The best young players outside of Europe’s top five leagues in 2021-22

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We all love a young player. Combine that love with a worldwide yearning for discovering the new and unknown, and it’s easy to see why just about every young player on earth is overhyped to the extreme. Simultaneously, hidden gems outside of Europe’s top five leagues never fully get the acclaim they perhaps deserve, with attentions divvied up between the Jude Bellingham’s, Pedri’s and Jamal Musiala’s of the world instead. So with that, today we take a look at the six best (or the six most submitted) young players outside of Europe’s top five leagues, who have been catching the eye in 2021-22. But not only that! We also take a deep dive into the discussion vaults, describing where each of our youngsters could end up next season, both in stylistic fit and reported rumours.

If you’re unfamiliar with what constitutes as “young” or a “European top five league”, first, familiarize yourself. We’re looking for players outside of the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1, under the age of 23 years old! We received hundreds of answers in our Tactical Thinker for this question, and these were the top five answers.

6. JAMES GARNER

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On loan from Manchester United, who just so happen to desperately need a player in his position, James Garner has enjoyed a fantastic season in the Championship with Nottingham Forest. Part of their recent rise toward the promotion places, Garner has scored 4 goals with 6 assists in 38 matches this season. The 6’1 21-year-old is capable of playing as a box to box ‘number 8’, in a deeper role as a ‘number 6’, or higher up the pitch as a creative ‘number 10’. Essential to Nottingham’s ability to create chances in possession (1.9 key passes per game) and withhold defensive solidity (3.3 tackles + interceptions per game), Garner would be a versatile player for Manchester United to have in their ranks next year.

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For a different Premier League outfit, the 21-year-old may be a great fit for replacing Conor Gallagher at Crystal Palace. He’s capable of doing the dirty work off the ball, and isn’t bothered by not being involved in every single passing sequence imaginable. But when he’s involved, his actions spike the rest of the team into action and drive Forest on from midfield. Garner would also perform exceptionally well in a workman-like team such as Burnley, where he can add a cutting edge to the midfield and provide something uniquely different. Capable of spraying nice long diagonals from the left side over to the right wing, not to mention striking from distance, Garner would easily be a nice upgrade on what Burnley’s current midfielders offer in possession. If Forest themselves secure promotion to the Premier League, Steve Cooper should do everything in his power to keep hold of the Manchester United loanee, securing his signature for another season.

5. KARIM ADeYEMI

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Perpetually linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, Karim Adeyemi continues to go about his business for RB Salzburg, scoring goals for fun in Austria’s top flight. The German forward has netted 17 goals in 26 league appearances for his team, while being eased into Hansi Flick’s set-up with the national team. An electric, powerful runner and capable goal-scorer, Adeyemi is a very different player to the one he often gets compared to – Dortmund’s current talisman Erling Haaland. At 5’11, Adeyemi’s smaller frame allows him to possess exceptional balance, using his nimble footwork to get out of tight spaces anywhere on the pitch, and then explode beyond the defense.

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When he hits the ball, he hits it with a degree of verve and power certainly reminiscent of the current Dortmund man. The 20-year-old’s massive mobility also makes him a deadly presser from the front, elucidating the rumours to teams like Liverpool and BVB. But Adeyemi’s powerful dribbling ability would likely mean he wouldn’t have to be the main focal point up top, or even the main man banging in the goals. He could be a versatile player for any team to have in their roster, buzzing around and helping to contribute to an already stellar attack as just another piece to the puzzle. With the summer fast approaching, Karim Adeyemi must consider his next move and consider it wisely. Dortmund may be the perfect place to go, particularly if Erling Haaland is deemed surplus to requirements.

4. DJED SPENCE

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James Garner isn’t the only Forest man catching the eye this season. In fact, he’s not even the most eye-catching of all eye-catchers. Djed Spence has enjoyed a remarkably impressive season for Steve Cooper’s side, signifying the club’s style within their 3-4-1-2 formation, in which much of the play comes down the right with Spence at the forefront. The 21-year-old may have only contributed 2 goals and 4 assists in his 36 appearances, but opposition defense’s simply cannot get a hold of the powerful wing-back, who constantly threatens to burn defensive structures to the ground. Forest even signed one of the best wing-backs of the past five years in MLS, Richie Laryea, and the Canadian has hardly kicked a ball since his arrival due to the form of the speedster. Now with promotion in their sights, Forest need to do everything in their power to secure Spence’s loan for another season away from Middlesborough.

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Incredibly energetic, with an eye for the most elaborate of skills and feints as he dances around his opponents, Spence has shown solidity in all phases of the game this season. Each and every club operating with wing-backs should be looking directly at Spence to fulfill a potential void, even going as far as Antonio Conte’s Spurs – who warrant an upgrade in his exact area of the pitch. Brentford would perhaps be the best place for Spence to slot into a Premier League side instantaneously, whilst playing in a natural right-wing-back role that serves his panache. But again, Cooper’s clearly found the perfect balance with Spence at Nottingham Forest – allowing him to showcase his class in attack, without taking away from what he can offer in the defensive side of the game. If the Tricky Trees can continue to use Spence to burn all the forest fires, they’ll have a great season again next year.

