This article was originally published in Italian on L’Ultimo Uomo website, on January 8, 2019.

2019 will be another year for finding new talents and staying in love with the younger ones. In this article, Ultimo Uomo gathered the 40 wonderkids that you must watch this year because they’re going to reach the next level, or because they represent an interesting interpretation of a specific position, or even just because they are really fond for them.
All players have born in 1998 or later. There won’t be all those young wonders that have already made it to the football’s Olympus so you won’t find people like Jadon Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Kylian Mbappé, or Gianluigi Donnarumma. Enjoy!

 

1. Ryan Sessegnon, 2000 (England, Fulham)
by Alfredo Giacobbe

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After the triumphs at the U18 World Cup, U19 European Championship and U20 World Cup, everyone is waiting for the Next Gen of English football to explode. For example, one year and a half after the U20 World Cup run, half of the winning 11 plays in a top-level league, and even less are doing that with a relevant amount of minutes. Some examples are surprising: the final’s hero Clavert-Lewin has reduced his game time than last year, frequently starting from the bench. The “Chosen One” Solanke hasn’t even played an official game with Liverpool and has now gone at Bournemouth on a permanent deal. In fact, even before the ‘baby boom’ in the past two years, England has been known for wasting its best talents within a few months: the last one is Saido Berahino, relegated to Championship with Stoke City.

On the other hand, you can trust Ryan Sessegnon and his rise to English football, that has nothing ordinary whatsoever. The 16 goals scored and 8 assists served last season in Championship haven’t gone unnoticed, especially when compared with his ID Card: Sessegnon has turned 18 last May. Of course, big clubs immediately targeted this kid, forcing Fulham to a long and expensive negotiation that led to a multimillion deal extension.

Sessegnon is a complete player: in the last and a half year he has played as a full-back in a 4 defence line, as a left-wing in a 3-5-2, as a left-back in 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, and as a forward – both left and right – in the 4-3-3. He can do the job in every part of the pitch, but he gives his best in the offensive midfield. The thing that surprises the most about Sessegnon is not his excellent technique or his progressive runs. It’s something more intangible that has to do with his ability to take up the pitch, the quality of the things he does, the timing in the movements without the ball, and the way he gives assists. Sessegnon makes intelligent choices at 18 and that’s the very reason for his extraordinariness.

2. Paulinho, 2000 (Brazil, Leverkusen)
by Emanuele Atturo

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Brazil has two ways for teaching local talents at the highest levels of football. One is made by footballers that want to stay in their homeland until their full maturation, like Neymar for example, who is the most famous one; on the other hand, there are others that want to leave as soon as they can, like Marquinhos did, as he was bought by AS Roma when he had just 14 pro football appearances.

Leaving as teenagers, those footballers spend the most important years of their formation in Europe, leaving their Brazilian traits behind. Paulinho, like Vinicious Jr., is the most promising Brazilian born in 2000. Like his countryman, he has been bought by a European club even before he turned 18, for €18,5M.

Bayer Leverkusen is gradually integrating Paulinho, letting him play as a starter in Europa League games, where he found his first goal in the 5-1 win against AEK Larnaca. To understand the kind of player he his, you just need to know a few things: he’s 1,75m tall, he’s very explosive in his first steps, and he has been compared to Robinho.

Like many Brazilians, he grew up on the Futsal field, where he sharpened his technique in narrow spaces. He loves to cut to the centre from the left, then looking for the shoot both with curved balls and powerful strikes.

Still, it’s not easy to understand which kind of player Paulinho is, as he has arrived in Bundesliga with just 24 games and 3 goals with Vasco da Gama. In this first games, Paulinho is showing promising practicality in the choices he makes without the ball. Besides, he didn’t point Neymar, Robinho or Kakà as his favourite player but Cristiano Ronaldo, for his commitment in work ethic: “Cristiano Ronaldo is an example – he works really hard on his game. Is something I see in my nature”.

It will be interesting to follow him in 2019, especially in a team like Bayer Leverkusen, that already counts interesting young players like Kai Havertz or Leon Bailey. It will be interesting to understand if Paulinho’s futsal technique will be repressed by the practicalness of European football.

3. Yann Karamoh, 1998 (France, Bordeaux)
by Francesco Lisanti

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What happened so far: Karamoh entered in the last 25 minutes against Lazio, with Inter losing 2-1, and from his crazy play somehow arrives the winning goal. Spalletti uses part of his sententious vocabulary to describe him: a player that stuns you for his creativity, but that is hard to find inside of the team from a balance and thinking aspect. So, Karamoh has left to Bordeaux, in the league that raised him, to find that continuity in a more relaxed context, therefore more fit to bond creativity and thinking.

