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100 to Watch in 2017

100 Best Young Players to Watch in 2017 | Part 8 | Midfielders

For the 4th year running, Outside of the Boot has returned with our years’ special feature – a detailed look at the best young players every football enthusiast must keep an eye out for in 2017.

This feature is published in 10 parts which help us divide the list positionally (10 goalkeepers, 30 defenders, 40 midfielders, 20 forwards). 

All players born on or after January 1st 1996 are eligible for the feature.


20 / Italy / Sassuolo

Written by Sami Faizullah

Blurb: Roma’s quest for a youthful presence in their side didn’t bode well for Rome native, Lorenzo Pellegrini. The Italian seemed to be realising his potential when he came on against Cesena in the second half in March 2015, to take up a spot with club legend Daniele De Rossi in midfield. This would prove to be Pellegrini’s only senior appearance for his home town club, having impressed with the youth team – the side he captained to a semi-finals finish in the UEFA Youth League.

Sassuolo saw the potential Pellegrini displayed in the Primavera, and gave him a shot at first team football, and the then teenager didn’t disappoint. In his first full ninety minutes of first division football, Pellegrini scored his first senior goal in his side’s 3-1 win away to Sampdoria.

Analysis: Pellegrini’s footballing intelligence is what impresses one the most – with Italian football known for it’s artistry in understanding the game, Pellegrini is certainly one who has graduated from that school of thought. A calm disciplined approach, combined with an sublime reading of the game, Pellegrini has shown maturity in the Serie A, well beyond his years.

Having captained Roma at a young age, Pellegrini’s leadership skills are there to see on the football pitch. Often taking ownership of situations, and oozing confidence with his passing, Pellegrini has certainly developed well into a first team midfield role. Not shy with possession, the youngster isn’t all about a deeper role, with a rather obvious inclination to go forward, the 20-year-old also has goals in his game.

In the years gone by, Italian midfield has had some of the biggest names in World football; and now as with all phases, Italian midfield is also going through a shift in personnel. Marco Verratti has been installed as the poster boy of the future, but the likes of Lorenzo Pellegrini coming through display immense potential for the Azzuri.

Looking Ahead: Roma may indeed look to bringing one of their own back into the club, especially with the more senior legends slowly being phased out and the side lacking a Roman native. But for now, their approach is obvious in letting go of the youngster, allowing him to develop in a side that has nurtured youngsters before taking in a finished product. While Sassuolo may not be Pellegrini’s long term goal, he has certainly grasped the opportunity with open arms.

His development over the next couple of years will be crucial for his national team potential. While the 2018 World Cup just over a year away may be too soon a target, it remains to be seen whether national team management look to the likes of Pellegrini and Manuel Locatelli as potential options.


20 / Mexico / Chivas Guadalajara

Written by Tom Harrison

Blurb: 20-year-old Orbelín Pineda has been considered one of Mexico’s top prospects for around 2 years now.

Coming through the ranks with Querétaro, Orbelín was playing for Los Gallos Blancos whilst Ronaldinho was there, and often outshone him. Pineda since signed for Mexican giants Chivas, at the start of 2016.

Orbelín, a central midfielder, has become a key part of a resurgent Chivas side ever since, and performances for his club has resulted in Pineda earning three full Mexico caps.

Analysis: The mind of Orbelín, who plays as a deep-lying playmaker, is certainly his best attribute. The Chivas man has a high footballing IQ; with superb vision, an ability to dictate the tempo and an understanding of when to press and when to cover, if the opposition have possession.

He’s also mature and composed when on the ball. Pineda’s importance to Chivas, despite his tender age, is a great illustration of how good he is mentally. Orbelín is also well skilled technically. He possesses excellent close control, an accurate range of passing and occasionally dangerous long shots.

Standing just 5’6” tall, a lack of strength could become a problem if Orbelín were to move to a more physical league than Liga MX, in the future. However, his intelligence, speed of play and speed of movement may mean a lack of physicality isn’t a problem. It certainly hasn’t hindered players like Andrés Iniesta and Xavi.

Perhaps Orbelín’s biggest weakness is the lack of variety of experience that he has. Firstly, only playing in Liga MX means he’s used to a slower tempo of play, against sides that like to keep the ball on the ground, with stricter referees. Also, Pineda has played as the more advanced of the two in a 4-2-3-1 throughout his career so far. He may struggle to adapt to a different formation.

