FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART ONE: POINT TO PROVE

Part one of FC99 is a mix of players from across Europe that have a massive point to prove in the upcoming season.

PAULO DYBALA

25 / ARGENTINA / JUVENTUS
BY MATTHEW SANTANGELO

Following the sale of premier star Paul Pogba to Manchester United in summer 2016, Paulo Dybala rejected the opportunity to don the famous number 10 shirt of Juventus for the upcoming season, only to accept the honor and privilege a year later for the 2017-18 campaign. Enchanting the home supporters at J Stadium with his creativity and eye-popping potential in this heavy shirt, ‘La Joya’ was next in line to become Turin’s main man.

DybalaOnly, with last summer’s groundbreaking acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, Dybala had begun his fade into the background, casting doubt over whether this diamond was this ‘Old Lady’s’ best friend for the future.

The Laguna Larga native played predominantly as the sole central player under former manager Massimiliano Allegri upon arriving from Sicilian outfit Palermo in 2015. Serving as the focal point, most of Juventus’ attacks played through Dybala, with the 25-year old either supplying or padding his personal account.

Despite the bond shared and mutual appreciation for one another’s individual play, Ronaldo’s presence demanded a complete shift in how Dybala was utilized and Juventus played, as the Argentine struggled for form playing in a much deeper role further away from goal that saw his output drop from 22 in 17-18 to five in 18-19 over 30 appearances.

Undeniably gifted and with the attacking impetus capable of taking over any match, Dybala needs to dig his heels in, play with a chip on his shoulder and reclaim the form that made him so highly touted. Whether that’s at Old Trafford with Manchester United or in the unlikely scenario of forcing his way back into the Juventus team.

Paulo Dybala 18-19

MATTHEW IS THE CO-HOST OF THE STATE OF PLAY PODCAST AS WELL AS THE CO-FOUNDER OF MILAN BROTHERS. HE HAS FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE GUARDIAN, FOOTBALL ITALIA AND THESE FOOTBALL TIMES, MAINLY FOCUSING ON ITALIAN FOOTBALL. 

LENA OBERDORF

17 / GERMANY / SGS ESSEN
BY JASMINA SCHWEIMLER

What’s mesmerizing about 17-year-old Lena Oberdorf is the fact that she didn’t play in the German Bundesliga until September 2018. Yet, a little over half a year later, she is known as one of the greatest talents. She already was before but made an even bigger statement in her debut season. She trained and played with boys until she signed with SGS Essen which shaped her into the physical player she already is now.

Oberdorf

In her debut season, the defensive allrounder competed in 16 league games for Essen scoring a total of six goals. Two of them were on her Bundesliga debut against MSV Duisburg. All besides still going to school. Kudos to her parents who keep driving her back and forth and allow her to reach her full potential! For her age, she already has a great presence on the field and doesn’t shy away from a tackle or to do what’s necessary to defend or win the ball.

Just a couple of months after playing in the league for the first time, German national team coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg invited her to the winter training camp. Her first game in the A-dress for the national team was in April 2019 against Sweden.

It was not surprising that Voss-Tecklenburg then nominated the talent for the final World Cup squad. Oberdorf played in four out of the five games and has now become the youngest German player to ever play in a World Cup with the age of 17 years, five months and 20 days – a record Birgit Prinz held before her. And even though her rise to the top came quickly, her open mind to take on the task and not being afraid really helped the German team.

But the World Cup also showed that the youngster needs to work on her calmness and self-awareness. Even though she is great at defending, sometimes she overestimates the situation and acts too erratically. Mistakes like that are allowed at the age of 17 but can result in sloppiness and risky situations on the bigger stages.

After teasing her immense potential in the league and at the World Cup, the upcoming season will throw her into an even bigger spotlight. All eyes will be on her. Oberdorf will grow with every game and soak in all the experience she can get. She will prove that she isn’t just a one-hit-wonder, but the future of German women’s football.

JASMINA IS A GERMAN WOMEN’S FOOTBALL JOURNALIST AND CURRENTLY COVERS VFL WOLFSBURG’S WOMEN’S TEAM FOR WOLFSBURGER ALLEGEMEINE AND SPORTBUZZER.

