It was a World Cup for the ‘wonder kids’ and Casey Baughan is here to provide her picks on the five under-23 players across Europe that fans should keep an eye out for.
La Liga – Rodrigo Hernández Cascante (Rodri)
The Madrid-born midfielder caught the eye of football fans last season when he rose through the ranks to replace an injured Bruno Soriano at Villarreal. At just 22, Rodri knows how to keep his classy composure on the ball, carrying an incredible statistic with more passes than the genius Sergio Busquets (2,470 and 2,241 respectively, per La Liga).
Not that Atletico Madrid need their squad strengthened any more, but Rodri has now returned home to his former club as their number 14. He may have big boots to fill but the competition for a starting place in La Liga can only be a positive.
Can you believe that he was let go by the Atleti academy at 12 years old because he was too small? Now the 6ft-3 wonder kid has to leave his mark on the strong midfield area.
Premier League – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ainsley Maitland-Niles
The Premier League is full of endless young talent, like Demarai Gray and Ryan Sessengnon, so I had to choose two players that both showed glimpses of greatness during the last campaign. It also seems that having a double-barrelled surname is a good start to footballing triumph.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a local Liverpool boy who has been living a stone’s throw away from Melwood. The teenager has managed to make playing right-back look easy in the toughest games, even up against big teams like Real Madrid.
Liverpool were desperate for a right-back after unfortunate injuries and it seems Jurgen Klopp has made Alexander-Arnold a fan’s favourite with his delivery, speed and desire to win every ball. The academy alumnus has proved popular with not only The Reds but also sports journalists who have placed him in the Golden Boy long-list.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the underrated Arsenal star, the man of many positions. It seems that Arsene Wenger hadn’t figured out Maitland-Niles’ best position last season, as he bossed every game at right-back, midfield or wingback. Paul Pogba was left stunned in a memorable performance against Manchester United where ‘AMN’ dominated the game with his precise attacking runs.
Unai Emery has already set his sights on Arsenal’s 20 year old, bringing plenty of potential and drilled patterns to Singapore where the young gun has unleashed his penalty skills.
Ligue 1 – Kylian Mbappe
It would be impossible to leave out Kylian Mbappe, the goal-scoring machine and winner of the Hyundai Best Young Player award at this year’s FIFA World Cup. The World Cup winner has a Thierry Henry-esque style about him, with his unstoppable pace and skill, a lethal combination for opponents.
He has proven time and time again that he is not a one-season wonder after his career at Monaco. The teenager is certainly a worthy contender for the Ballon d’Or with his maturity and intelligence on the pitch.
Bundesliga – Benjamin Pavard
Another 2018 World Cup champion, but one that also has a vicious strike. Benjamin Pavard will now be a household name with his captivating technique and jaw-dropping World Cup goal.
Last season, the relative unknown Pavard played every minute of the 2017-18 campaign with Stuttgart. He impressed fans with his comforting confidence. Fans will surely now know Pavard’s name and will be looking out for his play making skills.
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