement are to be expected.
Forecast for 2019: Isak’s Dortmund career so far has been decidedly flat but it looks like he’ll be allowed to leave the club on loan in January. The German side aren’t prepared to completely cut ties with the young striker, aware of the quality he possesses, yet game time is important as he sits in that awkward place of being too good for Dortmund II but a little way from being trusted for senior action.
By Alex Rea
Name: Moise Kean
Style: This is an attacker in a hurry. Kean made the contentious crosstown move from Torino to Juventus aged just 10, rattled in goals galore in the latter’s youth teams and became the first player born during the 2000s to debut in one of Europe’s five major leagues. So far, so good. Added to this are the obvious parallels drawn to Mario Balotelli; also a child of African immigrants, prodigious talent and client of ‘super agent’ Mino Raiola. Juve will breathe a sigh of relief that even though Kean’s favourite player is “absolutely” the current Nice forward, he recognises his idol has done “stupid things”. Kean’s exceptional dribbling ability and raw physicality made him a cut above at youth level. This is yet to full translate to the seniors, however, where he’s barely featured this season back at Juve and scored just four times in 20 appearances on loan at relegated Hellas Verona during 2017/18.
Forecast for 2019: Unless Juve’s stellar attack suffers a glut of injuries, or another temporary move away is agreed this winter, Kean will not be seeing much action. Just like when on loan, chances aren’t likely to come as a central striker. At only 18-years old, time is on his side. The only hope is that he doesn’t suffer arrested development.
By Matt Monaghan
Name: Callum Hudson-Odoi
Style: English football’s best and brightest are rarely drawn from such exalted surroundings. With boarding fees close to £38,000 per annum, Whitgift School’s traditional reputation was for bringing through rugby union internationals. Now, Hudson-Odoi looks set to join Chelsea team-mate Victor Moses in extracting maximum value from a generous bursary scheme. The winger, whose father played first-division football in Ghana, is an expert manipulator of space – be this through deft positioning or skill in possession. These skills led to a start aged just 17-years old in August’s Community Shield. On that day, his raw pace was rendered null by Kyle Walker and he didn’t possess the nous to consistently unsettle the England defender. His time will, surely, come again.
Forecast for 2019: It is an inevitability that Hudson-Odoi will join Chelsea’s army of loanees. Links to Aston Villa have popped up, in this regard. Time in the Championship for peer Mason Mount has led to an England senior call-up and Hudson-Odoi possesses the startling ability to follow this path in the year ahead.
By Matt Monaghan
Name: Mile Svilar
Style: Goalkeeping is a family business for the Svilars. With a dad who was part of Yugoslavia’s World Cup 1982 squad, it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that confidence is not an issue for the younger Mile. A declaration to UEFA that he planned to become the “best in the world” did not mesh with an understandable decision by Anderlecht – Belgium’s grandest club – to make the teenager third choice. By 18, a contentious free transfer was agreed with Portugal’s Benfica. There, he was soon pummeled under the high ball by Manchester United and guilty of an enormous rick at Old Trafford. Dedicated work in the gym ended a long exile from the first team in September for a suitably tally shot stopper who possesses everything but a hulking frame, and he will be chomping at the bit to permanently escape the substitutes’ bench.
Forecast for 2019: Game time is never easy for teenage goalkeepers to attain. Summer buy Odisseas Vlachodimos is way ahead in the pecking order and is unlikely to be usurped this term in the top flight. Svilar must keep learning, and hitting the weights, to eventually fulfil his vast potential.
By Matt Monaghan
Name: Patson Daka
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
Style: There’s no wonder that a smile is a permanent feature of the fun-loving Daka’s face. From his formative experiences playing on the streets of Chingola, Zambia to now scoring in the Salzburg first team, it’s been an incredible journey. The 2017 CAF Young Player of the Year was matured in the Austrian club’s kindergarten and has been granted a slot out wide in a 4-3-3 system for 2018/19. From this spot, he’s learning the senior game. Before this season’s promotion, his name was made with the winning goal in a UEFA Youth League semi-final against Barcelona. With such enviable pace, flair and precision, self-confessed struggles speaking the rigid German language is the only early challenge he’s yet to pass.
Forecast for 2019: A move to becoming a central figure in the attack will be on his agenda, as this is the role he largely performs at national level. Increased efficiency in front of goal is the key, as this is the currency all striking prospects are judged on.
By Matt Monaghan
Name: Weston McKennie
Club: Schalke 04
Position: Centre midfield
Style: American football’s loss is soccer’s gain. As a kid, Texas-born McKennie would rattle in goals, quick-time, in the latter so he could escape and pad up in time to copy his boyhood idols from Washington Redskins. Head coach Domesnico Tedesco will be forever grateful that the embodiment of his frantic, all-action approach decided to stick at the round-ball game. The galloping McKennie – who also spent time in Kaiserslautern as a child – strides across the turf in the Bundesliga, using his gait to both win the ball back in midfield and then counter at breakneck speed. This, often, comes at the cost of accuracy in possession. But with both club and country now placing an emphasis on youth, he is emerging as a totem-bearer for a brighter future.
Forecast for 2019: After the startling progress of 2017/18, the Bundesliga runners-ups’ current travails should actually act as a formative experience for McKennie. He’ll need to grasp extra responsibility in the absence of now Bayern Munich-star Leon Goretzka. This will either turbo-boost development, or highlight deficiencies in his game.
By Matt Monaghan
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