Following the huge success of our 2014 list, we have compiled a list of the 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 under our Talent Radar feature after careful evaluation and consultation. For more details on how we went about this and any other questions you may have, read these FAQs.
5. VALENTIN BELON
FRANCE | RC LENS | 19 | KEEPER
Like most young keepers his age, Valentin Belon’s big break in first team football came in the form of an injury to first choice keeper, Rudy Riou. But it was an opportunity he took with flying colours and has renewed hope for the next generation of French football in the one position it seemed to be lacking
Mini-Analysis: Of all the players that feature in the goalkeeper’s category, Belon remains the most inexperienced one and thus a raw talent. But his pure ability in his short first team cameo has shown how well his basic keeping abilities have been engraved in. The teenager has a surprising control of his area, with the simple skill of knowing when to come out and when to stick deep already displayed. His ability to control balls from shots is quite unique, looking to catch when others would parry it away. Given the opportunity to work more with his defence, learn to organize and control the zone, will only aid in his development beyond his pure keeping skills.
Looking back: Having made his debut mid-way through the 2014-15 season, Belon has again found himself playing second fiddle to 34-year-old Riou. At 19 regular football for a keeper is always unlikely, but having cemented a spot on the bench and made his mark in a couple of league games, 2014 will always be considered as an important year for Belon, but not a break-through one.
What to expect? With Lens struggling for top-flight status, the more experienced of their two keepers will continue to play between the posts as keepers are unlikely to be rotated. But having announced himself, his development will only continue to grow with hopefully a consistent run of games.
Expert views: Andrew Gibney of French Football Weekly, Bleacher Report and others, told us this about Valentin Belon — “It’s never easy for a 19-year-old goalkeeper to make his debut away from home, but Valentin Belon couldn’t have wished for a better start to his top flight career. He looked unfazed as he denied Toulouse any way through a young Lens defence. Losing four goals against Marseille and Bordeaux will take nothing away from his bright start. With quick reactions and no fear, he is certainly a ray of light in what are dark times for Lens.”
Write-up by Sami Faizullah
4. PREDRAG RAJKOVIC
SERBIA | RED STAR BELGRADE | 19 | KEEPER
Red Star Belgrade, the defending champions of Serbian Superliga, found themselves in quite a trouble this summer as their UEFA license was revoked due to continuous debt and unpaid salaries. The decision meant that Red Star was banned from entering any European competitions this season. On the verge of bankruptcy, they had to shift their focus to youth and producing quality young players who will carry the team and hopefully bring some income via transfers. One of those upcoming talents wearing the Zvezda shirt is the young goalkeeper, Predrag Rajković.
Mini-Analysis: His main strength lies in his shot stopping, as he is already considered to be somewhat of a penalty kick specialist, as mentioned. Alongside those qualities, he is also very good when it comes to one-on-ones situations. However, Rajković still has an issue with handling crosses; his decision-making in situations when he is coming off the line to collect long balls could use a great deal of improvement.
Looking back: Spending his first year, in which Zvezda won the league after six years of Partizan Belgrade’s domination, as a substitute for Boban Bajković, Predrag got himself between the posts this season in style. He managed to keep his net untouched for eight games in a row, conceding two in a home draw vs Voždovac after 632 minutes on field. That placed him in Red Star’s record books, where he currently holds the second place on their all-time clean sheet list.
What to expect? Rajković was supposedly noted by some Italian and German clubs, with Sampdoria led by Siniša Mihajlović, the former Serbia national team coach, rumoured to be first in line of potential suitors. It’s unlikely to expect Rajković to be a part of Zvezda’s roster next summer, but whoever decides to cash in on this young Serbian goalkeeper surely won’t be getting a cat in a bag.
Expert views: Aleksandar Holiga, whose work can be found on FourFourTwo, Guardian, ESPNFC, the Blizzard etc, told us this about Predrag Rajkovic — “Predrag Rajkovic is probably the most talented Serbian goalkeeper in years. His reactions are quick and well-timed, his positioning remarkable, his style attractive to watch. It’s rare to see such confidence at such a young age. While it may be too early to expect him making a breakthrough in 2015, I can see him playing for a major European club in a couple of years.”
Write-up by Juraj Vrdoljak
3. ALESSIO CRAGNO
ITALY | CAGLIARI | 20 | KEEPER
The oldest keeper in the 100 Best Young Players to watch in 2015 feature is one whose development over the last 12 months has been incredible. He was plying his trade in Serie B with Brescia not too long ago, but now guards the net of Serie A outfit Cagliari.
Mini-Analysis: Cragno is a natural shot-stopper, he thrives when the ball is coming fast and through a sea of players, always seeming to get just enough body on the ball to deflect it away to safety. His 183cm frame is tall enough to allow him to do his job, but not too tall that he is restricted from flying through the air. However, the youngster still needs to work on his handling, which at times is lacklustre. Despite this, his quick decision making more often than not makes up for this.
Looking back: The Italian helped Brescia to a mid-table position in Serie B last season, and, despite not playing in patches throughout the season, did enough to convince the powerbrokers at Cagliari to strike a deal to bring the 20 year-old to Sardinia for a fee of €1.6m. In his 25 matches last season, Cragno conceded just 24 goals, and kept eight clean sheets in the process.
What to expect? Clearly behind the likes of Nicola Leali, MattiaPerin (both of whom aren’t eligible for this feature) and Simone Scuffet in the ‘next Italian goalkeeping legend’ pecking order, securing regular Serie A football at Cagliari – which he has successfully achieved so far – will be crucial to his development. He still has a point to prove at the highest level that the other three have proven, if not fully, to a larger extent. But he is still young, and times change. A few more years of consistent game time in Sardinia, and maybe a move to a bigger club, could see Cragno surge to the front of Italy selectors’ minds.
