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.
20 // NETHERLANDS // PSV
Introduction: One of the latest to come through the famed PSV academy, Jorrit Hendrix has quietly risen through the ranks in the shadow of more flashy players like Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum. However, after making his debut in 2013 for the first team, Hendrix has played a plethora of games for his club, and was part of the title win last season. While he initially started off as a central defender, he was pushed to left-back before finally coming into his own at central defensive midfield. At just 20, Hendrix has received plenty of exposure to European football. He has also played for every national age-level team, and should make the step-up to the struggling Oranje national team very soon. He has a bright career ahead of him.
Analysis: His versatility, being able to play in three defensive positions as mentioned earlier, is a huge asset for his team. Although he has now firmly taken the defensive midfield role for his own, the ability to play in a variety of positions is something that be useful for his team, similar to the older Daley Blind. Although versatility may mean that a player is unable to nail down one position, that does not look the case for Hendrix at the moment.
There is a reason why Hendrix is seen as a bright prospect. He acts as a ball-playing defensive playmaker, with his incisive passing skills and his penchant for dribbling through the midfield. Along with the vision he possesses, he helps to dictate play in the middle, acting as his team’s midfield leader, while also threading the through balls which allows his teammates to pounce on and score. He truly thrives on the ball, while he has built on his ability to string passes together from deep while accurately placing the long balls.
He also acts as a wall between the midfield and defense, thus forming the linkage between defense and attack, dropping into defensive positions to gain possession, to cover defenders who surge forward, while moving around to win the ball and pass it downfield. His decision making in terms of tackling is one of his major traits which allows him to either press against the opposition or dive into tackles. It is clear how adroit he already is at 20, and with patience and humility, he will develop into a top, well-rounded play-maker.
Looking ahead: In the current era, Dutch clubs can no longer stand up when bigger clubs in Europe come calling for their starlets. Despite winning the Eredivisie last season, PSV had to sell off their stars Memphis and Wijnaldum to England, and there is no doubt that Hendrix will go down the same path soon, even if it is not to England. Quality defensive midfielders are a rare commodity in the modern world, and Hendrix has the potential to become one of those. In the present though, there is no doubt that PSV is the best place for Hendrix to be, a club where he can develop without pressure and enjoy a starting position. With PSV’s unlikely success this season in the Champions League, Hendrix is getting yet more exposure to quality European opposition, which will hold him in good stead. It is a surprise that he hasn’t gotten a call-up to the national side, although he should very soon at the rate he is going. He definitely possesses the potential to be a starter for his country and his club few years down the line, establishing himself as the quiet yet pivotal engine of his team along the way.
Written by Rahul Warrier
20 // ENGLAND // DERBY COUNTY
Introduction: Every half decent player in England is nowadays dubbed as a potential world beater, thanks to the noveau riche clubs and agents with strong PR agency. But as we’ve seen there are hardly any players who genuinely establish themselves as truly world-class specimens.
That said, Derby County surely has one gem of a talent within their ranks in Will Hughes. He is by far one of the most gifted midfielders not only in England but also in Europe. He is an all action midfielder who is an excellent exponent of fusion between Spanish tiki-taka and English football.
Analysis: Hughes had his breakthrough season in 2012 where he took the Championship by storm with his dominant displays in midfield. The 20-year-old is a gifted footballer who has a peach of a left-foot and a sense of vision which sets him apart from his peers. More than his well-built physique and flashy mopped hairstyle, it’s his creativity on the ball which catches one’s attention.
The Derby academy graduate is versatile enough to play anywhere in the central midfield and also with his gifted left-foot he can also play on the left flank with considerable ease. He was majorly deployed as a central midfielder in his initial years under Nigel Clough but nowadays he is seen as an attacking central midfielder due to his creativity and passing abilities.
His passing is one of his main strengths and this is the reason why he is one of the sought after midfielders in English football. He is often compared to English legends like Paul Gascoigne and Steven Gerrard, due to his passing and vision. Although he is someway off from the level of these legends, if he continues his development at the same rate, he may as well write his own name alongside them in the English football’s folklore.