3. JURRIEN TIMBER

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Over the past few months, through all of Manchester United’s defensive struggles and Erik Ten Hag’s rumoured and then confirmed appointment, Jurriën Timber has entered the limelight as one of the most well-known defenders plying their trade outside of a top five leagues. This is for good reason, having developed magnificently under Ten Hag’s influence – now a staple for his club team, and emerging in Virgil Van Dijk’s shadows for his country.

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A master of many arts, Timber excels whenever the ball reaches his feet above all else. His progressive passing and progressive carrying numbers stand out with the best in the world, and his pace and power allow him to sweep in behind a high-line to great effect.

From ‘Assessing Manchester United’s future centre-back options.’

With these aspects in mind, he’s virtually perfect for Manchester United. While we suggested United consider other options in our recent article ‘Assessing Manchester United’s future centre-back options‘, that had nothing to do with Timber, other than his tender age of 20-years-old, and United’s need to fix their problems immediately. The Ajax man plays with an air of confidence beyond his years, and could easily fit in straight away at United. He’s the type of defender who constantly wants to be progressive in every sense of the word, driving the team on from deep. This is something United would desperately crave in their slow circulation out from the back, providing an added spice and edge to their defensive unit, and new life to their desperate state of mind. If not United, every club team in the world should be looking at securing his signature.

2. fabio carvalho

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The poster boy for our initial Tactical Thinker, Fabio Carvalho’s rise to stardom in 2021-22 has been rapid. From making just 4 appearances in the Premier League last season, to dominating in the Championship with 9 goals and 7 assists in 34 Championship appearances this season, Carvalho now seems set for a move to the big-time. In fact, earlier this month, Liverpool secured his signature for next season.

Magical and dazzling in possession with an evident eye for goal, Carvalho will have his work cut out for him in knocking any of Liverpool’s illustrious, long line of forwards out of the team. The 19-year-old may be best off being loaned back to a club like Fulham – who could desperately utilize his pace and power through the middle in their quest to survive this season. Operating as a ‘number 10’ in Marco Silva’s favoured 4-2-3-1, Carvalho currently performs a role that Liverpool don’t have within their system. This makes the move to Jurgen Klopp’s team a strange one, but the Reds rarely ever get their scouting choices wrong, particularly as of late with the likes of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz.

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With an exceptional line-breaking ability on the dribble, Carvalho could slowly develop into an attack-minded ‘number 8’ in the future, if he isn’t to play in Liverpool’s front-three. The incredibly right-footed player should realistically ease into Jurgen Klopp’s plans as he develops and grows in age, and so a loan back to Fulham makes perfect sense – especially as a best of both worlds situation for all parties.

1. DARWIN NUNEZ

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Coming to fame for his performances against Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League, Darwin Nunez seems destined for a move to the big-time in no time. The Benfica man has all the tools in his wheelhouse to transcend different teams targeting his signature, capable of playing as a ‘target man’; but with more pace, mobility, running power, and dribbling ability than normally associated with a target man.

The 22-year-old Uruguayan forward has bagged a remarkable 25 goals with 4 assists in 26 league appearances this season, netting another 6 goals in 10 Champions League matches. Of those 31 goals, 5 have been scored with his head and 5 with his left foot, highlighting the versatility at which the Uruguayan can find the back of the net for fun. Interestingly enough, with just 13.4 passes per game, Nunez is hardly involved in Benfica’s build-up or progression through the thirds. But when the ball reaches the final third, Nunez rises from the ashes and comes alive – whether it be through working the channels, bouncing one-two’s off his teammates, or sprinting in behind with or without the ball.

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Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have all reportedly been interested in securing his signature, but Newcastle could be the most suitable destination for the 22-year-old. He would be able to operate in a similar ‘Target Man’ style to Chris Wood, only with more goal output and threat on the ball. The Magpies could continue to use the excellent crossing ability of players like Trippier and Fraser to funnel passes into the 6’2 centre-forward, whilst providing greater mobility to Wood’s already solid pressing from the front. Importantly, it would be a logical leap from Benfica to Newcastle, as opposed to risking the biscuit to a bigger club that might not be ready to make him their main man up top.

Either way, Darwin Nunez is destined to be seen in a livestream near you any day now, with several Premier League sharks closing in on his signature. For now, he remains one of the best young players outside of Europe’s top five leagues.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

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Before you get bent out of shape about the players omitted from this article, remember that this ranking is based on audience submissions in our Tactical Thinker. Here are a select package of others who also acclaimed praise from our audience.

7. Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)
8. Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge)
9. Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)
10. Cody Gakpo (PSV Eindhoven)


So there it is! The six best (or most submitted) young players catching the eye this season outside of Europe’s top five leagues! Be sure to check out more Player Analyses, Scouting & Recruitment articles, and follow on social media @mastermindsite & @desmondrhys to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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