Top 100 players 21 and under: Potential stars including Bundesliga hotshot Luka Jovic

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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: David Brooks

Club: Bournemouth

Age: 21

Position: Attacking midfielder

Style: As English observers lament the dearth of homegrown midfielders in the Premier League, they’ll doubtless wonder why Cheshire-born David Brooks was allowed to be smuggled across the Welsh border. Brooks’ first season with Bournemouth has been impressive in several ways. Since a summer move from Sheffield United, not only has he immediately assumed the creative reins of the club, but done so from a fairly unaccustomed role on the right. It suits him, too – Brooks has a surprising initial burst and it is often enough to beat his man on the inside, before letting a pass fly with his cultured left foot. Not of all his threaded balls find black and red stripes, but in a daring Bournemouth side that are often one break away from a sucker-punch, the 21-year-old is perhaps the bravest of them all.

Forecast for 2019: Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe likes to give the impression that Brooks has competition from players such as … Jordon Ibe. In reality, he is stenciled in as a starter for every crucial game. As for Wales – he owns eight caps already – it will be intriguing to follow his development under a manager who once was the very embodiment of vibrancy in Ryan Giggs.

By Chris Bailey 

Brooks

Name: Gedson Fernandes

Club: Benfica

Age: 19

Position: Central midfielder

Style: Think of modern-day Portuguese midfielders and unrushed playmakers such as Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves, or William Carvalho’s long-limbed destruction, comes to mind. Iberan heart-rates will quicken through Gedson Fernandes. Fernando Santos has reacted to Portugal’s insipid World Cup by shaving years off his squad and a first cap for Fernandes, in the 1-1 draw with Croatia in September, was richly deserved. Indeed Fernandes is anything but insipid – for better or for worse. The 19-year-old can extricate himself from peril through power or panache. Other times he’ll end up looking a trifle silly, rendering the Paul Pogba comparisons rather apt. How deep in midfield he should be played is an issue, but already with Benfica he has shown a unique ability to pierce defences with a languid swing of his right boot and his left isn’t bad, either.

Forecast for 2019: Fernandes is competing with summer signing Gabriel Pires for minutes in a midfield three with Benfica, but was trusted with a start in their Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. Portugal have also transitioned to a three-man midfield which boosts his chances, but there’s a somewhat revitalised Renato Sanches in the mix, too. Playing those two together would certainly be … interesting.

By Chris Bailey 

POTENTIAL22

Name: Jovane Cabral

Club: Sporting

Age: 20

Position: Left winger

Style: Portugal must wait until Jovane Cabral is 23 until he is eligible to pull on their colours, but the Cape Verde-born forward has wasted little time introducing himself to his adopted nation. There is a rinse-and-repeat pattern to Cabral’s play. Surge up the left, cut onto his right. But it’s a method – along with a few Ronaldo-esque chops – that has harvested incredible produce for Sporting. In nine appearances this year, just three of which have been starts, his contributions have directly led to six goals. It is the type of bang-for-your-buck ratio that Jadon Sancho has been revered for with Borussia Dortmund. There is a caveat that to the chaos. His explosiveness only gets him so far if given the start, as he wearies without possession the tactical nous or decision-making to fall back on. His floor, it appears, is at least a career like club-mate Nani. The idea will be to keep infuriating the opposition more than his own team.

Forecast for 2019: Sporting fans have delighted in Gelson Martins’ minimal impact at Atletico Madrid after a summer which saw many first-team players flee the club due to the infamous training ground attack. Cabral is an exciting replacement but hardly ready-made. Sporting coach Jose Peseiro has a raw asset to mould, and he has at least three years to do so as his charge sits tight for a Portugal call-up.

