Breakthrough Stars in Football You Should Keep an Eye Out for
With the football season underway and entering an international break, it is a good time to take stock of what we have seen across Europe so far in the early months of the season, and which young players could have a breakout season ahead of a big transfer or call-up to the international team. All players in this list are aged 23 or younger, and have shown more than enough to excite football fans for what they could see in the future.
Illan Meslier: Although there is an argument to be made that Meslier broke out last season in his first top flight campaign with Leeds United, there is a very strong chance that the French goalkeeper could cement his place in the national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup as the deputy to the captain and veteran Hugo Lloris, with whom he shares a lot of similarities — tall, lanky, left-footed, not completely error-free, but capable of the immensely spectacular. Lloris will be 36 when the Qatar tournament rolls around, and by then Meslier will hope he has done enough to take over the mantle of the French number 1. This season, if he improves on his last, he will be sure to do so.
Valentino Livramento: Sold from the Chelsea academy (affectionately known as La Cobham by the Chelsea faithful) to Southampton this season, Tino Livramento has already begun strongly on the English south coast. His debut match was a man-of-the-match performance against Man United, which he backed up with an equally-solid performance against champions Man City. With running power up and down the Saints’ right-wing, strong in the tackle, and sure in the forward pass, Livramento is a player in the mold of the perfect modern-day fullback. His services will be essential if Southampton wish to stop the rot and stay up.
Jurrien Timber: Ajax’s ability to churn out quality footballers continues to astound. After selling Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus in the summer of 2019, it didn’t take them long to find a new player to take up his mantle in defence in Amsterdam. And then they did it again. Jurrien Timber and his centre-back partner Lisandro Martinez are a ball-playing duo any club in Europe could envy. Timber, the junior partner at 20 years of age, is one who has the potential to really go supernova as he grows into his physique. An excellent passer and carrier of the football (high-90s percentile for CBs in passing accuracy, progressive carries, and successful dribbles as per FootballReference), if Timber can reproduce his Eredivisie performances in the Champions League, he is sure to top many a shopping list in the highest echelons of European football.
Facundo Medina: Medina might be France and Argentina’s best-kept secret. Having just earned a call-up to the Argentina set-up for the October internationals, Medina is a ball-playing centre-back for Lens, who currently sit second in Ligue 1. While they are unlikely to challenge PSG in the same manner Lille did last season (they are already 9 points behind the Parisiens), a season which might see them end up in CL spots will shine a light on Medina, who similar to Timber ranks very highly in progression and creativity numbers, while maintaining a strong defensive base. He won’t set the world on fire, but appearances for Argentina will definitely bring a rise in his stock, and a transfer to Italy or Spain could well be on the horizon, as well as a starting spot in Argentina’s backline at the 2022 World Cup.
Josh Doig: Maybe the least-known player on this list, Josh Doig is the left-back at Scottish Premier League club Hibernian, where he continues Scotland’s strange tendency of producing high-quality left-backs more than any other position. Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney paved the way for Doig’s marauding, high-intensity style of play — while most of us might not see Hibs play every weekend, Doig’s two compatriots provide a good idea of what to expect from a teenager who made it into the team of the season in the SPFL last season, also winning the league’s Young Player of the Year award. A transfer to the Premier League surely awaits a teenager who has shown quality in a position where that is difficult to come by.
Conor Gallagher: The third Cobham graduate on this list, Conor Gallagher showed glimpses of the box-to-box power he held in his lungs and legs in a loan spell at West Bromwich Albion last season. He’s putting this on show again at Crystal Palace, managed by one of the PL’s greatest midfielders in Patrick Viera, while also bringing to his game a Frank Lampard-esque knack of well-timed runs and getting in position to score goals. That’s not a half-bad duo of midfielders to have mentioned in the same breath as you. If Gallagher can keep his intense, frantic energy up across the course of a full campaign, he has shown he has the technique and game awareness to earn a spot in a hotly-contested midfield back at Chelsea next season. Exciting times at Stamford Bridge.
Florian Wirtz: Just recently having broken the record for the youngest player to reach ten goals in the Bundesliga, Florian Wirtz is the Next Big Thing at the attacking-talent-producing machine which is Bayer Leverkusen. Their last three seasons have seen them lose Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz, and Leon Bailey, a busload of attacking creation, but it says a lot about the quality Wirtz possesses that they don’t seem to be missing that trio all too much. Die Werkself will hope Wirtz can supercharge a strong run at the top of the table this season before Bayern Munchen or a Premier League team come a-knocking at their door yet again.
Gavi: Having just earned a surprise call-up to the senior Spanish national team, Barcelona fans will be hoping Gavi is the next in a long list of La Masia graduates to make the middle of the pitch at Camp Nou their own personal canvas. Having lost Lionel Messi this summer, the general air surrounding the Catalan club is one of apprehension and anxiety regarding just how far south the season could go. In Gavi and a core consisting of other exciting young players (Ronaldo Araujo, Ansu Fati, Sergino Dest, and Pedri), however, there is a reason to be optimistic for the seasons to come. For their sake, however, the Barca bigwigs will want to get their house in order. Gavi is too precious a stone to lose.
Jamal Musiala: At the time of writing, Jamal Musiala has only played 171 minutes this season for Bayern Munchen. He already has two goals and two assists. Given the strength in depth Bayern have at their disposal, one cannot imagine Musiala will have a lot of game time this season ahead of Thomas Muller or Robert Lewandowski. But off the bench or starting in cup games, Musiala has already shown he has what it takes to be an incredibly decisive player capable of changing games. Given the media circus which surrounded him in the summer as he chose to represent Germany over England at the international level, there is something of a microscope on the 18-year-old. If he can prove himself to be an able deputy to Bayern’s attacking riches this season (which we have every reason to believe he will), we are bound to see him as the long-term replacement for the ageing Muller for years and years to come at the Allianz Arena.
Karim Adeyemi: Another player plying his trade at a team famed for its youth development, RB Salzburg’s Karim Adeyemi has gotten off to an electric start both in the Austrian Bundesliga and the Champions League, where his first two matches have seen him score as many goals and win as many man-of-the-match awards. A product of the Bayern academy who also trialled at Chelsea and Liverpool before choosing to earn first-team minutes in Salzburg, Adeyemi inspires the same excitement as his predecessors Patson Daka and Erling Haaland did before earning their moves to Leicester and Dortmund respectively. A gifted dribbler with a wand of a left foot, there is a strong chance Red Bull will keep him in the family and ‘promote’ him to their flagship Leipzig team after a breakthrough season this year, where a big money move to the Premier League will likely wait for him in the future.
Noni Madueke: The latest in a long list of wingers to have lit up PSV’s Philips Stadium, Madueke flirted with a move to Tottenham Hotspur (the club he left at 16 years old to find playing time in what he called ‘man football’) all summer before the North London club settled on Bryan Gil. Madueke, a young player seen to be as ambitious as any on the continent, will be hoping to make that decision one tinged with regret. A pacy, tricky, and decisive left-footer on the right-wing in the mould of Mohamed Salah — the type of player which comes at a premium at the highest levels — Madueke produced above a goal contribution every 90 minutes last season. With more playing time this campaign, he will be sure to better those numbers and catch the eye of some of Europe’s bigger clubs. This is not the last time you will hear his name.