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Oliver McManus brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-23 players to watch out for in the Swiss Super League this season.
Anton Mitryushkin // FC Sion // 20 // Goalkeeper
The only goalkeeper to make this shortlist, Mitryushkin made his Russian Premier League debut at the tender age of 18 for Spartak Moscow. In the 3 years that followed, he made only 2 further appearances.
Between the sticks, he is as solid as they come and won the Golden Player Award during the 2013 UEFA European U-17 Championship, becoming the only goalkeeper to win the award in its prestigious 15 year history.
Highly rated in Russia, he holds 42 youth caps for the national team and moved to FC Sion in February of this year, signing a 3 year contract.
In his 8 appearances since, he has already commanded the number one sport in goal, and has imposed himself on the team with his strong verbal command and agility in goal.
If Sion are to have a successful season this year, Mitryushkin will have a large hand to play.
Denis Zakaria // Young Boys // 19 // Defensive Midfielder
A strong, holding midfielder that pulls the strings in the heart of the Young Boys midfield – having made his debut with Servette – his talent was quickly spotted and last season’s runners up secured his signing after just 6 appearances.
An aggressive footballer, Zakaria has an engine to wear teams down and exploit their weaknesses with key-moment interceptions and rapid cross-field passes.
At just 19 years of age and 54 Super League appearances to his name, he has already been chased by scouts of Manchester City and other major European clubs – especially since his first Switzerland cap in May of this year.
Strongest defensively, Zakaria has sometimes been criticised for not contributing with enough goals for his team but, his acute mental awareness in reading the opposition’s game is just as valuable.
I would expect a strong season from Zakaria with an eye to securing his role in the Swiss national squad and, who knows, perhaps even more.
Olivier Custodio // Laussane Sport // 21 // Box-to-Box Midfielder
A certain degree of talent is required if you are to captain a top-flight football team before your 21st birthday but, that’s exactly what Olivier Custodio has achieved. AND, let me tell you, he has bags of talent, absolute bags.
Like many players on this list, he made his debut at a startlingly early age – 18 – and the three years that have followed have been of repeatedly impressive performances and exponential growth.
The Lausanne-Sport midfielder was pivotal in their promotion from the Swiss Challenge League last season, regularly being a veritable magician in the centre of the park – setting up his team’s attacks with ease.
I liken Custodio to a Swiss version of Scott Parker – tough, robust, getting stuck in with the dirty work, making challenge after challenge but, oftentimes, going under-the-radar.
So, what can we expect for the upcoming season? No-nonsense, old-school defending but, in equal measure, sleek passing, adventurous runs and a whole lot of raw talent.
Sherko Karim // Grasshoppers // 20 // Striker
We’ve all been there, hanging out with our mates when we hear the age old question, “who is the best under 21 Iraqi striker plying their trade in the Swiss Super League?” and, we’ve all dillied and dallied over who is the, indeed, the best but NOW, fear no longer for I, Oliver McManus have the answer. It is, of course, Sherko Karim.
Born in Kirkuk, 236 kilometres north of the capital Baghdad, Karim signed his first professional contract with Al-Shorta in 2011 and made his debut for the club aged 15.
After a loan spell at Iraqi Premier League side Zakho and 4, relatively impressive, years in Iraq, the scouts at Grasshoppers were convinced enough to sign him up.
Blessed with an electric turn of pace, Karim is capable of evading his man with ease and creating space for team-mates to run into. As demonstrated in various Iraqi national youth teams, he has a sharp eye for goal and seems to have a natural poacher’s instinct.
He can also be deployed as an attacking midfielder, his strong ball control, dribbling and trickery on the ball mean he’s capable of threatening most defences he should come up against in the Swiss division.
After a relatively impressive Olympics, you can expect Karim to be a strong bench-player for Grasshoppers, coming on for late impact and I would expect him to get a handful of goals in the progress.
Blas Riveros // FC Basel // 18 // Left Back
The only Basel player on this list, Blas Riveros joined up with the club in May and, at only 18 years of age is one of the most exciting prospects I’ve seen in a long time. An attacking left-back, he left Paraguay’s highest domestic title in his first professional season and, a €2million move to Basel soon transpired.
An absolute steal at that price, Riveros can promise to bring stability to Basel’s defence and flair to their attack. Blessed with insane speed, Riveros frequently makes over-lapping runs into the opponents final third before terrorising the penalty box with pinpoint crosses.
Although this can, often, result in him being out of position in the case of counter-attacks, he certainly makes up for this with outstanding agility and stamina.
Already capped by his native Paraguay, this outstanding young defender has plenty of room for growth and is, with the right guidance, destined for the top of the game.
Expect an unpolished diamond this season, but still with enough class to shine through as the brightest light of this Top 10.
Edmilson Fernandes // FC Sion // 20 // Attacking Midfielder
Edimilson is one of the key men in FC Sion’s attack – although his goals tally might not suggest that. A star youth exponent from their academy, he made his professional debut for the club in 2013 and, since then, has been in and out of the squad, managing 27 appearances.