By Chris Bailey

POTENTIAL21

Name: Ethan Ampadu

Club: Chelsea

Age: 18

Position: Centre-back/central midfielder

Style: Ethan Ampadu is a confident young man. He played a game of risk by moving to Chelsea, who can perhaps only count Ryan Bertrand and Andreas Christensen as the only two academy players to break through since the rise of John Terry. Hardly a surfeit of club legends. There is though a hubbub of certainty surrounding Ampadu. Since combining playing for Exeter City in England’s fourth tier with studying for his GCSEs, his maturity and physicality while shackling professionals twice his age has marked him as a rare breed indeed. On his debut for Chelsea – at the age of 17 – against Nottingham Forest last season, Ampadu had no qualms directing his team-mates about the field while calmly conducting the midfield. His football IQ is his most striking asset and the reason why there is debate whether he will spend his career as a ball-playing centre-back instead. With the future looking so bright, there is little else up for discussion.

Forecast for 2019: Former Wales coach Chris Coleman offered up the words ‘Rio Ferdinand’ as a description for the shaggy-haired teenager and Ryan Giggs has shown a willingness to put the Welsh torch in his hands, having featured him heavily in the autumn. However, at Chelsea, Ampadu has not had so much as a Europa League run-out, with Maurizio Sarri keeping squad rotation to a bare minimum in defence. Christensen has not had a sniff, either, and it would take several casualties for the situation to change – this year, at least .

By Chris Bailey

Ampadu

Name: Luka Jovic

Club: Benfica (on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt)

Age: 20

Position: Centre forward

Style: October 19, 2018 is the date that a special talent announced himself to the wider world. Jovic then went from an under-the-radar attacker in the Bundesliga, to the youngest-ever player to score five goals during one match in the competition. Fortuna Dusseldorf had no answer to Eintracht Frankfurt loanee’s startling brilliance, with the acrobatic volleyed opener showing all you need to know about a prospect dubbed the ‘Serbian Falcao’ in his homeland. The comparisons to the Colombia superstar are easy to see; both are stocky yet skilled, plus utterly ruthless in front of goal. Jovic’s ability was also quick to show itself – at 16 years, five months and five days he’s the youngest-ever goalscorer in the history of Red Star Belgrade. Consistency is now key for the Benfica-owned prospect. On the evidence of 2018/19, the Fortuna rout looks to be only the beginning of a startling rise.

Forecast for 2019: Board representative Fredi Bobic, chief scout Ben Manga and sporting director Bruno Hubner have made Frankfurt another fortune. Their foresight to include an option to buy in the initial loan, for a player then struggling in the Benfica reserves, deserves the highest praise. A similar arrangement secured Croatia’s Ante Rebic from Fiorentina at a knockdown rate – a forward they managed to retain despite ample covetous glances after World Cup 2018. Chelsea and Tottenham are already linked to Jovic. If he keeps progressing at the current precipitous rate, an irresistible offer may arrive next summer.

By Matt Monaghan 

Jovic

Name: Bartlomiej Drągowski

Club: Fiorentina

Age: 21

Position: Goalkeeper

Style: What were you up to at 16 years old? In Poland, on the banks of the Biala river, Drągowski was closing the floodgates for Jagiellonia Bialystok after winning the starting job. His debut was as good as any goalkeeper could reasonably expect during a 4-4 draw and he held firm to the gloves thereafter. The season after, Dragowski collected awards as the Ekstraklasa’s best goalkeeper and breakthrough player. His rise has been underpinned by immaculate footwork, covering angles with near-geometrical position. Every promising goalkeeper is good at ‘reflex’ saves; Dragowski gives himself the best chance before the ball even reaches him. Allied to his long, long arms and 6ft3in frame, there is a lot to like here.

Forecast for 2019: Fiorentina came calling two years ago and, having appeared 69 times in his first three seasons, the next three have thus far yielded just nine appearances. La Viola’s capture of the even younger Alban Lafont from Toulouse over the summer will have gone down like a slap in his face and his father Dariusz, a former footballer himself, has admitted staying put may have been an error. With Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski blocking his international path too, it’ll be a shock if he does not seek his fortune elsewhere soon.

