FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART THREE: YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE

Part three looks at a mix of younger players from across Europe that will look to break through.

BRUNO FERNANDES

24 / PORTUGAL / SPORTING
BY RUI MIGUEL MARTINS

The 24-year-old Portuguese international, Bruno Fernandes, has been the best player in his domestic league for the last two years, amassing 31 goals and 23 assists in that time. Fernandes certainly took a long road to get here.

Fernandes

After realizing at 18 his club at the time Boavista would not give him much of an opportunity to reach the top, Fernandes took off to Novara in Italy. After helping them to Serie A in 2013, he moved onto Udinese and Sampdoria, where he distinguished himself.

In that time, he became a permanent member of Portugal’s youth squads, even captaining the U21 side. He moved to Sporting CP in the summer in the summer of 2017. Fernandes made his senior international debut with Portugal a few months later and appeared at the World Cup in Russia last summer and has amassed 13 caps so far.

He is widely expected to leave Portugal this summer, with the Premier League being his most likely destination, unsurprisingly because he is often compared with Frank Lampard. Ole Gunnar Solskjær is said to be an admirer of the midfielder, with a deal possibly coming soon to take the creative player to England and join Manchester United.

Bruno Fernandes 18-19

RUI IS A FREELANCE FOOTBALL WRITER BASED IN TORONTO, CANADA. HE LIKES TO WRITE ABOUT THE PRIMEIRA LIGA AND THE PORTUGUESE NATIONAL TEAM. HIS WRITING CREDITS INCLUDE PORTUGOAL, THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW, OUTSIDE OF THE BOOT AND BACK PAGE FOOTBALL.

CLÀUDIA PINA

17 / SPAIN / BARCELONA
BY GABRIELE ANELLO

The rise of the Spanish women’s national team has been evident in the last five years. First the 2015 World Cup, then the 2017 Euros and at the recent World Cup, they put on a few strong challenges, especially against the eventual champions, the United States of America, who had to overcome a tough hurdle in the Round of 16.

Pina

This is a good sign for Spain since they faced the best of the competition and they stood up in a proper way to compete. But the generation who brought Spanish women’s football movement to this point isn’t getting younger. Luckily for Spain, the youth representatives have been outstanding lately.

Especially in Europe, Spain are the two-time defending champions of the U19 Euros, a title which they’ve defended in the last tournament, which recently finished in Scotland. Among the kids in this competition, there was Clàudia Pina. She might indeed be a star in the future for Spain, the player who will take women’s football forward.

She was playing futsal while discovered by Espanyol in the early 2010s. Born in a small town on the Catalan seaside, Pina stayed two years with Espanyol before joining the other side of Barcelona. With the Infantil-Alevín section of Barcelona, Pina scored a monstrous amount of goals (100 in just 20 games). Her rise was so fast, she quickly reached the first squad, debuting at only 16-years-old (the record for the youngest player to ever feature for Barcelona’s senior team).

With Spain, it was no different. She played a solid role in helping Spain finish in third place at the 2016 U17 World Cup, then to the final of 2017 U17 Euros and lastly at the 2018 U19 World Cup, where she was the key-player, scoring a brace in the final. All of this happened with her trademark skills: spacial awareness, a poachers’ instinct, dribbling and solid display with both feet.

What’s to expect from 2019-20? Everything, basically. She might get a call-up from the Spain senior squad in the 2021 European Championships’ qualifying campaign. She might even join Barcelona’s first squad permanently. This could be a great year for her, despite being just 17-years-old.

GABRIELE IS A FOOTBALL WRITER WORKING WITH DAZN GLOBAL. HE HAS A KEEN AFFINITY TOWARDS JAPANESE FOOTBALL. HE HAS ALSO PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE.

REINIER JESUS

17 / BRAZIL / FLAMENGO
BY JOE DOWNES

Chased by some of Europe’s elite clubs, Reinier Jesus is yet another attacking prodigy to emerge from Flamengo’s ranks; you should have heard about him, if you haven’t, you have now.

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At just 17 years of age, Reinier has attracted interest from Real Madrid, AC Milan, Manchester City, and Everton; something strikes us as somewhat familiar here, Everton interested in a young Brazilian attacker who came through Flamengo…

Born in 2002, he already captains the Brazilian U17 side, playing for them on nine occasions, scoring five. A strong dribbler with a lethal burst of pace, paired with an impressive passing range paints the picture of a potentially elite playmaker or shadow striker.

When receiving the ball in attacking phases, Reinier controls the ball with his stronger right foot, driving forward to get a shot on goal. His need for shooting is perhaps his biggest weakness – should he make a move to Europe, he’ll need to develop his finishing with both feet, as well as his composure in front of goal.

In addition to his attacking prowess, when his team lose possession, he doesn’t fail to counter-press on the transition and win possession back high up the pitch before the opposition can form an attack.

