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Toulon Tournament 2017: Ten Young Players to Watch

Oliver McManus has a look at the top 10 players to look out for during the 2017 edition of the Toulon Tournament.

Ah yes, the Toulon Tournament. An annual competition which has seen the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane et al all come from the ranks at some point.

12 international youth teams will battle it out to take home the trophy that England won last year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key players to keep an eye out for; not just at this tournament but with an eye for the next 5-10 years.

Josh Tymon // England // 18 // Left Back: Josh Tymon has had a breakthrough season at the heart of a Hull City defence which has, frankly, had a rough time of it over the course of the 2016/17 campaign. Truth be told, there hasn’t been many shining lights for Hull in a season which has seen them relegated but with Josh Tymon, they can be hopeful for the future.

On just a £150-a-week contract to start off with, Tymon grew into his first team status after January – a year on from his first-team debut against Bury in 2016 – as he went on to make 12 appearances across all tournaments.

At 18 years old, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tymon would be part of this new generation, marauding forward whenever he gets the chance but that’s not quite the case. I’ve watched a lot of his game and I’ve got to say, the one thing that stands out to me is his jockeying – now I understand that that is an incredibly underrated skill to purloin but I just kept on seeing video clips and thinking “damn, his jockeying is wonderful” because, it slows down play and allows for his teammates to get back into position.

A strong passer of the ball, Tymon averages 27 completed passes a game with a completion rate of 75.6% as he seeks to play the ball out from the back rather than just whack it clear – an impressive commodity these days.

With Hull relegated, Tymon has been targeted by the likes of Stoke City and, although a long term contract has been signed, this tournament could serve as an opportunity to strengthen his negotiating hand as we enter the transfer market.

Dayot Upamecano // France // 18 // Defensive Midfielder: Signed in the January transfer window by RB Leipzig for £9million, Upamecano arrived in the Bundesliga with heavy expectations weighing around him. With just 22 professional appearances up to that point, he was essentially valued at around £400,000 per game.

Upamecano has many strings to his bow, the ability to play both centre back and defensive midfielder is one of his more prominent – it allows for swift inter-change between tactics, the option of a stoic back-line as well as an engine-like ball winning player is always going to make him in demand.

Salomon Kalou is challenged by Dayot Upamecano (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Deceptively quick for a defensive player, Upamecano has a burst of speed that allows him to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye – a key skill which helped France to the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in 2015.

By no means is he a polished diamond, though, his 12 Bundesliga appearances so far have seen him come in for some criticism that he can be rather inconsistent – a truth that is surely to be attached to all players still learning and gaining experience.

One thing that must be said is that Upamecano is an aggressive player, some would say too aggressive. He’s quick to ground, more often than not, winning the ball but his 50 career appearances thus far have yielded 9 yellows and 2 reds; someone would do well to take him aside and just tell him to keep his composure.

For Dayot, then, the only way is UP.

Regan Poole // Wales // 18 // Centre Back: Our third successive 18 year-old on this list, Regan Poole is arguably the most experienced so far as he made his debut some 3 years ago on the 20th September 2014. That match came in League Two against Shrewsbury Town and, since then, his rise has been rather remarkable.

Signed by Manchester United on the 2015 January transfer deadline day, Poole has played just one minute of first team football since then but continues to develop his game within United’s Academy – this season he has made 17 appearances in the Premier League 2, averaging 83 minutes per game.

A strong aerial presence, Poole is capable of shoring up the defence even at the most difficult of times; coupled with his tight man-to-man marking and powerful jumping ability, Poole is destined to be the captain at the heart of any top defence.

In August of last year, the Welshman was promoted to the national Under-21 squad in time for matches against Denmark and Luxembourg whereby he progressed into a more defensive midfield role – a position which he adapted to with ease.

Still only 18 years of age, Poole obviously has room for development – one particular area of weakness would have to be his composure on the ball, he can panic at times when hurried by opposition players which can lead to the ball heading to the sidelines.

A promising player though, keep an eye on Regan as he sets out to prove he’s the biggest fish in the Poole.

Kyle Magennis // Scotland // 18 // Midfielder: Kyle Magennis will be a new name to many, he only made his debut for St Mirren at the beginning of this season, in a 2-0 defeat to Hibernian in the Scottish Championship. Since then Magennis has stamped his name permanently onto the teamsheet, with 32 appearances in all competitions this season.

Easy on the eye (both in terms of footballing ability and the looks department), Magennis is a gritty midfielder, who always works for the good of the team which can, sometimes, lead to him not getting the credit he deserves. Selfless, Magennis has great vision in thinking two, three passes ahead and then having the tactical nous to pull off that sequence.

