40 prospects to follow in 2019
21. Giorgi Chakvetadze, 1999 (Georgia, Gent)
by Marco D’Ottavi
If you loved the lower groups of the Nations League, you must have noticed Giorgi Chakvetadze leading Georgia toward the promotion with 4 goals and 3 assists in 6 games. A thunderous and unexpected explosion, as Chakvetadze is only 19.
Giorgi Chakvetadze bonds the crazy and crafty talent of Eastern-European wonderkids to a practicalness and determination that make him perfect for the highest level of European football. At Gent, he plays indifferently as trequartista or left-forward, with a natural predisposition for occupying more areas of the pitch.
Very capable of dribbling and passing, he has a very precise and yet inconsistent right foot. With his speed, he’s capable of attacking the spaces or cut towards the centre. But most of all, Chakvetadze has the ability to surprise with his plays, a rare trait.
At Gent, he seems on another level compared to his teammates and in the Belgian league, he’s capable of being forceful in covering as well, interpreting his role with a richness and variety that pledge not only an interesting development but also a versatile one. His transfer to a more challenging championship is just a matter of time and in this 2019 he could really deserve it.
22. Ferrán Torres, 2000 (Spain, Valencia)
by Emiliano Battazzi
Nobody has yet understood the secret of the Valencian region: but there has to be something if excellent talents like Ferrán Torres continues to emerge there. Born in Foios, a village with 7 thousand souls a few miles away from Valencia, Torres has become part of the academy when he was 7: it just took him other 10 to debut in the first team, on November 2017 in the Copa del Rey. Two weeks later, on December 2017, he came in during the game against Eibar, becoming the first 2000-born to play in LaLiga. Ferrán wasn’t there by mistake: he already had a dozen of games in the second team, and he was one of the regulars in the U17 Spain National Team that won the European Championship and was runner-up in the World Cup, playing as a left winger in a classic 4-3-3.
In youth football, Ferrán Torres’ qualities were far too obvious: a great speed both progressively and in the sprint; excellent ability in the narrow spaces: able to play with both feet; completely unpredictable with the ball. The videos of him humiliating young French, Italian, and English full-back are impressive but meaningless: in just a year, Torres has already played 30 games with the first team, proving some pros and highlighting some cons.
After the first very positive six months, with Marcelino playing him a few times in LaLiga – with a team that was competing for the Champions League – Torres has now to face the toughest challenge for a young footballer: confirm himself. This first part of the season, though, hasn’t gone so well for him: he debuted in the Champions League but he only played 515 minutes overall, with lack of confidence, and creating murmur from the supporters, that are very demanding with the academy products.
A loan looked like the best solution, but the lack of midfielders pushed Marcelino in betting on Ferrán once again, that was able to improve all his skills in the Valencian 4-4-2: improving his understanding of the game, his shooting technique, and his physique.
Valencia seems stuck, and so does Torres’ development process but one needs the other. To deserve the €100M release clause, the right winger must confirm his qualities: his good first control, the ability to pass the defender with his changes of direction, the side-centre cuts. At his age, it’s already the right moment for the breakthrough: he has to play a less instinctive game to become a great, quick, and dribbling-y right winger.
23. Boubacar Kamara, 1999 (France, Marseille)
by Dario Saltari
Among that dramatic chaos that is Rudi Garcia Marseille’s season, the talent of Boubacar Kamara, French defender with Mauritanian origins, is slowly emerging. After an apprenticeship season (12 games between Ligue 1 and Europa League in 2017/18), this year Kamara has as forced himself as a starter and that’s already a news, given the defensive difficulties that Marseille is facing this year (Rudi Garcia’s team has conceded 26 goals, the seventh worst defence in France).
Given some mistakes he has made because of his inexperience and Marseille’s lack of organization, Kamara has an eclectic talent, that reflects in marked tactical flexibility, that brought him to play both as a centre-back and as full-back (according to Garcia, he could play as CM as well). Marseille’s defender is almost ambidextrous, but his natural foot (the right one) is the best to express his impressive understanding of the game, with a technical sensibility that is rarely seen in his position. Even without the ball, Kamara has a very technical interpretation of the role, preferring the timing of the tackles on the ball and positioning to pure physicality and tackles, even if he’s very quick in his first steps and very aggressive when pressing forward.
A brave choice for a defender this young and, even with some mistakes, it highlights confidence in his skills that may let him improve further. It will be interesting to see him evolving in 2019, maybe in a team that doesn’t force him to take difficult choices and make emergency tackles.
