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It’s that time of the year again. ‘Tis the season to be jolly as Outside of the Boot are back with the third edition of the annual 100 to Watch list. For youth football enthusiasts, we shall provide the means in terms of the best young players to watch in 2016!
We have picked a diverse list of players for the third (!) edition of the feature, across all six footballing continents and narrowed it down to 100 of the best young players that we think you should keep an eye on. This feature is divided into 10 articles which help us divide the list positionally (10 goalkeepers, 30 defenders, 30 midfielders, 30 forwards).
All players born on or after January 1st 1995 are eligible for the feature.
Introduction: RC Lens have built up a reputation for producing some of football’s brightest stars, despite struggles with the club’s first team. The youth academy is one of the best producers of rich & raw talent in France, with a number of individuals making their way into the echelons of first-team football. The most successful star of recent seasons is young Raphael Varane, who the riches of Real Madrid picked up at a tender age. Another young defender from the famed academy makes our 100 list, with Ivorian-born Jean-Philippe Gbamin making the cut and drawing comparisons with Varane.
Analysis: The 20-year-old took the chances that were presented to him as Racing Club de Lens experienced Ligue 1 football in 2014-15, though eventually dropping down to the second division. What strikes one when following Gbamin is his impressive diversity in the defensive phase of the game. The youngster played in all three primary defensive positions for Lens in the top division, across both full-back roles while also deputising as a make-shit defensive midfielder.
With a modernised touch to a traditionally defensive role, Gbamin is fairly comfortable on the ball, with a willingess to play and receive passes along the ground. Interesting to investigate as to how defenders are developed in Len’s academy, with Varane himself a confident man with the ball at his feet. And while comparisons will continue to exist, arguably through Gbamin’s career, it’s up to the young defender to silence those expectations.
His understanding of the game has vastly improved since his days in Ligue 1 football, but there’s alot left to be desired. As French football continues to gain momentum in it’s European fight, the importance of both physicality and tactical understanding is paramount, arguably more so than it has been for a while (and certainly more than when Varane came through). The early signs in both these fields are positive for Gbamin, consistently maintaining it and growing is key for his career to be defined.
Looking ahead: This site’s stand on transfers of young players has been consistent – earning a big move to a big club may not always serve the right purpose. Regular football at whatever level separates the eventual success stories from the rest. These words could never have been truer for a player than Gbamin. One might even say the only factor holding Varane back in world football is the lack of regular football; the Ivorian Gbamin needs to ensure his next decision (arguably his biggest) is well thought off.
Written by Sami Faizullah
Introduction: It has been quite a year for 18-year-old Alex Gersbach. The youngster enjoyed a breakout season in 2014/15 making a mark not only in Australia but also receiving recognition from the much sought after world of European club football. Born on 8th May, 1997, Gersbach is one of the younger players in this list but already has a sizable number of first team appearances against his name. A left-back by trade, the youngster has shown enough to get people excited by his potential.
Analysis: Gersbach’s pre-season was hit by illness but he has bounced back well as he looks to establish himself as Sydney FC’s first choice left-back again. The youngster is a good proponent of percentage defending more often than not coming away with the ball after making a tackle or an interception. Already 6 feet and with time to grow, Gersbach is hardly a slouch in the air. Catching out the full-back at the back post from a cross remains a common tactic used but not one that Gersbach has much trouble against.
Distribution of the ball is one part of the left-back’s game which still needs to be developed. Of course, crosses tend to skew passing statistics but even accounting for that, this aspect of his game needs some shoring up. Aside from that, his contribution to the attack is always noteworthy if not spectacular as he sets up a decent number of chances, 8 in 6 starts this season at the time of writing.
Perhaps his most important attribute is his mental strength. Such attributes are difficult to quantify but there are plenty of indications that Gersbach is a level-headed young man. Having made his debut at 17, the youngster integrated into the squad well, even recovering from a mistake on his debut. A lot has happened in the last year for him and he has taken it all in his stride. The decision to turn down a move to Europe in order to have at least another season of first team football in Australia could prove to be a very wise one in the long term.
Looking ahead: As mentioned above, Gersbach has already turned down a move to Europe in order to further his development. It would be hard to say no if similar offers were presented to him at the end of this season though. With another full season of first team football behind him, it would be the right time for him to move on to pastures new.
Written by Arnab Ray
Introduction: A Talent Radar veteran, José María Giménez has grown leaps and bounds since joining Atletico Madrid from Danubio in 2013 for a measly 1 million. Dubbed as the “mini-Godin”, Giménez in fact shares many traits with his Atletico and Uruguayan teammate and fellow central defender Diego Godin. His breakthrough season in 2014-15 saw him put in a strong season in which he displaced the more experienced Miranda who was sold in the last window due to Giménez’s performances. His fast-tracking has only done him a world of good. From Uruguay to Spain, he is now part of his club and country’s first team. What a transformation he has undergone.