Talent Radar Accolades

Looking Ahead: With Orbelín a crucial part of Chivas, and the sides’ future, as they aim to become a powerhouse in Mexican football once more, it would take a big offer to tempt Chivas to sell. Considering his lack of variety of experience, many clubs may be put off by a large price tag.

On the international front, Orbelín has the opportunity to earn a place in Juan Carlos Osorio’s regular starting line-up before the World Cup in 2018. Being part of the 2017 Confederations Cup squad will go a long way to help Pineda achieve that.

Read a detailed Scout Report on Orbelín Pineda


18 / USA / Borussia Dortmund

Written by Mosope Ominiyi

Blurb: 18-year-old winger Christian Pulisic has already been regarded as the US’ new wonderkid, and they’ve welcomed the hype with open arms given his rapid progress through the ranks in Dortmund’s youth teams before showing his ability in the first-team with aplomb under Thomas Tuchel early this year after a handful of cameo appearances.

Analysis: The talented Hershey-born youngster has enjoyed a whirlwind 2016, where he broke a number of Bundesliga records before making his competitive US debut in late March of this year. Having progressed well in an ever-improving Dortmund side, competition for places has been fierce this term as many attack-minded players are eager to feature as often as possible. Pulisic has played in all but three Bundesliga fixtures at the time of writing, and featured across all of the club’s Champions League group stage games as he continues to improve amongst esteemed company alongside the likes of Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

He hasn’t looked overwhelmed or out of his depth, but will be hoping to improve his composure in the final third as he aims to show the same creative nous that has seen Ousmane Dembélé involved in fourteen goals (four goals, ten assists) across all competitions this term already, at the time of writing. Pulisic’s main strengths include his ability to dribble with the ball effortlessly whilst being able to include team-mates in build-up play and slick passing exchanges – but he’ll look reflectively and know that despite his excellent work this year, there’s definitely still more to be done to make him more of a complete player as he develops.

Talent Radar Accolades

Looking Ahead: During a recent documentary detailing his progress and rise to success thus far, his mum stressed the importance of having patience with him: there’ll be times where he doesn’t perform as well as he is capable of, but being able to refocus and improve for future matches will show his maturity as a player. That’s a key quote to remember when analysing the teenager’s performances, especially in a team of Dortmund’s quality as there is constant pressure to continually deliver.

Read a detailed Scout Report on Christian Pulisic


20 / Netherlands / PSV

Written by Hrishi Anand

Blurb: Bart Ramselaar is making waves in the Eredivisie this season impressing for PSV Eindhoven thus far. The midfielder is also a bright spark in a difficult period for the Dutch National Football team, being called up in May 2016. He impressed at Utrecht before moving to PSV in 2016.

Analysis: Ramselaar is an interesting player to have in midfield. The versatile midfielder has a free role in the PSV midfield and rotates between a deeper role and a more advanced No.10-like role. Ramselaar’s biggest strengths are his short passing and dribbling. His pace and ball control enable him to beat opponents and this is especially useful when PSV are unable to break down a defense. Ramselaar possesses great vision to pick out a pass and notice the runs teammates make. His ability to make right decisions and pick a smart pass outside the box catches the eye. His composure while playing in advanced role is also worth noting.

Ramselaar’s goal-scoring threat is another asset he possesses and something which he could hone. Considering his freedom in midfield, the Dutchman has a knack of finding himself in goal-scoring positions both inside and outside the box. Ramselaar is also adept at timing his runs to perfection, predicting crosses from teammates. His finishing is not bad either although there is room for improvement. His build also enables him to handle challenges effectively.

Looking Ahead: Called up for Netherlands at 20, the future looks bright for Ramselaar. The youngster should focus on putting in consistent performances for PSV and holding on to a place in the starting eleven. He also should look to make a position in the national team midfield his own, and become a fixture in the Dutch midfield. The midfielder needs to decide on his preferred position to ensure he is given adequate training for the same. While his versatility and ability to play in deeper as well as advanced roles is important, a fixed position would allow him clarity of positioning.


