Following the huge success of our 2014 list, we have compiled a list of the 100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2015 under our Talent Radar feature after careful evaluation and consultation. For more details on how we went about this and any other questions you may have, read these FAQs.
20. KAAN AYHAN
TURKEY | SCHALKE 04 | 20 | CENTRE-BACK
Schalke’s youth academy has established many talents in the last years. Kaan Ayhan is probably the most ambitious defender at the moment. He has grinded out his spot alongside the likes of Benedikt Höwedes and Joel Matip.
Mini-Analysis: Ayhan is the versatile defender Schalke need. The 20-year-old can play as a centre-back, as a half-back, as a holding midfielder, and was quite often fielded as right-back during his youth career. He is distinguished from normal defenders at his age by his understanding and his sheer reading of the game. The home grown player is flexible within the positional play, while he can interpret various situations very well and constantly. Ayhan offers a mixture of physical strength, and exceptional good technical skills in comparison to other central defenders. Therefore, he is capable of filling different roles, and, furthermore, Ayhan finds ways to generate pressure defensively and offensively, while positioning in the backcourt.
Looking back: Ayhan has become an important part of Schalke’s defence primarily due to the kind of consistency his performances have shown. Having firmly established himself as a reliable choice under former Schalke coach Jens Keller, Ayhan made 13 appearances in the second half of last season. He got his first start in the 2-0 victory against Hannover. From mid-March on, Ayhan appeared in every Bundesliga match until the end of the season. The 2014-15 season is an important one for Ayhan as he is making the step up to become a key member of the Schalke starting XI. Having been given a run of games to prove himself due to severe injuries of team-mates, he shows his capability. An average passing accuracy of 84.5 percent, while playing 40 passes per game shows that he is a modern type of defender who is well on the way to tap his full potential.
Written by Constantin Eckner
19. ANDREW ROBERTSON
SCOTLAND | HULL CITY | 20 | LEFT-BACK
After establishing himself in both the Hull City starting eleven and also the Scottish national team, it is about time people started to take notice of the young full-back from Glasgow.
Mini-analysis: Robertson has impressed consistently over the last couple of years for both Dundee United in Scotland and Hull City in the Premier League. It’s now, after his promising start to life in the Premier League that people are starting to talk about this attacking left-back. Robertson is very quick and a good defender 1 v 1, as well as being a constant threat for the opposition with his attacking quality, which is underline with the fact that he has already claimed his first assist in England’s top flight. The combination of his defensive and attacking attributes also makes him perfect for the position as left wing-back, which is sure to be one of the reasons why Steve Bruce signed the 20-year-old Scot because Bruce is known to be very flexible in his use of either a four-man-defence or a back-three with wing-backs.
Looking back: Robertson was released by Celtic as a 15-year-old because he was ‘too small’, but has definitely shown his determination in overcoming the rejection by making a name of himself. He joined Queens Park’s youth set-up and made his way into the first-team, before signing for Dundee United. At Tannadice he enjoyed a hugely successful season in a young and exciting United side which reached the Cup Final, and led to Robertson earning himself a move to the Premier League with Hull City. In England, he has already established himself as one of the first names on Steve Bruce’s team sheet. International recognition has followed too, with Robertson making five appearances for Gordon Strachan’s side.
Write-up by David Selini
18. KARIM REKIK
HOLLAND | PSV EINDHOVEN (ON LOAN FROM MANCHESTER CITY) | 20 | CENTRE-BACK
Having only played one Premier League game with Manchester City two seasons ago, Karim Rekik has since gone on loan to PSV for the last two years….a wise career move.
Mini-analysis: At first glance, Karim Rekik doesn’t exactly strike you as a strong, typical center-back. Despite that, he is the perfect model of the modern defender. Strong, quick and with great anticipation, the young Dutchman incarnates the Netherlands future in defence. With his great passing ability (his passing move is really good), he is able to launch attacks deep or start play calmly from the back. Despite his relatively small height, 6ft, Rekik is also a good header of the ball: he can both score and defend well. You can read a detailed Scout Report on Karim Rekik here.
