Aakriti Mehrotra brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-19 players to watch out for in the Ligue 1 this season.
Maxwel Cornet // Lyon // 19 // Winger/Striker
The 19-year-old enjoyed a tremendous breakthrough season and were it not for Ousmane Dembele’s scintillating campaign, Cornet would have got a lot of limelight for his performances. In 16 starts in the league last season, the youngster managed to score eight goals and assisted another one. He found the back of the net in three out of four games between February and March, a period that made every Ligue 1 enthusiast aware of his abilities. With Nabil Fekir, the beating heart of the Lyon attack absent the previous season, Lyon struggled initially but the introduction of Cornet added that same zeal and creativity in the side. Much like Alexandre Lacazette, Cornet plays on the flanks but his propensity to drift inside makes him a great option to have centrally. Cornet recently extended his contract with Lyon which will keep him at the club until 2021. The French youngster is going to get more chances to shine for Lyon this season and with Alexandre Lacazette’s future almost always cast in doubt, fans of Les Gones will be relatively relaxed considering they have a fine replacement within their ranks already.
Jean-Kevin Augustin // PSG // 19 // Striker
Nicknamed “JK” in the locker room, Augustin has steadily climbed the ladder with PSG and was part of the first team squad at the start of the 2014/15 season. The forward made 13 league appearances for the Parisian giants last season but it was France’s successful U-19 campaign in the European championship that shows what a tremendous prospect he is. He ended the tournament as the top scorer with six goals. At first glance, what strikes about the player is his physical qualities, particularly a tremendous acceleration. His strength and tenacity make him a great candidate to operate as a centre-forward and at the same time, he has the pace and skill to be used out wide. The PSG graduate has what it takes to make an impact at the senior level. Laurent Blanc was a big admirer of Augustin and a bright future is expected even under new boss Unai Emery, especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic gone. He has the potential to be the striker PSG are looking for. This will be a crucial season for Augustin and he wants to stay with the Parisian club to be a regular in the side, but if he doesn’t get adequate chances, it will be in his best interests to move to a club where he does.
Allan Saint-Maximin // Bastia (On loan from Monaco) // 19 // Winger
AS Saint-Étienne have produced some very talented players over the years but according to some fans, Allan Saint-Maximin is the pick of the lot. He made his debut for the club as a 16-year-old back in 2013 and over two years, made 12 appearances for the side. He was snapped up by Monaco last season in July and was immediately loaned out to Bundesliga outfit Hannover 96 where he made 16 appearances (predominantly as a substitute). He is swift and can play anywhere in the attack, centrally or on the flanks. He enjoys having the ball at his feet and runs at opponents with guile and confidence. Saint-Maximin has all the desirable shades and there is little doubt that he will go on to be an excellent player, but he is still raw. Monaco know better than to curb his development and have loaned him to Bastia for a season-long loan. In just the first game against PSG, Saint-Maximin showed his immense quality as he took on vastly more experienced PSG players with confidence and assuredness. He will feature regularly for the Ligue 1 outfit and will get ample game-time to excel and develop the wonderful potential he has shown.
Kylian Mbappe // Monaco // 17 // Winger/Striker
Not many know but AS Monaco had to fight off the attention of Real Madrid when Mbappe became available to be snapped up by a club at the age of 14. In hindsight, it was a smart move as the now 17-year-old made 11 appearances for AS Monaco side last season, something that in all probability, wouldn’t have happened with the Madrid side. He became the youngest player to score in Monaco’s history breaking the record of a certain Thierry Henry. An explosive player, Mbappe has been described as a wide forward by his former coach at Clairefontaine but he is comfortable playing anywhere in the attack, which according to his U-17 coach Jean-Claude Guintini means his best position is not yet known. What we do know is that he is good with the ball at his feet, can dribble with confidence and pick passes that make him very easy on the eye. His technique is great and he always looks under control. What he lacks in physical stature, he makes up for with his speed and ability. The 17-year-old scored 5 goals in France’s U-19 European championship, making him the second highest goalscorer behind compatriot Jean-Kevin Augustin. A promising summer means he will get more gametime this season. Things look very promising for Mbappe under Leonardo Jardim.
Alban Lafont // Toulouse // 17 // Goalkeeper
In November 2015, at just At 16 years and 310 days, Alban Lafont became the youngest goalkeeper to feature in a Ligue 1 match and on his debut, he helped his Toulouse to their first clean-sheet since April 2015. The opponents were Nice, who boasted Hatem Ben Arfa and were doing very well in the league making this achievement even better. Lafont has featured in every league game since and the 17-year-old has made 21 league appearances in total. Having played five times for France’s U16s – thrice as captain – he is now an established U17 international. Lafont is comfortable in the air, and is very composed at the back. His confidence gives reassurance to the back-line and this is incredible considering he is just 17 years of age. Strong and alert with supreme reflexes, the Burkina Faso born teenager is destined for a great future. Breaking into the senior team at 16 years of age is impressive for any youngster but it’s even more awe-inspiring for a goalkeeper as they tend to peak later in their career. This means Lafont is already ahead of the pack.