By Chris Bailey

POTENTIAL18

Name: Stanley N’Soki

Club: PSG

Age: 19

Position: Left-back

Style: If reports are to be believed, Newcastle turned down the opportunity to spend £9 million on Stanley N’Soki last summer. It’s a story he can laugh about now. Instead, the 19-year-old has become a valued member of a PSG side that covets their homegrown produce almost as much as their monster-money imports. Layvin Kurzawa’s back surgery has seen N’Soki timeshare at left-back with Juan Bernat, and the France youth international has jumped off the screen for his aggressiveness down his flank. N’Soki takes gambles – mostly educated ones – to intercept passes and he’s not afraid of a strong tackle/borderline hack to win the ball back. His distribution is clean, as it should be when the Neymar and Co are pulling at the seams of teams, but his athleticism is a hand-and-glove fit for PSG.

Forecast for 2019: Kurzawa is unlikely to return until some point in the New Year and as Champions League football seeps into the bones of the Parisians, N’Soki will be needed in relief more than ever. There is little chance of expenditure at left-back with Neymar drastically unbalancing the books. A 19-year-old not named Kylian Mbappe as a rotational piece of the squad? It’s not looking bad for N’Soki at all.

By Chris Bailey

POTENTIAL17

Name: Jordi Mboula

Club: Monaco

Age: 19

Position: Winger

Style: Monaco is a repository for some of the brightest young things in Europe, so it came as no surprise when Jordi Mboula’s name lit up Twitter when he waved goodbye to Barcelona last year. The video, an excerpt from a UEFA Youth League game, was outrageous. Sucking in a defender before executing a 360-degree spin, Mboula bore down on goal before beating both his original victim and new one with a blur of feet. Mboula bears a striking facial resemblance to Neymar but, despite his proclivity for tricks and flicks, his style of play is far more direct. With scarcely distinguishable feet, he is just as at ease prowling the touchline as he is driving towards the centre. Impressively built for such a balletic player, Mboula teased Ligue 1 with a glimpse into the future at the end of last season, firing off a stepover before rasping into the top corner of Troyes’ net.

Forecast for 2019: Mboula had been a misfit in Leonardo Jardim’s recent wingback-oriented system – his last throw of the dice – but the Portuguese’s goose is now cooked. Monaco are now starting from ground zero and while there is competition from the even younger Sofiane Diop on the flanks, a manager like Thierry Henry may see a little of himself in the rangy wide forward.

By Chris Bailey

POTENTIAL16

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Top 100 players 21 and under: Potential stars ranging from Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena

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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

Club: Monaco

Age: 17

Position: Striker

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

POTENTIAL5

Name: Carles Alena

Club: Barcelona

Age: 20

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

POTENTIAL2

Name: Rhian Brewster

Club: Liverpool

Age: 18

Position: Striker

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

Brewster

Name: Timothy Weah

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Age: 18

Position: Striker

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

Weah

Name: Alexander Isak

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Age: 19

Position: Striker

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

POTENTIAL1

Name: Moise Kean

Club: Juventus

Age: 18

Position: Striker

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

Kean

Name: Callum Hudson-Odoi

Club: Chelsea

Age: 18

Position: Winger

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 

POTENTIAL27

Name: Mile Svilar

Club: Benfica

Age: 19

Position: Goalkeeper

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 

POTENTIAL26

Name: Patson Daka

Club: Red Bull Salzburg

Age: 20

Position: Forward

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 

Daka

Name: Weston McKennie

Club: Schalke 04

Age: 20

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 

McKennie

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Top 100 players 21 & under: Potential stars including Man United teenager Diogo Dalot

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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: Malang Sarr

Club: Nice

Age: 19

Position: Centre-back

Style: A hometown hero is emerging on France’s Cote d’Azur. From joining Nice’s academy aged six to becoming a goalscoring debutant aged 17, Sarr is living the dream.
Either deployed at centre-back or on the left, he exhibits an understanding of the game far beyond his years – rather than relying on raw physicality. No surprise when you consider his formative seasons were spent under head coach Lucien Favre. Not blessed with great height, which can be an issue against bigger strikers, he nips at the toes of attackers like a guard dog in order to intercept the ball. When he wins it back, a punishing accuracy in possession puts Nice straight onto the counter-attack.

