Late 2013, early 2014 we had published a list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2014, the progress of who we’ve been tracking with our detailed Scout Reports and regularTalent Radar features. This Top 20 Young Players of 2014 feature takes a look back at the year and the stand-out performers.
As seen above, in addition to a look back at 2014, we’ll also be looking ahead to 2015 and the best young players to watch. Note that for this feature only first team games in the top division of leagues, cup & continental competitions plus games for the senior national team have been taken into consideration. Figures mentioned in brackets are those of their positions in the aforementioned 100 Best Young Players of 2014 list.
DAVY KLAASSEN | 21 | Ajax | The Netherlands | Attacking midfielder | (#7 in midfielders)
Who? Any 21 year old who dons the Number 10 shirt at Ajax certainly merits some inquiry, and Davy Klaassen is no different from some of the previous occupants of this shirt. Klaassen is one of the new stars of the famous Ajax youth academy, and having made his debut at a very young age, has the experience to launch his career now.
Why? Klaassen has had a fine year for both club and country. The much vaunted youngster broke through on the international stage in March in a friendly against the French, becoming the 100th Ajax player to be capped for the Netherlands in the process. He didn’t make it to the World Cup squad, but since the end of that tournament, he has featured for the national side, making the bench on several occasions.
Despite the fact that he didn’t make it to the World Cup squad, he was a strong contender to be on the plane to Brazil, with some fantastic performances in Ajax’s 22 match unbeaten streak in the league putting him in many wishlists. 9 goals and 3 assists in that period didn’t hurt his case either. The attacking midfielder was the subject of transfer speculation in the summer, but like his coach, he stayed put, and has started this season like a house on fire.
The attacking midfielder has taken great steps forward this season, firmly establishing himself as the vital element of this Ajax team. He’s started every one of his 14 appearances, contributing 3 goals and 7 assists in that time. In the Champions League too, where Ajax have struggled behind giants like PSG and Barcelona, he’s been a shining star, scoring against PSG in the last outing.
What impresses most people about Klaassen is his skill on the ball, and the fact that he has a brain to match. His intelligence in creating spaces, and finding his teammates in empty spaces is almost unparalleled. His smart close control, and accurate passing in the final third make him even more dangerous for defenders, and he is most definitely a player to be taken seriously.
The Future? Like many others before him, Klaassen will probably look to secure a move to a big European club in the near future. He’s been linked to Arsenal and Barcelona recently, with the Gunners currently touted as favourites to secure his signature. However, the youngster should look to stay firm at Ajax at least until the end of the season, where the wise De Boer can ensure he grows, especially with all the playing time he will have.
THORGAN HAZARD | 21 | Monchengladbach | Belgium | Attacking midfielder | (#20 in midfielder)
Who? Thorgan is a player who is rather well known across the football world, but that isn’t entirely due to his own exploits. While his brother’s name does create a lot of curiosity about him, Thorgan Hazard has done enough in his own right, impressing many across the footballing fraternity.
Why? Nominally, Hazard is a Chelsea player, but with their policy of buying many young and talented players, and then loaning them out to give them experience and playing time to develop them, he has found himself playing all across the continent of late. At the beginning of the year, he was playing in the Belgian Jupiler League for Zulte Waregem, and close to the end of his 2 year spell at that club. Hazard finished there on a high, ending as the Golden Shoe winner in January, and winning the award for the Best Professional Footballer in May.
His performances at club level weren’t to go unnoticed, as he was included in Belgium’s squad for the World Cup, albeit as a reserve. The next step for him was from the Jupiler Pro League to the Bundesliga, where he is on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach.
With his previous experience having come in Ligue 2, and the JPL, the Bundesliga has been a bit of a step up for the youngster, and he hasn’t yet been able to establish himself as a sure shot starter for the German outfit. That’s not to say that he hasn’t impressed in the opportunities he’s had, as a lot of experts have been full of praise for the youngster. Much like his brother, he plays as an attacking midfielder and a winger, and his skill and speed set him apart from his opponents.
The future? The first mission for Thorgan Hazard will be to win and secure a spot in the starting XI at Gladbach. He’ll have to work hard in training and impress his manager in order to do so. In the long run, Hazard will be hoping to win the attention and interest of those at his parent club, Chelsea. It wont be easy for him, but Hazard has shown that he has the talent to do so.
AYMERIC LAPORTE | 20 | Athletic Bilbao | France | Defender | (#10 in defenders)
Who? Only two French players have ever represented the Basque legends that are Bilbao; Bixente Lizarazu and Aymeric Laporte. The young defender has come through the ranks at the club, and is now one of the rocks at the back of the Bilbao defence. He was first promoted to the first team by El Loco, and became an undisputed starter under Ernesto Valverde.