20 / Kosovo / Vitesse Arnhem

Written by Vishal Patel

Blurb: Born in Kosovo, the youngster had trials at several German clubs in his youth, including the likes of Hannover 96 and Union Berlin after rejecting a move to KAA Gent. He finally broke through at Vitesse Arnhem, and signed for them in early 2015. By the start of the 2015-16 season though, he was involved in the first team picture, making his debut in a Europa League match against Southampton. He hasn’t looked back since.

Analysis: Rashica is a pacy right winger, and one of many currently plying their trade in the Eredivise. He seems to have formed a good partnership with Kevin Diks down that side, with the two cooperating well before the Dutchman got his move to Italy. The Kosovar’s playing style is also quite orthodox, as he relies on pace, and trickery to make things happen. He’s got a mean cross on him too, making him quite a tough proposition to handle out on the right hand side which tells you about the direct and aggressive nature of his football.

Rashica has also won a lot of praise from his bosses for the mental side of his game. He’s been singled out for being focused, positive, and hard working, three characteristics that always go a long way in making a player. Having been left out of Albania’s Euro squad must have been a tough pill to swallow for the youngster, and his performances have shown his mental strength.

Looking Ahead: After his Albania snub, Rashica declared for Kosovo, and has been an important part of that team. He’s made regular appearances for them, and will be keen to impress at the international level. For Vitesse too, he hasn’t been spectacular this season. He got a good haul of eight goals last time around, but has none in the first half of the season. His immediate goal will be to improve his productivity for his team, and maybe add more to his game in front of goal.


20 / New Zealand / Wellington Pheonix

Written by Will Miller

Blurb: In a gloomy 2016 for Phoenix fans, Matthew Ridenton has stood out as one of the few silver linings around the grey cloud of the last two seasons. The midfielder has made thirty-five appearances in his four seasons since signing a professional contract straight out of high school. He has also been a regular member of the All Whites set up in the current World Cup qualification cycle, though he has often had to settle for a place on the bench, starting just once for the national side.

Analysis: Ridenton has shot to prominence on the New Zealand Football scene, thanks primarily to his composure on the ball and eye for a pass. However this season, he has often been a player the Phoenix call on towards the end of matches. This means that so far he looks like a very positive player, but there is a chance this is to do with the fact he gets most of his games coming off the bench to attempt to rescue a point. He has only started once this season, when the squad was depleted because of the international break. He took this opportunity extremely well, getting an assist and a clean sheet, even though he was played somewhat out of position at left back. Ridenton certainly has the ability to be a regular starter for the Phoenix, and will be hoping to be given more opportunities under their new coach in the coming year.

He has played a similar role for the All Whites, starting just one game and often on the bench. In his one start, he certainly made it count, providing an assist for the 80th minute winner after slaloming around the Solomon Island’s defence. That passage of play was a fantastic example of positivity, confidence and vision he possesses.

Talent Radar Accolades

Looking Ahead: The key thing for Ridenton at this point in his career is to get more game time. Appearances off the bench are fine but to truly develop as a footballer he needs to be playing full games consistently. It’s tough for him in New Zealand because any lower tier club would only be semi-pro, so he is best at the Phoenix for now. The game time will hopefully come, particularly if the Phoenix look unlikely to qualify for the playoffs and next season we should see him locking down a spot in the team. From there he should be looking to bigger and better things, either at another A-League club or in an overseas league. Ridenton has the potential to play at a very high level, 2017 could be a key year for him to fulfill that potential.


19 / Portugal / Bayern Munich

Written by Vatsal Dani

Blurb: Few players in world football have had such a whirlwind season than Portugal’s Renato Sanches. Within 12 months of breaking into Benfica’s first team he won Primeira Liga, earned himself a move to Bayern Munich, won Euro 2016 title and capped it all off with a stunning FIFA Golden Boy Award. It is a dream for any footballer let alone for a 19-year-old midfielder from an impoverished neighborhood in Lisbon. Bulo, as he is addressed in his family, truly had a fairy-tale eighteen months.

Analysis: He is a player who possesses all attributes of a midfielder. Strong in tackle, dictates the tempo of the game, slick passer and equally effective in attack as well as defense. The 19-year-old is also versatile and technically very sound. In addition to this, his tireless work rates makes him stand out further as he’s superb on the ball but importantly astute at willing to winning it back with his work rate.

