The likes of Jude Bellingham, Erling Braut Haaland, Kylian Mbappe and many other current stars were all once upon a time hidden commodities yet to explode in mainstream football discourse and fandom. Similarly, even now there are many talented young footballers who are just breaking into the first-team fold but are yet to be spotted by the majority of football fans around the world. Today, we’ll take a look at a few of these potential future leading lights in European football. You may or may not have heard some of these names, but it is very likely that most of us will be waxing lyrical about these players in the coming years.
Making his debut at the age of just 16 years, 3 months and 16 days, Adam Hložek is the youngest top-flight debutant in Sparta Prague’s history and since his debut, he has been a constant fixture in the starting XI and squad. Now at the age of 19 Hložek has impressed this season for Sparta Prague scoring nine goals and assisting twelve across all competitions with little sign of his impressive form slowing down.
The skillset and talent of Hložek are best utilized as a second striker with his ability to create goal-scoring chances as well as his ability to chip in with a goal. He can also play on the wing, having displayed his ability to do so competently, although this position doesn’t bring out the best of his game. On the wing, Hložek is frequently found dropping too deep at times to receive the ball taking him out of the final third too often to play the final pass or finish a chance.
Hložek uses his physicality and height (6ft 1”) becoming an important defensive element for Sparta Prague when defending set-pieces but also uses his body to hold off players and play in his teammates. The pace, desire and hard work of Hložek have made him one of the best players in the top division of the Czech Republic and has seen him earn 12 caps for the Czechs so far in his young career.
The relatively cheap current value of around £17 million and the talent possessed by Hložek has made him a desirable property for many teams around Europe including Liverpool and West Ham with both sides believing that he will be a key component to their teams present and future. A major public admirer of Hložek has been Julian Nagelsmann from his time at RB Leipzig; the current Bayern Munich head coach will not have ceased his interest in the player with the replacement of Robert Lewandowski on the horizon.
As Real Sociedad continue their fight for a top-four finish in La Liga to gain Champions League football for next season, they have witnessed the emergence of a talented young winger in Ander Barrenetxea. Real Sociedad have the impressive attacking talents of David Silva, Alexander Isak and Mikel Oyarzabal currently, however, Barrenetxea has challenged these stars for starting places. Currently with eleven appearances this season and one goal and assist there is still plenty to come for the rest of the season from this young Spaniard.
Barrenetxea has blistering pace with incredible balance due to his low centre of gravity. Given he’s a left-winger that is predominantly right-footed, Barrenetxea often takes advantage of being able to cut inside with his quick changes of direction and sharp feet to be able to get a shot away or create chances. Whenever he receives the ball the confidence Barrenetxea has in his dribbling ability has him driving forward and attacking the opposition. He is a nightmare for any defender. The attacking qualities that he brings are easy to witness in his passing range and dribbling, however, his finishing is an element that needs improving; the increased exposure to the first team and continued attempts will soon see a change to his relatively poor finishing.
Barrenetxea’s work rate is phenomenal with the player determined to help his team defensively and through the transition. At Real Sociedad, the team like to counter-press and Barrenetxea is incredible at this with his determination and pace.
Barrenetxea has a bright future and Real Sociedad will look forward to helping him fulfil his potential. A Basque player that has grown up a Real Sociedad fan and through their academy system, Barrenetxea could become a club legend if he continues his current trajectory and will hope to help his club win their first La Liga since 1982.
The 22-year-old French striker has been hugely impressive this season in Ligue 1 for Nice with ten goals in his 27 league appearances. A key piece in the Nice side since he joined in the summer of 2020, Gouiri has been improving with every game. The appointment of Christophe Galtier (the manager that led Lille to the league title in 2021) has seen the development of Gouiri into a hugely desirable asset for many of the big clubs around Europe.
Paris Saint-Germain are one of the rumoured sides interested in signing Gouiri as they look to a future without their young talisman Kylian Mbappe as rumours continue to circulate about a move to Real Madrid. As Manchester City continue their search for a number 9, Gouiri would be a player they should keep tabs on due to the attributes and talent he possesses with an expected price tag of £40 million.
Gouiri is a technically well-rounded player that can lead the line with a cultured touch when on the ball to create chances for his teammates. He does not possess the physicality or pace of other leading strikers but the technique on the ball and his creative vision more than makes up for it as he likes to drop deep to link play during attacking moves for Nice. Gouiri’s proficiency in front of goal and his ability to create goal-scoring chances for teammates (seven assists in the league this season) bodes well for Gouiri’s future and we believe that he will be a name for all to remember as he continues his growth. Do check out Gouiri’s sensational assist from a few weeks back.
The young Uruguayan joined Sporting Clube de Portugal in the summer of 2021 and has been putting in impressive performances consistently which led to Ugarte receiving his first senior cap for his country. Sporting CP rate Ugarte highly; a €60 million buyout clause has been placed in his contract to deter any future suitors from prying away this talented individual before the club have utilised his ability in their efforts to win another league after the success last year.
Throughout Ugarte’s career, he has been played as a deep-lying playmaker as he likes to get possession in the first phase of build-up. His ability to switch the ball and to play out of pressure has made him perfect for this role. Ugarte is not just an impressive passer of the ball, he is also a determined and hard-working individual that loves to get stuck into a tackle helping the defensive element of Sporting CP’s matches; a common trait in many Uruguayans central midfielders.
Sporting CP like to play on the front foot, controlling possession with a high press, Ugarte is key to this style of play, taking up the holding role between the attack and defence making sure the team are not countered and also being the orchestrator of the attack. The abilities that Ugarte demonstrates and the role that he plays is similar to that of Rodri at Manchester City (due to the similarities of the team’s structure and team shape).
Ugarte has got his first big move to Sporting CP in the summer of 2021, however, if his trajectory continues, he will be on the move again soon with many major European powers soon to be looking towards a replacement in this role. It is well documented that Manchester United are in need of a defensive midfielder and Real Madrid will be keeping a close watch on his development as Casemiro has just turned 30 years old. Ugarte will no doubt be on the move soon enough.
The 17-year-old Irish player has been touted for incredible things and many hope that having moved to Inter Milan he can have as great a career in Italy as Irish legend Liam Brady. Currently playing in the Under-17 for Inter Milan the performances of Zefi have been encouraging as in his 15 appearances this season, he has five goals and four assists. Irish fans will hope that in the near future Simone Inzaghi gives Zefi his Serie A debut in the blue and black of Inter Milan.
Zefi saw senior football exposure at Shamrock Rovers becoming the youngest goalscorer in the League of Ireland, scoring for Shamrock Rovers II at just 15 years old. The talent of Zefi has allowed him to set this record, however for many following his development career in Ireland for club and country it wasn’t surprising. Zefi displays amazing goal scoring and chance creating qualities. Zefi is best utilised as a left-winger to cut in on his favoured right foot, but can be used as a traditional winger when played on the right or, due to his preference to find space between the attacking lines, he can be used as an effecting number nine. Zefi’s pace, ability and confidence allow him to take opponents on. This desire to be on the ball and take players on helps drag opposition defenders out of position, which then creates space for Zefi’s teammates.
The move to Inter Milan was important for his development. Zefi will get access to state of the art facilities to realise the potential he possesses along with world-class coaches to provide the right advice and nurture a precocious young talent.
The events within football for the next ten years cannot be foreseen, however, what is to be expected is that the futures of these five players is bright, and if their talent is fully realised they will be the future stars of European football at the club and international level for the foreseeable future.
Written by Brendan McGilligan
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