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 GARNEREmbed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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 ADeYEMIEmbed from Getty Images
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.vEmbed from Getty Images
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 SPENCEEmbed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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 TIMBEREmbed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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.
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 carvalhoEmbed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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 NUNEZEmbed from Getty Images
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.Embed from Getty Images
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 MENTIONSEmbed from Getty Images
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!
MORE FROM OUR TACTICAL THINKER SERIES…
This past weekend, Mohamed Salah claimed the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year, with more individual awards soon to follow. Individual awards are fraught with controversy within a team sport that relies on all eleven players working in tandem, and sometimes fail to acknowledge those that didn’t do the flashy bits on a football pitch, but performed like their lives depended on it week in and week out. On both accounts, that’s what often makes the Team of the Year an intriguing award to follow. When it comes to the PFA Team of the Year, it becomes all the more fascinating to see who the pros themselves had the most difficult time playing against this season, and who they felt deserved to be remembered for their role in making the 2021-22 season special. So with that, we ask you to pick your PFA Team of the Year, if you were one of the pros.
Who is a young player outside of Europe’s top five leagues that has caught your attention this season? If you’d like to expand on your answer, feel free to share where you could see them fitting in if a move were to be made elsewhere.
It’s no secret. Manchester United are struggling defensively right now, despite having very capable players all over the pitch. In David De Gea, they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. In Lindelof and Maguire, the Red Devils have a defensive pairing that spearheaded one of the league’s sturdiest defensive structures last season, and led a Europa League charge. Ahead of them, they have two defensive warriors in Fred and McTominay, who will never be world beaters, but are very competent in what they offer. Despite that, Ralf Rangnick’s team have conceded 10 goals in their last 5 games, floundering under the German’s style of play. So what’s amiss?
For the past few seasons, the attention on Manchester United’s transfer business has surrounded their inability to sign a world class defensive midfielder. However, with United floundering under Ralf Rangnick’s style of play, greater defensive concerns have been illuminated in the past few months.
Things have been bumpy since Ralf Rangnick took over, with many players continuing to flounder under the new tactical ideals. The team’s defensive problems have garnered particular attention in the media, with the likes of Maguire, Varane, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka continuously lambasted for their performances. So with that, this week we ask the following question in our third Tactical Thinker. How would you solve United’s defensive concerns?
A little over a week ago, we asked you to give us your top of the line ideas on how to stop the long-ball specialist. Every single professional team has at least one of these players in their side, yet it remains a relatively undiscussed discourse. When you take into account the inherently unattractive dogma surrounding the notion of a long-ball ravaging through the beautiful game, there’s even greater negative connotations toward something that in reality, is incredibly elegant. So with that, here is our analysis as to how to stop the long-ball specialist, with your answers intermixed along the way.
In all the discussion about tiki taka, possession-based, beautiful football, long passes often get a bad reputation. However, long passes can be extremely effective, and the best teams in the world know how to intermix both short and long passes into their build-up, in order to effectively break down the opposition. The likes of Ederson at Man City, Joshua Kimmich at Bayern Munich and Mats Hummels at Borussia Dortmund frequently utilize long passes to unlock the opposition’s defense, giving their team a different edge from all the possession-based football. While these players may not be your traditional ‘number 10’ playmakers, they play a vital role in creating chances for their team and kickstarting attacks. So with that, today we ask the next question in our Tactical Thinker series. How do you stop the long-ball specialist?