Talent Radar accolades:
Featured in our Talent Radar ‘100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2014′ special at No.14 in the defenders category
Looking back: 2014 has really been Rekik’s season. He’s played every PSV game this season when fit, and been the absolute leader in defence. Despite a small dip in form that pretty much lost PSV the title last season, he’s come back as strong as ever this season, and the side sit pretty on top of the Eredivisie table. The fact is that at only 20 years of age, Karim Rekik plays like a 30 year-old mature center-back: with composure and class. If he stays at a club where he will get regular game time, there is absolutely no doubt he will turn out to be one of the better Dutch defenders of his generation.
Write-up by Yannick Bloem
17. ERIC DIER
ENGLAND | TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR | 20 | RIGHT-BACK
Dier, born in Cheltenham, moved to Portugal at a young age and made his name playing for Sporting CP out there. Having signalled his intention to play for England and not Portugal, Tottenham purchased the youngster in the summer for a mere £4million, something that could prove to be a steal.
Mini-Analysis : Having started most of the games he’s played this season at right back, Dier has expressed his desire to played in the centre of defence. Despite this, he started the season brightly as Tottenham’s full back showing he is more than capable of playing there. His crossing early on was superb, and was one of the most solid players Spurs had at the back. With some of his goals early on in the season he showed that he was very strong in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet. He’s a physical presence at the back, and has also shown the qualities to be a top centre back.
Major Talent Radar accolades:
Featured in our Talent Radar ‘100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2014′ special at No.22 in the defenders category
Looking Back : The Englishmen made 26 appearances for Sporting over two seasons and really made a name for himself out in the Portuguese capital. Since breaking into the Sporting side, Dier made himself well known amongst the England youth selectors and has since made himself a regular in the England Under 21 side alongside Michael Keane and was involved in the 2014 Toulon Tournament and helped England to finish 4th overall. Earlier in the year he became the first defender in Premier League history, to score two in his first two appearances.
Expert Talk: Here’s what Addicted to Spurs told us — “Eric Dier has shown incredible promise in the early stages of his Tottenham career. He shows composure on the ball, understanding of his positions, but also combines both strength and agility in defence. In 2015, I expect Dier to push his way into the Tottenham first team as a centre back regular rather than a right back, and also push for an England senior call.”
Write-up by George Stokes
16. BJORN ENGELS
BELGIUM | CLUB BRUGGE | 20 | CENTRE-BACK
Bjorn Engels is a player who has become quite famous on the internet, due to reasons that he may not always appreciate. But there is no denying the fact that he is a defender with some serious talent, and some great mental strength. For a guy who scored an own goal on debut, Engels has risen swiftly and skilfully to become a vital part of the Club Brugge defensive formation. Veterans like Ryan and Simons have been lavish in their praise for the player, and the his displays on the field should leave you in no doubt about the accuracy of their assessments. Like a lot of youngsters in the Jupiler League, Engels is possibly looking at a move abroad in the near future, and the 20 year old can possibly achieve that very soon.
Mini Analysis: First off, Engels definitely has the physical qualities to be a successful center back. Standing at 193 cm tall, Engels is a formidable force to contend with. Engels is one of the top defenders in Belgium, and has been a very regular started for his club side, despite being quite young. This was the case last season, and he has continued his fine form this season too. Having started his career as an attacking player, his skills on the ball are naturally quite good, allowing him to be a good option for a manager who is looking to start attacking moves from deeper regions of the pitch. His attacking threat isn’t limited to just his passes from deeper region.s The man has already scored thrice this season, including a brace against Oostende in the league.
Looking back: Engels has had a mixed bag of a year. While being one of the leaders of the team has been a great experience for the player, helping him grow, one feels that taking on such a role might be stressful for the 20 year old at this point in his career. He is currently injured, and has struggled a bit with injuries throughout the year. Engels is being talked up as a future captain of Club Brugge, and that will be a great thing for him, but his future perhaps lies elsewhere, and if he can keep up his fine form, and stay fit, there’s no reason to believe that he wont make it.
