It’s nearly here! The Africa Cup of Nations 2017 kicks off this weekend and it’s a tournament we love and have covered in detail in the past on Just Football. Ahead of this year’s edition in Gabon here are a selection of promising young African talents that have risen to prominence and could play an essential […]
We’ve reviewed 2015/16’s most exciting young players to watch in the Netherlands, England, Spain, Italy, France and Germany on Just Football. Now it’s time for us to announce the Just Football 70 Class of 2016/17 – the lowdown on the 70 best young players to watch in Europe this season.
First up, The JF70 2016/17 – Dutch Eredivisie edition, our pick of the 10 Eredivisie best young players to watch this season…. (NOTE: Criteria for selection = 22 or under as of 1st September 2016)
The #JF70 – Top 10 Eredivisie young talents to watch in 2016/17:
(FC Groningen, 20 years old)
In a season dominated by turbulence for FC Groningen one of the few highlights has been the development of Oussama Idrissi. The 20-year-old right winger originally joined the club to bolster the reserve squad, as previous club Feyenoord wanted to keep him in the Under-18s.
As eager as Idrissi was to play senior football he quickly moved through to the first team, making his debut in December 2015. Idrissi quickly developed into a mainstay, keeping out more experienced players and being involved in more Groningen goals in 2016 so far than any of his teammates.
FC Groningen rewarded this swiftly with a new four-year deal. Under new manager Ernest Faber it looks like Idrissi will be undisputed first choice, with all other wide forwards at the club being left wingers. Given that Idrissi, on average, was involved in more shots than any other Groningen player bar Danny Hoesen, making him the fulcrum on the right seems easy to justify.
With his pace, decent crossing and intuitive, unpredictable dribbles, Idrissi has been a hazard for many defences over the last few months. That and his ability to shoot on sight make him a thrilling prospect – perhaps one Feyenoord could have done with? (Words: Michiel Jongsma)
(PSV Eindhoven, 20 years old)
When last year’s #JF60 was compiled, Bart Ramselaar had a mere seven, albeit promising, games under his belt. A year later, he not only makes the list of most promising youngsters in the Eredivisie, he’s also been signed by the league champions for a fee of 4.3 million euros excluding bonuses.
Things have moved fast for Ramselaar, a 20-year-old midfielder with tremendous dribbling ability and an eye for a through ball. After Erik ten Hag’s appointment at the Domclub last year, the former Bayern II coach immediately made Ramselaar integral in his way of setting up the team, despite him being relatively inexperienced.
Steering the team to a top-five finish and a Cup final earned the midfielder the nickname ‘the Dutch Isco’ as he impressed with his mature and nifty performances. His manager Ten Hag was one admirer who wasn’t shy with telling his opinion. ‘His development has been mega’, he told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf in April. ‘There’s still so much more in there, but the steps he’s made this season in footballing terms have been so big in so many aspects of the game’.
Despite FC Utrecht running out of gas and losing the Cup Final to Feyenoord and Europa League play-offs final to Heracles Almelo, Ramselaar was rewarded with a first call-up to the Dutch national team, although he had to withdraw through injury.
While a Dutch debut awaits, Ramselaar did get a top transfer in the summer of 2016, joining PSV. Smooth sailing so far but now the real battle begins. The player he succeeds is Adam Maher, another alumni of this series and another that looked on his way to being a world-beater at 19.
2016/17 can still be regarded as a transitional season for Ramselaar, but he has to convince enough to make sure he gets his chance when needed. (MJ)
De handtekeningen staan, het shirt is gedrukt, Bart Ramselaar is PSV'er! pic.twitter.com/p7o2elMLOf
— PSV (@PSV) August 18, 2016
(Vitesse Arnhem, 20 years old)
Few careers have started as stormy as that of Milot Rashica. Despite being only 20 he has not only played for two clubs already but for two countries, too. A Kosovan by birth, Rashica opted to play for Albania at 19, but after two games he chose to represent the newly-UEFA-acknowledged football nation Kosovo, helping his country to a 1-1 draw against Finland in their first ever competitive game.
Rashica has all the talent required to become Kosovo’s first truly iconic player. He’s young enough to make his mark as a Kosovan, and, more importantly, he has the talent to become something special.
An unknown joining Vitesse from KF Kosova Vushtrri, no-one really took notice as Vitesse made a whirlwind of Chelsea-loanee signings in the summer of 2015. Manager Peter Bosz was a fan almost instantly, and in his first full game for the club (1-0 Europa League defeat v Southampton) the youngster showed promise. He made such an impression in the early weeks that many just assumed he was another Chelsea loanee.
A testament to both Rashica and the scouting staff, it quickly became clear that the Arnhemmers had found themselves an absolute gem. With tremendous pace, a ferocious dribble and relentless energy, Rashica turned out to be one of the signings of the season. With eight goals and three assists, he was one of the most productive teenagers in 2015/16. His debut for Albania came in March, against Luxembourg.
Back in the Eredivisie, Rashica has started this season as he ended the last. With powerful dribbles and a thankful recipient of his creative ability in Ricky van Wolfswinkel, one can imagine this being Rashica’s last season at Vitesse. Bigger clubs are already starting to take notice of the remarkable talent.