If you ask me, he’s a natural born leader and given that he’s been at St Mirren since the age of 5, the club must surely be immensely pleased that he has committed to the club until 2020.

When he is on the ball, his control is second-to-none and is capable of taking a couple of opposition players out of the game simply with his first touch; further to that, he has a satisfyingly direct style of play, no mucking about with rainbow flicks, body fades, he just sticks his head down and runs with ball – thoroughly enjoyable to see.

His 32 appearances have yielded him 3 goals and 3 assists, as well as seeing his value soar through the roof; there’s been plenty of rumoured interest for the youngster but St Mirren are holding firm with a valuation of £1million plus.

Anyway, this tournament is a perfect opportunity for him to refine some of his lesser skills and return to St Mirren as the driving force for their 2017/18 campaign.

Ronaldo Vieria // England // 18 // Midfielder: Born in Guinea-Bissau, Vieria was raised in Portugal but moved to England in 2011 and was snapped up by Leeds United in 2015; obviously I’ll profile the man in more depth but what you need to know is, essentially, this – Vieria is an all-round tank of a player.

The Leeds United version of Victor Wanyama, I like to call him, he is a key defensive cog for the club and proved pivotal in their playoff push last season and was a major factor in the 4th tightest defence in the EFL Championship.

A beautiful combination of high stamina and speed means that you can get tired just by watching him but he never appears to stop moving – even when the balls on the other side of the pitch, he just keeps running!

It’s a sign of how much Leeds value him that he signed a 4 year contract extension on the 24th May, just over a year since signing his first professional deal. 38 appearances have been made in that time, during which the Beast from Bissau has been able to influence play from a deep midfield position with his intrinsic short passing as is clear from an 80.6% pass completion rate.

Undoubtedly one of the brightest young stars on the whole planet, one thing he needs to improve on is his aerial ability. Despite being 6ft, Vieria just doesn’t seem comfortable in the air and can oftentimes lose out in this area of play.

Named after two legends of the game, Vieria was always destined to be a footballer and, now, it’s time to show what he’s worth on the world stage.

Jean-Philippe Mateta // France // 19 // Centre-Forward: Something I learned when writing this article is that Ligue 1 clubs are allowed to sign one player from a fellow French club outside of the regular transfer window, under the “joker” rule. Why am I telling you this? Because that’s how Lyon came to sign Jean-Philippe Mateta from Châteauroux, just two weeks after Alexandre Lacazette got injured last year.

Linked with Tottenham last summer, Mateta slotted home 13 goals from 26 games for his previous club in the Championnat Nacional, the third division of French football. The right-footed centre forward is capable of playing on the wing but is more suited in the centre of attack, owing to his rather powerful heading ability – a whipped ball within 12 yards of the opposition’s goal and it is easy pickings for Mateta.

Valued by Transfermarkt at just over £2million, his performances warrant a much higher price tag which is why it should come as little surprise that Lyon would snub any offers less than £20million. At 6ft 4, Mateta is physically imposing as well as, surprisingly, nippy in getting in behind defenders.

He really came to prominence in the 34th Lyon Ligue 1 game of the season – a clash against Monaco, in which he played 72 minutes to wide acclaim with plaudits coming in for his work rate and flair on the ball.

Monaco’s  Tiemoue Bakayoko challenges Lyon’s French forward Jean-Philippe Mateta (Photo credit: PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

Although limited to just 3 first-team appearances for his club, Mateta has played prominently for Lyon B with 15 games and 5 goals to his name, in a squad rife with talent – former Toulon Tournament Golden Boot winner Jean-Christophe Bahebeck is just one of the players whose footsteps Mateta is following in.

An imposing figure, he’ll be the main man for France in this tournament and he’ll be hoping to say Hakuna Metata come the end of it!

Alex Iacovitti // Scotland // 19 // Centre-Back: Alex Iacovitti was born in Nottingham but has represented Scotland at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 youth levels. The centre-back is a product of the Nottingham Forest academy, having been on their books since 2012.

At the beginning of the season, Iacovitti joined Mansfield Town on loan with their manager describing him as “an old-school centre-half” and old school, he is. Too often, no-nonsense can be a synonym for reckless but not with this man, he just does the job without really expecting much in way of accolades. An example of this old school play is his 3:1 ratio in terms of clearance to dribbles.