24. Riqui Puig, 1999 (Spain, Barcelona)
by Daniele V. Morrone
Barcelona first year without Iniesta coincided with Puig‘s arrival in the team, the player from La Masia that is inspired by him. In Barcelona there’s so much trust in him, and it’s easy to understand why as soon as you seem him play, it just takes a play from Riqui Puig to understand how he seems born to play as a central midfielder at Barça: the way he direct his body before getting the ball, how he easily frees himself from the pressure with the ball, the choices he makes in freeing himself of the ball and how he moves just afterwards. His football is a compendium of years and years spent with the Catalan school. Quoting the words from Gennaro Gattuso, that spoke about him after a friendly match last summer, “It’s amazing to see how the traits the ball, it’s wonderful, it looks like poetry”.
The possibility that Riqui Puig won’t ever become a high-level football is not to be ruled out. That’s because, even if his surname paradoxically means ‘mountain’, his physique doesn’t even look like the one of a player fit for the highest levels. Let’s be clear, Barcelona already has the perfect plan to let him structure step by step, but seeing him now he looks like a first-grade kid – two super-thin legs and a kid face – and you have to think that all that talent may not be enough to hold up with the hardest tackles and the games every three days that awaits him at Barça. Unfortunately, you have to be careful when talking about Puig, because even with the proven talent his physical development will still be the main topic in 2019.
25. Timothy Weah, 2000 (USA, PSG)
by Fabrizio Gabrielli
For a certain period – in hindsight, maybe too short – in the very first part of the season, Timothy Weah’s career looked like the incarnation of his way to take the pitch. With a burning acceleration, he speeded into professional football, stealing our hearts.
One one hand, the 143 minutes he has played make him the PSG striker with the best goal ratio (2 goals in less than two games) but on the other weren’t enough to change Tuchel’s hierarchies (also for the last-minute signing of Choupo-Mouting, that was a statement from the coach itself): all things considered, in 2018, Timothy Weah has played more minutes with the National Team than with his club.
That’s why, on Christmas, with a post on Instagram, he announced his will to leave PSG in January, to spend a semester on loan and fighting for a place in the National Team for the Gold Cup. “You can’t wait for your dreams: you have to find them”, he said just a few weeks earlier to HYPEBEAST.
Among the possible destinations, the most probable one should be Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic: a context that doesn’t resize Weah’s ambitions (we’re talking about a glorious club, almost without rivals in the league and in the final stage of the Europa League), but it gives it new shades. And then, how cool will Tim be with the Bhoys’ vertical-striped shirt?
26. Justin Kluivert, 1999 (Netherlands, Roma)
by Dario Saltari
After Roma’s last win in the league against Parma, Justin Kluivert released an interview to Dutch website Elfvoetbal.nl. “The first six months have been good for me and I think I can show more both personally and as a team in 2019”, said Kluivert, “the best has yet to come”. In fact, for being a 19 years-old footballer with just two seasons among pros, Kluivert had a quite surprising impact, especially if considering the difficult months that Roma has had.
The young Dutch winger hasn’t had a constant performance and his minutes have been limited as well, but we were still able to enjoy some sparks of his potentiality, and that’s not granted. His season started brilliantly, with the amazing solo that led to the assists that changed the game against Torino (that Roma won 1-0 thanks to Edin Dzeko goal), but that wasn’t the prelude to a predestined path. Nevertheless, Kluivert still ended the first half of the season with 2 goals and 3 assists among all competitions, 1.5 successful dribbling (at Rome, only El Shaarawy does better) and 2.9 key passes per 90/min. So, Kluivert seems to have immense creative potential and it will be interesting to see him grow during 2019.
27. Sandro Tonali, 2000 (Italy, Brescia)
by Dario Saltari
With the only exception of Nicolò Zaniolo, that yet can enjoy the spotlights of Serie A and Champions League, Sandro Tonali is the most hyped Italian talent in 2018, by far. Tonali’s year has been exceptional in many ways: firstly, he had a superb U19 European Championship that brought him to the final (lost after extra time against Portugal), then he has been called by Mancini for the National Team and then he has been crown as the best young player of Serie B at the Gran Galà of AIC football. With the rumours that want him closer and closer to a big Italian team (especially Juventus, but also Roma and Inter), at the moment Tonali’s breakthrough in 2019 seems inevitable, maybe even just reaching Serie A (Brescia seems to have great chances to get promoted).