Despite having a superlative left-foot, by his own admission, he is constantly working on improving his right-foot. There aren’t many two-footed gifted footballers in England and Hughes intends to capitalize on this in order to boost his rising football career.
This could’ve been his big year with the Rams if not for the severe knee injury which he suffered in August, ruling him out till February. But this doesn’t mean we’re hearing last time about him, when he returns just remember the name.
Looking ahead: Hughes is one of the wonder-kids of British football but a serious injury has severely hampered his development and also chances of playing in Euros 2016 with the Three Lions. Judging by the faith of his manager and also his abilities, it is highly foolish to discount him just yet. Considering the current unpredictable nature of football in England, he may well board the plane to Paris come June!
Detailed Scout Report on Will Hughes
Written by Vatsal Dani
20 // ENGLAND // LIVERPOOL
Introduction: Selling someone as talented as Raheem Sterling would have normally worried the Liverpool fans, but seeing Jordon Ibe’s rise in the second half of last season meant the fans believed they had someone as talented, if not with more potential, within their ranks already. The winger was snapped up by the Academy from Wycombe Wanderers at the end of 2011 and began life at Merseyside with the U18 squad. At 17 years of age, he was handed his senior debut by Brendan Rodgers on the final day of 2012-13 season. He impressed on debut and assisted the winning goal. He was loaned out to Derby in the 2014-15 season but his good performances, and the fact that Liverpool weren’t doing all too well meant that Rodgers recalled him and the Englishman slowly became part of the first team on regular basis and was vital in Liverpool’s resurgence at the turn of year last season.
Analysis: Ibe holds all the attributes one expects from a modern day winger. He is very fast, and has impressive skill and work rate. In fact, he stayed back during off-season to work with Kenny Dalglish on his shooting. Having the “right attitude” is even more important in today’s time because finding players with brilliant skills is not that uncommon. The Englishman is fearless when he takes on opponents and his runs with the ball at his feet, in the opponent’s half are a joy to watch. He has a very direct style of play. While he can operate in different positions – as a false striker, behind the striker and deeper in the midfield – he has been used out wide the most, which is his natural spot.
Where he needs to improve is his decision making in the final third. It’s not as if his shooting is particularly weak, as illustrated by his goal against Rubin Kazan, but he doesn’t always make the correct, or quickest decision in the final third. The other place to improve for the former Wycombe attacker would be to remove the predictability from his game. You’re often sure what Ibe is going to do when he has the ball at his feet, reminiscent of Raheem Sterling.
Looking ahead: Ibe certainly looks like he is going to be in Liverpool’s plans in the near future. He suffered from a dip in form at the start of this season, but under Jurgen Klopp, he looks like his old self and has scored two goals for his team. He has been playing a squad role in the league, and is getting more time in cup matches. He needs to capitalize on these matches, impress and vitally add the final product in his game, doing which can give him a break in Roy Hodgson’s senior team and make him even more vital in Klopp’s plans.
Featured in list of Premier League players primed for a breakout 2015-16 season
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra
19 // UZBEKISTAN // BUNYODKOR
Introduction: Khamdamov is a young and influential member of the emerging class of talent from Uzbekistan. A regular starter at club level for Bunyodkor, Khamdamov broke through on the international stage this season after his performances at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand, where Uzbekistan matched their best performance, reaching the quarter finals only to be narrowly edged out by Senegal. He capped the year in style, winning the AFC Young Player of the Year award in New Delhi in November.
Analysis: Khamdamov is a tricky left winger, and is often among the goals for his team. He scored 7 in 7 games in July and August (watch out Jamie Vardy!), and made his country’s Olympic team (U23) despite still being just 19-years-old, with many claiming that he’s unlucky not to make the full national side.
