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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.
Still only 19, M’baye Niang has already had an eventful career in the game. Having made his debut at just 16 for Caen in France, and then making his big-money move to Milan in August 2012, the Frenchman has seemingly always been destined for greatness. And while things haven’t gone exactly to plan, he remains a huge talent – one who will go far in the game should he iron out a few noticeable problems.
Mini Analysis: Niang made his talents utterly obvious when he became Caen’s youngest ever player in the club’s history – at 16 years and 114 days old. Nowadays, it is rare for a player to make his debut at such an age, and that is testament to his abilities. Caen and their coaches saw a great deal of potential in Niang, which was underlined by his emergence in the first-team picture in the 2010/11 campaign. Now at Milan, he has the skill-sets to succeed in the modern game. Not only a real physical presence, standing at just over 6ft tall, he shows flashes of technical brilliance with his directness and speed in possession. He is capable of playing through the middle or out wide, but attitude problems and a real decline on Milan’s part has meant he has struggled for game-time this season, thus affecting his progress greatly.
Looking back: In all honesty, 2014 hasn’t been a fantastic year for the Milan man. One of his most intriguing moments of the year came when he was handed a suspended 18-month jail sentence back in February. That probably outweighs what he has achieved on the pitch, even if his loan spell with Montpellier was quitely fruitful – with four goals and two assists in 19 Ligue 1 appearances. He looks to be frozen out at Milan – that could well have something to do with his flirting with club’s such as PSG and the fact he talked so openly about how he has ready to move to Arsenal before Milan stepped up. His immaturity on and off the pitch has seen comparisons drawn between Niang and his former Milan compatriot Mario Balotelli; that is something he needs to improve or else he will not fulfil his early promise. 2015 is a good opportunity for him to start fresh and get his career back on track.
Write-up by Josh Lawless
A 19-year-old standing tall at 6’4 and weighing 168 pounds, still developing in his frame, has all the tools to be a top Premier League target man for years to come. Should he develop the more technical side of his game, Chelsea could have the next striker starlet on their hands by the name of Croatia’s Stipe Perica.
Mini-analysis: It’s quite evident what Perica’s strengths are just by taking a glimpse at the young lad. Extremely tall for his age and more than capable of shrugging off defenders, Perica is a handful in the air and overflowing with athleticism. A strong finisher with excellent finishing instincts for someone in his age group, Perica projects to be an above-average focal point in the box. However, for all his physical tools and fantastic work ethic, it’s the technical attributes which evade him. He’s prone to turning the ball over, isn’t much of a passer yet, has a limited skillset in terms of tactical versatility and is very one-footed. The potential is there, unlocking it will be the true test though.
Looking back: Perica arrived in Chelsea by way of NK Zadar in the summer of 2013 at which point he was sent on loan to the Eredivisie’s NAC Breda to further develop his skills. He attracted Chelsea’s attention in the last FIFA U20 World Cup where his determined style was the talk of many clubs’ scouts. His first season at NAC Breda yielded solid results as he netted six goals in 827 minutes and often off the bench, leading to a somewhat cult status forming around the youngster, but this season has been more of a struggle as he’s only contributed three goals in 717 minutes.
Expert views: Michael Bell, of Football Oranje told us this about Stipe Perica — “Perica became a fans favourite at NAC last season after gaining a reputation as a super-sub, but this campaign has been a frustrating one for the 19-year-old with injuries and a suspension limiting his game time. When he does play Perica shows glimpses of having talent, but he still has a long way to go until he will challenge to get into the Chelsea first team. NAC will need more from the Croatian over the next few months if they are to stave off relegation.”
Write-up by Miran Saric
While other attacking players are struggling at the moment, the Berlin-born forward Maximilian Philipp gives Bundesliga side SC Freiburg hope. The 20-year-old is capable of playing on the wings, but mostly sticks to the middle in Freiburg’s 4-4-2 formation.
Mini-Analysis: With his physical ability, Philipp has not struggled to manage his promotion to the professional level. One year ago, he was overshadowed by the likes of Daniele Gabriele and Kosuke Kinoshita. However, Philipp has made the breakthrough within Freiburg’s under-19 and reserve teams showing an energetic burst of pace, physical strength and an irresistible urge to break into the penalty area. While Admir Mehmedi seems to be the major threat to opposing back lines, Philipp can exploit open spaces and less intense coverage. Philipp has managed to show his ability in the Bundesliga, and while having made just ten league appearances until today, he is still an ‘uncut diamond’ with much developmental possibility.
