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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: Around this time last season, Sardar Azmoun was dubbed as the “Iranian Lionel Messi”. That quote tells you all you need to know about Azmoun. He’s one of the best young players from Iran, with an impressive scoring record for his national team. He scored 7 goals in 11 appearances for Iran in 2015 alone. His goals have been important for his country with goals in World Cup qualifiers against India, Guam and Turkmenistan as well as scoring in a crucial Asian Cup clash with Qatar. The Rubin Kazan striker on loan to FK Rostov in Russia has great characteristics that allow him to have so much international success. He also has 3 goals in 5 starts for Rostov at the time of writing.
Analysis: With pretty impressive height and physique, Azmoun is often one of the bigger players on the pitch. He combines his impressive size with terrific leaping ability and agility. This combination of size and athletic ability makes Azmoun a great aerial threat. He gives defenders of all sizes problems in the air and wins a lot of headers on set pieces and crosses. Besides his heading ability, Azmoun is also a great finisher in the box. Most of his goals for Rostov have come from great finishes inside of the 6 yard box. His finishing ability is why he’s had so much success with the Iranian National Team. He takes his chances while being a constant threat inside of the box. Azmoun is always available for his teammates in the box.
The youngster is a versatile tactical striker for club and country. For Iran he’s played in a two striker set up and as a lone striker. He’s had success in both set ups with two goals against Guam in a 4-4-2, and a goal against Qatar as a solo striker. Azmoun in a two striker set can hold the ball up, or head it on to the other striker. When he plays by himself up top, he usually makes smart runs into the box and waits for a cross. Either set up allows him to use his aerial ability, and get chances in the box. As a result, he constantly gets amongst the goals for Iran.
Looking ahead: Already an established international, Azmoun should become undroppable for Iran by the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around. For his club, Azmoun needs better performances so he can consistently get into the first team. He’ll try to make a name for himself at Rubin Kazan after establishing himself in the starting eleven. He can then become one of the Russian Premier League’s best strikers.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Written by Alex Lynch
Introduction: Italy, as a footballing country is better known for producing world class defenders but every now and again, we are treated to a quality striker. One such potential player is Sampdoria’s Federico Bonazzoli. As a youngster, the Italian played for a fair number of youth clubs: Ghedi, Montichiari and Inter Milan. Short spells in the first two clubs landed him in the capital city with Inter Milan while still at a very young age (only 7 at the time). Bonazzoli spent 10 years learning his trade and earned himself a call up to the senior level in 2013. After sending two years with the senior side and managing just five appearances (all while Walter Mazzarri was let go and Roberto Mancini was hired), the youngster felt there were greener pastures elsewhere and made a 4.5 million Euro move to Sampdoria in 2015. Bonazzoli has featured in the national youth categories ever since 2012 with the U-15s and more recently with the U-21s. It’s worth noting that his debut for Inter Milan against Chievo Verona in 2014 made him the second youngster player to feature for the club in Serie A history, just 17 days shy of Massimo Pellegrini’s record.
Analysis: Bonazzoli’s primary and preferred position is that of an orthodox centre-forward. That being said, almost every young player breaking into a senior side is expected to be versatile enough to be able to play multiple roles. The 18-year-old is capable of dropping a few yards off to play as a second striker and if push comes to shove, can be utilised on the right wing.
Despite his age, Bonazzoli has excellent composure in and around the box. This trait paired with his good dribbling/close ball control makes it rather difficult to defend against him inside the box. The Italian has capable for a quality left footed finish and isn’t shy of attempting the spectacular. He has a willingness to get into the box at the right times, which is proving to be quite the opposite of the current trend where strikers hang back more often. This points all the more to the qualities of an old fashioned centre forward. While in theory, this may sound good, it does raise the question of where he will be able to change or alter this style of play when placed in a team that doesn’t employ a typical centre forward role.
One of the more impressive qualities that is quickly noticeable is his first touch and subsequent turn. Time and again for the youth sides at both club and national level, Bonazzoli has been able to take the first touch with his back against the goal and turn 180 degrees, a move he seems to execute rather well.