Despite lacking in stature, Sanches even at a young age has impressive physical attributes, combined with a low centre of gravity. The Portuguese prodigy in theory is a perfect midfield dynamo with his combative approach. The only thing he lacks is experience of playing at the top level. With just thirty games for Benfica’s first team, Sanches is too raw for the elite stage.

This is the primary reason for his struggles in Bavaria where he has looked out of sorts in few of his appearances. Maybe he has stepped up to the big league too soon for his own good, like has been the case with many Portuguese starlets. His temperament may prevent him from joining that infamous list but despite all his talent, he needs to work really hard to succeed at Bayern Munich.

Talent Radar Accloades

Looking Ahead: Sky is the limit for Renato Sanches. There is nothing which is away from his grasp. With the likes of Paul Pogba already setting the marker for all young talents, Sanches knows what is expected of him to be counted as a success. Bayern Munich, in all aspects have found a perfect replacement for their erstwhile legend Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Read a detailed Scout Report on Renato Sanches


20 / Germany / Manchester City

Written by John Smith

Blurb: Following consistent impressive performances for German side Schalke 04, prolific winger Leroy Sane secured a high profile move to English side Manchester City in the summer transfer window. Just a few months into the transfer, the German international has already expressed sparks of high potential that live up to the approximate 40 million pound fee that the Citizens paid for him. Whilst not a crucial player to the first team currently, Sane has still put in impressing performances in the sporadic games that he has played for the first team.

Analysis: Expressing his brilliance for both Die Königsblauen and also The Citizens, it’s evident that Leroy Sane is one for the future. A versatile winger capable of playing on either flank in attack as well as in a more central role, the German international always poses a threat to the opposition whenever he steps onto the football pitch. He also has the awareness to cut inside when playing on the right and try to find space in between the opposition’s lines in the midfield and defence to try and produce an opportunity at goal.

The winger is certainly the type of player who can step up and produce the big moment in a football game, with his overall pace and dribbling ability two of his major assets. Whenever on the ball, the winger looks as comfortable as ever when using some of his best attributes to force his way past the opposition.

Talent Radar Accolades

Looking Ahead: Formerly one of the most exciting German prospects to come out of the Bundesliga, there has been a lot of pressure on Leroy Sane’s shoulders to live up to his potential and become one of the very best in the game. Albeit playing rotational first team football at his new club Manchester City, there’s no denying the fact that sooner or later the German international will be one of the first players to make the team sheet. Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, Sane will certainly be able to adapt and improve on his overall ability to match that of Pep’s ideal philosophy of Juego de Posicion.

Read a detailed Scout Report on Leroy Sane


19 / Belgium / Anderlecht

Written by Andrew Thompson

Blurb: Despite underwhelming performances at both the 2014 World cup and Euro 2016, Belgium should still be considered a threat in the future.  Though they have yet to reach the heights expected from their current “golden generation”, De Rode Duivels continue to bring though impressive young players via their impressive youth set up at an alarming rate.

With all the individual talent in the world, it’s certainly a shame that we have yet to see how good Belgium can truly be.  But as we sit and hope that their ability to produce talent will come to fruition by way of international success, yet another young player has broken through for the national team who has the ability to stake his claim as one of the best in the business – Youri Tielemans.

Analysis: A native of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Tielemans has been at RSC Anderlecht for the entirety of his career to date.  Coming into the youth system at the age of five in 2002, he excelled and plowed his way through the ranks year on year, earning himself promotion to the first team at the age of sixteen after making his full debut for Paars-wit in 2013 in a league match against KSC Lokeren.  He would go on to become the youngest player in Anderlecht history to feature in the Champions League three months later and he has never looked back since. At the same time, Tielemans was already starting for the Belgian youth national team, amassing sixteen goals in twenty-eight combined appearances for the U15, U16, and U21 sides.

After making thirty-five combined appearances during the 2013-14 campaign, his importance to the club was no longer in question. To date, he has already logged 155 total appearances (at the time of writing), while scoring twenty-seven goals and assisting on twenty more, all still while being just 19-years-old.  

Capable of playing all three central midfield roles, Tieleman is very much an all-action, versatile, and effective option no matter where he is deployed. His range of passing, creativity, work rate both on and off the ball, technical proficiency, and vicious strike from range make him arguably the most feared central player in Belgium. With the ability to be tactically flexible as well as very mobile, he’s an absolute nightmare to not only mark, but keep pace with over the course of ninety minutes.  Such has been his influence for Anderlecht despite his age, that new Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has looked to integrate him fully into the national team setup.