Looking back: Having shown consistent good performances in the Regionalliga (Germany’s fourth division) with Freiburg’s under-23 side, Philipp was ready to make his first appearance in a training session of the first team in April 2014. Moreover, manager Christian Streich confided Philipp so that the 20-year-old could touch a Bundesliga pitch for the first time in a league match against Stuttgart on April 5th. It was just a one minute cameo, and he claimed a place in the squad only once again that season, but Streich had opened the Bundesliga door for his young talent. Philipp signed a professional contract, and has become a part of Freiburg’s first team from then on. He played nine matches in a row this season. After three appearances off the bench, he got his first start in the 2-2 draw against Hertha. Unfortunately, Philipp picked up an injury on matchday nine. After his recovery from a sprained ankle injury, he tore his hamstring. Philipp has earned two call-ups to the national under-20 team.
Write-up by Constantin Eckner
A player who has been on the cusp of going on to big things for seemingly a long time now, Yassine Benzia could finally look to do that in 2015. He’ll need to do it the hard way as he faces stiff competition for a place in Lyon’ front line but there is no doubt Benzia has all the attributes to take on that challenge.
Mini-Analysis: A product of the famous and extremely well regarded Lyon academy, Benzia actually made his debut for the club all the way back in the 2011/12 season. He has gone on to make just over 30 appearances for les Gones. At just under six foot and powerfully built, Benzia is a tough player to mark. He is very quick and has a locker full of skills that ensure there are similarities with his footballing idol, Karim Benzema. He is equally at home cutting in from out wide before beating his man as he is bursting onto a through ball down the middle of the pitch. The only negative is that he arguably needs to find himself on the scoresheet more often, although this will surely improve in tandem with an increase in appearances.
Looking back: 2014 has perhaps been a slightly frustrating year for Benzia. After featuring prominently in the early part of last season, the youngster suffered an injury in January which kept him out of action until early March and only went on to make a single brief substitute appearance before the end of the season. He worked hard over the summer and it is pleasing to see that he gradually starting to get back to first team action under new coach Hubert Fournier. He made a couple of appearances as a substitute in recent weeks before finally starting in the match against Evian Thonon Gaillard. He rewarded Fournier’ faith in him with a strong display in which he recorded his first goal for almost a year to the day.
Talent Radar accolades:
Expert Talk: Jonathan Johnson of French Football Weekly, whose work can also be found on ESPNFC, Bleacher Report etc, told us this about Yassine Benzia —“A fading talent. Last season started well for Yassine Benzia, but quickly descended into nothingness and the gifted Franco-Algerian 20-year-old ended the campaign with less appearances (11) than in the previous term (16). Aside from scoring two goals, one in a performance against Sochaux where he also provided two assists in a 3-1 win, he did little to enhance his chances of breaking through at Lyon. Despite having also found the net once so far this season, Benzia is getting fewer chances under current coach Hubert Fournier than he was under predecessor Remi Garde. It looks as if a move away will be his only chance to fulfill his previously impressive potential. There is only so long that a young player can live on promise alone though, Benzia’s chance to become a top player might have already passed.”
Write-up by Rich Allen
Hirving Lozano may not be a familiar name to those who don’t follow Mexican league football. After Enner Valencia’s departure to West Ham, many wondered how Pachuca would fare without him. Pachuca’s young forward exploded onto the Liga MX scene on February 8th of this year when he scored an absolute peach of a goal in the Azteca against Club America, finishing a mazy run with a sidefoot finish into the bottom corner. Will he prove to be more than a flash in the pan? Signs point to yes.
Mini-Analysis: When you picture Hirving Lozano, I want you to picture a young Luis Suarez. This is not to say that he has the absurd goal-scoring record of Barca’s Uruguayan wonder, but watching him play is akin to watching Suarez. He is a good goal scorer but is also a competent provider and is most dangerous through his movement. The runs he makes are intelligent and belie a certain on-field intelligence not common among 19-year-old forwards. He is adept at finding space in behind the defense and exploiting it, whether through a pass or a shot. His chance creation leads Liga MX so far this season with 9 and his dribbling isn’t too shabby either, having completed 7 take-ons. You can find a detailed Scout Report on him here.