This season, however, is poised to be make or break for the attacking eleven as it looks to be his chance to make his mark on the European scene.
A genuine jack-of-all-trades, it is hard to find a weakness in Edimilson’s game but his key strengths are his glue-like ball control, sharp passing and incisive vision.
Both Liverpool and Everton are reported to have made advances for the 20 year old, valued at over £10million by Sion, but he is apparently holding out for a preferred move to Arsenal or the Nou Camp.
Whilst, at present time, it doesn’t seem likely that either of these moves will come off, Edimilson has already put in 3 impressive performances this season and will be hoping to continue it in order to attract potential suitors.
I expect to see Edimilson put in a real shift for Sion, as they challenge for European football and the man may even chip in with a goal or two!
Gianluca Gaudino // St. Gallen // 19 // Central Midfielder
On loan at St Gallen from German titans Bayern Munich, the central defensive midfielder is looking to impress his parent club to avoid their ruthless axe when it comes to youth prospects.
Incredibly impressive in his own right, his 8 first team appearances in the Bundesliga showed glimpses of what could be – given the right circumstances to flourish – and has already impressed in his 15 Swiss Super League outings.
It must be said, Gaudino’s, relatively, small height makes him somewhat aerially weak and he is rather reluctant to go in for the big, crunching tackle but, his strengths lie in his creativity; outstanding short passing can be used to trigger attacks to great effect, his impressive agility making him a handful for any defence and his mental resilience moulding him as a natural, born leader.
A compulsive long shot taker, Gaudino is, genuinely, a cut above the rest in Switzerland in terms of style and elegance on the pitch.
Although suffering from a groin injury at the moment, upon his return, I would thoroughly expect him to continue to express and, hopefully for all football purists, send a statement that sheer hard work and dedication does, truly, pay off.
Lucas Andersen // Grasshoppers // 21 // Left Winger
A summer signing for Grasshopper’s, Lucas Andersen signed after 4 inconsistent years with Ajax.
2014-15 was a breakthrough season for this left-winger-cum-attacking midfielder, when he earned his first caps for the Denmark national team but, the following season he was loaned out to Willem II where he failed to impress in a, thoroughly, mediocre side.
In an ever-strengthening Grasshopper’s side, Andersen is looking to regain the form of years gone by and, at only 21 years old, it is hard to believe he has had six years in the professional game – YES, SIX.
Like many Jong Ajax graduates, Andersen is an absolute master at free-kicks, managing to generate an insane amount of both power and curve to make him a threat from any distance.
Further strings to his bow include his trademark through balls, genuinely impressive centre of gravity and core strength (yes, I like you, never thought that could be impressive but physical agility is genuinely outstanding) and an absolute cracker of a right foot.
This season will be one of rebuilding for Andersen but the future looks bright, it looks very bright and I can see the Danish gem fitting in nicely in the Premier League – for clubs such as Everton or Tottenham.
Nicolas Haas // FC Luzern // 20 // Central Midfielder
Nicolas Haas, the only FC Luzern representative on this list, has made 12 appearances in the Swiss Super League since making his debut in February of last year.
Initially playing second fiddle, Haas has managed to force his way into the starting eleven for this season and, in his performances I see similarities to that of, established Bundesliga star, Niklas Sule.
At 20 years of age is capable of playing as a central midfielder, or, when needed, in more defensive role.
An aggressive tackler, Haas has, ALREADY, got a bit of a reputation for taking no prisoners with his tackles but, more often than not, manages to break up play cleverly and set the foundations for an attack.
Nippy on his feet, the young Swiss will run miles for his boyhood team and is capable of scoring a goal or two with his head from set-pieces.
I feel like this season will be about establishing himself in the Luzern team and, although probably not destined for an outstanding future on the global scene, he will certainly have a strong role to play in the progress of Luzern.
Ming-yang Yang // Laussane Sport // 21 // Midfielder
We now move on to, quite possibly, the greatest name in the history of football – Ming-yang Yang. And, let it be known, his name is not the only reason for his inclusion on the list, but his genuine dedication for current club Lausanne-Sport.
Since 2013, he has been a stalwart in the midfield of the club which gained promotion to the top flight last year. Although not the most gifted of all the players on this list and, almost certain not to make it to the highest elite level, he is still a promising young player who has what it takes to impress at a level in and around the Swiss league.
Although he has only made a couple of substitute appearances thus far in the season, he has been a consistent performer for Lausanne in each of the last 2 seasons – playing in over 55 matches – and will be hoping to do the same this year.
Quite possibly the happiest player of all time, he is a strong man-marker and has a dedication unknown to many when putting all on the line for his team, often putting precious body parts where they shouldn’t be!
The season will go one of two ways for Ming-yang Yang, either he will be an under-appreciated jewel a team that defy all odds by escaping relegation OR, and I fear it will go this way, he will be an underused player who never had the chance to succeed.
We live in hope for you Ming. Go get ‘em son, GO GET ‘EM.
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.