Author: Taehyung Kim (Weinberg ’21)
As the coronavirus put a major halt to all normal life, fans of European professional soccer have never been more desperate for the return of the sport. This friendly article has been written based not only on a frantic longing for the return of EU football, but also in an intention to introduce some young players that have not gotten the recognition that others like Ansu Fati (17, Barcelona), Eduardo Camavinga (17, Stade Rennais FC), Vinicius Junior (19, Real Madrid), and Kylian Mbappe (21, Paris Saint-Germain) have. The following potential wonderkids have put up intriguing statistics in their respective leagues and have been linked several times to bigger top clubs, while outside of the spotlight. In the hopes that these players may shine in the future, here is a list of five underrated youngsters in Europe aged 21 and under.
Ozan Kabak (20 years old, Turkish, Schalke 04, German Bundesliga, Central Defender)
-2019/20 Bundesliga Record: 21 Matches/3 Goals/1 Assist
-Turkey Nation Team: 1 Match/0 Goals/0 Assist
-Highlights: “A young central defender who knows how to block the ball effectively”
This young, passionate defender who’s adept at blocking and tackling the ball out of danger, has come into the spotlight, as he was chosen as the 2018/2019 Bundesliga Rookie of the Season and secured a 11 million euro move from the relegated VfB Stuttgart to Schalke 04, a team with one of the most supporters in Europe. With his balance and strength in the air based on his height, Kabak won 2.8 aerial duels per game this season, which is not a bad record for the youngster. An 81.5% successful pass rate also shows that Kabak is not simply meant to defend, but to effectively connect and contribute to build-ups. Having 3.2 average clearances per game makes him a threat to opponent attackers. An interesting aspect in his statistics include his 3.9 accurate long ball passes per game, which is the 4th most in the league among U-23 central defenders with more than 10 games started. He still has room to improve in short passes, as he only ranks 8th in the same sample (38 short passes per game). Kabak also ranked second in the most inaccurate short passes per game (4.9) and ranked second in the same sample. Although he has room to improve, the promising Turkish defender has more to show.
-Performance Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peabi4g8_Xk
Samuel Chukwueze (21 years old, Nigerian, Villarreal CF, La Liga, Right Winger)
-2019/20 La Liga Record: 26 Matches/3 Goals/3 Assists
-Nigeria National Team: 12 Matches/2 Goals/0 Assists
-Highlights: “A powerful dribbler with the agility and speed to break through opponent defensive lines”
This young, tireless winger who already seems to get his way down the flank, has already attracted a decent amount of attention when he won the Bronze Boot with 4 goals scored in the U-17 2015 World Cup, where his team of Nigeria also won the tournament. Having secured his position as the right wing of the Yellow Submarine, Chukwueze had managed 1.4 shots per game and a 72.2% successful pass rate. Chukwueze already had made UEFA’s List of 50 young players with the most potential in the 2019/20 season, proving his capability to grow. Among the wingers in the La Liga who have started more than 10 games and of or below the age of 23, Chukwueze secured 5th and 7th places with each 2.2 successful dribbles per game and 3.9 total dribble attempts per game. Currently more of a dribbler than anything, the young Nigerian can still improve in touches as he has 2.8 unsuccessful touches per game, which is the 5th most in the same sample. He also has room to improve in long and short key passes, as he is ranked out of the top 10 in the same sample for these statistics. Nevertheless, with the right amount of playing time and coaching, Chukwueze has the potential to flourish in the big leagues.
-Performance Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2id6_BLLBs
Benoit Badiashile Mukinayi (19 years old, French, AS Monaco, Ligue 1, Central Defender)
-2019/20 Ligue 1 Record: 16 Matches/ 0 Goals / 0 Assists
-French U-19 National Team Record: 15 Matches/ 0 Goals / 0 Assists
-Highlights: “A firm centreback who shows dominance beyond his age in aerial duels and in build-up through passing”
A product of the AS Monaco youth system, Benoit Badiashile has consistently climbed the ladder of the under age teams both in international and club level to secure his starting status for both teams as a central defender. Making use of his advantageous height of 6 foot 4 (194 centimeters), he has 3.5 aerial duels won per game, which is the 3rd best statistic among U-23 central defenders in Ligue 1 who have played more than 10 games this seasons. He also managed 46.3 accurate short passes per game, which is also 3rd best in the same sample. Benoit has room to improve in interceptions and tackles, as these numbers aren’t as great as the past two statistics. Nevertheless, Badiashile has potential to significantly improve in the future.
Performance Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvNKbimyHnA
Mohamed Ihattaren (18 years old, Dutch, PSV Eindhoven, Eredivisie, Attacking Midfielder)
-2019/20 Eredivisie Record: 22 Matches/ 3 Goals/ 6 Assists
-Netherlands U19 National Team Record : 10 Matches/ 2 Goals/ 1 Assist
-Highlights: “A talented dribbler who knows how to get the ball in the box. Truly a wonderkid not too far from big league appearance”
Mohamed Ihattaren has already secured a starting position among his older teammates in the PSV Eindhoven squad. The young Dutchman managed a 7.28 average match rating this season, which is the third best in the PSV first squad. He has also managed 2.8 successful dribbles per game, which is 8th in the league(among all players, regardless of position) and 2nd among the central midfielders and central attacking midfielders in the game that have played more than 10 games. He has attempted 4.3 total dribbles per game, which is 3rd among the central midfielders and central attacking midfielders 23 or under that have played more than 10 games. 2.4 key passes per game (0.9 long and 1.5 short) has proved that Ihattaren knows how to supply the ball to the offensive third. Could he potentially be a candidate for pass play teams such as Pep’s Manchester City? We’ll see, but this young Dutchmen seems to be doing his part in his successful growth cycle.
Boubacar Kamara (20 years old, French, Olympique Marseille, Ligue 1, Central Defender/Central Defensive Midfielder)
-Ligue 1 Record: 24 Matches/ 1 Goal/ 2 Assists
-French U21 National Team Record: 5 Matches/ 0 Goals/ 1 Assist
-Highlights: “A versatile, young defensive player that can really supply the ball to the middle and offensive thirds”
A regular starter for French giant Olympique Marseille, Boubacar Kamara has secured his spot in the Marseille first squad starting lineup since the 2018/2019 season at the age of 19. With a 85.7 percent successful tackle rate, Kamara has proved that he is a truly versatile player both as a central defender and a central defensive midfielder. With a 2.3 total tackles per game, he ranks 4th among U23 players of central defense and central defensive midfield positions with more than 10 games played in Ligue 1. Kamara shines in his accurate long passing, with 4.1 per game, and ranks 2nd best in the same sample. Some areas of improvement for Kamara are in interceptions and short pass accuracy, of which he only averaged 1.5 per game and 42.1 per game, respectively.
Performance Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwRUvyWVVTM