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: Phil Foden
Club: Manchester City
Style: It’s easy to see why Manchester City are not too concerned about finding a replacement for the brilliant David Silva, when they have a homegrown talent like Foden showing all the qualities required to make the step up. Learning from the Spaniard, and fellow team-mate Kevin de Bruyne – two players who play in a similar position to Foden – will do the youngster the world of good, and it’s clear Pep Guardiola believes in the 18-year-old. Foden has a wonderful ability to play within compact areas of the pitch, keeping possession smartly and finding pockets of space he can utilise to open up defences with his excellent eye for a pass. Foden is also confident in front of goal, having netted his first City goal in the Carabao Cup earlier this season, while also scoring regularly for England at youth level. His creativity and vision are his standout abilities, and while he may be small in stature, Foden likes to use his low centre of gravity to steal a march on defenders and weave his way through tight defensive lines.
Forecast for 2019: It will be a big year for Foden’s development. After deciding to stay with Manchester City rather than head out on loan, the youngster will hope to see his time on the pitch increase under Pep Guardiola during the second half of the season. With former team-mate Jadon Sancho highlighting the benefits of regular first-team football, Foden may decide that he’s best served enjoying a year away from his boyhood club to further develop. England clearly rate Foden just as highly as Guardiola, with the youngster already part of the Under-21 set-up, despite being just 18 years of age. Another big summer tournament on the international stage will see Foden’s stock rise again.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Ben Woodburn
Club: Liverpool (on loan at Sheffield United)
Style: What is it with Wales and extremely talented left-wingers? First Ryan Giggs, then Gareth Bale and now, it seems, Ben Woodburn. Unlike Giggs and Bale, Woodburn is right-footed, but certainly has the potential to match the heights of the two Welsh legends. Able to play as a striker, in a wide position or a central attacking midfield role, Woodburn possesses excellent technique and composure. When playing from the left, he loves to cut in onto his stronger right foot, but is equally as confident beating his man down the wing. His excellent vision and passing range means Woodburn also likes to drop into pockets of space and collect the ball from deep, playing defence-splitting passes and switching the play with ease. The 19-year-old is just as confident in front of goal, proven by the fact he became Liverpool’s youngest-ever goalscorer in just his second appearance, and is also Wales’ second-youngster goalscorer behind the aforementioned Bale.
Forecast for 2019: Currently enjoying his first loan spell away from Anfield, Woodburn hasn’t found it easy for regular football at Championship side Sheffield United, but that’s not to say his development has been halted by the move away. Playing a key role in a potential promotion push with the Blades would be invaluable experience for Woodburn, who clearly has the support and backing of current Reds boss Jurgen Klopp. With eight Wales caps under his belt already, Woodburn will hope he can play an important role under new boss Giggs, as he looks to help his nation qualify for back-to-back European Championships.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Peru Nolaskoain
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Position: Centre-back/central midfielder
Style: Impressing as a dominant central midfielder in Athletic Bilbao’s youth setup, Peru Nolaskoain’s game understanding, composure on the ball and commanding presence saw first-team manager Eduardo Berizzo convert the youngster to a central defender this summer. Thanks to his years as a combative midfielder in the youth system, Nolaskoain’s passing and vision are both excellent. His close control and technique on the ball afford him time and space in the most demanding area of the pitch. It was from his new defensive role that the 20-year-old scored on his La Liga debut, heading home from a corner at the near post. The switch to the back four means Nolaskoain’s risky passing game may have to be reined in slightly. Another aspect of his game that has eased the transition to central defender is his tackling, often winning back possession and getting his team on the front foot, using his tactical intelligence to help him read situations well.
Forecast for 2019: Having made his La Liga debut at the start of the campaign, Nolaskoain will be hoping to secure regular first-team football at Bilbao in 2019, whether that be at centre-back or in central midfield. Nolaskoain has already represented Spain at Under-19 and Under-20 level, but with such strong competition for places in the Under-21 set-up, regular first-team football will be required for him to make the next step in 2019.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Martin Odegaard
Club: Real Madrid (on loan at Vitesse)
Style: It’s staggering to think that Martin Odegaard has been a Real Madrid player for almost four years. Blessed with quick feet, natural balance, an abundance of skill and lightning pace, the Norwegian was only 16 when Europe’s big clubs made their attempts to sign him. Since his move in January 2015, it’s fair to say it hasn’t worked out at Madrid for Odegaard, but his loan spell at Heerenveen last season suggested the youngster still has the quality to make it to the top. His creativity and eye for a pass mean he is able to play from a more central attacking role if required, but he must start adding more goals and assists to his game if he is going to take the next step, either in Madrid or elsewhere. Despite his big move at such a young age, Odegaard has remained level-headed throughout, suggesting he has the right mentality to forge an excellent career in the game. That attitude, coupled with his technique and ability, mean there’s still plenty more to come from the 19-year-old.
