Europe is littered with numerous youngsters who have the potential to blossom into superstar household names. Unfortunately in football, talent is merely enough to have a successful career.
For every Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe who transitioned from highly-rated teenagers to world-beaters, you have the likes of Mario Balotelli, Bojan Krkic, and Alexandre Pato who failed to make the step up.
Watching a youngster develop and unlocking his potential gets me excited, as I believe, if you are good enough, you are old enough.
Here I briefly give the lowdown on five youngsters still making a name for themselves, who I feel have a great chance of establishing themselves this season in Europe, as they continue to chart their path to football stardom.
Age: 19, Club: PSV Eindhoven, Country: England, Positon: Winger
Strengths: Pace, Dribbling, Strength, Shooting
Following the “Sancho route” which has seen a stream of young Englishmen leave the shores of England in search of regular game time and development, Chukwunonso ‘Noni’ Madueke has wasted no time displaying his talent.
Madueke who is eligible to play for both England and Nigeria, best embodies the term ‘explosive talent’. Powerful, athletic, strong dribbling ability, with pace to burn and powerful shot to match. The former Spurs youth player (how on earth did Daniel Levy let him slip through?) can easily ghost beyond defenders or ably hold them off, cutting in from the right-wing to release a power shot or killer pass.
Coached at youth level by Dutch legend, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who converted Madueke from a number 10 to a winger, citing his dribbling ability and speed. Madueke thrives in space, driving at defenders with pace and trickery. In full stride, Madueke is a beauty to watch, moving with confidence and some form of arrogance. His close ball control and strength make getting the ball off him, quite some task.
Madueke made his PSV debut in January 2020, going on to have a standout 2020-21 season, where the 19-year old scored seven goals and assisted four times 966 minutes played in the Eredivisie (24 appearances, 7 starts).
Madueke has shown no signs of slowing down, scoring two goals in four Eredivisie appearances this season, with a dominating performance in a 4-0 thrashing of Ajax in the Johan Cruyff Shield in August, scoring two brilliant goals against the Dutch champions.
Former PSV coach Frank Rutten in an interview with Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad said,
“What is beautiful and special with this player [Madueke] is how he can accelerate during dribbling. If you’re looking for something that Madueke has in common with Arjen Robben at that age, it’s definitely that.
“There are many players that accelerate very quickly in the first meters. But only a few can shift gears when on the ball. That’s a gift.”
“All in all, Madueke has a lot to offer to go far. His right foot is also very well developed, for example, you saw that against Ajax [4-0 win in the Johan Cruyff Shield] with his second goal.”
Age: 22, Club: PSV Eindhoven, Country: The Netherlands, Position: Attacking Midfielder
Strengths: Dribbling, Key passes, long shots, Finishing,
Another talent out of the PSV factory, Cody Gakpo has taken his time to settle at the Phillips Arena, making his debut in the 2018-19 season as a 19-year-old. With the departure of Steven Bergwijn to Spurs, Gakpo who is of Ghana-Togo descent has become a regular starter for PSV. Cutting in from the left with pace, dribbling to create space for a pass or shot at goal.
Similar in style to PSV teammate, Madueke, highly technical and direct, Gakpo is more of a team player, who is at ease creating chances for teammates.
A Dutch International, Gakpo finished the 2020-21 season with seven goals and three assists in 23 appearances, to help PSV finish behind Ajax as Runners-up. The 22-year old has already started this season on a high note, contributing a goal and three assists in four appearances so far.
The combination of Gakpo and Madueke on the wings for PSV has the potential to be a real threat to any defensive line in Europe, unfortunately, the Dutch giants fell short of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League is still a great platform to display their talents
Dutch football analyst Kenneth Perez
“I have been a big fan of Gakpo for some time. He was always a bit in the shadow of Bergwijn at PSV. But actually, I have always found Gakpo better. He is much more goal-oriented and scores a lot more goals.