Expert View: Bjorn de Cock, Belgian editor of Benefoot told us this — “The best Belgian defender in the Jupiler Pro League. Club Brugge gave him the chance and Engels took it with both hands. He’s strong in the air and always keeps it simple. His passing is also good what makes him one of the best defenders in the Belgian league. He had some injuries in 2014 so if he can gain some strength next season I don’t think he will stay long in Belgium.”
Write-up by Vishal Patel
15. TERENCE KONGOLO
HOLLAND | FEYENOORD | 20 | CENTRE-BACK
Born in Switzerland, the Dutch defender made his debut for Feyenoord nearly two years ago, aged only 18. Today, he is an important asset in Feyenoord’s waterproof defence.
Mini-analysis: Able to play at both left-back and center-back, Terence Kongolo was one of Louis van Gaal’s surprise inclusions at this summers World Cup. This season, he has been playing mainly as a center-back, and it is no coincidence that that switch has improved Feyenoord’s defence greatly. He is pretty tall but doesn’t have an imposing physique, nor is he a big leader on the pitch. But he makes up for that with enough other qualities: his pace, his technique and his winner mentality. Kongolo is, like many other Dutch defenders, a modern defender: clean (he doesn’t concede many fouls), very good on the ball and technically excellent.
Looking back: Last season, the Swiss born defender got his first Eredivisie start in January. Ever since, he’s played every single Feyenoord game. He’s been the biggest revelation in the Netherlands with Memphis Depay. His Netherlands call-up was only a very justified reward for his excellent form. Kongolo’s talent hasn’t gone unnoticed abroad, and Manchester City and United are reportedly looking to sign him in January. Will his brother’s influence, currently playing at City’s academy, help City capture Kongolo ahead of van Gaal, who knows the player very well? Only the future will tell, but one thing is certain: Terence Kongolo’s talent is undeniable
Expert View: Michael Bell, of Football Oranje told us this about the youngster — “Kongolo has been played across the back-line over the past few years, but it is at centre back where he has been most impressive for me and its there where his future lies. Tall, fast, ferocious in the tackle and great on the ball, Kongolo for me is one of the finest defenders Netherlands have produced since the days of Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer. Kongolo should regain a place in the Netherlands squad in 2015, and Feyenoord will have a huge task of trying to keep hold of him in the summer with the list of admirers growing.”
Write-up by Yannick Bloem
14. TIN JEDVAJ
CROATIA | BAYER LEVERKUSEN (ON LOAN FROM ROMA) | 19 | CENTRE-BACK
Only just turning 19 years old a fortnight ago, Tin Jedvaj has already played for the biggest club in Croatia, one of the biggest clubs in Italy and is currently on loan at one of Germany’s coveted top 4 teams – Bayer Leverkusen. Approached by Roma at the meager age of 17, Jedvaj has gone on to become an important figure for Bayer Leverkusen midway through the 2014/15 season… displacing Giulio Donati and Roberto Hilbert at right back.
Mini-Analysis: Tin Jedvaj is the epitome of a modern defender in world football today, boasting the ability to play in different roles across the defensive stratum. The distinctive knack in attack that Jedvaj possesses is unique due to the fact that he has played in the centre of defence for a total of 7 times this season, also coupled with his capability to play in the pivot. Besides the embarrassing drubbing at Wolfsburg early in the season, Jedvaj has helped Leverkusen concede only 4 goals in the 6 he’s played in at centre back. On the contrary: in the high pressing, hard working and attack based style of play that Roger Schmidt has brought into the club; you’d think that Jedvaj has the potential to become one of the most important players in the Leverkusen squad due to his workmanlike and attacking style of play. The defensive side of his game (as a full back) still has a lot to be desired for along with his inexperience that can lead to rash decision-making. This is exactly the reason why Giulio Donati and Roberto Hilbert – more conservative, reliable and more experienced full back choices – have started in the Champions League over Jedvaj. You can read a detailed Scout Report on Tin Jedvaj here.