Analysis: Forceful, quick and powerful, Giménez brings a different brand of play to the table, and yet he symbolizes the passionate nature of Diego Simeone, his club manager. His aggressiveness and alertness complements the calmness of Godin.
While his physicality is one of the more talked about attributes he possesses, he also has rapid pace which allows him to get into key attacking areas during set-pieces. Speaking of which, Giménez, a tad short for a central defender (6ft 1in), normally wins the aerial duels he gets into, which shows his jumping ability. This also allows him to win headers and hence score goals in set-pieces, a crucial bonus for a central defender.
His tenaciousness has really helped him in making his mark on the team, and the Uruguayan duo of Godin and Giménez performs solidly when asked to. They provide a defensive solidity which benefits the plethora of attackers Atletico possess. Perhaps his only major weakness is his positional awareness, which may be down to his lack of experience. This lets his team down on certain occasions, costing several goals. His rashness leads him to opening up spaces in one-on-one situations. It is no wonder though, and given that only the mental aspect of his game is lacking, this will develop with time. His passing accuracy too, is lacking but taking into account both his teams’ style of play, this is not a big concern. All in all, his raw attributes are well in place and with a few years of experience at Atletico, he will be a well-honed defender.
Looking ahead: Arguably the best young central defender, the Uruguayan seems to possess infinite potential. Under the development of Simeone’s Atleti, there is no doubt that Giménez will be one of the best central defenders few years down the line, and take the baton from the vastly experienced Godin. And while he isn’t spoken of as much, his continual progress ensures the great future he will have. A star in the making.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Featured in Talent Radar Team of the Season 2014-15
Featured in Talent Radar La Liga Team of the Season 2014-15
Finished 5th in Talent Radar Defender Rankings 2014-15
Detailed Scout Report on Jose Gimenez
Written by Rahul Warrier
Introduction: Declan John is a Cardiff boy, being born in the area, and having joined the academy as a school boy at the age of 7. He’s spent pretty much his entire career with the club, making his senior debut in the Premier League along with Cardiff, as they lost 2-0 to West Ham United. John ventured out on a short term loan spell at Barnsley earlier this year, but is currently with the Bluebirds.
Analysis: John began his career as a striker at youth level, but it was at the U16 level that he was converted from a striker to a winger. John is mostly a left footer, and boasts of a very strong left foot. He’s been switched to a left back since he made his senior bow in the Premier League, and has continued in that position ever since.
John is a player with bags of energy and running. Having been a winger in the past, he looks for every opportunity to go charging down the flank, and attack his opposite number. He’s a good attacking player, and has fair ability with both, his left and his weaker right foot.
Defensively, there may be some room for improvement for him. The likes of Malone and Connolly are currently ahead of him in the left-back race at Cardiff, and these experienced professionals are players who can put in a good shift running backwards.
Looking ahead: John is no slacker, as he’s already made Premier League appearances in the past, and is also a full international for Wales. But at the same time, he needs to step up his game, and fast. He’s just 20, but the time for him to establish himself as a starter at this level is now. He had a relatively successful stint at Barnsley in League 1 towards the end of last season, and Cardiff may think about another move for him as soon as the transfer window reopens in January.
Written by Vishal Patel
Introduction: Jovanovic has the distinction of being the one of the few players on this list who the majority of the readers will have seen. After Serbia’s U20 World Cup triumph, Jovanovic showed just how much the win meant for him and his teammates with an emotional celebration at full time. It’s just not passion that has seen the Red Star Belgrade defender emerge as one of the better young defenders in Europe at the moment.
Analysis: The 19-year-old central defender is another to emerge from the Red Star academy and nail down his spot in the starting XI. Much like most of his peers on this list, he has a maturity beyond his years and hardly ever looks out of place on the football pitch. This maturity often comes out in post match interviews too as he comes across as a level headed young man.
The youngster is more than competent in the air and an all action defender not shy of a tackle or an interception. He is largely a good reader of the game but his style of play and enthusiasm in tackling sometimes leads to concession of unnecessary free kicks. A disciplinary record of 7 yellow cards in 19 games of the SuperLiga is one that needs improvement. However, this is an aspect of his game that should develop with time. His aerial prowess also marks him as a danger to the opponents from set-pieces.