Why? Laporte has made it onto this list primarily due to the kind of consistency his performances have shown. Last season, he started 35 matches, and this season, he’s played every minute of the 12 games he’s featured in, playing a role in their Champions League campaign as well. While these numbers alone make for dry reading, they become significant when you take into account the fact that he’s just 20 years old. Laporte is quite versatile as well, and is capable of filling in at left back from time to time. His performances were impressive enough for us at OOTB to include him in our Talent Radar Team of the Season for 2013-14.
He hasn’t broken into the French national team as yet, with all the competition for his spot in the side, but if he keeps up the good work, it wont be long before he is in consideration .
Laporte is a player who is renowned for his ability to read a game, and he is almost always near the top of any chart for interceptions and clearances. Playing in a high line under the likes of Bielsa and Valverde has really suited his natural strengths, allowing him to utilise his pace in order to catch any strikers that do manage to get in behind. His heading, previously a weakness, has also been improved and refined to a very large extent, and now he is one of the better players in the air in La Liga. Like many of his contemporaries, he too is very adept at playing the ball forward, and can sometimes be seen carrying it forward as well.
The Future? Laporte has been a regular starter and performer for Bilbao for a while now, and with the all round shortage of defenders in a number of top teams across Europe, Laporte might become a wanted man very soon. For now, his focus will be on help Bilbao climb the table, and win a top 4 place for next season as well.
HAKAN CALHANOGLU | 20 | Bayer Leverkusen | Turkey | Attacking Midfielder | (#16 in midfielders)
Who? Calhanoglu is one of the brightest young talents in a league full of bright young talents. The Turkish international is just 20 years old, but has already taken great strides forward in his career, earning a move to Bayer Leverkusen in the summer, and establishing his spot in the Turkish national side.
Why? Among several other reasons, the first would have to be the fact that he’s been nominated for the Golden Boy award in 2014, and that should tell you all you need to know about his talent, and his pedigree.
At the start of the year, Calhanoglu was a vital part of the Hamburg side that was fighting hard to avoid getting relegated. He had a fine season at the club, scoring 11, and assisting 4 in his 32 appearances, including a stunning goal against Dortmund. Importantly for him, he had a long run in the first team, and this breakthrough really helped him gain experience at the top level.
Such a wonderful season put his name up in the lights, and Bayer Leverkusen were successful in the quest to secure his signature. He’s had a good start to his career at this club as well, scoring and assisting regularly, and contributing in the Champions League as well. Keep this up, and once again, we’ll see clubs chasing him in the summer.
While Calhanoglu isn’t the most imposing physical presence, he more than makes up for it with his technical brilliance. Some of his skills and passes are worth taking a look at, and he manages to fit in the odd belter of a goal. Calhanoglu seems to thrive in tight spaces, picking out passes and angles with effortless ease. Calhanoglu is a player who is really easy on the eye, and this is his most endearing aspect.
The Future? Having just made the move to Leverkusen, it’s difficult to see him going anywhere anytime soon. His contract runs until 2019, and Leverkusen will loathe letting him go just one year into this contract. Moreover, Calhanoglu is at a stage in his career where first team football is the priority. A full season at the top, and regular football in the lower divisions helped him make the step up, and surely, this is something that the player himself realises. If he can stay grounded, and keep the performances coming like he has, success is inevitable.
LORIS KARIUS | 21 | FSV Mainz | Germany | Goalkeeper | (#5 in goalkeepers)
Who? Formerly at Manchester City, Loris Karius is one of the best young goalkeepers in the Bundesliga, and that is not a statement made lightly, considering the kind of goalkeeping talent on show in Germany. Currently, he plays for FSV Mainz, and is seen as another young German keeper to come from the ever-successful production line of the Bundesliga. He’s also the only keeper to feature in this list, making him the Best Young Goalkeeper in the football.
Why? A goalkeeper at Mainz isn’t always going to keep the most number of clean sheets, with all due respect to that club, but the fact is that 4 clean sheets this season in 13 appearances, make for very impressive reading. Last season, Karius managed to break into the side after an injury to the then first choice keeper, Heinz Muller meant he had to fill in. An impressive display in his stint between the posts meant that it became very hard to drop him, and he went on to make 23 appearances in the season, keeping 9 clean sheets, and taking Mainz to an impressive Europa League spot.
His organisational skills are a heavy influence at the back, and his steady presence only helps keep things steady in that area of the pitch. Karius is a player that has long fascinated us, constantly impressing us as he makes regular Talent Radar Team of the Week appearances and dominates top spot in the Talent Radar Player Rankings. For a keeper his age, there is often a level of command he has on his area that never fails to surprise. While Mainz have been impressing this entire calendar year, a particular issue noticeable is often how weak the performances of the defence have been (especially in the second half of the year) increasing the need for Karius to be at the top of his game.
The Future? Karius will look to continue his development and gain experience along with first team opportunities. Someone like Courtois has shown that opportunities can really go a long way in converting talent into performance, Loris Karius can certainly trot down that same path. Now comfortably the first choice at Mainz, there is plenty more experience to gain and impressions to make.
Write-ups by Vishal Patel & Sami Faizullah