Looking back: So far, Lozano has only had a few chances to prove himself with the Pachuca first team. He has made 17 appearances in Liga MX this season and scored 4 goals and registered 1 assist. His performances have contributed to Pachuca finishing the Apertura in 7th place but as he features more prominently in the team, I’d expect Pachuca to make a push into the top 4 in Liga MX’s Clausura.
Expert Talk: Nayib Moran, producer of Mexican Soccer Show, told us this about Hirving Lozano — “I think his breakout year will be 2015. One of Mexico’s brightest players, lots of personality from this youngster, and he probably has one of the funniest nicknames in the league, ‘Chucky’.”
Write-up by Phil Baki
Yet another talent to come through the BSC Young Boys youth ranks, Michael Frey had made over 70 appearances for the Swiss club even before he turned twenty. With two years playing for the senior team, Frey decided to accept a move this recent summer to Ligue 1 where Lille had expressed interest in the young lad.
Mini-Analysis: Despite being still young and having time on his side to bulk up, you can noticed right away that Frey has good physical presence. With quite decent pace, one can make out how stable and balanced the youngster is while he make darting runs; an excellent quality for a centre-forward to possess so that he isn’t pushed off the ball easily. Frey has matured heading abilities, ahead of what you would expect from one at his age. He also has the knack of being in the right pace and the right time, with enough aggression to attack the ball; traits that elevate his performance as a centre forward.
Looking back: Frey’s performances at his old club, Young Boys, would have given scouts enough proof that he has the qualities of a good centre-forward. This season, Frey has had the opportunity to express himself in France with regular appearances he has earned at Lille. This past year has also seen the youngster get a sniff of football at a European level, with five appearances in the Europa League, scoring in one of them (at the time of writing).
Write-up by Razim Refai
River Plate have produced some great strikers over the years such as Hernan Crespo, Gonzalo Higuain and Radamel Falcao. In Marcelo Gallardo’s young, vibrant team there are high hopes for the latest sensation Lucas Boyé. Could he follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors?
Mini-Analysis: 18-year-old Boyé has all the characteristics of an all-round modern day centre forward. Already 6ft tall, he is good in the air and can hold the ball up well with his back to goal, bringing others into the game. Far from just a target man he also boasts good pace and movement and is a very sharp finisher. Crucially, he also has that knack of finding himself in the right places in and around the box, a hallmark of any intelligent, instinctive striker. Naturally at 18, there are many aspects of his game that can and will improve but he has dealt admirably with being thrown into important games for one of the biggest clubs in the country, gaining invaluable experience at such a tender age.
Looking back: Last year Boye began turning heads as River won the U17s Fifa World Club Cup in Madrid and then once again with standout displays in the Dallas Cup in April this year, scoring twice in the final against USA U20s. He got his chance in pre-season under Ramon Diaz but it has been under new boss Marcelo Gallardo who he has really flourished under. Due to River’s small squad being stretched thin by competing in both the league and the Copa Sudamericana, Boye has featured heavily. Although he has only scored once, his performances have been impressive and he is getting into good goal scoring positions. All in all, a pretty meteoric rise in the last six months which could see him potentially pick up a couple more trophies.
Write-up by Tom Robinson
At a time when the Iranian national team is taking full advantage of it’s vast diaspora, it’s one individual born and bred in the Persian state that remains a benchmark of progress. Sardar Azmoun, who earned a move to Russia after a good showing with Sepahan, gives hope for youngsters looking to make a name for themselves in the sport.
Mini-Analysis: With the physical presence of a traditional centre-forward and the ability to deliver on his appearance, Azmoun may seem like just a reliable goal-scorer (which he is). But there is plenty more to his game that often leaves viewers astounded. The youngster has the instinct to set-up play and find a pass with typical ease, adding the ability to create to his proven goal-scoring. Given these attributes, Azmoun would work well alone up front, in a partnership and even behind another striker. Having grown up on less than impressive Iranian pitches, it is bound to have helped him develop his skill set having had to work harder to perform well technically.
Looking back: After having been dropped onto the bench at the start of the season, Sardar Azmoun found opportunities driving his way in 2014 as he began to impress in his Russian adventure. Though there was no trip to Brazil as Iran named a largely senior squad, Sardar did make the provisional squad and he has come-back since then making couple of appearances for the national team even scoring a goal.