Expert Talk: Fabrizio Romano, journalist wit Sky Sport, Goal Italia and Gianluca Di Marzio, told us this about Alessio Cragno — “I think Cragno is a very good goalkeeper. He’s really young and he’s having a good first season in Serie A, with Cagliari, not easy because there’s Zeman who is a particular manager who loves to play offensive football. But he’s pretty good, I think he can be the future for Italy.”
Write-up by Stephen Ganavas
2. MOUEZ HASSEN
FRANCE | OGC NICE | 19 | KEEPER
After a handful of appearances in the 2013/14 season, Mouez Hassen has made the next step up to become number one for OGC Nice. It’s always tough to ask this of a player so young but Hassen has shown he is more than up for the challenge. 2014/15 will always be considered his break-through season, having now just missed out on top spot in the goalkeepers category in this 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 feature.
Mini-Analysis: Part of a large group of extremely talented young French goalkeepers, the Cote d’Azur native displays confidence and ability far beyond his years. He already possesses many attributes that will help him progress into a top class goalkeeper; great reflexes, quick off his line, excellent shot stopping capabilities and the ability to command his penalty area very well for someone so young. No offence intended to his club, but he is at a team where those skills will be put to good use on a regular basis.
Looking back: The 19 year old has slipped into Columbian ‘keeper David Ospina’ gloves following his summer exploits at the World Cup and subsequent move to Arsenal, with aplomb. It is this season he has really started making a name for himself; with 16 Ligue 1 appearances so far there is no doubt that Nice are more than willing to put their trust in Hassen. Despite not having the most stable defence in front of him, the youngster has already kept five clean sheets and is benefitting from having the vastly experienced Simon Pouplin as his back up. 2014 has also seen Hassen continue his journey through the national team setup as he made his debut for the French under 20 side.
What to expect? Whilst the likes of Alphonse Areola and Zacharie Boucher may be the better known group of young French goalkeepers, there is no doubt that Hassen has the talent to break into that band of players. His positioning and decision making need to continue to be worked on but the signs are all there that he will blossom into an excellent goalkeeper. Definitely a player few will have heard of now but will have done come the very near future.
Expert Talk: Jonathan Johnson of French Football Weekly, whose work can also be found on ESPNFC, Bleacher Report etc, told us this about Mouez Hassen — “After featuring five times for Nice last season to deputise for now Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, Hassen was not expected to be Les Aiglons’ immediate replacement for the Colombian between the sticks. Simon Pouplin’s arrival on a free transfer from Sochaux suggested that he would be Claude Puel’s choice as Ospina’s permanent successor. However, Hassen began the season in goal and has kept the starting role for all but one game so far. As one of France’s most exciting goalkeeping talents, Hassen should be able to build on his encouraging start to the season in Puel’s youthful and vibrant Nice side.”
Write-up by Rich Allen
1. SIMONE SCUFFET
ITALY | UDINESE | 18 | KEEPER
With Gianluigi Buffon coming to the end of his days soon, the Azzurri are in need of an adequate replacement, and Udinese’s goalkeeping gem Simone Scuffet may just be the man to emulate the Juventus hero in the national team. At just 18, Scuffet has already made a big impression in Serie A, following a series of exceptional displays between the sticks for Udinese last season. And though his progress has been stunted slightly this season, he is sure to have a huge future in the game.
Mini-Analysis: When he burst onto the scene in the 2013/14 campaign, it was clear to see that Scuffet was supremely talented. Boasting an imposing physical frame, he commands his area admirably but his qualities go much further than that. His ability to react, adjust and save at point-blank range is unbelievable – you only have to look at his phenomenal double-save against Inter Milan for evidence. In addition to this, he demonstrates good starting position –a key attribute for a goalkeeper. In a nutshell, he is the full package. A goalkeeper breaking into the first-team at the tender age of 17 is totally unheard of and speaks volumes of his talents.
Looking back: The last year has seen a meteoric rise on Scuffet’s part. He emerged from virtually nowhere to become Udinese’s first choice ‘keeper in the second half of Serie A last season, making 16 appearances from February onwards – keeping six clean sheets in the process. That achievement should not be overlooked. An impressive 2014 led to reported interest from Atletico Madrid, though the player was keen to continue his growth and development with the Udine-based side. Following his surfacing to prominence, he has since made the step up to the Italy U-19 set-up, and you would expect him to eventually make his way into Antonio Conte’s first-team plans.
What to expect: After his extraordinary rise in 2013-14, this season Scuffet has been limited to action in the Coppa Italia, playing as the understudy to Orestis Karnezis, as well as suffering from a few notable injuries. Perhaps you could say that his time has come a bit too early, but you have to be extremely careful in terms of managing a blossoming talent. Usually, goalkeepers do not reach their ultimate level until the latter stages of their career, and with such a formidable set of qualities, there is a great belief that he will fulfil his early potential. There are a host of talented goalkeepers emerging in Italy, yet you wouldn’t put it past Scuffet surpassing them all.
Expert views: Adam Digby, whose work can be found on FourFourTwo, IBWM and 8 by 8, told us this about Simone Scuffet — “Despite turning down a move to Atletico Madrid and having yet to make a league appearance this term, Simone Scuffet remains a major prospect for the future. Calm, humble and seemingly willing to wait – and more importantly continue learning – on the sidelines as Udinese’s back up following his injury problems, he has bright future ahead of him”
Write-up by Josh Lawless