In this season, Bordeaux isn’t performing well. Karamoh often starts from the bench but with continuity with 18 games, even if just 3 as a starter. The only absence against Caen was for contractual reasons. He plays as the right winger in a 3 forward line, that should be his natural position and also an uncovered position at Inter if Politano hadn’t turned himself into a pleasant surprise. Karamoh scored a goal in his debut game, a stunner against Nantes, a denied one against Lyon and served an assist against PSG.

He’s still a ‘sporadic’ player. He blends a refined touch to the awareness in his movements, reflecting his modernity: he takes the pitch, changes the rhythm of his play and attacks the opponents’ possession. But he’s not a player trusted by his teammates. When he throws himself to a wall of opponents (and he does it way too often) he doesn’t seem confident to win that wall. He surely is e beautiful player to watch, and that’s enough to follow him during 2019, the year of his probable return to Milan.

4. Amadou Haidara, 1998 (Mali, RB Leipzig)
by Daniele Manusia

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A few days ago, Haidara’s transfer from Red Bull’s Salzburg team to Leipzig one has become official and coach Ralf Ragnick welcomed him by saying that he could inherit Naby Keita’s legacy. The comparison is misleading, as we’re talking about two very different players physically and also with different styles. Haidara is wiry but not tall and he doesn’t have Keita’s ball control in the run (a few midfielders have), his every move has to be done in the right context, with players that are on his same page.

Haidara is very aggressive, with an extraordinary game volume, but is also very smooth in the ball plays, with ambitious cut passes and touch-to-touch passes, scholastic but effective. Regardless of the spot he takes in the midfield, Haidara is a vertical player and as far as technically talented, he could drown in the storm of a static midfield.

So, it’s a perfect player for the Bundesliga that, on the other hand, could fade in a league like the Italian one. He has a bunch of caps with the National Team and 2019 could be a surprising year for him, once he will recover from a torn ligament.

5. Diogo Dalot, 1999 (Portugal, Manchester United)
by Alfredo Giacobbe

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I wonder what Diogo Dalot thought hearing the news of José Mourinho sacking, as he’s been the manager that brought him to Manchester United. Dalot has been bought last summer from Porto for €22M, even if, at the time, he only had 6 games and 408 minutes in the Portuguese top league (with 2 assists). Once he recovered from a knee injury, Dalot was finally earning his place in United’s rotations, playing his first three consecutive matches under Mourinho.

Dalot is a right-back with good offensive attitude: he has a good pace, he’s good at 1v1 dribbling when he can throw the ball into space, he has a good crossing precision. The problem is that in modern football the full-back is a very complex role: other than the defensive qualities, he has to have physical skills, good intuitions, and technique. Dalot has to correct his positional mistakes in the box and has to better manage the ball on the touchline under pressure. Take the 45 minutes played against Liverpool to understand his difficulties when he has the ball and he’s running towards his own half.

Dalot has been part of the winning team at U17 European Championship and in the runner-up team at U19 European Championship. Given his age, he’s one of the most promising talents in that position and he’s growing in a school that can already praise successful examples: Joao Cancelo, Nelson Semedo, Cedric Soares, and Ricardo Pereira are all full-backs for top teams. Mourinho used to see Antonio Valencia’s heir in him, was he right?

6. Gedson Fernandes, 1999 (Portugal, Benfica)
by Dario Saltari

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After a quick rise in Benfica’s flourishing academy, Gedson Fernandes’ talent seemed to have started its first blooming. With the long-term deal signed last summer, which will take him at the Lusitan club until 2023, has also arrived the role as starter in Rui Vitoria’s team, that had no fear in playing him in the Champions League (he also found his first goal in the competition, at the Allianz Arena against FC Bayern), and the National Team debut.

In this first glimpse of professional football, Gedson Fernandes showed great potentialities. With thin and long legs, a slim and wiry body, Fernandes interprets the centre-midfielder position in a peculiar way, with a distinct vertical disposition that often leads him to the box. Actually, he’s the one often forcing his way to the box, maybe in complex or almost impossible situations and, in fact, he’s among the first midfielders – keeping the wingers out of the math – in the Portuguese league for attempted dribblings (2.5 per 90/min) and successful ones (1.5. per 90/min). Even if he’s very tall (184cm) Benfica’s midfielder is very quick in the long runs, taking advantage of his long legs in the open spaces, and also with timing and intelligence in the movements without the ball. Even if not gifted with perfect ball control, Fernandes seems to be able to reach everything with his long legs, continuously adjusting the vertical possession and getting the ball back in defensive 1v1s (2.4 successful tackles per 90/min).

So, Gedson Fernandes seems to have great perspectives ahead of him, and his growth process is just at the beginning. We bet that next summer big clubs will already line to take him.

7. Ismaila Sarr, 1998 (Senegal, Rennes)
by Emanuele Atturo

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Even if we’re just getting to know Sarr this year, mainly for his impressive games in the Europa League, Rennes had to pay €17M to Metz last summer. Sarr, still underage, had a good season with Metz in 2016/17, showing his ‘uncommon’ athletic skills.