Expert Talk: Toke Møller Theilade of Russian Football News told us this about the youngster — “I had high expectations for Azmoun before the beginning of this season, but he has disappointed thus far. His finishing has been bad, and he needs to get more involved in the games. He has, because of this, lost his spot in the starting lineup to the Russian striker Igor Portnyagin. I think the many transfer rumours have caused him to lose focus on his football development. Hopefully he will get his head back in the game in 2015, if that happens, Rubin has one of the most promising young forwards in Russia.”
Write-up by Sami Faizullah
Germany has so much young talent coming out of the youth setup every year that they are spoilt for choice in almost every position. Leading that race in the striker role is young Davie Selke. Currently playing his football for Werder Bremen, where he arrived from Hoffenheim in 2013. Selke spent majority of his youth development at Hoffenheim. Since arriving at Bremen, Selke has progressed through the youth side to the Bremen-II side where he scored 9 goals in 26 games in 2013 and towards the end of 2013-14 he went on to represent the club in the Bundesliga, while he was also picked for the German U19 squad which was crowned as the European champions just a month after the senior squad won the World Cup in Brazil.
Mini-Analysis: Selke is a composed finisher who can score from the slightest sniff at goal given to him. He scored 6 goals at the U19 Euros and was the leading goal scorer for the champions. For a tall striker, Selke has a lot pace coupled with his strength, he is a nightmare to deal with for defenders inside the box. His instinctive movement and cleverness enables him to spot defensive errors before they could occur while also draw the defenders into creating errors. His movement and hold up play is also a boon for his team mates as he frees up space to carry the attack forward, smoothly. The surprise element of Selke so far though is his ability in the air. For a 6ft 3inches tall striker, one might assume and expect him to be a monster in the air, but Selke hasn’t shown it so far.
Looking back: Selke has represented Germany from U16 to the U19 level netting 14 goals in 15 games for the U19 squad. Selke has also scored 2 goals in the Bundesliga this season with 6 appearances (5 off the bench), which by the way has already surpassed his tally of appearances last season for the senior Bremen squad. His performances in the U19 Euros did not got unnoticed or unrewarded. Selke has been touted as the next Miroslav Klose by the German media while there are rumors that Real Madrid are quietly following his development. But Bremen are making desperate attempts to keep hold of Selke as they did offer him a long term contract which Selke did put pen to paper but it remains to be seen if this ambitious forward can be kept hold off for more than 2 seasons. His attitude though might need some alteration as he was banished from the training ground earlier due to a bust up with team mate, Clemens Fritz.
Expert Talk: Stefan Bienkowski of STV Sport told us this — “Initially making a name for himself in the German U17s with a prolific goal-scoring record for his adopted nation, David Selke has since came through the ranks at Werder Bremen and forced his way into the first team. Despite his height and natural pace, Selke’s talent lies in his poaching and ability to cause havoc in the six-yard box. Which in turn makes him an exceptional talent.”
Write-up by Alankrith Shankar
At a time when Brazil are struggling to produce top quality strikers, the emergence of Atletico Mineiro’s Carlos provides some hope for the future. Since the departure of Bernard, the young centre forward is the latest prospect to get the Galo fans off their seats.
Mini-Analysis: Hailing from Santa Luz in Bahia, Carlos – full name Carlos Alberto Carvalho da Silva Júnior – has impressed coaches at youth level from a young age. His power, pace, finishing and excellent off the ball movement are some of his key traits but also has the versatility to fulfil a number of roles in the forward line, though he is at his most deadly up top.
Looking back: First turning heads back in 2010 with 28 goals for the U15s, Carlos has continued his good form through the youth ranks and now into the senior side. He finished as second top scorer in this year’s Copinha with 8 goals in six games and was promoted to the Atletico first team for the start of the Brasileirao. After featuring intermittently, Carlos began to nail down a regular place and finished the season with 5 goals from 22 games, endearing himself to the boisterous home support with a brace in a 3-2 win against rivals Cruzeiro. Throw in a Copa do Brasil winner’s medal and a 4-year-contract with a € 10million release clause and all in all it was a very promising debut season for young Carlos.
Expert views: Jack Lang, Brazilian expert the Mirror, ESPNFC, Eurosport and When Saturday Comes, told us this about Carlos — “With Atlético Mineiro’s more seasoned forwards like Jô and André enduring nightmare seasons, Carlos – a teenager capable of playing wide but perhaps more comfortable through the middle – has come to the fore at the Independência in recent months. An instinctive finisher with his right foot and good in the air, Carlos likes to play on the shoulder of the last man and should get even more game time in 2015.”
Write-up by Tom Robinson