Judging the calibre of a young player is often a tricky task. Perceived potential has an important bearing in any consideration and is just one of the many parameters to consider when trying to quantify the ability of football’s young stars. To add a basis to what may be a leap of faith, it is useful to look back and trace the growth, or indeed lack thereof, in young players.
Our Talent Radar Player Rankings, along-with our Talent Radar Team of the Week documents the progress of youngsters across Europe, with those featuring in these regular pieces, eventually being recognised in our end of season Talent Radar Young Player Awards and 100 Best Young Players to Watch list. Read this document for all your queries on Talent Radar and explanation of the features under it.
[Eligibility: As of 1st June 2015 – 22 years old and below]
5. GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMMA // 16 // AC Milan // Italy
If there’s an award for media hype around a young goalkeeper, it has to be given to Gianluigi Donnarumma, hands down. The Milan youth product was mostly likely not a part of the plans for the senior squad but circumstances have played out in his favour. The 16 year old was chosen over Diego Lopez earlier this season after the club experienced successive defeats. Donnarumma ceased the opportunity and has done well so far, despite the immense pressure on him.
Milan’s fortunes have been mixed since our last issue of player rankings. That said, the youngster has still managed to keep six clean sheets since and shown signs of progress.
Looking back at several players who were deemed the next big thing at ages 16-18, majority of them failed to live up to the expectations laid in front of them. Milan and its staff definitely need to work on protecting the kid if they wish for him to bloom.
4. TIMO HORN // 22 // Koln // Germany
There have been multiple young goalkeepers representing the German front in Talent Radar circles over the years but the current front runner, purely based on performances is Time Horn. The Koln young product has been with the senior squad since 2012 and has impressed at periodic intervals which have been more consistent off late.
Koln haven’t exactly been a defensive force this season, conceding 26 goals so far but we’re all for giving credit to Horn based on individual performances. Like all keepers on this list, there have been times where Horn hasn’t had the tidiest of games but the potential is definitely there and he has certainly managed to display that. There is certainly ground to be covered if Horn’s goal is to make it to the national squad. We’re willing to be optimistic and wait to see what happens.
3. JAN OBLAK // 23 // Atletico Madrid // Slovenia
In typical Atletico fashion where defensive organisation is a priority, it is likely from the start of the season that Jan Oblak would be amongst the best performing young goalkeepers given that he would have the necessary cover from his defensive line. There have been times however where the defensive line wasn’t enough and 23 year old Oblak certainly managed to step up his game.
Having being brought in from Benfica in the summer of 2014, one can consider the current La Liga season has Oblak’s full-fledged test. With 19 appearances for the club this season, the Slovenian has at the centre of an Atletico defensive unit that has let in only 11 goals.
2. ALPHONSE AREOLA // 22 // Villarreal (on loan from PSG) // France
Since our last issue of player rankings, Villarreal have brought their A game to the Spanish league, having succumbed to only 2 losses. At the time of writing, Villarreal have the third best defensive record in La Liga, missing out on second place by just one goal to leaders Barcelona. Along with the back four, significant credit must be given to Areola who has played a big part in maintaining that record. In 2016, the youngster has managed to keep 4 clean sheets out of a possible 6.
With PSG (Areola’s parent club) currently in possession of Kevin Trapp who is just 25 years of age, Areola’s opinions of first team football with the French champions is unlikely. This season has proved immense for Areola in terms of building his reputation and it’s likely we could see a potential permanent move on the cards in this coming summer.
1. JACK BUTLAND // 22 // Stoke City // England
22 year old Jack Butland has been one of the stand out keepers in the Premier League this season and being a young well-performing English player has elevated his status even more.
The youngster joined Stoke City in 2013 and was sent out to four different clubs within the country to gain experience. Since his return to Stoke, Butland has impressed consistently, setting him up nicely for the England berth in due time.
Butland hasn’t had the best defensive line in front of him but individually, he has shown that he isn’t just another young goalkeeper that is hyped by the media. Since our last issue of the player rankings, there have been occasions where he has been at fault but with the larger picture in mind, his excellence in front on goal on several instances has proved to be enough to outweigh the blunders.
Written by Razim Refai
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