Khamdamov is a winger that relies on his skill and speed to beat the opposition, and the fact that he can use either foot quite well works for him. He can often slot in on the right side as well, which is fast becoming the norm for players in this position.
Mentally, he’s quite cool and confident. His finish in the Round Of 16 match against an impressive Austria side just seconds into the second half was the personification of cool. His comments post match revealed that he’s a very confident lad too, and rightly so. Khamdamov is part of a very talented bunch of players, with the generation before him also going on to establish itself at club level. With these two groups slowly maturing and taking their place in the national team, we can expect to see the performances of the White Wolves only get better.
Looking ahead: While Khamdamov may consider himself to be unlucky for missing out on a spot in the national team, he will surely soon be a part of that team. He’s announced himself to the Asian continent and the world recently, winning the award for the Best Young Player in Asia as recently as November. Now, if he can concentrate on being consistent with his performances, upward is the only trajectory for a talent like him.
Written by Vishal Patel
20 // MEXICO // PACHUCHA
Introduction: Lozano has built up a reputation as one of Mexico’s best prospects ever since he incredibly scored the winning goal in a game away to Club América on his debut. “Chucky”, as he’s often known, has now made 66 league appearances for Pachuca, scoring 13 times in the process. Arguably his finest performances have come for Mexico’s youth sides though, with Lozano winning the Golden Boot in the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship as well as being named the best player during the CONCACAF qualification stage for the Rio Olympics.
Analysis: “Chucky” is a fairly versatile attacking midfielder, but he seems most comfortable as an inverted winger on the left-hand side. The technical abilities that Lozano possesses are clear for all to see, particularly his quality when dribbling, which can cause havoc in opposition defences. The young Mexican often looks to cut inside full-backs and attempt shots on goal, but can also go on the outside and deliver accurate crosses with his fairly strong left-foot.
Lozano seemed to be developing well after breaking into Pachuca’s first team and performances were improving almost every week, but he’s slightly regressed this season. Perhaps his head was turned by a bid from PSV in the summer which Pachuca rejected, perhaps he’s let all the praise go to his head, whatever happened it’s resulted in Lozano being too selfish and lacking awareness of teammates in better positions. His lack of footballing intelligence has also been exposed by the direct comparison with Pachuca’s summer signing Rubén Botta, a player with superb vision.
Despite the recent drop in performances levels, Lozano is commonly regarded as Mexico’s best young prospect, with many Mexico fans hoping that the 20-year-old gets a move to Europe in the near future. With his fantastic raw talent there’s no reason why Lozano can’t become a top player in a big European league in the future, but choosing the right European club to move to is crucial. He needs top quality coaching and plenty of first team football.
Looking ahead: There’s undoubtedly interest in Lozano from clubs across Europe, with fresh rumours of bids from various major European clubs appearing regularly in Mexican media. A move across the Atlantic seems close, but I reckon it won’t happen until next summer. His club, Pachuca, have assembled a squad capable of winning Liga MX and losing Lozano would be a big blow to their title hopes. I doubt Pachuca will stand in Lozano’s way if he’s desperate to move though, so watch this space.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Featured in list of Best Young players of the Liga MX Apertura
Detailed Scout Report on Hirving Lozano
Written by Tom Harrison
20 // PORTUGAL // SPORTING CP
Introduction: When you’re only 20 and playing for a title contender you don’t really expect to play much. That is if you’re not in what’s largely considered somewhat of a feeder league, and in a club with a well known youth development project. Gelson Martins has been getting his chances for Sporting, having a handful of starts and rarely finishing a match on the bench.
Analysis: The tricky right winger is extremely quick and just a complete hassle for opposite wingbacks. In a league where you see most wingbacks bombing up the pitch and helping their winger, Gelson capitalizes on the situation, often catching them misplaced. While combining with central players is something you see often from Martins, the teenager’s specialities are definitely the one on ones leading to crosses. With great capacity to spot his striker in the box, Gelson tends to play from the right wing where he can use his preferred foot to cross into the box.
