We are reaching the end of this season and, inevitably, teams around Europe and worldwide are preparing themselves for the summer transfer window. The focus for many will be on exciting prospects and young talents from around the globe. Here is a list of 13 talented African footballers who are going to be high on […]
With the 2016/17 season coming to an end, let’s take a look at some players who started the season more in the background but have now become fundamental players for their clubs.
Despite their feats, these players are still yet to receive the accolades of the wider media but look certain to do so if they continue their rapid development in the coming seasons…
Underrated footballers around Europe 2016/17 – 9 gems
1) Jean Michael-Seri – OGC Nice
The Ivory Coast international was integral in OGC Nice achieving a 3rd place finish in Ligue 1 and Champions League football for 2017/18. Whilst other high-profile names such as Mario Balotelli and Dante caught headlines on the French Riviera, it was the 25-year-old midfielder who made the team function.
Often compared to N’Golo Kante, mainly due to physical similarities, Seri is actually a completely different player. Scoring nine goals and adding seven assists in 34 league games, Seri is an all-round midfielder capable of influencing a game. Such form has led to a number of clubs registering an interest ahead of a possible summer move.
2) Maxime Lopez – Olympique Marseille
These are exciting times for Olympique Marseille under the ownership of Frank McCourt, with significant investment in the squad a certainty this summer. One player who has performed well when called upon this season is 19-year-old Maxime Lopez.
Referred to as a ‘symbol of the club’, Lopez signed a new four-year contract despite rumoured interest from Barcelona. A fine technical midfielder, Lopez is sure to improve in future seasons the more experienced he gets. His composure on the ball enabled the likes of Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet to thrive in the latter stages of the season.
— Maxime Lopez (@lopezmaxime1) May 20, 2017
3) Christopher Jullien – Toulouse FC
Clubs across Europe are looking for the next promising centre-backs, with an apparent dearth of talent in this position. Although he does not play for the most glamorous of clubs, Christopher Jullien is one of the most underrated centre-backs in Ligue 1.
A powerful figure, Jullien showcased his aerial ability in both boxes, scoring 4 goals in 35 league games to lead Toulouse to safety. His athleticism is a major strength, enabling him to match mobile strikers and win the ball in the channels. Such displays have already caught eye of bigger clubs, with Southampton rumoured to be eyeing the Frenchman to replace Virgil van Dijk.
4) Hakim Ziyech – Ajax
Part of an Ajax side that have found their identity again, Ziyech has emerged as one of the most underrated playmakers in Europe. During the 2015-16 season, #JF60 alumni Ziyech impressed for a poor FC Twente, scoring 17 goals and grabbing 10 assists in 33 games.
Despite this impressive record, only Ajax were prepared to sign the Moroccan international for a now bargain fee of £9.25 million. The 24-year-old has shown his talent on the European stage during Ajax’s fine run to the UEFA Europa League final, with 12 goals and 20 assists from 46 games in all competitions.
His set piece delivery is one of the finest in Europe and he is undoubtedly one of the most underrated footballers around Europe.
5) Kerem Demirbay – 1899 Hoffenheim
Hoffenheim have enjoyed a superb 2016/17 season, securing a fourth place finish and a play-off for the Champions League for the first time in their history. Kerem Demirbay was integral in midfield, providing six goals and 10 assists that has seen him transform his reputation.
Previously banned for a sexist remark towards a female official, Demirbay has flourished under the leadership of Julian Nagelsmann and become a player who can be trusted in big games. The form shown has led to 23-year-old Demirbay receiving a first call-up for the Germany squad, and he’s set to play in the Confederations Cup this summer.
6) Mauricio Lemos – Las Palmas
La Liga is recognised for the fine defenders it has, which includes the likes of Raphael Varane, Gerard Pique and Diego Godin. Those three play for the biggest clubs in Spain, yet it is a defender at Las Palmas who has made headlines this season.
Still only 21, Mauricio Lemos has made a number of commanding performances at the heart of the defence. His quality on the ball stands out, with the Uruguayan becoming a set piece expert with three goals from direct free-kicks, five goals in total. Lemos has been able to develop quickly because of regular game time at a smaller club. A move however seems inevitable this summer.
7) Dayot Upamecano – RB Leipzig
Signed from Red Bull Salzburg in January for £9 million, Dayot Upamecano fits the profile of players that RB Leipzig looks for. Just 18 years of age, the centre-back has quickly established himself in his new side and could emerge as one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga in the coming seasons.
The French youth international had a number of high-profile suitors before joining RB Leipzig, but appears to have made a sensible decision in choosing game-time over increased wages elsewhere. For one so young, Upamecano combines aggression with an assuredness on the ball, leading to sporting director Ralf Rangnick labelling the defender as “one of the greatest talents in his age class.”
8) Piotr Zielinski – Napoli
A dominating figure in midfield, Piotr Zielinski has enabled the other attacking talents in the Napoli side to take the headlines this season. The likes of Insigne, Mertens and Hamsik have all received plenty of praise this season, with Zielinski’s contributions seemingly going under the radar.
Five goals and seven assists in 35 league games is a strong return for a central midfielder. The 23-year-old provides vital balance in midfield and carries out the necessary defensive duties in a predominantly attacking team. His ability to drive from deep with surging runs makes him an attractive proposition for teams, with Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool reportedly keen.
9) Andrija Zivkovic – Benfica
Part of the Serbia U20 side that won the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2015, Andrija Zivkovic caught the attention of many clubs, resulting in him leaving his homeland and eventually joining Benfica.
The wide attacker played a role in helping his side secure a fourth consecutive Primeira Liga title, often coming on from the bench to add pace in the final third. Zivkovic has quality set piece delivery and looks to create chances for others rather than score. Dubbed the ‘Serbian Messi’, the 20-year-old will look to add consistency next season and seal a regular place in the starting lineup.
Which of these lads do you rate highest then? Are there any other underrated footballers around Europe this season you recommend? Let us know below, on Twitter @JustFootball or Facebook, where you can find us for the latest world football news, analysis and opinion.