Physically, Bonazzoli seems to have features that work in his favour: standing a few centimeters under six feet, he is at a perfect height to optimize the size-speed balance which is key for any striker. He certainly isn’t a push over when it comes to a physical duel with a defender and is definitely something he can further improve on and make it work to his advantage.
Overall, Bonazzoli seems to have the perfect components to be a quality striker. The only reasonable argument against that can potentially arise is his lack or improper utilization of his weaker foot. That being said, he’s still 18 and definitely could work on that.
Looking ahead: The move to Sampdoria in theory does spell good for the youngster. It makes sense for him to move away from a big club where it is reasonably difficult to make a solid leap to the first team. The timing of his move can also prove to be vital since he is still very young and has enough time to make his way up in a more steady fashion. Until now, he has been used mostly as a squad player and this is understandable given his age and the fact that this is his first season at the club but surely the impression he gives in his cameos as a substitute will build up to a point where he is trusted to lead the starting XI. Bonazzoli looks to be an excellent and exciting prospect for both club and country. One can only sit back and hope he materialises into something substantial.
Detailed Scout Report on Federico Bonazzoli
Written by Razim Refai
Introduction: Oğulcan Çağlayan has been seen as one of the best young prospects of Turkey in the last couple of years. He was born on 22nd March, 1996 in Altındağ, Turkey and made his mark in youth team football at local teams in Ankara before moving to the Bursaspor youth system in 2011. He wasted little time and scored 48 goals for youth ranks of Bursaspor in his first season. The Bursaspor youth development system has introduced Fenerbahçe midfielder Ozan Tufan and Manchester City striker Enes Ünal to World of football in recent years. Up until know, Oğulcan Çağlayan failed to make an impact at Turkish league despite vast potential. Currently playing for Kayserispor, he has managed to score one goal in nine games in the 2015 – 2016 season at the time of writing. He hasn’t become a part of the first team on regular basis yet but with the quality he has, he can be a major part of any Turkish side in coming years with a chance of a moving abroad to represent his country in Europe.
Analysis: Oğulcan features the attributes of a modern day striker. Physically, he’s one of the best strikers in Turkey. Having said that, he needs plenty of improvement in his finishing. You can’t expect him to do everything on the pitch but he doesn’t have one main expertise as a striker. With his 1.88m height, he is one of the most promising strikers in terms of headed duels which we haven’t seen much up until now. The Turkey U21 national team player has changed plenty of clubs at such a young age and this has had an adverse effect on his development. Almost every season he has to adapt to a new city, manager and teammates all over again. At this stage young starlets need consistency which he hasn’t had. Professionalism is one of the biggest strengths of the 19-year-old his immense work rate on the field but he failed to make the right transfer choices.
Looking ahead: It’s not hard to guess his future in the current situation. If he can’t change the progress of his career in positive ways, he’ll end up playing for every single Turkish super league team as a young hope looking to shine over and over again every year. He has to find consistency. He is getting average playing time in an average league and this won’t meet the demands in the near future to become a top level player. He has to be a part of a systematic team in Europe in the first division or second. That may sound bleak but with his immense potential, Çağlayan’s future may yet be a very bright one.
Written by Mert Conker
Introduction: Having first broken onto the scene in 2013 as a swaggering, free-scoring centre forward for the Argentina U17s, it’s fair to say that the hype around Driussi has cooled somewhat since. Nevertheless, of that side that reached the U17 World Cup semi-final, Driussi is the one who has gone on to most establish himself in the Primera; all the more impressive when you consider he’s carved out a place in the all-conquering River side. He’s adapted his game, fought off competition from the likes of Andrada, Simeone and Boyé and now looks to one of the best young forwards still plying his trade in the Primera.
Analysis: Driussi has always been a player of great technique, movement and intelligence. Capable of producing a moment of inspiration, the standout example from his early days was a fantastic bicycle kick from the edge of the area against Uruguay. Very much the focal point of that U17 side, Driussi had the requisite finishing, pace, work rate and invention to lead the line but also possessed the ability to drop deep to create space and bring others into play.