Looking Back: Tin Jedvaj is at the age where he wants to start getting games almost anywhere, and after only playing for 97 minutes at Roma for the whole of the 13/14 season, he has gone on to play for more than 1000 minutes in a Leverkusen shirt by December.
Write-up by Hamoudi Al Fayad
13. JORDAN AMAVI
FRANCE | OGC NICE | 20 | LEFT-BACK
Of late, French football has had the tendency of producing some fine full backs. With the likes of Evra, Abidal, Debuchy and Sagna now growing a bit older, the new generation of players like Digne and Amavi is coming in, and looking like there will be no problems in this area at all. Having made his debut relatively recently (the start of the 2013-14 season), Amavi has had a good year in 2014. He’s been a part of the ice set up for a few years now, and the 20 year old’s performances are making people take notice of him. You can read a detailed Scout Report on Jordan Amavi here.
Mini Analysis: Amavi had a bit of a struggle in his first top flight season, as he made just 9 starts. But frankly, that isn’t something the player should be too worried by, as it is normal in his development. Encouragingly, this season, he’s been the sole started in the left back spot for his side, and he has lived up the Puel’s expectations. Amavi is a physically a very athletic player, which is almost a necessity for someone who plies his trade at full back. Another huge plus for Amavi is that he is defensively very solid. The full back is one who can easily do the up and down, but is far more comfortable in his own half, and his physicality, coupled with game sense means that attackers tend to have a hard time facing up against him. A player who averages 4 tackles, and 4.4 interceptions a game means serious business. Going forward too, Amavi has shown some potential, though his crossing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. He’s gotten on the scoresheet twice this season, and has been used as a wingback too, which should help him grow as an attacking player.
Looking back: While the first half of the year was a bit of a struggle for Amavi, as he didn’t exactly feature very regularly, the second half has been great. He’s managed to establish himself in the side, and looked like he’s belonged at this level. His inexperience has showed at times, but that is only natural, and the flaws that are presently in his game can all be ironed out by a good coach, a lot of hard work, and some application. His natural physical talent should hold him in good stead at any level, and the technical abilities will continue to be refined. Amavi is already being talked about as a dark horse for the spot at left back in the Fench squad, and while there is a lot of competition, he isn’t one to be ruled out.
Expert Talk: Andrew Gibney of French Football Weekly, Bleacher Report and others, told us this — “When Claude Puel sold Timothee Kolodziejczak to Sevilla, many questioned why he would let go of his star left-back. The answer to that question is Jordan Amavi. The young defender has been superb this season. Nice have been inconsistent, but that hasn’t stopped Amavi. No one has made more tackles in Ligue 1 than the 20-year-old. Intelligent going forward, an impressive one-on-one defender and with years to improve on what he has already shown. Layvin Kurzawa and Lucas Digne may be the future of France’s defence, but Amavi could be another option come 2018.”
Write-up by Vishal Patel
12. LUKE SHAW
ENGLAND | MANCHESTER UNITED | 19 | LEFT-BACK
It seems like he’s been around forever, but Luke Shaw is still only 19 years old. Shaw was one of the stars of the Southampton team that was so impressive last season, having made his bones at the top level a season earlier. The teenage star has, for a long while now, been looked at as the long term occupant of the left back slot in the England national team, a feeling reflected by the fact that he was selected ahead of the veteran Ashley Cole to travel to Brazil in the summer.
Mini Analysis: Like many young full backs who are making their presence felt across Europe, Shaw is fantastic going forward. He has good technical ability, and his pace and power often give him a big advantage over his opponents. Shaw loves to run with the ball, and drive into opposition territory. What really sets him apart though, is the fact that he’s very solid defensively as well. His awareness at the back, and while pressing forward meant that Southampton were able to implement their pressing based system well. His electric pace also meant that he was hardly caught with forwards or wingers behind him, and this ability has made him the stand out left back in world football at the moment. Van Gaal has experimented with using him as a wing back at times this season, but his injury trouble has meant that we haven’t had the chance to see him bloom in United colours as yet.