Sarr is that type of flank horse that is able to run half the pitch with unreal speed and then look up with perfect control of the surrounding space-time. We still don’t have data about his speed but it’s not crazy to imagine that he could easily have Olympic-related times.

To exalt his progressive power in the space, Sarr is often played as some sort of left winger in a 4-4-2. But he also played as wing-forward in a 4-3-3, and also as a striker. For his position and the club of origin, Sarr has been often compared to Ousmane Dembélé, even if he doesn’t have his technique in the ball control and ballistic. Lately, Sarr has been founding the goal with a certain continuity and some impressive shooting, as proven by the goals he scored in Europa League.

For his power-and-speed game, Sarr is already a unique experience among young talented footballers. A year ago, he refused to sign for Barcelona, choosing for gradual growth. Maybe, the next step of his career could be intermediate as well. It seems like Inter Milan and Arsenal are already on his trails but the cost of the operation surely blows his price for the next move.

8. Callum Hudson-Odoi, 2000 (England, Chelsea)
by Marco D’Ottavi

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Maurizio Sarri said that Hudson-Odoi will become a certainty, “not only for English football but for European football”. At the same time, though, he highlighted how Chelsea has different priorities, more like winning than raising young players from the Academy.

And yet, it was Sarri himself, that is not known as a manager keen to work with youngsters, to bring him to the first team, also giving him some space. In this first part of the season, Hudson-Odoi collected 7 games, but just one of them in the Premier League. Sarri is using him in the cups (FA and EL) where he’s proving his talent.

Hudson-Odoi is an offensive winger that can play on both sides. His speed and his runs allow him to be dangerous also in the long runs, while a massive physique allows him to hold on in the toughest duels against defenders. When he has the ball, he’s not afraid to be aggressive, challenging his defender to gain an advantage, while he has to improve in terms of choices taken without the ball. His dribbling is a bit chaotic but effective, especially when he starts it while stationary (like for the two assists against Forest).

Chelsea fans are in love with him but Sarri was clear about his possibilities to play this season: limited. Hudson-Odoi looks impatient like he’s on the pitch and already wants to play more minutes. Bayern Munich seems to be interested in him and, even if Chelsea estimates him €40M, could already try to buy him this January.

9. João Félix, 1999 (Portugal, Benfica)
by Daniele V. Morrone

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Screened out by Porto after seven years with the academy because a lacking physical development, João Felix has been taken by rival Benfica, that bet strongly on him until his debut with the second team in 2016 – he was 16 – and the first pro contract with a €60M transfer clause. At the beginning of the season, Felix has been moved to the first team, which is playing the final parts of the games with, waiting to find more playing minutes during the year.

For his role, the clean technique and the club he plays for, he’s been compared – without any imagination – to Rui Costa and then to Bernardo Silva. Actually, he seems to aspire to become a new Kakà, his declared idol and football example. In fact, more than Bernardo Silva’s magnetic ball control or Rui Costa’s game vision, João Felix is surprising for his elegance while running the ball and his ability to take advantage of his technique and the times of the game to create for himself and his teammates, just what Kakà used to do.

In the few minutes that Felix spent on the pitch, he always produces some gem, maybe an assists or a goal occasion thanks to his technique and his ability to read the game. The most famous play of his young career so far has to be the goal scored in the derby against Sporting CP when, with 15 minutes to play and his team in disadvantage, he found the perfect cut into the box to score the equalizing header with few minutes to play. His first pro goal.

10. Moise Kean, 2000 (Italy, Juventus)
by Marco D’Ottavi

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The last news says that Juventus wants to keep Kean in this current transfer window. And even if this eventuality would permanently reduce his minutes during 2019, on the other hand, it could be the most important mark of esteem towards his talent, confirmed by the beautiful words said by Allegri in multiple occasions.

Because Kean has talent. Looking at his stats from last season played in Verona, Flavio Fusi noticed an above-average capability of creating goal occasions, unfortunately not supported by an equal scoring skill for these levels. Actually, the physical and technical skill which Kean creates plays with is his distinctive ability, more than the real skill as a striker, that is still undeveloped.

If he stays in Turin, the place where he will find the most game time will be the National Team, where he performed excellently at any stage. Last summer, he was one of the best in the European U19 team, with 4 goals in 5 games and a clear superiority even if he was younger than most of his opponents. In three games with the U21 NT, he scored two goals, playing a great game against England, one of the best national teams in the world, and earning a call from Roberto Mancini. In the less space he had in 2018, Kean showed a clear improvement in his choices, which he lacked in Verona.

This summer, there will be the U21 European Championship in Italy and San Marino, the perfect time to see the level he has reached. But we can already say that Kean may be the future of Italian National Team, a reason more to follow him in 2019.