Issa Diop // Toulouse // 19 // Centre-Back
Toulouse have an abundance of gifted young stars and Diop immediately catches the eye simply because how mature his game is. The centre-back exudes confidence and with Toulouse struggling in the relegation zone for most of the season, it is clear that fans wanted to see players who showed he cared and put in a shift every single time. At 6ft 4, he is not only commanding in the air but also quick across the ground. He does have some weaknesses in his game like the lack of positional discipline, but it is clear that he possesses all the best attributes to become a really strong centre back in the future. He started 21 games last season, which is commendable for a 19-year-old. Diop was crucial in France’s U-21 victory this summer and also got on the scoresheet in the final of the tournament. Toulouse need to improve their performances significantly this season to survive and the youngsters like Diop are going to play a huge part for manager Pascal Dupraz.
Alexis Blin // Toulouse // 19 // Defensive Midfielder
The third Toulouse youngster to feature on this list, Alexis Blin made his first-team debut in 2014/15 against Lyon but his rise to prominence occurred during last season’s Ligue 1 campaign. The defensive midfielder managed to become a regular feature for TFC and made 24 appearances in the league, which is a considerable amount for a 19-year-old. He is a confident holding midfielder with a commendable work ethic. He averaged an impressive 3.4 interceptions and 3.7 successful tackles every 90 minutes in the league which illustrates his talent and ability to make a lasting impression in the second third of the pitch. Standing tall at over 6 ft, Blin’s strength and sense of timing to tackle and intercept the ball which reflect in the impressive figures aforementioned have earned him the reputation of being a strong defensive midfielder. It will be a tough season for Le Téfécé as they look to improve on the disappointment of last season and irrespective of how well they do as a team, Alexis Blin will be one of the many talented youngsters to keep an eye on.
Adam Ounas // Bordeaux // 19 // Attacking Midfielder
It was a lacklustre season for Bordeaux and Sunderland signing Wahbi Khazri made things worse as he was one of the only players providing some excitement for the club. However, Willy Sagnol giving Adam Ounas his debut meant fans knew there was another player who could inject some enthusiasm into the side. They were right and the 19-year-old finished his debut season with 5 goals and 2 assists in 16 starts in the league. His vibrant performances reportedly earned him interest from Manchester United. He is a very exciting player who is probably most suitable for the No. 10 role. He is comfortable in possession and is often seen gliding past opponents with some wonderful technique and great balance. His style of play is very reminiscent to that of Nabil Fekir. Ounas is still a little raw and needs to develop his game to improve consistency, which is the case with most players his age. Predicting the development of teenagers is very difficult and hence the next couple of years will be extremely crucial. In what is probably a good move for his progress, he looks to be staying on with Bordeaux, a club where he will get ample game-time.
Paul Bernardoni // Bordeaux // 19 // Goalkeeper
The U-19 France team conceded just four goals in five games in the European championship and Bernardoni’s commanding performances played a definite part in the same. A knee injury to Bordeaux’s Cedric Carrasso in January 2016 meant the club looked to be in a difficult place and les Girondins decided to sign talented Troyes goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni on loan until the end of the season, which was a surprising move as many thought the club would go for a player with more experience. He made 14 Ligue 1 appearances for the side and showed great promise. A unique attribute about him is that even when conceding a number of goals, he doesn’t look devoid of motivation and can still pull off beautiful saves. Quick reactions in close-range situations, good positioning along with an impressive ability to not panic in the most difficult situation means he truly has the potential to become a great goalkeeper for France. Bordeaux signed the player permanently from Troyes and it will be interesting to see how much manager Jocelyn Gourvennec uses him.
Ludovic Blas // Guingamp // 18 // Central Midfielder
Blas’s stock has risen tremendously over the last year. The 18-year-old midfielder broke into Guingamp’s first team last season and made 14 Ligue 1 appearances. He impressed but if he hadn’t already caught the eye of scouts, his performances in France’s successful Under-19 Euros truly put him on the map. He has been played in a number of positions in the midfield and has fared well in the central and box-to-box role. As is the case with players his age, his best position will be figured out with time and experience. He loves moving forward, his shooting ability is good, and it won’t be surprising to see him being used in a more attacking role. The left footed player’s biggest strength is his agility and dynamism which helps him look very impressive and dominating on the pitch. He has been linked with interest from Inter Milan, Lyon and recently Liverpool. As a result, Guingamp have lined up a lucrative new contract for the player to ward off this interest. The player himself wants to stay with Guingamp which is without a doubt, the best move for him as he will definitely hold a more important place in the squad and use last season as the stepping stone for a brighter future.
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.