Words by Alex Turk – follow him on Twitter @_AlexTurk
The long 2016/2017 campaign has been stuffed with more bright youth prospects bursting onto the scene and making an instant impact for the club’s they’ve grown up at, while some continued to build on their impressive résumés.
Players from all over Europe have truly made a name for themselves in illustrious competitions like the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and Premier League. So, with a hint of excitement for the future – Alex Turk highlights the predominant stars of tomorrow who have shone brightly for their team this season.
With the reputation Dele Alli currently has in English football you’d be surprised to hear that he’s just 21 years old. Hailing from Milton Keynes, Alli joined the youth ranks at MK Dons in 2007 and developed there for five years before making his first team debut against Cambridge City in the 2012/2013 FA Cup.
After standing out during this spell in Buckinghamshire, Tottenham Hotspur secured his services in the final hours of the 2015 January transfer window for an initial fee of £5m. Alli was impressive all the way throughout the 2015/2016 season at White Hart Lane and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award at the age of 19 before being included in Roy Hodgson’s EURO 2016 squad.
It’s the current campaign where he’s really made a name for himself though, 20 goals and seven assists has earned him the PFA Young Player of the Year award for the second consecutive season as well as interest being shown from huge clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona.
His manager Mauricio Pochettino hasn’t held back from praising the attacking midfielder and expects him to surpass the quality of Brazilian star Neymar, saying that his “potential will be like him or better”.
The robust bond linking Alli, Christian Eriksen, Son-Heung Min and Spurs captain Harry Kane together has certainly supported his Premier League success but when all four players are at their best you just don’t know where they can take the North London club.
The youth academy at French club Stade Rennais is known to be the best in the country and has developed talents such as Yoann Gourcuff, Yann M’Vila, Yacine Brahimi and more recently – Ousmane Dembélé.
The 5 ft. 10 winger made his senior debut for Stade Rennais II at the age of 17 and it was clear straight away that he had an eye for goal, scoring 13 goals in 18 games throughout the 2014/2015 season.
He started the following campaign with the first team after being promoted and netted on his debut against Bordeaux which set him up for another successful year in attack. So much so, that Dembélé signed a five-year contract with German giants Borussia Dortmund in the summer and has flourished out wide for Thomas Tuchel, registering 20 assists as well as nine goals so far in 2016/2017.
Many fans are surprised at how well he’s adapted to such a big step up and now expect him to improve on those figures next season as part of one of the exciting teams in Europe alongside the likes of Emre Mor, Julian Weigl and Christian Pulisic.
Die Borussen fought off other European suitors during the close season to get his signature – with Manchester United reported admirers – so it’d be very surprising if no interest was shown in the upcoming window for a player likened to a “young Cristiano Ronaldo”.
Since 2011, Paulo Dybala has been a dominant figure in front of goal especially while currently leading the line for Italian champions Juventus, and has helped The Old Lady reach this season’s UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
Starting at Instituto de Córdoba in his native country Argentina, netting 17 times in 40 appearances aged 17 and was the first ever player to score two hatricks in an Argentinian professional league.
He then moved to Italy where Palermo Maurizio Zamparini welcomed him to the club by labelling him “the next Sergio Aguero”, and impressed in the famous pink jersey for three seasons before Massimiliano Allegri signed him at Juventus and assigned him with the no. 21 shirt – previously worn by Andrea Pirlo.
The 23-year-old has spent his two season’s at Juve emphasising how big a talent he is, scoring 40 goals in 85 games which earnt him a renewed contract earlier this month until 2022.
He’s as versatile as forwards come and can play in numerous roles within the final third like: the main striker, supporting striker, centre forward, attacking midfielder or inverted winger – but you get the best out of him when he plays as the main man up top.
As well as Sergio Aguero, Dybala has drawn comparisons to other established players including Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi so there’s no surprise when you hear rumours linking him to Real Madrid.
Despite being just 16, Gianluigi Donnarumma became the first-choice goalkeeper for AC Milan – one of the world’s biggest clubs – in the middle of the 2015/2016 season, replacing Diego López after consistently impressing manager Siniša Mihajlovi? in between the sticks.
Now, at 18 years old, he’s featured in 67 matches for the San Siro club and is being chased by some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The monumental stopper – standing at 6 ft. 5 – started the current campaign off on a high as he became the youngest ever goalkeeper to represent Italy as he replaced his boyhood idol Gianluigi Buffon at half-time against France aged just 17 years and 189 days old.
The Castellammare di Stabia-born prospect is struggling to agree a new deal with Milan which has sparked mass rumours about a potential departure in the summer transfer window with Manchester United apparently looking at him as a replacement for the outgoing David De Gea.
The man that Donnarumma is set to replace as the Italian no. 1, Gianluigi Buffon, has in the past praised traits such as his physical strength, composure and decision-making.
Whether he’ll be at AC Milan next season remains a mystery however one thing is for certain and that is this player is the most promising goalkeeper we’ll see for a while.
If you watch football, at all, you would’ve heard about or seen this young man at some point over the 2016/2016 campaign.
Kylian Mbappé – alongside a revitalised Radamel Falcao – has been spearheading a remarkable season for AS Monaco in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League. 23 goals in 37 matches so far this term as part of Leonardo Jardim’s exciting team – who have scored the most goals out of every other in Europe’s top five divisions – have raised suggestions that the striker could be subject to a world-record bid this summer.
The 18-year-old Frenchman is the 4th highest scorer in the UEFA Champions League with Les Rouges et Blancs still embarking on a memorable run in the elite competition, and are set for the semi-finals to face Juventus in what will be a contest of Europe’s strongest attackers vs the strongest defenders.
There’s no doubt that Mbappé is currently the hottest young talent in the world with many adamant that he’ll eventually surpass the quality of French legend
Thierry Henry, and he’s already broken one of Henry’s records as he became the youngest ever AS Monaco debutant at 16.
His astonishing breakthrough season earned him his first two international caps in March and with players like himself and Ousmane Dembele already making an impression on big stages – French fans have got a lot to look forward to.