Five Youngsters to Watch in the Champions League
The new Champions League season has begun and over the coming months, there is bound to be plenty of excitement on the pitch as the top 32 teams in Europe compete to be crowned champions.
Many consider the Champions League to be the most exciting part of the football season, particularly because most of the world’s top players make an appearance over the course of the tournament. Fans look forward to watching players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Virgil Van Dijk and Eden Hazard compete outside of their regular leagues. However, while there are many big names in the competition, there is also plenty of less recognised younger talent.
One just has to look back at previous tournaments to realise that many youngsters first make a name for themselves in the tournament. For example, in 1995 Patrick Kluivert won the trophy for Ajax, one year later Raul Gonzalez appears on the scene, in 2006 Messi ran rings around far more established players and in 2017, Kylian Mbappe appeared on the scene in Monaco.
There is no reason that something like this cannot happen this time around and there is certainly plenty of young talent to choose from. Here is a quick look at some of the teenagers who are likely to star over the coming months.
Jadon Sancho – 19 Years Old (Dortmund)
Jadon Sancho rose through the ranks of the Manchester City academy and for a while was one of the club’s most prizes young players. However, he felt that his long-term future would not be helped by staying with City. He largely seems to have been proved correct with the club’s first team full of world-class players and there are big names such as Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane struggling for game time.
Because of this, Sancho made the decision to move to Borussia Dortmund. The fact that he was willing to make a move to a foreign land and culture at such a young age is testament to his strength of character and desire to excel. He gradually made his way into the first team at Dortmund, he made 12 appearances in his first half season with the club managing to show his potential with one goal and four assists.
In his first full season with the club, under the guidance of Lucien Favre, he went from strength to strength and soon became a regular on the first team that managed to challenge Bayern Munich all the way in the Bundesliga race. He secured 12 goals and 13 assists and appeared in all of the team’s games as they just missed out on the league title.
Sancho’s performances did not go unnoticed, he became a full England international during this time, and so far this season he has continued in exactly the same vein. He scored a goal and provided an assists in the Super Cup to help Dortmund defeat Bayern Munich, and he has impressed in the league with three goals and six assists from seven Bundesliga matches. He also scored his first international goals with a brace against Kosovo.
Judging by how he has been performing in recent times, it seems inevitable that Sancho will have a huge impact on Dortmund’s fortunes in the Champions League this season.
Erling Braut Haland – 19 Years Old (Salzburg)
From birth, Erling Braut Haland has seemed destined for footballing greatness, as he is the son of the Leeds United legend Alf-Inge Haland. While his dad was primarily a defender, the young Haland is better suited to scoring goals. He was hugely impressive at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in Poland where he finished as the highest goal scorer and hit home an incredible nine goals in the team’s 12 – 0 victory over the Honduras.
The match also saw Haland set a record for the most goals scored by a single player in a single match at a FIFA tournament, and led to his transfer to the Austrian Bundesliga champions FC Salzburg. At his previous club, Molde, he also had a good goal scoring record with 20 goals from 50 matches in all competitions for the Norwegian side. However, he seems to have hit new heights in Austria.
Haland has played a major part in Salburg’s goals this season; he assisted in the first match against Rapid Vienna and then went on to score many goals of his own. The Norwegian international has now scored 11 goals and assisted five from just eight league matches and it is no surprise that Lars Lagerback has called him up to the Norwegian senior squad.
While Salzburg will face far tougher competition in the Champions League than they do domestically, it is still likely that Erling Haland will make his mark on the competition.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – 18 Years Old (Chelsea)
At the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, Callum Hudson-Odoi came to everyone’s attention when he started for England. It was widely expected that he would break into the first team last season, but despite his talent, manager Maurizio Sarri seemed to have very little faith in him. Something that was a major source of conflict between fans and the manager.
Odoi was sure that his long-term prospects at Stamford Bridge were poor so he did all he could to secure a transfer to Bayern Munich in January. However, Chelsea’s hierarchy denied the transfer, a sign that they recognised his immense potential.
The club now has a new manager, Lampard, and they were handed a transfer ban over the summer, giving hope to many that Odoi would have the chance to rise to the fore. Academy graduates such as Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen and Tammy Abraham have all been given a chance under the new manager but Odoi has been missing, possibly due to the fact he has been side lined since May with an ankle injury.
Hopefully he will soon be given a chance as there are many who believe that he can have an immediate and positive impact for the team.
Vinicius Jr – 19 Years Old (Real Madrid)
Vinicius Jr signed his contract with Real Madrid just ten days after he made his professional debut with Flamengo in the Brazilian Serie A in 2017. However, his transfer was delayed as he was not yet old enough for an international transfer.
As soon as he turned 18 in July 2018, he joined the club but then had a tough start at the team as former manager Julen Lopetegui did not trust his abilities and refused to play him, even demoting him to play for the reserves at one point.
However, things improved when Santiago Solari replaced Lopetegui. He was given more game time and was one of very few players who performed well during a highly shambolic season for Real Madrid.
While Vinicius Jr has come under fire for his poor final balls and his lack of composure while finishing, he also receives a great deal of praise for his willingness to take on defenders and his direct style of play. He has scored one goal this season and provided an assist in the 3 – 2 win over Levante. He has also made his international debut, coming on for Richarlison in the 1 – 0 friendly defeat to Peru.
Nuno Tavares – 19 Years Old (Benfica)
Benfica are well known as one of the best talent production hubs in both Portugal and the world. They have produced players such as Rui Costa, Bernardo Silver, Nelson Semedo, and Joao Felix. As the latest to come from this line, many are expecting big things of Nuno Tavares.
Tavares predominantly plays as a left back, but thanks to his offensive capabilities, he can be used further up the field as a left winger, or a left wing back. At present, he is being played as a right back, in testament to his versatility.
He starred with the Benfica B side in the Portuguese Liga Pro last season and was promoted to the senior squad as the start of the current season. He started at left back in the team’s 5 – 0 Super Cup victory over their rivals Sporting Lisbon.
His league debut came in the first game of the season and he starred in another 5 – 0 victory of the team, opening the scoring with an incredible long range effort and then went on to provide two assists.
The former La Masia star Alex Grimaldo is in Tavares’ preferred position of left back, so he has been in the less familiar right back position. However, he has appeared unfazed and has been playing exceptionally way, starting in all of the team’s league matches so far.
Even More Young Talent
These are just five of the young players worth keeping an eye on over the coming months. There is far more talent around such as the 18 year old Lee Kang at Valencia, the 16 year old Ansu Fati at Barcelona, the 18 year old Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich and the 18 year old Sergino Dest at Ajax. It is sure to be another exciting season and who knows what stars it will produce.