KENNETH TAYLOR

17 / NETHERLANDS / AJAX
BY JELMER JAGER

Kenneth Taylor is one of the talents from Ajax’s 2002-generation, a generation with a lot of brilliant talents. A lot of them already made their U17 and U19 debuts at a very young age.

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Taylor was eight-years-old when he joined the Ajax academy in 2010. He was scouted at an Ajax-organized youth tournament. After he was scouted, he joined the ‘Talent Days’ and was selected for Ajax U9. His team featured talented players such as Ryan Gravenberch, Brian Brobbey (Ajax U21) and Ki-Jana Hoever (Liverpool U21). His development excelled quickly. When he was 15, he made his debut for Ajax U19. At the age of 16 he played his first match for the U21’s. Despite his English-sounding name, the Euro U17-champion does not have British roots. 

Last summer, Taylor joined the Ajax U19s. As a 16-year-old, he immediately impressed and became a starter. Despite his age, he was one of the most important midfielders.

It was a memorable season for the midfielder. He won three prizes; two with Ajax and one with the Dutch U17s. He also made his U21 debut in October 2018.

As captain of the Netherlands U17s, with seven other Ajax-talents, he lifted the Euro U17 trophy in May. With the Ajax U19s, he won the double. Taylor scored twice in the cup final (in a 3-1 win) and was one of the leaders in the title decider against Feyenoord’s U19s (a 2-0 win) surrounded by a very young team. In total, he played 35 matches (one for the U21’s), in which he scored 11 goals and assisted 10 times.

Taylor is developing very well. It is also the reason why he joined the Ajax first team during the pre-season. The midfielder has a great left foot but can play with his right foot as well. His passing, dribbling, shooting skills and his vision are his best attributes. With his depth and sense of space, he is quite comparable to Donny van de Beek. Kenneth once said that he wants to become sharper in challenges and get the nonchalance out of his game.

The expectation is that Taylor will begin his season in the U19s, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him rapidly make the step to the U21s. There might even be a chance in the first team in sight for the 17-year-old.

JELMER MAINLY COVERS AJAX AMSTERDAM. HE IS PART OF THE TEAM THAT RUNS THE AJAX YOUTH ACADEMY ACCOUNT ON TWITTER AS WELL AS BEING A CONTRIBUTOR TO AJAX1.NL.

SANTIAGO ASCACÍBAR

22 / ARGENTINA / STUTTGART
BY KAUSTUBH PANDEY

Stuttgart’s Santiago Ascacíbar is a player who reminds many of Esteban Cambiasso. Many will take him to war and would rely on him for their lives.

Ascacibar

That certainly defines the sort of player this midfielder from La Plata in Argentina is like. He has that competitive spirit about himself that would reveal to you the passion and aggression that lies in the four-walls of South American football.

That becomes clear when one sees a tattoo of Diego Maradona on his right leg and the admiration he has for Arturo Vidal, apart from comparisons to a certain Roy Keane.

The 22-year-old’s fire and no-nonsense desire was the centre of controversy when he was suspected to have spat on Kai Havertz, but he has been key for VFB Stuttgart over the last two seasons for being himself.

Having operated as the defensive midfielder in a variety of shapes under managers like Hannes Wolf, Tayfun Korkut, and Markus Weinzerl, Ascacíbar hasn’t displayed his strengths without having to see some disciplinary weaknesses. He was sent off once this past season and was banned for six games for the spit on Havertz.

But the former Estudiantes’ youngster’s stats speak volumes. He won 2.9 tackles per game and made 1.6 interceptions per game this past season despite Stuttgart drop back into the 2. Bundesliga. Those stats were an improvement from the 2017-18 campaign, when the midfielder kept the side ticking and was as important to them as Mario Gomez and Benjamin Pavard.

Heading into next season, Ascacíbar would be aware that the campaign in the second division could be a massive one for his future. He will have a key role to play in taking the Die Roten back into the Bundesliga and at the age of 22, there are always clubs who look at players of that type. And every team would love a player like him. The future for Ascacíbar is bright.

KAUSTUBH IS A EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WRITER AND HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, CALCIOMERCATOR, THE TIMES, MANCHESTER UNITED AND THESE FOOTBALL TIMES. HE IS ALSO A CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE.