If anything, Rashica does not need more motivation – he’s a talent, a fireball, who needs to be harnessed and tamed. With the right guidance, the man from Vushttri should be on his way to a special career. (MJ)
(Ajax on loan from Chelsea, 21 years old)
Hailed as a potentially world class talent by his coach at Vitesse, Peter Bosz, and praised as a powerful youngster with a vast arsenal of talents by Guus Hiddink and Jose Mourinho, Bertrand Traore has quite the formidable fan club.
Since making his Burkina Faso international debut at the age of 15, the attacking midfielder-turned-winger-turned-striker has generated a great deal of excitement. Now 20, and with over 25 caps under his belt, the hype surrounding Traore begins to grow.
Traore is yet to break into the Chelsea starting XI but the 16 games he featured in for the Blues since his year and a half loan at Vitesse, and his impressive role in their pre-season tour under Antonio Conte, shows they see something in him.
Sent back to Netherlands on loan once again, Traore has made a step up within the Eredivisie after joining Ajax, where he is reunited with Bosz. Versatile, strong, quick and a proven goalscorer, Traore will be a crucial part of the team this term. There is a feeling that he is playing below his level, even with the Dutch giants and despite a slow start.
At 20, Traore is already considered Premier League quality, but his year at Ajax will not be a total waste. He will be given time to develop amidst a great deal of pressure and play in the Europa League for six games at least.
Despite the expectation surrounding him and the faith many have in his ability, Traore is still proving himself. His season at Ajax will be crucial as he looks to realise the dream of becoming a regular starter at Chelsea. (Words: Peter McVitie)
(FC Twente on loan from Manchester City, 19 years old)
Scoring a hat-trick within 40 minutes of his first start, Enes Ünal announced himself to the FC Twente faithful in the most incredible way imaginable. On loan from Manchester City, the 19-year-old showed his game is already well-rounded.
An excellent display of close control and fine technique saw him run through the FC Groningen defence and curl it past Sergio Padt to put his side 1-0 up.
Just over 10 minutes later, #JF70 alumni Hakim Ziyech sent it floating into the box, where, standing in between two defenders, Unal chested it and immediately jumped up to smash it into the net with a fine volley.
Then, after taking on a short flick from Chinedu Ede, Unal took the ball under control and sent it sailing past Padt.
Although Groningen came back to pull level, only for Twente to win it 3-4 in injury time after he had been substituted, Unal’s stamp on the game was emphatic.
It showed just how varied his talents are. Linking up well with the players around him, sound under pressure and with quick reaction speed, he showed that he is massively more promising than even his brief spell in the Dutch second tier with NAC Breda had suggested.
It is still tough to judge such a precocious talent, but with two Turkey caps under his belt and Manchester City backing him, there remains little doubt that he will be a key part of this FC Twente. (PMcV)
⚽️ ⚽️ ⚽️ ⚡️ ❤️ pic.twitter.com/QXlVSIZKcL
— Enes Ünal (@EnesUnal16) August 23, 2016
(sc Heerenveen, 21 years old)
Sweden already had the Swedish Zlatan, but if the press is to believed it now has a ‘Swedish Messi’ too. Arber Zeneli might not have the talent in common with the Argentine phenomenon, but he certainly has lovely dribbling technique.
Zeneli made his debut age 17 and after establishing himself at IF Elfsborg he earned a transfer to sc Heerenveen. As his compatriot and current teammate Sam Larsson had shown before, the transition from Allsvenskan to Eredivisie is a small one for the talented, but Zeneli did initially struggle with homesickness. The 21-year-old has a tight bond with his parents. However, it didn’t take him long to win over the Heerenveen crowd.
Dubbed ‘the Swedish Messi’ mainly thanks to a goal he once scored after a crowd-wowing solo, he was soon renamed ‘De Nieuwe Abe’ (the new Abe), after Heerenveen’s most iconic player, 1950s and ‘60s star Abe Lenstra, the man after whom Heerenveen’s stadium is named. The highest honour for any Heerenveen player.
While one doubts if Zeneli can truly mark his name next to Heerenveen graduates like Lenstra, Jon-Dahl Tomasson, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, entertainment seems rife in the Abe Lenstra Stadion as long as Zeneli is around. Heerenveen’s flanks will surely offer up much entertainment this season, as Zeneli still has Sam Larsson by his side to groom him as the absolute star of the team. (MJ)
(Feyenoord, 21 years old)
For Rick Karsdorp, a year of truth has arrived. The 21-year old Feyenoord Academy graduate was turned from a talented offensive midfielder who won the U19 Player of the Year award in 2014 into an offensive right-back by the then Feyenoord coach Fred Rutten two years ago. He has been a first team starter ever since, and with no serious competitor for his spot in Feyenoord’s squad this year he’s unlikely to be dropped any time soon.
Nevertheless, there’s work to do for the U21 international. Offensively, Karsdorp has been vital in the offensive playing style Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst wants his team to play. For Gio, the flanks are the basis of everything. He wants his wingers to be bold, fast and furious and expects the same from his wing-backs.
