Every year, in the world of soccer, there are breakout stars. Some have been hotly-tipped youngsters who have risen through the ranks of top club academies, with most inside the club knowing it was only a matter of time before they made the step up to the first team; the likes of Wayne Rooney and Neymar are prime examples of this. Meanwhile, some players seem to come out of nowhere producing form few thought they were capable of, with Harry Kane’s incredible emergence at Tottenham last season being a prime example of this.
With the amount of pressure and money in the game, some teams can be reluctant to give their youngsters a chance, whilst others have a heavy focus on their youth academies. Although some of the players on this list have made occasional first team appearances for their side, none could be said to have established themselves on the biggest stage. Player progress is a complex business and whilst some can burst onto the scene as young as 16, others mature much later, often into their early/mid 20s.
Whilst predicting breakout stars is a tricky task, one can look at a player’s progress and performances through the youth ranks, the number of rival players in their position at the club and the club itself, given that some are far more inclined to throw their youngsters in at the deep end. All of these players have shown excellent potential and next season could well prove the season in which they develop into full-blown stars. Here are the top 10 likely breakout stars for next season:
10. Bilal Ould-Chikh
The 17-year-old Bilal Ould-Chikh spent last season playing for Jong FC Twente, the name of FC Twente’s reserve team, but such is his ability, it is likely that the youngster will become a member of the first team next season. Emerging from the highly-regarded Feyenoord academy, there was interest from major Dutch sides PSV and Ajax, but Ould-Chikh chose FC Twente as his next destination, perhaps in no small part down to the greater first team opportunities he is likely to be afforded at the club. The diminutive winger, standing at just 5-foot-6, has been capped by Holland at U15, U17 and U19 levels. He made his Twente debut in May 2014, but will be hoping next season is the year he can really emerge as one of the young stars of the Eredevisie.
9. Andreas Pereira
Andreas Pereira is the latest wonderkid to emerge from the recent crop of fine Belgian youngsters. At the age of just 9, Pereira set himself apart from his peers at local club Lommel United and was snapped up by one of the Dutch big three PSV. Continuing his impressive progress, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool expressed an interest but after Alex Ferguson flew over to Belgium to meet the youngster in 2011, he was convinced to sign for Manchester United.
With dual nationality, Pereira played for Belgium U15s, U16s and U17s, but is currently featuring for Brazil at the U20 World Cup, and has expressed a desire to play for Brazil in preference of Belgium. He has made only one Manchester United appearance, but now 19, Louis van Gaal may be ready to give this supremely talented youngster an opportunity to shine.
8. Andrew Robertson
One could argue that Scotsman Andrew Robertson has already announced himself, having made 24 appearances for Hull City last season, but despite impressing in spells, he was dropped towards the end of the season, playing second-fiddle to Robbie Brady. At 21, Robertson is the oldest man on this list, but his progress has been rapid. He only turned professional in 2013, being named SPFA Young Player of the Year in his first season at Dundee United and joined Hull last summer where he has become a full Scotland international and even scored against England.
Steve Bruce has admitted he faces a struggle to hold on to Robertson, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa supposedly interested, Bruce claimed it would take $45 million to prize the full-back away from the KC. Whether at Hull City or a top four side, next season could be the year Robertson truly announces himself as a top quality footballer.
7. Pierre Højbjerg
With their incredible pulling power in Germany and beyond, Bayern Munich are often able to snap up some of the most promising youth prospects in Europe, and Højbjerg is no exception. Named both ‘Danish U17 Player of the Year’ and ‘Danish Talent of the Year’ in 2011, Bayern swooped in 2012 picking up the midfielder who said Zinedine Zidane was his idol. He made his debut in 2013, aged 17, but opportunities proved few and far between, such is the quality of the Bayern squad. He gained valuable experience at Augsburg for a few months last season and will be hoping to break into the Bayern team next season. Now aged 19, Højbjerg represented Denmark at all youth levels before becoming a full international last year, and now has 5 caps and a goal to his name.