Talent Radar Accolades

Looking Ahead: With Tielemans, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when in regards to how big of a future he has. He’s already mastered the Jupiler Pro League, so the question now becomes what next for the Belgian midfield prodigy. Sufficed to say, a move to a European giant will undoubtedly be in his future, and he will likely succeed wherever he moves to. The bigger question surrounding him, will be how influential he can be for his country if/when he breaks into the XI on a more consistent basis.

Part of Belgium’s struggles at international tournaments has been their inability to adapt to changing tactical situations, as well as relying only on a small cadre of creative players, namely Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Deeper creativity could very well suit them moving forward, so do not be surprised if by the time World Cup 2018 rolls around that you see Tielemans pulling the strings from deeper areas for his country.

Read a detailed Scout Report on Youri Tielemans


20 / Ghana / FC Twente (On loan from Manchester City)

Written by Andrew Thompson

Blurb: With FC Twente more than happy to save money and bring in younger players they are happy to give match minutes, Enes Unal is not the only City youngster donning the red kits of The TukkersAs the West African nation of Ghana continues to supply Europe with some intriguing attacking options over the years, another young wide player to hail from the gold coast testing his mettle is Yaw Yeboah.

Analysis: Born in 1997, the 19-year-old Ghanaian wide forward would not make the jump to Europe until the age of seventeen after coming through the Akosombo-based Right to Dream Academy. After catching City’s attention, Yeboah joined the English side after graduating from the program. An immediate loan spell would follow, being shipped out to LOSC Lille during the 2015-16 campaign. Usually a haven for young African players in Europe looking to progress in their development, Yeboah would go on to feature only five times in all competitions, making only one start.  But despite his failure to crack on in northern France, Yeboah had already established himself in the Ghanaian youth national set up, and to date he’s made ten appearances for the U20’s.

After returning to England this previous summer, he was again promptly shipped out on-loan, but this time to Dutch-side FC Twente, where he has gone on to not only impress for the duration of the season to date, but also form a vital understanding with fellow City youngster Enes Unal.

After missing out on the season opener at home to SBV Excelsior, Yeboah has played his way into a guaranteed starting role under Jan Schutrups, starting fourteen straight Eredivisie matches at the time of writing, as well as their only match in the KNVB Bekker, a 3-1 loss at home to FC Utrecht.  

An all around, all action winger, Yeboah’s contributions to Twente haven’t just been further up the pitch.  Though his key passes and chances created (both at 1.33/90min) are solid for a winger, his efforts on the defensive side of the ball have been equally important. 1.64 tackles/90min and 1.02 interceptions/90min are numbers that any manager would be pleased with from a wide player who shows willingness to remain within the tactical framework and give his team added defensive solidarity.  Whether if it’s regaining possession in the opposition half and then driving his team forward with his ability on the ball (Yeboah averages 2.03 take-ons/90min as well), or tracking back and helping Twente to counter, Yeboah has become an important piece of the puzzle at the De Grolsch Veste.

Despite only contributing two goals to the cause at the time of writing, Yeboah’s efforts in all areas of the pitch on both sides of the ball remains just as important as the goals provided by Enes Unal and Bersant Celina.

Looking Ahead: It is unquestionably not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Realistically, it’s hard to see Yeboah’s future in England, at least not at Manchester City. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are twenty-one and twenty respectively, and with the pair of talented youngsters improving under Pep Guardiola, it would appear that the Spanish headmaster has his preferred wingers for much of the foreseeable future.  And then there is of course City’s spending habits, sure to be unwavering in their willingness to open the checkbook in their bid to not only become top dog in Europe consistently, but challenge on the continent.

There is no telling where Yeboah will end up, but it could very well be that the full Ghanaian international hopeful is auditioning for a full-time role at Twente.  If he does not remain in Enschede, then surely the youngster will call another city home sooner rather than later.  His talent continues to grow, but City could be a bridge too far.

Goalkeepers Part 1 → // Defenders Part 2  → // Defenders Part 3  → // Defenders Part 4  → // Midfielders Part 5 → // Midfielders Part 6 → // Midfielders Part 7 → // Forwards Part 9 → // Forwards Part 10 →

2017 // 2016 // 2015 // 2014

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