The offensive qualities Karsdorp gained as a midfielder give him a huge advantage. Last season, he gave more assists than any other Feyenoord player (9). Yet defensively, Karsdorp has much to improve. For example, he often marks his man on the wrong side.
With many bigger clubs keeping tabs and Dutch team manager Danny Blind occasionally selecting him for the provisional squad, this season has to be the year Karsdorp shows both the Eredivisie and Europe that he has everything a modern wing-back needs. Against Manchester United and Fenerbahce in the Europa League, but also against Go Ahead Eagles in the Eredivisie, Karsdorp must prove the talent he most certainly has. (Words: Mark Lievisse Adriaanse)
Dabney dos Santos
(AZ Alkmaar, 20 years old)
Before the craze, ‘Dabbing’ meant showing off your technique, dribbling past your man and delivering an assist. Dabney dos Santos has been doing this for years now, and is determined to re-gain the term as he works his way up through the ranks.
Since his debut in October 2014, when he made his first steps in senior football for AZ age 18, dos Santos has provided a grand total of 16 Eredivisie assists, with only four players registering more in that period. Dabney’s talent is undeniable.
Originally a number 10, the development of Dabney as a left winger has been very much start-stop. Having quickly earned the trust of manager John van den Brom he has been allowed to go through bad patches, rewarding that trust with some spectacular performances particularly in recent months.
As one of the main deputies to Vincent Janssen in attack he was pivotal in both AZ’s spectacular run to fourth place this year (after being in the bottom-half at Christmas) and assisting Janssen in his spectacular run to the Dutch golden boot. In fact, over the calendar year, Dabney dos Santos is one of the three players with the most assists, recording an impressive eight in 20 matches.
With Janssen gone to Spurs, dos Santos is expected to step up for AZ. Still only 20, the elusive dribbler has much margin for improvement, such as in front of goal. Nonetheless, in the long run Dabney should become a Dutch national team contender. In games for the Dutch Under-21s the man with Cape Verdean roots has done plenty to re-affirm that statement. (MJ)
(Ajax, 18 years old)
The Danish connection has always been fruitful for Ajax, dating back to the 1980s. After Christian Eriksen and to a lesser extent Viktor Fischer, Ajax now seem to have found another gem. Kasper Dolberg has been making a buzz long before he made his debut.
Originally brought up at Silkeborg’s academy, the young forward played his first senior match age 17 and was immediately snapped up by the Amsterdammers. He joined the Under-18s to assimilate and immediately impressed.
Comfortable in all three positions in attack, the forward was soon compared to many greats. Dolberg was hailed ‘A true Ajax striker’, the ultimate seal of approval – and one that many ultimately don’t live up to. But as the season went on calls for Dolberg to get a chance in the first team rapidly became louder.
Frank de Boer lauded him an ‘enormous talent’ and took the youngster on a training camp with the first team to Belek. De Boer compared the 1.90m tall frontman to Stefan Petterson for his qualities as the pivot in attack, and with Patrick Kluivert for his goalscoring ability.
But for his chance to impress in the first team he was dependent on a new manager, a competitor being sold in Arek Milik and a replacement not being signed. And on his debut for Ajax, Dolberg immediately made an impact, equalising against PAOK Saloniki from distance in the Champions League preliminaries.
With his link-up play, decent pace and developing physique there’s a technically-gifted, mobile target man in the making for Ajax. With Bertrand Traore, a rival for a first team spot, returning to Chelsea after his loan, Dolberg will attempt to convince his manager that no replacement is needed for the African striker come 2017/18. (MJ)
(PSV Eindhoven, 21 years old)
In the Netherlands, Ajax and to a lesser extent Feyenoord are renowned for their youth academies. But in recent years, PSV is doing what it can to catch up. Last decade, Ibrahim Afellay graduated to the first team, Ismail Aissatti looked promising for a spell, while Memphis Depay earned himself a transfer to one of the biggest clubs in the world.
In the current squad, Jeroen Zoet and Jürgen Locadia are two decent products of PSV’s academy, but the one that excites most is newly-capped Dutch midfielder Jorrit Hendrix. Hendrix entered the academy age nine and has basically gone through the whole trajectory, making his debut in 2013.
Despite being a fairly silent and humble type, Hendrix always earned the respect from his teammates as his talent was obvious. Initially struggling to reach the level required and being used in several positions (mainly centre back and central midfield), 2015/16 was transformative for the midfielder.
With Georginio Wijnaldum not being replaced adequately, PSV’s midfield looked a bit thin in terms of quality. However, the extra minutes Hendrix gained from the lack of competition were enough for the youngster to show his value. He was rewarded with a contract extension until 2020 and was very much part of PSV’s successful title defence.
This season, Hendrix seems to have turned it up another notch. Initially a holding midfielder with good positional and defensive qualities, Hendrix is transforming into more of a box-to-box midfielder with great dynamic, neat passing and a very calming presence.
Competition in midfield is fierce, but on current form Hendrix seems impossible to drop. An international debut against Greece was just reward for the Dutchman’s development and at only 21, one can only dream how far the energetic, left-footer who bears certain similarities with Kevin Strootman, can go. (MJ)