RÉMI OUDIN

22 / FRANCE / REIMS
BY MAXIME VENDRELL

A player who is reportedly on the move elsewhere, Rémi Oudin could be attracting plenty of interest after a successful first season in the French top flight with Stade de Reims.

OudinBorn and bred in the international capital of champagne, Châlons-en-Champagne, Oudin has certainly shown that style and suave in his debut Ligue 1 campaign, where he enjoyed a great year and was one of the revelations of the season. With 10 goals and four assists in 37 games, Oudin was one of the stars of the team, as the club finished in eighth.

However, while it was an enjoyable year for the club, there may be some doubts over Oudin’s long-term consistency. Still only 22, this is a factor that may dissuade several sides from making a move. Also, should he stay at Reims, he would need to build on that if they are to maintain or improve on their fine season.

It could be said that Oudin is at a turning point in his career. Over the last year, he has played both as an out-and-out forward and as a winger, so it’s important for him to settle on one position and work on that. An extra year with Reims could be good enough to do just that. There is plenty of potential in him to develop into a great attacking player, but there are a few tweaks and adjustments he needs to make to get to a high level.

Often compared to Robin van Persie for his precision with his left foot, he also needs to work on his speed and movement in the final third. He is young, he has plenty of time and he has shown what he can do over the last 12 months. Now, the next 12 need to be used on improving, not staying still and showing the desire to better himself, whether that’s in France with Reims or elsewhere in the country or across Europe.

MAXIME MOSTLY COVERS FRENCH FOOTBALL. HE IS THE HEAD OF CONTENT FOR ULTIMO DIEZ

CHRISTIAN PULISIC

20 / USA / CHELSEA
BY MICHAEL GALLWEY

Whenever a player moves for a significant transfer sum, especially to replace a star player, there is considerable pressure on their shoulders. For American Christian Pulisic, there seems to be an elevated sense of pressure, from being the bright young American hope to replacing fan-favourite Eden Hazard.

Pulisic

The young American has long been seen as the future of Borussia Dortmund, the possible heir apparent to Marco Reus as the star man on the banks of the Ruhr. His record-breaking appearances in Dortmund colours endeared him to the fans, but, as so often in football, his form stagnated, and he was usurped from his spot by the emergence of Jadon Sancho.

Despite scoring seven and assisting six goals in thirty total appearances last season, Pulisic gradually found himself being played out on the wings, rather than in his preferred number 10 role. His undoubted ability meant he was able to still perform well, earning a £58million move to Chelsea for the new season.

Brought in as the potential replacement to Hazard could be the best move that the American could have made, with Hazard often being given a license to roam into the centre of the pitch. Whilst the system which new manager Frank Lampard chooses to operate is as yet unclear, utilising Pulisic in the number 10 role behind a striker could unleash his true potential.

A player blessed with pace, power and a bag full of skills, the American could set the Premier League alight during the upcoming season, showing why many had him tipped to be one of the leading players in the future of football. If Chelsea can stick with a manager and system long enough, Pulisic may well have found the perfect fit.

MICHAEL IS A EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WRITER. HE HAS FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE ONSIDE VIEW, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND ANALYST FOOTY. HE IS ALSO A FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE

SÉBASTIEN HALLER

25 / FRANCE / WEST HAM UNITED
BY LUKE OSMAN

Eintracht Frankfurt enjoyed a campaign that far exceeded expectations last term. Adi Hütter’s men impressed in the Europa League and emerged as one of the Bundesliga’s most entertaining outfits.

HallerBuilt from the foundations of a strong defensive unit, dynamic wide players and lethal attacking prowess, they were a force to be reckoned with. Much of the acclaim was apportioned to the excellent Luka Jović, who completed a €60 million switch to Real Madrid after plundering 27 goals in all competitions for his side. 

Left somewhat in the Serbian’s shadow, however, was Sébastien Haller – the perfect foil for his younger strike partner and an equally crucial cog in Hütter’s eye-catching tactical system. The Frenchman may not have been as proficient as Jovic in front of goal, but his role in the Eintracht team was indispensable.

