23rd August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
With the 2017/18 season now under way in the major European leagues, all eyes are focussed on the stars of the previous campaign, many of whom have switched clubs for huge fees, to see whether they can maintain the form shown last term.
Kylian Mbappé was undoubtedly the youngster who made the biggest impact in 2016/17, breaking into the Monaco first team to star domestically and in the Champions League, helping the Monegasque side earn a first Ligue 1 title since 2000, when the prodigious forward was only 18 months old.
But the new season also presents a chance for new stars to emerge, young hopefuls primed to take the next step in their development and establish themselves as genuine stars of the game.
Here are seven young players from across Europe set for breakout campaigns this season.
Adam Ounas – Napoli
Before his move to Napoli this summer in a deal which could reach up to €12million depending on conditional add-ons, Ounas was already a semi-regular feature at senior, top-division level with Bordeaux in Ligue 1.
The 20-year-old had shown glimpses of his immense promise with the French side, making 27 starts over the last two seasons. Operating predominantly on the wing, his close control, dribbling and intelligent use of the ball marked him out as one of Ligue 1’s brightest prospects.
But the move to Italy looks like being a catalyst in inspiring a developmental leap within the France under-20 international. Out of his comfort zone and embracing the challenge of breaking into Maurizio Sarri’s attack-minded, talent-rich line-up, Ounas – if his pre-season form is anything to go by – is ready to shine in Serie A.
Nathaniel Chalobah – Watford
In just two games for Watford, Chalobah has already accumulated more Premier League minutes (180) than he managed in 10 outings with Chelsea last season (159), and that’s precisely why the 22-year-old midfielder had to leave Stamford Bridge this summer.
The Premier League champions’ loss is the Hornets’ gain, as Chalobah is, and has been for some time, one of the most promising English midfielders of his generation.
Tall, commanding, athletic and extremely tactically intelligent, the Sierra Leone-born England under-21 international is already earning rave reviews at Vicarage Road.
Tipped as a future star of the senior Three Lions side, Chalobah was sent out on loan six times during his Chelsea career, including a stint in Serie A with Napoli in 2015/16 and one with new club Watford three years earlier.
With a lack of opportunity forcing him out of West London, the initial £5million Watford have reportedly paid for the gifted youngster looks like being one of the deals of the season.
Justin Kluivert – Ajax
Aged just 17, Kluivert, son of former Ajax and Barcelona striker Patrick, made his debut for the Amsterdam club in January this year and immediately looked at home at senior level.
The teenage winger excited fans inside the Johan Cruyff Arena with his dynamic dribbling style and electric pace. In seven Eredivisie starts and a further seven appearances from the bench last season, Kluivert scored twice and caught the attention of scouts around the continent.
The departure of Bertrand Traoré, who was on loan from Chelsea but has since joined Lyon in a permanent switch, means that the right-wing berth in the Ajax starting XI has been bequeathed to Kluivert. The young wide man remains raw and inconsistent, but his talent is not in doubt and he will grow into his role as the season progresses.
Allan Saint-Maximin – Nice
Having spent the last two seasons out on loan to gain experience – first with Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga and then with Bastia in Ligue 1 – the stage seemed to be set for Saint-Maximin to return to Monaco this summer and stake a claim for a regular starting berth with the French champions, particularly in light if the number of departures from the Stade Louis II.
But the Principality club instead decided to show the promising youngster the exit door, accepting an offer from local rivals Nice for the gifted 20-year-old attacker.
Saint-Maximin, now with a point to prove to his former employers, impressed for his new side in their recent Champions League qualifier against Napoli, showcasing his tremendous speed, intelligent movement and delicate touch, despite Lucien Favre’s side losing to the Italians.
Versatile, adaptable and blessed with the raw materials to develop into a well-rounded and fearsome forward, Saint-Maximin is ready to show Monaco what they are missing.
Nadiem Amiri – Hoffenheim
Hoffenheim midfielder Amiri has been regarded as one of the hottest prospects in German football for some time, and has been gradually integrated into the first-team picture at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena by manager Julian Nagelsmann.
After 20 starts and 13 substitute appearances in the Bundesliga last term, Amiri was selected in Germany’s squad for the European Under-21 Championship this summer, playing a key role as Stefan Kuntz’s men were crowned tournament champions in Poland.
Amiri’s importance to Hoffenheim is set to grow this season, as Nagelsmann’s impressive young side look to build on their fourth-place finish from 2016/17. With his superb technique, sharp vision and creativity in advanced areas, the 20-year-old midfielder is ready to shoulder more responsibility.
Cenzig Ünder – Roma
Roma forked out €13.4 million to sign 20-year-old forward Ünder from Turkish champions İstanbul Başakşehir, and the Serie A giants announced the youngster’s arrival with a video mocking the style of YouTube highlight compilations which went viral online.
The announcement video may have been tongue in cheek, but it included some highly impressive displays of skill from the young attacker, showing breath-taking dribbles, smart finishes and dynamic forward movement.
Capable of playing as a winger on either side or through the middle, the four-cap Turkish international, who scored seven league goals and registered five assists for Başakşehir last season, will help fill the void left by Mohamed Salah’s departure at the Stadio Olimpico.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
A perfectly struck 30-yeard free-kick in the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League qualifier against Hoffenheim at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena in August announced Alexander-Arnold’s arrival as a prospect of some note within the Merseysiders’ first team.
The tall, technically gifted right-back put in a superb all-round display against the Bundesliga side, showing discipline in defence and a willingness to get forward to support the attack.
Having featured seven times in the Premier League for the Reds last term, the Liverpool-born 18-year-old will contest a more regular spot in Jürgen Klopp’s XI this season, aiming to leapfrog Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez in the pecking order.