Looking ahead: Serbian football is not in the best of shape but that hasn’t stopped them from producing a good generation of young footballers as seen in the U20 World Cup campaign. At club level, the defender is Red Star Belgrade through and through having come up through the ranks of the club. However with their financial situation and Jovanovic’s considerable potential, a move to greener pastures looks inevitable.
Written by Arnab Ray
Introduction: One of the newest talented defenders to come out of Brazil, Lucao is one of the center backs at Sao Paulo, and one of the main players in the team. Lucao made his debut in November 2013, under Muricy Ramalho, and went from strength to strength under him, establishing himself as a first choice defender at the Estadio do Morumbi. He’s been linked to a move to Italy lately, with an unnamed club having an offer of 9 million Euros rejected.
Analysis: Like a lot of Brazilian defenders, Lucao is a player who is very strong on the ball, and rather than individual battling to win the ball through tackles, he relies on his ability to read the game and intercept the ball to break up attacks. Having said that, he isn’t a flower that can’t be strong. He is often assigned to marking duties due to his size and strength.
The youngster has a lot of potential, and a lot of expectations are placed on his shoulders. With Sao Paulo struggling in recent times, he has often borne the brunt of the fans’ wrath, with him being booed, and targeted on social media as well after some poor performances by the team. He recently walked off the field in tears after such a performance from the fans.
At the international level, he plays for the Brazil U23 team, and is yet to make his senior debut.
Looking ahead: Lucao is a very important player for Sao Paulo already, despite being just 19. He’s already had an offer from Italy turned down, and is rumoured to have another on the table. The talented young defender is sure to move to Europe at some point, and 2016 may not be the wrong time for him to make such a move. Sao Paulo, being in the delicate financial situation that they are, will need to hold out for as long as possible for a large fee for the youngster.
Written by Vishal Patel
Introduction: Given the dearth of young defensive talents emerging from Argentina right now, Emanuel Mammana seems like a rose among the thorns. A full international cap before making his debut for River Plate, a Sudamericano winner at U17 and U20 level, and Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana winners’ medals to his name, all while still a teenager; it’s easy to see why the classy centre-back is already extremely highly-rated. If he continues his current trajectory, he could be a stalwart for the Albiceleste for years to come.
Analysis: As you would expect from a River Plate academy graduate, Mammana possesses an elegant, ball-playing style of defending. Having begun his career as a midfielder he is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, has good technique and is always looking to play out from the back. These qualities also give him the requisite versatility to fill in at right back and he has not looked out of place when manager Marcelo Gallardo has used him there. His effortless flick over Cruzeiro’s Willian was a prime example of his skillful approach to defending.
Good in the air and certainly no slouch, it is Mammana’s intelligent positioning and exceptional timing that are his real fortes. These attributes allow him to step in and intercept balls rather than make last gasp challenges, contributing to his aforementioned elegant style. One criticism that can be made is that his tendency to play his way out of trouble can sometimes see him robbed of possession when a more direct approach might be more advisable. However, these minor errors can be put down to youth and his decision-making should improve with added experience.
Another of Mammana’s main strengths is his personality and mental resolve. He lost both his parents when he was young and these personal hardships have moulded him into a determined, hungry and mature individual both on and off the field. At the various age groups for the national team he is always one of the leaders within the dressing room and leads by example on the pitch. Furthermore, the way he has dealt with the pressure of playing in some huge games for club and country speaks volume of his character and bodes well for the future too.
Looking ahead: Even though he has been part of a highly successful River team, he has so far remained on the fringes. This year, with the departure of Funes Mori, he needs to establish himself as a regular and get more consistent playing time under his belt. From there, the sky’s the limit.
Featured in list of Argentinian Primera players primed for a breakout 2015-16 season
Detailed Scout Report on Emanuel Mammana
Written by Tom Robinson
Introduction: The 20-year-old Fluminense centre-back has already been linked to Barcelona and earned comparisons to Thiago Silva so it’s understandable why there is such a buzz around him. Marlon Santos da Silva Barbosa – to give him his full name – has won plenty of plaudits over the past 18 months, racking up over 50 appearances for the Rio giants, and was the rock of the defence for Brazil as they finished as runners-up in the U20 World Cup this summer. While Brazilian football still struggles to come to terms with their failings on the international stage, Marlon is part of the vanguard of an exciting crop of players emerging which potentially hints at a bright future around the corner.
Analysis: A tall, languid defender, Marlon oozes composure. Through his excellent anticipation and reading of the game, the big centre-back always seems to appear in the right place to snuff out the final pass. His long legs boast a telescopic reach as they extend to intercept a stray pass or pinch the ball from the opposition’s toes. These attributes coupled with his clean tackling result in a very low foul rate for a young player and to date Marlon has picked up very few cards.