The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in all competitions, contributing with a further 12 assists, as his selfless style enabled the players around him to thrive. Haller flourishes in a multitude of tactical approaches; the former FC Utrecht striker can hold the ball up, meet crosses well, and also contribute to build-up play.

His finishing improved under the tutelage of Hütter, and he quickly struck up an almost telepathic relationship with Jović and Ante Rebić at times last season. He drags defenders away with his movement and creates space, affording teammates time to disguise passes and make penetrative runs.

Once likened by Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovač to a ‘bulldozer’, Haller will need to channel his ruthless streak next season, as he will be playing his football in the Premier League.

West Ham United wrapped up a £45 million deal for the striker, who will test himself in English football for the first time. Haller becomes the Hammers’ club-record signing and will lead the line, replacing the departed Marko Arnautović.

Haller could have arguably even pursued a bigger move. However, as he prepares for the biggest season of his career to date, he will hope to drive West Ham through an exciting campaign and perhaps earn a senior France call-up while doing so.

LUKE IS THE FOOTBALL CONTENT EXECUTIVE FOR FRESH PRESS UK. HE HAS ALSO FEATURED ON VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND BREAKING THE LINES. 

FYODOR CHALOV

21 / RUSSIA / CSKA MOSCOW
BY BRAD JONES

Given his track record, there’s no doubting that CSKA Moscow and Russia have a real gem in 21-year-old Fyodor Chalov, one that could only be described as a rough diamond. Whilst his quality is there for all to see, he isn’t quite the finished article just yet and his protection is paramount over the next year or two in order to maximise his potential.

Chalov

The Russian has had a lot of success over the last season, winning the Golden Boot with 15 goals as well as third-most assists in the league with seven, but he hasn’t set the world alight. Nevertheless, the customary high-scoring starlet spotlight has emerged, and with that, some of Europe’s biggest clubs are showing an interest. To move to one of Europe’s top five leagues so soon would be a risk for sure, and whilst he certainly shows glimpses of readiness for the step up, another year at the same level would be ideal for his development.

This isn’t to say he’ll never be good enough by any means, Chalov’s predatory instincts and ability to execute in front of goal are superb, his intricate link-up play and off-the-ball movement is intelligent, however, it’s his decision-making on the ball and dribbling ineptitude that tends to let him down.

To categorise his pros and cons, it is instinctive, subconscious situations where he thrives whereas time to think and pick a pass, take a player on or go for goal can be his downfall. For a striker of his age that’s exactly what you want, the ability to instinctively read a situation as a ‘right-place-right-time’ forward comes naturally and is difficult to perfect without the presence of mind but the rest can be worked on and adapted over time.

Russia, for one, could well have filled a void that they have been longing for decades over with Chalov. His club career also promises to be intriguing to say the least, particularly if the next couple of years are handled correctly.

BRAD IS THE CO-CREATOR OF 152FOOTBALL. HE IS ALSO A CONTRIBUTOR TO FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE

FRED

26 / BRAZIL / MANCHESTER UNITED
BY RYAN QUINN

Much like his club side, Fred has a point to prove following what was a quiet first season in English football, after having impressed in Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk.

Manchester United need to add depth to their midfield. Signings need to be made, but with other teams being linked to Bruno Fernandes, more focus on Paulo Dybala and time running out in the transfer window, a new midfield addition seems less likely. As a result, Fred could potentially have a bigger part to play than last season.

Fred

Not blessed with a large number of options in central midfield (the 6 and 8 roles), Fred played both as and alongside the deepest midfielder for United last season. But, what was Fred’s more suited role? As an 8, Fred was able to carry possession and offer positional cover the wide forward, but as a 6, Fred was able to distribute from deep and allow Scott McTominay, for example, to press opposition midfielders high up the pitch. But, whilst technical, Fred was often pressed tightly and is less defensive-minded than other options. The same could be said for Andreas Pereira, another technical midfielder who played as a 6 last season.

It does seem that this season United could be playing a flexible 4-2-3-1 adopted in pre-season. Could Fred play in a double pivot alongside McTominay, if Paul Pogba plays further forward? A 4-diamond-2 is also on the cards, which would suit the aforementioned Dybala, too.

RYAN IS THE CREATOR OF THE CONVENTIONAL PLAYMAKER.