A new season heralds the emergence of football’s next breakout stars.
The 2018/19 edition was lit up by the likes of Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz and West Ham United’s Declan Rice. These players turned ample promise into remarkable progress, establishing themselves at international level and in Europe’s toughest domestic competitions.
With pre-season commitments now under way for the majority of the continent’s clubs, the time has arrived to choose a quartet of youngsters poised to, potentially, become household names in 2019/20:
Club: Bayern Munich
An interesting few weeks await for the wide man.
Venerable veterans Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben departed at the end of 2018/19, plus replacements of the same prestige are yet to be recruited. Head coach Niko Kovac has reiterated a desire and capability on the Bundesliga champions’ behalf to land either Manchester City’s Leroy Sane or Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele – but neither of these financially onerous deals is close to being pushed over the line.
This is where Davies comes in.
The prodigious 18-year-old netted once in six top-flight substitute appearances after his belated January arrival from Vancouver Whitecaps. His is a raw talent, yet a successful deployment at left-back for Canada during the recent Gold Cup points to an innate football intelligence.
Competition is already fierce at Bayern – and it may get more intense. But Davies has shown he’s got the ingredients to excel.
Club: Manchester United
“Mason will definitely play more games. And he has grown over the summer. I think his confidence has grown a lot after that Cardiff game because he was our best player in that game.”
Judged by the words of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in Australia on Wednesday, it looks like a huge season awaits for the latest talent produced by United’s profitable production line.
The buzz which had long surrounded the Bradford-born forward reached a deafening level last term thanks to his record of 42 goals and 12 assists in 45 appearances, across the various youth competitions.
This rose in frequency again upon an electric first Premier League start on the final day of the season. On an otherwise miserable afternoon for the fallen Red Devils, only inspired Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and the woodwork could keep him out.
United’s current disorder and Solskjaer’s traditionalist principles guarantee more opportunities for a forward so technically proficient he is lethal with both feet on dead balls.
A berth on the right wing appears most likely, for now, for the sinewy 17-year-old.
Club: Real Sociedad
Isak has exhibited ability and acuity far beyond his years.
Now, the moment has come to cash-in.
When all of Europe’s biggest clubs came calling for the statuesque ‘next Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ in January 2017, Borussia Dortmund’s fruitful kindergarten was selected rather than the glamorous Real Madrid.
Important lessons were learned there by Sweden’s youngest-ever goal scorer. But with his route to the first team blocked, the embracing of a loan spell at Willem II in the second half of 2018/19 produced an exemplary 14 goals in 18 run-outs.
These sensational performances – especially the startling solo effort when he danced through the heart of the Feyenoord defence – convinced Real Sociedad to part with €6.5 million last month.
La Real’s established faith in youth is exemplified by Isak’s awarding of the No9 shirt, plus a desire to sell Willian Jose. He should also be supplied with ample chances from Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, hometown prodigy Mikel Oyarzabal and fellow summer addition Portu.
Sociedad’s investment should be repaid many times over.
Position: Centre midfield
A Frenkie de Jong-sized hole exists in the Ajax.
Yet it is one that director of football Marc Overmars believed he filled back in April.
The Champions League semi-finalists then agreed to spend €12.5 million on one of Europe’s ascendant midfielders. Marin – who is the son of ex-Romania full-back Petre – is comfortable in all three positions in the middle of the park, with his soft touch in possession making him a natural fit at Johan Cruyff Arena.
A growing responsibility and efficacy is shown by 2018/19’s career-best return of 10 goals and eight assists in 38 Jupiler Pro League fixtures for Standard Liege.
This return, plus growing importance for the seniors, meant Romania were content to see the 23-year-old skip this summer’s European Under-21 Championship. A level of play he’s now transcended, despite being eligible.
Marin is replacing a figure that Barcelona invested €75m in and the estimable Andrea Pirlo has already judged as the game’s premier midfielder. Yet he has the ability to become a key figure in the resourceful Ajax’s next cycle of success.