Forecast for 2019: Sarr has dealt well with the disappointment of dropping out of the Nice XI in 2017/18, going on to make several Ligue 1 starts this term. Early results under new boss Patrick Vieira have been mixed, but the France legend previously saw top-line talents blossom in his post at Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad.  

By Matt Monaghan

POTENTIAL30

Name: Diogo Leite

Club: Porto

Age: 19

Position: Centre-back

Style: Leite has taken the giant leap from youth-team football to the hallowed Porto first team this season – and the early results show a jewel in need of polishing. The 19-year-old is dominant in the air, as shown with a fine header in a 3-2 win at Belenenses, strong in possession and possesses an eye for an interception. This boyhood fan used to watch the Dragoes in the stand – now they hope to have a hybrid of Ricardo Carvalho and Jorge Costa on their hands. Links to Liverpool appeared in the summer around the same time that their great rivals Manchester United raided the Porto youth ranks for team-mate Diogo Dalot. But a raw side remains and rashness saw two yellow cards collected in his opening three Primeira Liga starts. A demotion from mid-September back to Porto’s reserves, however, should be temporary.

Forecast for 2019: Porto’s business model revolves around putting bright prospects in the shop window. Leite is no different. Already, overtures from the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach have been rejected. For good reason too, as he needs minutes in a familiar environment to develop. We won’t see the best of this defender for some time yet. 

By Matt Monaghan

POTENTIAL29

Name: Diogo Dalot

Club: Manchester United

Age: 19

Position: Defender

Style: Don’t let the step-overs and a tendency for flair fool you. Diogo Dalot is not your modern day cavalier full-back. In terms of his understanding of the game and his own positioning, he is among the most intelligent young defenders around. His forays forward are strong and with purpose but rarely will he leave his side exposed. Dalot is a well-rounded full-back, capable of playing on either flank and can deliver crosses with both feet. His imposing physique and pace makes him a formidable opponent at both ends of the pitch. While he creates several goal-scoring opportunities, his decision-making in the final third still needs work. In defence though, he shows a level of maturity beyond his years.

Forecast for 2019: Antonio Valencia has been a great workhorse for United at right-back but given his one-dimensional ventures forward and defensive lapses, Dalot would eventually be a big upgrade in that position. The Portuguese is still feeling his way into his new surroundings but is poised to take over from the club captain next season if not sooner.

By Brendon Netto

POTENTIAL32

Name: Brahim Diaz

Club: Manchester City

Age: 19

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Style: Malaga made a 10-year-old Brahim Diaz a promise – he would play in La Liga by 16. His outstanding talent prompted them to give him such an assurance, although their hand may have been forced by the interest he was receiving from other clubs. Barcelona were frontrunners and Diaz had even been given a personal tour of the Camp Nou dressing rooms by Lionel Messi and, his current coach at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola. He turned down La Masia and signed for City at the age of 14 and has become one of the foremost young talents at the club alongside Phil Foden. During pre-season last year, he did his best Messi impression when he scored a sublime left-footed effort against Real Madrid. However, for most of his limited playing time at the Etihad, Diaz has featured as a striker but is more suited in a No10 role. His physique needs work but he’s already a renowned for his creative abilities, possession the kind of vision few players can boast of. Diaz’s low centre of gravity, superb balance and close control makes him a nightmare for defenders while his ability with both feet is a great asset.

Forecast for 2019: Given the star-studded squad at City, Diaz has struggled for playing time. Even if or when a position opens up, the 19-year-old faces stiff competition from Foden. If he can’t make his mark by the end of the 2018/19 campaign, he could be tempted to take the Jadon Sancho route and look for opportunities to play elsewhere. Several La Liga clubs would certainly snap him up.