Marlon’s height and strength give him a good aerial ability – another of his best traits – and he is also relatively quick across the ground. Initially used as a midfielder, he is calm on the ball and favours bringing the ball out of defence and taking the option of a short pass rather than lump it forward. Having said that, his passing, though solid, is pretty rudimentary and rarely offers much incision so, even though he can fill in as a defensive midfielder, his best position is clearly in the back four.
If there was one criticism that could be levelled Marlon’s way it’s that he can appear a bit too cool and unhurried. Given that he likes to build from the back and play his way out of trouble if possible, he can invite unwanted pressure, often waiting for opponents to bear down on him before attempting to turn past them. It’s a high-risk strategy which could leave him exposed if a tenacious forward robs him and he will have to make sure it maintains concentration, especially in leagues that don’t allow the same time on the ball as the Brasileirao.
Looking ahead: There’s no substitute for regular first team football and Marlon needs to keep doing what he’s doing. Fluminense have been fairly unspectacular so hopefully as Marlon grows he can continue to play a key role in changing their fortunes, while aiming for a spot in the Brazil Olympic squad in front of a familiar Carioca crowd.
Written by Tom Robinson
Introduction: Mbombo is the cousin of Romelu and Jordan Lukaku, and the latest talented young member of the talented Lukaku family. The left sided player, who normally slots in as a left-back for Club Brugge, made quite a splash earlier this year, as he broke into the Brugge side, and turned in some excellent performances in the Europa League along with the rest of his team. The Belgian impressed at both ends of the pitch to grab the spotlight, scoring twice against Besiktas to seal a great win for Brugge.
Analysis: Mbombo is a terrific young player, with great physical prowess being the first mark of his excellence. He is not especially tall, but has a fabulous leap on him, allowing him to not only compete, but also beat many defenders and attackers in the air. Indeed, some of the goals he’s scored have come from corners. He’s got searing pace and a fairly strong weak foot as well, allowing him to cause opposition defenders all kinds of problems.
Mbombo uses these attributes of his very well while going forward, and charging at the opposition. He loves to attack, and that is his primary strength as a full back. The defensive side of his game is still a bit raw though, and certainly something that can improve. If he can work to considerably better this side of his play, he can be a very successful full back.
Looking ahead: For now, the main goal for Mbombo has to be to become an undroppable presence in his team. He’s a little too irregular on the team sheet to be considered ready to make a step out of Belgium. His energetic performances have definitely put him in the spotlight, but he’s got a long way to go if he is to establish his place there.
Written by Vishal Patel
Introduction: With an international cap already to his name and a full season of first-team experience, Elmir Nabiullin has made great strides since featuring in last year’s version of the 100 to Watch, authenticating our belief in his abilities. The youngster is one of only two players from the Russian Premier League to make it into this feature, and the only Russian national. The Eastern European giants have in the past made a name for producing top quality goalkeepers (Lev Yashin, Rinat Dasayev and Igor Akinfeev), but hasn’t particularly gained fame for defenders. In Outside of the Boot‘s eyes, Elmir Nabiullin is the individual to change that stereotype.
Analysis: Pace. The first and most conspicuous attribute in Nabiullin’s talented locker is his speed. The left back could often (and has) be mistaken for an attacking winger with his constant movements up front. The 20-year-old has an incredible burst of pace, as he bombs down the left flank. His close control with the ball at his feet and eagerness to make runs upfront, have further heightened his winger label. The Rubin Kazan youngster does a fantastic job while in attacking possession of utilising his crossing ability to pick out team-mates. The youngster in fact led his side, Rubin Kazan, in the assist charts for the 2014-15 domestic season; not bad for a 20-year-old left-back.
While most pacy full-backs are guilty of abandoning their defensive duties, which in some instances Nabiullin is as well, he is surprisingly solid in defence while his baby-face looks continue to deceive. Certainly not the strongest defender in the back line, the full back makes up for it with his positioning and understanding of the game.
While claims constantly existed of Nabiullin potentially being converted to a full-fledged winger under previous boss Rinat Bilyaletdinov, the early signs under the replacement Valeriy Chaly point towards the youngster being primarily used as a full-back. This is crucial as Nabiullin seems to fit right into a roll that allows him less restrictive attacking runs, free from the defensive attention a winger would otherwise receive. His ability to take on players, swing crosses and make runs into channels should continue to be championed.
Looking ahead: While Nabiullin only recently was afforded a regular starting berth in the side, a move up above Rubin Kazan may be necessary to guarantee a growth in his career. While Rubin Kazan continue to average it out in the league after a season or two of success, the club have stagnated and risk doing the same for their prized possession.
Written by Sami Faizullah