From his last eight shots, he has scored seven goals. Then you are goal-oriented. He has physical, speed, and overview. And is technically skilled. I think he is a super interesting player. “
Age: 18, Club: Bayer Leverkusen, Country: Germany, Position: Attacking Midfielder
The departure of Kai Havertz was expected to create some form of vacuum for Bayer Leverkusen, step in Florian Wirtz, signed from Koln in January 2020. The 18-year old attacking midfielder made a seamless switch to the Bayer first team becoming the youngest debutant in the Bundesliga at the age of 17 years and 16 days old. The record has now been smashed by Dortmund’s Yousouffa Moukoko.
A highly creative attacking midfielder, with an eye for goal, Wirtz has taken off from where he left last season, scoring two and assisting three in three matches, averaging 2.3 key passes per game in the 2021-22 season.
Wirtz alongside Patrick Schick and Moussa Diaby have been sharp in attack for Leverkusen this season, with eight goal contributions among the trio in four games so far.
Local paper Kölner Express
“The best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years”.
Age: 22, Club: Bayer Leverkusen, Country: France, Position: Winger
Strengths: Pace, dribbling, Key passes
Moving from PSG in the 2018-19 season in search of regular game time and development, Moussa Diaby made the right choice, switching to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, thanks to advice from former PSG boss Thomas Tuchel.
The French winger has found a home in Leverkusen, improving season after season. Diaby hit five goals and as many assists in 28 appearances (18 starts) in the 2019-20 season, he went one better, netting six goals with ten assists in 32 appearances ( 28 starts) in the 2020-21 season.
A dazzling dribbler with pace to burn, hitting 35.02km/h this season in the Bundesliga, The 22-year old seems to have matured in Germany. Diaby has started the season on fire, scoring three goals and assisting once, with his goal tally from last season at risk of being outperformed.
His standout performances so far have eased the worries created by the departure of Leon Bailey to Aston Villa this summer, winning two MOTM awards in the Bundesliga this season, and earning an international call up for the Les Bleus in September 2021.
Former Bayer Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz in December 2020
“Moussa is very important for us. We are very happy with him. He’s making good progress. His goal today was very good and important,” said Bosz.
“If he continues like this, he could soon earn a call-up for the senior national team.”
Age: 19, Club: Liverpool, Country: England, Position: Attacking Midfielder
Strengths: Dribbling, Through passes, Finishing
Harvey Elliott has had to deal with the spotlight for quite some time, becoming the youngest ever player to play in the Premier League at 16 years and 30 days, turning out for Fulham in May 2019.
Complementing that achievement with a move to Liverpool in May 2019. Elliott became Liverpool’s youngest ever player, when he made his debut in the EFL club against MK Dons in September 2019.
Oozing confidence and the right amount of arrogance on the ball, the youngster is skilful, possesses great technique, impressive passing ability, and an eye for goal, Harvey Elliott has all the tools needed to excel in football.
The prodigious talent sealed a loan to the English Championship with Blackburn in the 2020-21 season, where the 18-year old left no one in doubt of his talent, scoring seven goals and assisting eleven (the most by a teenager in the EFL) in 31 appearances, receiving a nomination for the EFL Young Player of the Year.
A stellar loan at Blackburn was enough to convince Klopp of Harvey’s readiness for the Premier League, and the youngster has performed beyond expectations, starting the last three premier league games for the Reds in an unfamiliar position.
Unfortunately, a nasty injury on Sunday against Leeds has ruled out Elliott for a considerable amount of time but is expected to return sometime this season.
Thanks to his strong mentality, and the right setup at Liverpool, Elliott is sure to bounce back stronger.
Former Blackburn teammate, Stewart Downing
“Harvey is a frightening talent,” Downing told iFollow Rovers in December. “I think the lads have spoken to each other and mentioned that you look back to when you were 17, you’re a bit of a headless chicken, aren’t you?
“But Harvey’s game understanding, his quality, his knowledge of when to release the pass, even with his goal, he never panics.
“For the equaliser [against Rotherham], as soon as he took his first touch I was turning back because I knew it would be a goal.
“He has the finesse, the quality, but he’s also fitted into the group very well. He’s definitely got the quality, but he runs around and works hard as well.
“I think most would look at him and say, ‘He’s good, he’s got the technical ability,’ but he’s buying into everything, the pressing, the tracking back, he’s a real team player.”
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