Breaking into a River side packed with quality was always going to be difficult for a young forward, especially with the likes of Teo Gutierrez, Rodrigo Mora and Fernando Cavenaghi ahead of him in the pecking order. Due to his aforementioned qualities, Driussi has looked best in a support striker role, rather than an out-and-out frontman, but his versatility has seen him crop up in a number of positions, even as an orthodox winger on occasion. Gallardo obviously trusts him to carry out whatever role he hands him and it speaks highly of Driussi’s professionalism and flexibility to have adapted so seamlessly. He can still crop up with the odd moment of inspiration, such as the volley against Banfield.
Still only 19, Driussi may not be on the same level as compatriots Dybala, Icardi and Vietto but he has quietly been developing his game under the radar at one of the top clubs in South America and having now gained plenty of experience – and won numerous trophies for that matter – he looks poised to step up to the next level as a very useful all-round forward.
Looking ahead: After a successful but understated 2015, this should be the year that Driussi consolidates himself as a regular in the River starting line-up and really begins to take games by the scruff of the neck. One personal aim should be to add more goals to his game, something that should increase with more playing time.
Featured in list of Top 10 Best Young Argentinian U21 Prospects
Written by Tom Robinson
Introduction: A product of the La Masia academy and a member of Barcelona’s successful treble winning season, there aren’t many better ways to summarise a footballer’s career than those exact words. Whilst still only 20 years old, Munir El Haddaddi has experienced a footballing career at the highest level. Six trophies already to his name while also finishing as the top scorer of the UEFA Youth League in the 2013-14 season, it has already been a fantastic career start for the Spaniard. If the rest of Munir’s career is anything like the start, the footballing world will definitely be chanting this name for years to come.
Analysis: As his natural self, El Haddadi preferred most often to play through the centre, relying on his pace and trusting his confidence in front of goal. His finishing compiled with his pace made him an outright central attacking option, as opposed to out on the wings. That is what the youngster would have preferred as his career path as well. But given the challenging nature of the Barcelona first-team and all their aspirations, Munir has largely been resorted to positions out wide. It’s a position he has become well suited to, but is noticeably not one he’d ideally like to play in. But it’s from here that the youngster has almost mastered the ability to cut inside, often in obvious circumstances but also as a necessary ploy given the system employed.
The very fact that El Haddadi faces an almost impossible task in terms of being rewarded with a regular starting berth at the club has heightened his energy in games and desire to commit. A trait which would often be seen in a youngster, but certainly one you’d expect in a youngster at one of the biggest clubs in the world and the most impressive personnel for company.
Analytically speaking, Munir El Haddadi certainly needs to find his suitability out wide and arguably give up on a dream in a more central area. With most clubs now playing with one clear striker, as opposed to a two man partnership, the scenario in modern day isn’t one best suited for the young Spaniard (specifically with his physical traits).
Looking ahead: Temptation of regular first-team football would attract many youngsters away from the bigger picture, but this is unlikely to effect El Haddadi’s career goals. Though having got into the side due to injuries and suspensions, Barcelona management would have certainly realised the need to loan the 20-year-old out for career progression.
Written by Sami Faizullah
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Awarded Best Debutant of 2014-15 at the Talent Radar Awards
Detailed Scout Report on Munir El Haddadi
Introduction: One of the most powerful teenage strikers in Europe, Embolo is a clear starter for Basel. In a side that is known for its national championship domination and fluid, offensive football, the Cameroonian born is now an important piece.
Analysis: Physically impressive, Breel is a great runner with and without the ball. A really solid dribbler with great close control with the ball at his feet, he’s more than capable of taking on any defender.
As most top tier strikers, finishing chances inside the box is a somewhat generic characteristic. What differentiates the Swiss from most others is his capacity to play for his side, how much he influences his team’s play. Fantastic at receiving the ball with his back turned towards opposite goal, he often sets up teammates to score. More than capable of playing out wide, it’s in this non-centralized position that he gets most of his assists from usually setting up his more positional offensive partner Janko.