6. Harrison Reed
Few can match Southampton in terms of youth development over the last decade; Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw, Callum Chambers, Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse are all among the star-studded academy alumni. The Saints conveyor-belt is still producing quality players, but the most highly regarded of these is probably midfielder Harrison Reed. Capped at England U19 and U20 level, Reed made his Saints debut in 2013, aged 18, but has only played 15 more games since. Now aged 20, it is time for Reed to step up to the first team on a more regular basis, and should Southampton sell Morgan Schneiderlin, Reed could well become a valuable member of the Saints team.
5. Martin Ødegaard
Martin Ødegaard is perhaps the most well-known name on this list. The Icelandic wonderkid is the youngest player in the history of the Tippeligaen, the youngest goalscorer in the competitions history and the youngest Icelandic international in history. However, Ødegaard really made the headlines when he joined Real Madrid in January, signing a contract worth $120,000 a week, an incredible wage given Ødegaard had only turned 16 a month earlier.
The papers were quick to blast the incredible cash for the 16-year-old, said to epitomize many problems with the modern game. The Icelandic playmaker added another record to his growing list last month, becoming the youngest Real Madrid player in the club’s prestigious history. He faces stiff competition at Real but his potential is frightening and its only a matter of time before he’s given a chance to prove himself on the biggest stage.
4. Patrick Bamford
Chelsea have been criticized for their youth policy in recent years, despite developing a number of talented youngsters, the free-spending Londoners rarely seem to give their youth products first team opportunities. John Obi Mikel is the only man since John Terry to step up from the academy and become an important first team player. However, Mourinho has given chances to the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek this season, and after his third impressive loan spell, Patrick Bamford could be in-line for some first team opportunities.
Now 21, Bamford is no longer a youth player, and having proven himself too good for the Championship, if Bamford isn’t in Mourinho’s first team plans, expect him to be loaned out to a fellow Premier League club and given a greater opportunity to prove his top flight credentials. The England U21 striker scored 17 goals for defeated Championship play-off finalists Middlesbrough last season, and is now one of the most highly-rated young players in England.
3. Gedion Zelalem
One of the men to watch at this year’s U20 World Cup, Gedion Zelalem was born in Germany to Ethiopian parents, before spending a number of years in America as a youngster. As such, Zelalem qualified for all three nations; he represented Germany at U15, U16 and U17 level before switching to the U.S. U20 team, with whom he is currently representing. Zelalem was a member of the Hertha Berlin academy, before studying at George Washington University, where he became a student soccer star.
In 2013, he was signed by Arsenal, and made his debut aged 17 last year. Still only 18, there is plenty of time for the youngster to make the step up, but as one of the Gunners’ hottest prospects and highly-rated by Arsene Wenger, Zelalem will hope his opportunity may come sooner rather than later. Likened to Cesc Fabregas in style, Arsenal fans will be optimistic the American could become the club’s next star, preferably next season.
2. Munir El Haddadi
Breaking into the Barcelona first team is a tricky task. The fact Alexis Sanchez was no longer considered a required asset last summer speaks volumes. Given that world superstars cannot break into the Barca starting XI, it’s inevitably difficult for youngsters. Having said that, Barcelona pride themselves on their youth products and La Masia is the best academy in world football.
Of that academy, none are more highly regarded than Spanish forward, of Moroccan descent, Munir El Haddadi. The 19-year-old impressed in his first season for Barcelona B, scoring eight goals in 28 games and will be hoping to step up to the first team this season. Given Barca’s attacking trio of Messi, Neymar, Suarez – widely regarded as the best front three in the world – Haddidi’s first team opportunities may be limited. A loan move might prove fruitful, but either way, he is certainly a player to watch out for.
1. Ezequiel Ponce
It is fair to say that Newell’s Old Boys have an impressive record of producing talented strikers, with Gabriel Batistuta, Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona among their list of former players, three of the nation’s top four all-time top scorers. The next in the famous line of forwards may well be Ezequiel Ponce. The 18-year-old played 24 games last season, scoring five goals and is largely considered as the finest young Argentine player and the country’s greatest hope.
West Ham and Tottenham expressed an interest but were put off by the third party ownership involved in the deal, before Roma struck up a deal to sign the wonderkid, who will join up with the Italian club in December of this year. Known as ‘the Tank’, Ponce is of average height but is well-built with an incredibly physical prowess for a player of his limited years, and is known for his blistering long-range efforts. He could well become one of the world’s stars should he achieve his potential in Europe next season.
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