When he’s on the pitch you can tell he just loves the game, and he’s particularly strong in playing the offside trap, with him managing to trap a player in an offside position an average of 1.5 times per match.

Iacovitti is also a more than capable ball player, averaging 35.5 passes per match, with a 78.9% completion rate – sort of statistics you’d be expecting from a midfielder. Having said that, the young Scot is also capable of playing at left-back and this versatility could be key to his progress in this tournament.

Having played 10 games in all competitions this season, it’s been a stutter season for Iacovitti but he made 2 first-team appearances for Forest towards the backend of the season (after returning from loan) and he’ll be looking to either build on that next year or secure a loan move with the lure of first-team football.

Toulon then will be an opportunity for Iacovitti to stake his claim and impress Mark Warburton – whatever happens, a bright future lies ahead.

Michal Sadilek // Czech Republic // 17 // Midfield: A product of the PSV Eindhoven Academy, Michal Sadilek joined the club as a fresh-faced 16 year old back in 2015 and, the year after, signed a contract with the team until the summer of 2019.

Dubbed “the Czech Marco Veratti”, he’ss a natural midfielder but has found himself playing in a more advanced position for the Eindhoven Under 17’s in an equally natural style.

A strong dribbler, Sadilek drives the attack through the heart of the pitch, striding forward with purpose, chucking in the odd step over here and there – a real joy to watch. He’s also a sublime finisher, able to tuck away some neat volleys and finesse shots in his time with the PSV Youth teams – there’s a particularly nice goal he scored in the NXT League, if you can find it.

Although yet to make his first-team debut, Sadilek has appeared 36 times in all competitions this season; largely coming in the U19 Eredivisie and UEFA Youth League – allowing him to develop his talent at a competitive level without having to secure a loan move away from the club.

A good passer of the ball, the Czech is able to ping passes across the field with his left foot, particularly long, deep, searching crosses over to the wing in order to set up an attack.

Keep an eye out then for Sadilek, he promises to be a superb talent moving into the next 3-5 years.

Marquinhos Cipriano // Brazil // 19 // Winger: It’s been quite hard to add some variety to this article, owing in part to many players being away with their respective nations at the Under-20 World Cup. As such, several of these Toulon Tournament players are significantly younger than the age limit and, many are hard to find information about, Marquinhos Cipriano was the sole exception in the Brazilian team.

At 19 years of age, Cipriano plays for Sao Paulo and tends to play in an advanced wing position and, like most Brazilians, he is an incredibly skilful player – he sort of plays to a Samba rhythm with a perfect first-touch, from which he is able to dribble forward or cross the ball into the middle to try and grab an assist.

And he is a very strong crosser with a left foot like an arrow, but he’s not exactly someone you’d want on the end of those ball; at a diminutive 5”8, it’s a good job he was converted into a winger at an early age.

Nonetheless, Cipriano is a gem of a player and whilst I’m not too sure of what exactly future will have in store for him because, all too often, we see young South American players often dwindle into a much of a muchness – I really hope Cipriano can prove me wrong.

Anthony Maisonnial // France // 19 // Goalkeeper: The only goalkeeper to make this Top 10, Maisonnial plys his trade for AS Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1, although he has found first team appearances hard to come by as a deputy to the French international, Stephane Ruffier.

That being said, he has notched 3 appearances for the club this season, as well as 25 reserve team matches for Les Verts since 2015 – he only concedes a goal at an average of one every 86 minutes.

L’Equipe awarded him the Man of the Match award on his debut after he came onto the pitch 13 minutes into the game, with Saint Etienne’s goalkeeper having been red carded, a sure-fire sign that Maisonnial is not to be messed with.

A vocal presence in his own box, this 19 year old is not afraid to let his backline know what he thinks and, trust me, they listen. A born leader, then, it’s no wonder that Saint Etienne are keen to retain his services for the foreseeable future.

Another key strength of Maisonnial is his sharp reflexes, thanks to good positioning and cat-like agility, Maisonnial is able to make extraordinary saves look simple and simple saves look extraordinary – a truly wonderful sight.

A relative veteran of France’s international youth set-ups, Maisonnial has made 14 appearances for his country between Under-16 level through to Under-19. Whilst 18 year old Toulouse goalkeeper, Alban Lafont is stealing the headlines as THE next Number 1 for France, Saint-Etienne’s young gun will be hoping to challenge Lafont going into the future.

That’s my Top 10 to look out for at the Toulon Tournament 2017 – although what I’m looking at is not only talent now but also potential talent; so, maybe, we’ll only know if I’m right in a few years time.

Oliver McManus


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