Looking ahead: In a continent populated by amazing strikers in equally renowned offensive teams, young talents often can’t find enough space to shine. Truth is that someone with physical capacities as impressive as Embolo’s, combined with his technique needs to be playing for a side in which he can flourish. These are the reasons that will make the youngster stay at Basel, at least until the end of the season. Specially taking into account the fact that he’s with 7 international caps and aiming at this somewhat big tournament called the Euros next summer.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Detailed Scout Report on Breel Embolo
Written by Tiago Estevao
Introduction: It’s hard to believe that Gustav Engvall is only 19 years of age when one analyses his impressive statistics. Since making his first team debut for IFK Göteborg in 2012, the young striker has appeared over 60 times for the Allsvenskan club, scoring 15 goals in the process, with all but two of those coming in the league. As time has worn on he has become an increasingly integral part of his manager’s plans – this season saw him start up front in 17 of the 25 league games in which he featured – whilst he has impressed at every level for the Swedish youth teams.
Analysis: Standing at just over six feet, Engvall is tall enough to offer an aerial threat inside the opposition’s penalty area whilst also slight enough to cause the defence problems with his pace and trickery. Often deployed as one of two strikers in a simple but effective 4-4-2 formation, he can regularly be seen dropping off his strike partner – usually fellow Swede Mikael Boman – in order to pick up the ball before driving forward, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy operating in the space in front of the defence, acting as a playmaker for the more physically imposing Boman.
However, he can also work well as a target man, and it is when he is given the space and responsibility to lead the line on his own that he arguably shines the brightest. This was particularly true in Göteborg’s penultimate game of the 2015 Allsvenskan season, when they took on fellow title challengers AIK, as Engvall bullied and harassed the Solna side’s two centre-backs to bag himself a brace that helped Göteborg finish the campaign in second place.
Strong and determined are two adjectives that aptly describe Engvall’s game, whilst, despite his tender age, he also possesses great confidence in front of goal. Never afraid to take a defender on, he boasts impressive talent with the ball at his feet, and he looks as comfortable holding the ball up to bring a teammate into play as he does when driving forward and going it alone.
Looking ahead: All of the talk surrounding Engvall seems to be discussing where he’ll move to next, as plenty of top clubs have expressed an interest in the talented teenager. However, the continued game time that he is currently receiving at Göteborg is priceless, especially as he is on the verge of featuring for the Swedish senior side.
Written by Ben Cullimore
Introduction: Pele, Coutinho (not Liverpool’s Philippe), Pepe and more recently Neymar, Robinho and Ganso, the list of Santos youth products really does go on. The expectations on the shoulders of young players in Sao Paulo are great, yet the opportunities are even greater and the latest starlet to be flourishing in the famed white and black is Gabriel Barbosa Almeida, known simply as Gabigol.
Analysis: Back in November Gabigol said, “Neymar’s story is done, I should have mine.” While there are obvious similarities in their narratives, both flourishing in the Santos youth ranks on their way to the limelight, the two differ greatly in playing style.
The 19-year-old possesses self-confidence that can border on arrogance, a trait that football’s greatest have all possessed and it is already paying dividends for Gabigol and Santos. In the Brasileirao last term Gabigol registered ten goals to go alongside four assists. As Ricardo Oliveira spearheaded the Santos attack with 20 goals last season – a league high – Gabigol was deployed from an inside right role, making his double-digit goals tally all the more impressive. The bearer of the famous No.10 shirt for Santos will, however, see his future lie through the middle. His hustle and bustle approach, coupled with his fine ability with the ball at his feet – Gabigol made 81.1% of his passes in the 2015 Brasileirao – and his ever-improving ability in front of goal mean comparisons to Luis Suarez, rather than Neymar, would be more apt.
There are, as with any young player, weaknesses to Gabigol’s game. For example there is certainly potential for growth in his ability to carry the ball at the defence. Last season Gabigol completed 30 successful dribbles, yet he was dispossessed on 53 occasions. Furthermore at 5ft 9in he is a far from domineering presence as he lost 86% of his aerial battles in the 2015 Brasileirao, however, it isn’t a key part of his game and he is likely to bulk up in years to come.