By Brendon Netto

POTENTIAL31

Name: Ainsely Maitland-Niles

Club: Arsenal

Age: 21

Position: Defender/Midfielder

Style: Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the second youngest Arsenal player – after Jack Wilshere – to feature in the Champions League having made his debut for the club at the age of 17 against Galatasaray. After a year on loan to Ipswich in the following campaign, he made 28 senior appearances for the Gunners during Arsene Wenger’s final season at the club. Maitland-Niles’ pace and strength held him in good stead as he made the most of his opportunities. A versatile player, Wenger predominantly used him as a full-back on either flank while he also had a handful of appearances in midfield. The 21-year-old has proved to be a good passer but it’s his driving runs gets spectators off their seats. From a defensive aspect, he’s show good positional awareness while his acceleration helps him make great recovery runs as well. His decision-making in the final third leaves a lot to be desired though while he can be a liability at the back when dealing with an aerial assault.

Forecast for 2019: Having fractured his fibula in Unai Emery’s first match in charge, he suffered a setback in his efforts to establish himself in Arsenal’s first team. However, that will remain his primary target over the next 12 months. With Gareth Southgate turning to youth in the England senior side as well, earning a first cap should be on his thoughts as well.

By Brendon Netto

Maitland-Niles

Name: Enes Unal

Club: Villarreal (on loan at Real Valladolid)

Age: 21

Position: Striker

Style: At the age of 16, Enes Unal came off Bursapor’s bench and scored three minutes into his Turkish league debut against Galatasaray, becoming the youngest ever scorer in the division. It’s no surprise he was immediately touted as the Turkey’s next superstar. Unal earned a move to Manchester City in 2015 and while he never broke into the first team, he went on a series of loan spells including a particularly impressive one at FC Twente. He scored 19 goals in 33 outings for the Dutch side and was snapped up by Villarreal, although not without City inserting a buyback clause. The striker is a handful for defenders as his first instinct on receiving possession is to turn and run at the backline. He’s also good at linking up with his team-mates, always alert to a potential flick into space or clever layoffs. His big frame facilitates his role as a lone striker as he has the strength to fend of opponents while his relentless running helps him work the channels. Unal possesses a fierce shot and is dominant in the air but his finishing can let him down at times. He also needs to work on his hold-up play as he tends to be too eager to attack, losing possession in the process.

Forecast for 2019: Currently on loan at Real Valladolid, the 21-year-old is getting the playing time he needs. He will be focused on continuing his good start to the season in an effort to earn his place in the first XI at parent club Villarreal. A good run with Valladolid may also get him back into contention for the national team.

By Brendon Netto

Unal

Name: Nicolo Zaniolo

Club: AS Roma

Age: 19

Position: Midfielder

Style: With Radja Nainggolan’s cut-price fee in his transfer from Roma to Inter Milan grabbing headlines, Nicolo Zaniolo’s move in the opposite direction as part of the deal flew under the radar. Such is his talent though, Roberto Mancini called him up to the Italian national team even before he made his first Serie A appearance. The 19-year-old is a blossoming goalscoring midfielder and spent last season with Inter’s reserves with whom he notched up 14 goals and 11 assists in 35 appearances. The lanky midfielder is blessed with surprisingly quick feet. He has good vision and can pick out a pass in the final third. The Italian also has a knack for ghosting into the area and finishing off moves. Zaniolo is not quick but his strength, supreme technique, final pass and ability in the air make him a formidable opponent in the middle of the park and a serious threat inside the box.

Forecast for 2019: The youngster is only just getting his first taste of top flight football as Roma gradually implement him into the squad. Getting regular playing time will be his priority while the lack of young talent at Mancini’s disposal means an international debut is within reach as well.