Determined and fierce, the youngster isn’t afraid to let himself try and have a go at goal, having scored once in every different competition this season. After being in the spotlight in the U20 World Cup past summer, the Portuguese youngster is getting more and more minutes of professional football.
Looking ahead: Sure he’s got a lot to thank Carrillo and the Peruvian’s contract issues but while the situations that led to his opportunity can be questionable, Gelson had all the merit to take it and prove himself. In the national team, taking the U21’s by storm is the next objective. And believe me when I say that’s not easy, in a country with more than a handful wingers capable of impressing internationally, the players he is competing with aren’t pushovers.
Detailed Scout Report on Gelson Martins
Written by Tiago Estevao
20 // SERBIA // LAZIO
Introduction: Completely unknown for some, a recognized talent for others… Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is, from my point of view, one of the most promising players of this list. After a solid season with Genk, the Serbian displayed all of his talent to football fanatics in the U20 World Cup this past summer. The tournament was won by the Serbians and with Sergej getting the bronze ball for being one of the most influential players of the tournament and a transfer soon followed. The close to 9 Million Euro transfer fee paid by Lazio certainly raised eyebrows in between the sceptics but the youngster is starting to prove his worth.
Analysis: Standing at 1.92 meters tall, the Serbian knows how to use his body to protect possession, while also being a real aerial threat. But Milinkovic’s qualities go way beyond the characteristics of the traditional defensive midfielder. Often appearing near the opposite box coming from a deep position on the pitch, the “box to box” title would possibly fit him a lot better. Known for his tackling capacity and importance in transitional play, both for Genk and the national team, the context has changed a bit upon his Roma arrival.
After noticing his offensive qualities, Stefano Pioli has pushed Sergej higher up the pitch. The youngster has been playing in the attacking midfielder role for Lazio, even drifting wide on certain moments. This allows him to create more chances for his teammates, all while recovering balls higher up the field. Clever.
Looking ahead: One of the reasons why Milinkovic is one of the top talents of the list is definitely his age and experience, being older than the majority of the others. This factor also changes his “immediate future” perspectives. Having gained an important position in Pioli’s Laziale side, the Serbian will continue to grow throughout the season. Internationally, I believe he can break through the main national team soon, alongside some of his U21/U20 teammates. The lack of effort and poor exhibitions from the seniors, with the youngsters’ talent will allow for the new Serbian generation to start thriving soon.
Written by Tiago Estevao
20 // HUNGARY // FERENCVAROS
Introduction: One of the great talents to emerge from Hungary after a long time, Adam Nagy, the 20-year-old midfielder has been quite a revelation for his club Ferencvaros. Having emerged from their youth ranks, Nagy has been a fixture in the starting 11 for them this season. He’s also a starter in the national team, having been promoted along with fellow youngster Kleinheisler by the German head coach Bernd Storck.
Analysis: Nagy is mostly employed as a defensive midfielder, and has the right skill set to be playing in this position. He is very confident on the ball, but mostly reserves himself to playing short passes to those around him, allowing them to get up the field and create. He does have a great amount of energy as well, and gets to use this now in both the national set up and at club level, with both Ferencvaros and Hungary looking to shape up as teams that like to play on the front foot.
Nagy is good in the tackle as well, though he rarely lunges in. He mostly waits to tackle, and tries not to resort to them. He’s good with interceptions, and can often be seen stepping up to break up a passing move, or nip a counter attack in the bud.
Another move he does like is to cross the ball, and he’s quite good at this too. When confronted by defenders, he often moves onto his right foot, which is his stronger foot, and tries to move the ball across. This has sometimes seen him fill in at right back for his team as well.
Looking ahead: The Ferencvaros man has been linked to moves abroad, specifically Bursaspor in Turkey, where the current Hungarian captain plies his trade. However, he stated his desire to stay put, and is well advised to do so. There’s a huge jump in quality from the Hungarian league to some of the top European leagues, with all due respect.