Tonali is a peculiar player, a Regista with smooth ball control and excellent vision of the game. Brescia’s midfielder seems born for this position, at least when he has the ball, when he plays not facing the goal and when he shoots with both the right foot (his natural one) and the left one. His limits start when the team is no longer in possession: Tonali has a high barycentre and he’s slow, two features that make him vulnerable when he’s forced to defend a large area of the pitch and in the moments afterwards the loss of the ball. In some ways, his talent is vintage and has to be compared with Pirlo’s (even if he said to be inspired by Gattuso), and it’s natural to wonder if he will be able to flourish in the frenetical football of these days. 2019 will give us the first answers but as Tonali was only born in 2000, his path is still very very long.
28. Fedor Chalov, 1998 (Russia, CSKA)
by Daniele V. Morrone
The generational change started by CSKA under Goncharenko brought a ton of new names with big responsibilities in a team that fights for the title and participated at the Champions League. Among the many names that are taking the best out of their chance, there’s striker Fedor Chalov, that within a few months stepped from being a rising promise to the best goalscorer of the Russian league with 9 goals in 17 games. And within the many talents of Easter Europe, he may be the one with the skills to compete in the Occidental leagues.
Chalov is a player that can create the goal occasions on his own and that, when it comes to finalizing the play, can shoot from every part of the box, thanks to his ability to shot with both feet. But he’s most of all one of those modern strikers, capable of participating in the build-up of the team playing far from the goal, and then moving without the ball and pressing the centre-backs. Maybe his physique (he’s 181cm tall) disadvantage him when he has to protect the ball with the back at the goal and generally in aerial duels. In fact, he receives the ball away from the goal, then playing with a teammate to get to the conclusion in a second moment.
He’s very good at reading the game away from the goal and he’s not just a good scorer, but also a good ‘builder’ (he has 2.3 key passes per 90/min and 4 assists already). That’s why he can play either as a lone striker and teaming up with a second forward. Generally, he plays better when sided by players that can accommodate his skills, while he struggles a bit when he has to fight defenders on his own. We’ll see if 2019 will hold him travel to the Old Continent.
29. Yacine Adli, 2000 (France, PSG)
By Emanuele Atturo
At the end of last summer, Yacine Adli’s contract was expiring and clubs like Barcelona, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Juventus wanted him. But on July 2, Adli renewed his contract until 2021, with the promise from PSG to give him more playing time.
Adli is a 186-cm-tall midfielder with a big helmet of hairs on his head. He plays as inside-midfielder with PSG, especially on the left side. On the pitch, he moves slowly, then suddenly accelerating with central incursions or long-passes that show a special sensibility in his right foot, other than an ambitious understanding of the game.
With France youth teams he has often played as an offensive winger. He seems an unfit role for such a slow player but Adli can really accelerate in a second, starting running with the ball and the swinging pace of a player from the 70s. In the narrow spaces, Adli has a stunning technique, with a left-right control that we haven’t see in French football since Zidane. His best skill is his vision and in 2019 he will have to understand how to be effective in high-level football.
Adli, that is still 18, has always played at a youth level, where his technique allows him to create individual plays without stopping. Among pros, he will have to variate his repertory, especially if he will still play as CM. Still, Tuchel seems to trust PSG academy and maybe Adli will find his space in the year to come.
30. Vinícius Júnior, 2000 (Brazil, Real Madrid)
by Daniele V. Morrone
Solari’s arrival in Real Madrid first team accelerated Vinícius career, moving him from regularly playing with the second team to fully entering the first team’s rotations. And if he only played a couple of minutes with Lopetegui, with Solari Vinícius has officially become the first offensive backup on the left wing and he played as a starter in LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. Without a calibrated system, Real Madrid trusts the talent of the player and, is not undeniable, Vinícius has a lot of talent.
We’re talking about an ultra-motivated player, that maybe tries even too hard in the minutes he spends on the pitch, seeming too much ambitious and sometimes exaggerating. It has to be said he’s not too much self-centred with the ball, as much as an 18-years-old footballer can’t be while playing in front of 80 thousand persons at the Bernabeu. He can alternate passes for his teammates with the right timing and attempt to emulate FIFA tricks. Technically, he’s already mature and unpredictable in his plays and the position he gets the ball, but he always wants to change the match and he has an above-average technique for his position.
Of course, right now we can only catch a glimpse of how he will able to play in the future but, thanks to massive creativity, it looks like there are all the chances to have a player capable of deciding when he wants to be decisive in a match. For this matter, and also in general for his football, he seems a 2.0 version of the first Robinho that played at Madrid. He’s a player with a stunning technical sensibility capable of using it in all parts of the pitch. 2019 will be another interesting year to follow him his rise.