Looking ahead: It has been a whirlwind two years for Gabigol as he has gone from Santos’ next young hope to a key figure in the senior side, however, this looks to be only a small chapter in the story of Gabigol. The dazzling lights of Europe will eventually beckon but whatever the future holds post-Santos for the 19-year-old, he looks set to be one of the Gold and Greens next big stars; after all you don’t earn the nickname ‘Gabigol’ for nothing.
Featured in 100 to Watch in 2015
Detailed Scout Report on Gabigol
Written by Alex Blinston
Introduction: The lesser leagues in Europe may not have that much glamour but they still act as breeding grounds for the stars of tomorrow. More likely to get first team opportunities early in their career, young players tend to have plenty of experience even before they reach the age of 20. Just ask Romanian striker Andrei Ivan.
Analysis: Andrei Ivan is a self confessed Cristiano Ronaldo fan although truth be told his style is reminiscent of Anthony Martial. With a distinctive running style, Ivan has plenty of pace to burn which plays a large part in his versatility. Like most modern day strikers, Ivan is capable of playing out wide, especially as one of the players flanking the number 9 in a three-pronged attack.
The 19-year-old displays good strength on and off the ball which serves him well when he’s deployed more centrally and expected to deal with the close attentions of the opposition centre-backs. The youngster also enjoys running at the opposition with the ball at his feet and is never afraid of taking his man on. His dribbling ability is not as eye catching when compared to some of his peers but with quick feet, he’s a handful to defend against. When it comes to goalscoring, Ivan’s record is a bit skewed by the fact that he’s played out wide as well but his finishing can still improve. The Romanian striker can also improve his decision making in the final third, as can be said for most players his age.
Looking ahead: At club level, a move to Barcelona seems to be a matter of time if reports are to be believed. Of course such a move would see him feature for Barcelona B, not the worst place to hone your talents. The striker won his first senior cap for Romania recently and could be looking ahead to a long International career. Whether or not he will make it at Barcelona still remains to be seen.
Written by Arnab Ray
Introduction: Corentin “Coco” Jean started his career at Troyes AC. He broke into his side at just 16 years of age and lived up to the hype around him by scoring against Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue in his debut. He then went on to score a few goals for his side which most notably included a long range curler against Montpellier. His early exploits ensured he was a player everyone talked about in abundance. After his side’s relegation to Ligue 2 in 2012-13, Jean became a regular for the club and cemented his place in the starting eleven despite being a teenager. The 20-year-old striker was bought by AS Monaco in the summer but was immediately loaned back to Troyes for the rest of the season. So far, he has represented all the youth sides in the national set-up till the U-21 level but is yet to receive a senior call-up.
Analysis: The striker is not of a big build and being 5ft 7in, his short height proves to be a bit of a disadvantage at times, especially when he is being marked by taller centre-backs. However, his keen eye for goal, wonderful skills on the ball and exceptional technical ability ensure that being slightly short doesn’t become a huge disadvantage for him.
He possesses good speed, can dribble and pass the ball effectively and as his strike against Montpellier in one of his first games illustrated, has an eye for goal from distance as well, which only adds more threat to his game. His current manager Claude Robin has been very generous in his praise for the 20-year-old in the past, having claimed that Jean “has it all”. Last season, he scored 10 goals for Troyes, becoming the club’s top goalscorer and helping it to promotion to the top-flight. Having played as a lone forward for the side, he has shown the ability to lead the line successfully and demonstrate maturity beyond his years in doing the same.
Looking forward: Monaco have secured the services of this extremely talented young striker and have also made sure his development continues by sending him back to Troyes where he can get enough game time. Jean’s immediate goal would be to help the club stay in the top flight before going to greener pastures in the summer. There is no doubt that the young forward is destined for great things in the future considering his sheer potential. It will be interesting to see how he is used at Monaco next season.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra
The next part (the next 10 forwards), will be published tomorrow