Written by Vishal Patel
18 // PORTUGAL // PORTO
Introduction: One of the major candidates for the 2015 Golden Boy award, Ruben Neves is now known by all football aficionados throughout Europe. The teenager came out of blue last season, occupying a spot in Porto’s main squad at only 17 years old. Surprising many, he was a lot more than just an occasional first team player: Ruben was extremely important in Lopetegui’s midfield, playing plenty of matches even under the Spanish coach’s rotation system.
The 18-year-old is now on his second season with the Dragons and he keeps on proving himself as one of the most promising young midfielders in Europe: getting the captain’s armband with Porto – even beating the record for the youngest UCL captain ever – getting his first international cap at only 18 and having the top European clubs after him.
Analysis: With maturity way beyond his age, Rúben grew into a key part of the Porto side in what’s probably the most important position on the pitch. Playing as a lone defensive midfielder, the game passes through the youngster’s feet: having to both hold the team down defensively, and start offensive transitional play. Under Lopetegui’s Spanish passing gaming, Neves improved what was already one of his most well known characteristics: passing.
Albeit being great positional wise, the Portuguese isn’t too physical of a player. Probably one of the reasons that led Porto to play another relatively defensive minded, more physical player, beside him. Either way, Ruben’s smart and versatile enough to play in either the number 6 or 8 roles, while still making a difference. This turns him into an incredibly useful player for any side.
Looking ahead: The fact that he has one cap for the senior national team of a country like Portugal at the age of 18… is a pretty good indicator of the kid’s quality and potential. Playing continuously for the Dragons, the teenager has a real shot to make it to 2016’s Euros – even more so after Tiago’s severe injury. As a football aficionado, I really want to see him there and, believe me, you want it as well.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Featured in The 10 Young Stars of 2015
Detailed Scout Report on Ruben Neves
Written by Tiago Estevao
20 // CROATIA // DINAMO ZAGREB
Introduction: Marko Pjaca spent his early youth career at Dinamo Zagreb before joining ZET and later Lokomotiva Zagreb, where he got a chance to make his professional debut. He made 49 league appearances for the side in two seasons but in the summer of 2014, Zagreb came back for their former player and Pjaca gradually established himself as a regular and helped his side to a domestic double. He scored 11 goals in the league, and 14 overall last season which included an impressive hat-trick against Celtic. His sheer talent earned him a call to the senior side back in 2014, but he made his debut for Croatia in September 2015.
Analysis: Pjaca has been likened to Karim Benzema due to the versatility he has shown at this early stage in his career. He can play anywhere in the attack but he prefers to play on the left-wing. Being right footed, he does exceptionally well when operating from the left flank as he can cut inside and attack more centrally, something he enjoys doing quite a lot. He is known for his great pace and that along with his skill on the ball can make him a real menace to deal with. Croatia fans have been calling for a good winger to be included in the first team as Olic, Rebic, Kovacic being used out wide is a wasted cause. It’s being assumed that Pjaca can take over from Olic, someone who has been a great servant for the nation, but is seemingly past his expiration date now.
Croatia has produced many talents in recent years, some including celebrated Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio have described the 20-year-old as “the best talent we’ve seen emerge from Croatia since Zvonimir Boban and Dejan Savicevic”. After Bayern Munich won 2-0 win over Dimano in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola went on to say that he though Pjaca was an “exceptional talent” who would “definitely have (a) big career”.
Looking forward: There is absolutely no doubt that Dinamo are going to find it very tough to keep the player’s services in the near future with the likes of Manchester United and the two Milan clubs among others, interested. Pjaca however, needs to ensure he doesn’t go to a place just for the glamorous side of things as he is at a stage in his career where he needs enough game-time to ensure his development continues. The 20-year-old has great potential and needs to be at a place that guarantees him first-team football, especially if he wants to be a regular for the national team which sees talented youngsters being called-up so often.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra
The next part (the next 10 midfielders), will be published tomorrow