Forecast for 2019: A first-team spot at the Bernabeu still looks to be some way off for the 19-year-old, who will be out of contract at Real Madrid come the summer, so expect to see the Norwegian on the move in 2019. Who will be willing to give the youngster another chance? His form for Vitesse this season will have a big say on where his next move will be. On the international front, Odegaard has worked his way back into the senior set-up, and getting the chance to build on his previous caps will be one of his big targets.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Vinicius Junior
Club: Real Madrid
Style: Brazilian. Skillful. Left-winger. It’s understandable why comparisons to Neymar will be drawn when discussing Vinicius Junior – especially when the 18-year-old names the PSG star as his idol. At the Bernabeu, however, they’ll be hoping he can emulate the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo, but it may be a few years before we see Vinicius truly flourishing in white. With an abundance of pace and trickery, he certainly dances to the Samba beat when he’s on the pitch. Playing from the left, he can either drop deep to collect the ball, using those aforementioned traits to beat his man, or get in behind to devastating effect. In a similar vein to Madrid man Marco Asensio, Vinicius’ ability to shift his direction and pace quickly can often leave defenders trailing in his wake, and despite his slim frame, the Brazilian is excellent at using his body and physique to shield the ball, providing another element that toughens a defender’s task. Unlike many young Brazilian attackers before him, he understands his defensive responsibilities, working hard to regain possession and offering support to his full-backs. His passing and tactical awareness are also impressive for someone so young, and while his positioning to avoid getting caught offside can improve, he has all the makings of another Brazilian superstar.
Forecast for 2019: Unfazed by his big-money move to Real Madrid, Vinicius has impressed for the Spanish club’s Castilla side early on in the season, scoring twice in their recent derby draw with Atletico, including a stunning strike from distance. While a potential loan move back to Brazil has been touted for January, Vinicius has made fleeting appearances for the first team, although, he may be better served with a temporary switch to another La Liga club, where he can continue to adjust to life in Spain during the second half of the season, before returning to Madrid for another full pre-season. On the international stage, having been named as the best player and top scorer at the South American Under-17 Football Championships in 2017, Vinicus will be hoping to help Brazil qualify for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Amadou Diawara
Position: Defensive midfielder
Style: There are very few players in the same mould as Diawara anymore. Happy to sit in front of the back four, the 21-year-old defensive midfielder isn’t one for the glitz and glamour of goals and assists, rather winning the ball back and keeping it simple, with his impressive positioning and intelligent understanding of the game a key facet of his play. Once on the front foot, Diawara has an eye for pass, confident in his ability to dink the ball over the opposition defence to find his team-mates making forward runs. The Napoli man has an impressive pass accuracy of just over 88 percent from his first three full seasons in Serie A. Not only does Diawara read the game well to win the ball back in key areas of the pitch, he also has the burst of pace needed to recover loose balls quickly, aiding the transition of defence to attack with confidence and calmness on the ball when under pressure. The defensive midfielder does have aspects of his game he needs to work on, especially his tendency to lose his discipline, diving into tackles and making overly rash challenges, though he has already recognised this, having picked up nine bookings in one season for Bologna, to just five since joining Napoli in 2016.
Forecast for 2019: Diawara’s move to Napoli perhaps hasn’t been as successful as he would have first hoped, having struggled to nail down a starting spot in his first two seasons with the club. The youngster’s aim for 2019 must be to make a big impression on Carlo Ancelotti and secure a regular place in his manager’s first-choice line-up. If he is to take the next step in his development, leaving Napoli may be the only option for the Guinean-born midfielder, should he endure a third season of playing back-up at the Serie A side. A number of Premier League clubs, along with the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus, reportedly showed interest in Diawara before his move to Napoli, meaning he is unlikely to be short of options if he decides it’s time to move on.
By Tom Biggs
Name: Mickael Cuisance
Club: Borussia Monchengladbach
Position: Centre midfielder
Style: Having reportedly turned down Manchester City and Juventus to join Borussia Monchengladbach in the hope of more regular first-team action, Mickael Cuisance has certainly got his wish. Aged just 19, and with over 30 Bundesliga appearances and a Player of the Season award under his belt, it’s hard to argue with Cuisance’s decision making. That’s also evident on the pitch, with a mature game understanding from a central midfield position. Cuisance’s passing range is exceptional, switching play regularly with consummate ease and opening up defences with killer passes that very few young players would not only struggle to spot, but also have the confidence and ability to pull off. It’s not just his passing ability which has helped him make huge strides in the Bundesliga, with Cuisance equally as confident when dribbling and taking on players thanks to his quick feet and excellent balance.
Forecast for 2019: Having already won Monchengladbach’s Player of the Season award in his debut season for the club, Cuisance will be hoping to establish himself as a firm regular in the side. Should he continue to impress, the likes of Manchester City and Juventus may come calling again. With caps at every youth level for France from Under-16 to Under-20, the midfielder will hope to force his way into the Under-21 setup in time for next summer’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
By Tom Biggs
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