Talent Radar accolades:
Featured in our Talent Radar ‘100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2014′ special at No.6 in the defenders category
Featured at #15 in our Top 20 Young Players of 2014 special
Featured in our 2013/14 Talent Radar Readers’ Team of the Season
Featured in our 2013/14 Talent Radar Premier Leagues Youngsters XI
Looking back: 2014 is a year that Shaw will probably look back at with a fair degree of fondness. He did very well for Southampton, and the team also performed well above expectations over the course of the season. Getting into the World Cup squad was surely another huge positive for the young man, and that was followed by a move to English giants, Manchester United. The move has made him one of the most expensive defenders in football, and the most expensive teenager in world football, and that can be quite a load to carry. The injuries in the second half of the year haven’t really helped his settling process at Manchester United, but that isn’t a great worry. The club, the manager, and the fans all understand that Shaw is a player who has been brought into the fold for the long run, and he will have ample opportunities to showcase his talent.
Expert Talk: Sam of The Peoples Person told us this — “Luke Shaw is going to be the world’s best left-back if he can fulfil his early potential, you can quote me on that. Already, he looks like a complete player at 19. Defensively strong, powerful in the tackle, intelligent, excellent going forward and a great amount of stamina, Shaw has been schooled very well at Southampton. It’s early doors but he is rightfully considered one of the best young talents in the world.”
Write-up by Vishal Patel
11. RAPHAEL GUERREIRO
PORTUGAL | FC LORIENT | 20 | LEFT-BACK
Born in France but with a dream to play for his father’s homeland of Portugal, 20 year old left-back Raphael Guerreiro has risen from relative obscurity in the last few seasons to become a highly-rated and sought after youngster. After making his debut for his beloved Seleção, the future is bright for the Lorient defender.
Mini-Analysis: With blistering pace and an impressive work ethic, Guerreiro has the capacity to contribute in both ends of the pitch. The youngster is eager to join in the attack at the every possible opportunity and has proven to be a potent weapon on the flanks for the Ligue 1 side. As a natural left-back, his primary focus in the defensive third, and Guerreiro is an intelligent defender; he excels at reading the game and making interceptions. Furthermore, his positional awareness highlights his maturity for his age. At the same time, tackling is the biggest weakness in the 20-year old’s game; Guerreiro only averages 1.1 tackles per game. As a result, the Lorient man has adopted a defensive style that relies heavily on jockeying and reading the game rather than diving into challenges. Detailed Scout Report on Raphael Guerreiro here.
Looking back: A place in the Ligue 2 Team of the Year earned Guerreiro a move to Lorient in the top division in France 2013; the 20-year old has already racked up more than 50 appearances for the Ligue 1 side as he has cemented a starting XI spot. Bigger teams have taken an interest in the Portuguese left-back, but for now Guerreiro still plies his trade in France and has quickly become one of the most important players for Lorient. Manager Christian Gourcuff has placed a lot of trust in the youngster, pushing him up the field to take advantage of his prodigious attacking talent, and Guerreiro has delivered, with 3 goals so far this season. His performances have been noticed by the Seleção, as he accepted the call-up from Portugal’s U-21s. He made his debut for the national team this season, and scored on his second appearance against Argentina at Old Trafford.
Expert View: Tom Kundert, creator of PortuGOAL told us this — “A left-back in the mould of his Portugal team-mate Fábio Coentrão. A competent defender, it is when bombing forward that Guerreiro has really caught the eye, with his pace and excellent passing and crossing a potent attacking weapon. He enjoyed a man-of-the-match debut for the Portugal in the Euro 2016 qualifier against Armenia and followed that up with a spectacular winning goal in a friendly against Argentina four days later.”
Write-up by Rahul Natarajan