By Brendon Netto

POTENTIAL35

Name: Reiss Nelson

Club: Arsenal (on loan at Hoffenheim)

Age: 18

Position: Winger

Style: If Reiss Nelson keeps his head down and continues to develop into a mature professional, Arsenal could have a special talent on their hands. The Englishman’s pace, trickery and dribbling are his chief assets and put him among the most devastating attacking talents around. At the moment, Nelson is an outstanding impact player, already proving as such early into his loan spell with Hoffenheim, but he has the potential to be so much more. The 18-year-old is still raw and has some way to go in terms of his tactical education but that will only come with minutes on the pitch. He likes to receive the ball into feet, particularly in wide areas, and then set off on weaving runs past defenders. Nelson is no headless chicken though. His runs attack defenders and while some are left in his wake, others get sucked in and create space that he is only too happy to exploit with passes or lay-offs for his team-mates. He is of slight built and poses no threat in the air but isn’t easily bullied off the ball either. For a young player, he possesses good decision-making in the final third but his execution isn’t always accurate as he’s often trying to shoot or make a pass while running at pace or quickly changing direction.

Forecast for 2019: Nelson will keep getting opportunities off the bench for Hoffenheim and at some point will look to get some starts under his belt. He’s still on a learning curve and Unai Emery was perhaps wise not to thrust him into the spotlight in the Premier League. Gaining experience is key for him at the moment. Ideally, he’ll return to the Emirates in the summer poised to stake a claim for a spot in the Gunners’ first team for the 2019/20 season.

By Brendon Netto

Nelson

Name: Jacob Bruun Larsen

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Age: 20

Position: Winger

Style: Even before they wowed spectators in Borussia Dortmund’s first team, many were already familiar with the prodigious talents of Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho. However, few were aware of another young winger who would turn heads at the start of this season and that’s largely because, at first glance, there’s not much to write home about. Jacob Bruun Larsen seems to have come out of nowhere and inserted himself into the first team setup. The Dane was suspected to be surplus to requirements in the summer after being loaned to Stuttgart in the previous campaign. Despite the likes of Pulisic, Sancho, Marco Reus, Marco Wolf and Maximillian Philip being ahead of him in the pecking order, impressive showings in pre-season where he scored against Liverpool and bagged a hat-trick against FC Zurich earned him opportunities this season which he has taken with both hands. Bruun Larsen does not have bags of pace or many tricks in his locker. He won’t weave his way past a host of defenders but he will catch them napping. His intelligent movement, decisive final ball and cool finishing has made people take notice. An understated talent, the Dane is a creative force, frequently providing key passes and is generally a well-rounded player for his age.

Forecast for 2019: Bruun Larsen is not a world beater and that’s why establishing himself in the first XI may be unrealistic in the near future. The competition for places is intense but he has proven to be a valuable squad member and must continue as such. He’s an intelligent footballer with strong physical attributes so he should also be aiming to be more versatile in order to get more game time – especially since 18-year-old Alexander Isak is the only recognised striker in the squad after Paco Alcacer.

By Brendon Netto

POTENTIAL36

Name: Reece Oxford

Club: West Ham United

Age: 19

Position: Defender

Style: Mesut Ozil is a world class player but he’s no stranger to the inside of a pocket. Reece Oxford is just one of many opponents to dominate the German on an off day but the significance is he did so on his Premier League debut, at 16. The Englishman has the tools to make it as a classy, modern centre-back. He is comfortable on the ball, can carry it out of defence and has a good turn of pace. Oxford can also read the game well, is alert to danger and makes several interceptions. All these attributes earned him comparisons with another West Ham prodigy in Rio Ferdinand. Such is his talent with the ball at his feet that he has constantly been switched between defence and midfield. His height and aerial dominance is an asset at the heart of the defence but his passing can have a greater influence from midfield.

Forecast for 2019: Oxford’s famous debut in a 2-0 win over Arsenal was three years ago. Following a new contract that season, the youngster has failed to push on. Loan spells at Reading and Borussia Monchengladbach have done little to increase his playing time. Currently featuring in West Ham’s reserve team, the 19-year-old is running out of time to prove himself, especially with Declan Rice impressing in the first team. His may be a case of too much too soon. Oxford, the second-youngest Premier League debutant, is in danger of following Jose Baxter (the youngest) down the path to obscurity.

By Brendon Netto

POTENTIAL38

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