Looming ahead of Reinier is a crucial season. Can he maintain his impressive numbers and continue to put in top-level performances when given more minutes? If he is to make a move, can he impress at academy level and continue his progression whilst remaining patient for a first-team opportunity?

We back the young Brazilian to keep impressing under whoever is coaching him, his flair and unique skillset will shine no matter what challenges face him, and his untapped potential will take him to the top of the game if utilised by the correct coach.

JOE IS A FOOTBALL WRITER THAT HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE SCOUTED HUB, RADIO FOOTBALL AND LFC TRANSFER ROOM.

SANDRO TONALI

19 / ITALY / BRESCIA
BY LUKE OSMAN

Brescia will be playing Serie A football next season for the first time since they finished 19th in 2010/11. Eugenio Corini led his side to promotion from Serie B, and a key reason behind their success was the vivacious Sandro Tonali in midfield.

Tonali

The promising youngster is catching the eye of many. Operating as a deep-lying midfielder, he sprays passes with grandeur and mesmerising vision. Comparisons with legendary Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo were bound to surface given Tonali’s long, dark locks, but they certainly resonate with a particular style of play.

Such was the extent of the midfielder’s progression last season, he was rewarded with a call-up to the senior Italy squad. This recognition raised eyebrows for two primary reasons: Tonali had not yet featured for the Under-21 team, and he was not playing in a top league.

His immediate rise to prominence, however, is not surprising. He is wise beyond his years and displays impressive positional intelligence, occupying space cleverly and customarily presenting himself as an option to his teammates.

Tonali has both the capacity to play as a quintessential
regista because of his phenomenal passing range, but also as a more combative midfielder. While his strength undoubtedly lies in dismantling teams with penetrative passes, he is tenacious off the ball – perhaps this is inspired by Gennaro Gattuso, whom the Brescia youngster is believed to idolise.

There are few deficiencies in Tonali’s skillset, but at 19-years-old, improvement is possible. He does lack natural pace and power, and if he can sharpen himself physically, he could adapt more seamlessly to the wider role that Corini has deployed him in during transient spells. His shooting is by no means poor, either, but adding goals to his game will help him become the complete package.

The next step for Tonali is stepping up in a top league. He has the makings of a phenomenal midfielder, but he is extremely young. What is certain, though, is that he will undoubtedly be crucial for Brescia – should they manage to keep hold of him – upon their return to Serie A.

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. 

LASSINA TRAORÉ

18 / BURKINA FASO / AJAX
BY JELMER JAGER

At the end of last season, Lassina Traoré made his official first-team debut for Ajax. A few minutes later, he almost scored his first goal but hit the crossbar. For the upcoming season, he is definitely someone to look out for!

Traore

Traoré grew up in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second-largest city in Burkina Faso. He started to play football  on the streets, similar to many children. Soon, he earned his place in the youth academy of Rahimo FC, one of the biggest clubs in Burkina Faso. He played there for about six years, after which he made the step to Ajax Cape Town. Ajax scouted the Burkinese at an early stage and then let him play in the youth academy of Ajax Cape Town.

At the age of 16, he had already made a big impression in the U19s and later on also in the U21s.  He also came to De Toekomst a few times on trial. 12 January 2019 marked his 18th birthday, and since that day he officially called himself an Ajacied. Finally, his transfer was officially announced after having played at Cape Town for one-and-a-half year.

Traoré, who is a relative of former Ajax’ and Chelsea’s Bertrand Traoré, joined the Ajax U21s in January 2019. The 18-year-old striker impressed a lot. In 14 matches, he scored eight goals and assisted three. His physique is impressive. In addition to his strength, he is fast, dribbles well, is good in the short combinations, is a great target man and can shoot with power. He wants to improve his reactions and handling speed, the timing on his runs and he wants to get more used to the Ajax style of play.

Traoré has already made a really good impression with the Ajax U21s and the first-team training sessions. He works very hard and is eager to learn. Klaas Jan Huntelaar is one of his competitors, but also a very good mentor for him.

If Traoré can develop further, he can easily get more used of the Ajax style of play and will get a chance in the first team for sure. The Burkinese is slowly coming closer to the first team and is, therefore, someone to keep a close eye on. Partially due to the age of Huntelaar and the precarious and injury-prone Dolberg, there are certainly opportunities coming for him.

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.

ALBAN LAFONT

20 / FRANCE / FC NANTES
BY MOUHAMAD RACHINI

It’s hard to believe that Alban Lafont is only 20-years-old, given the number of seasons he has spent playing first division football. He made his professional debut with Toulouse in 2015 as a 16-year-old, becoming the youngest goalkeeper to feature in a Ligue 1 match. He would finish the 2015-16 season with 24 appearances and would add 82 more appearances to his CV by the end of the 2017-18 season.

Lafont

He amassed over 100 appearances — all as a teenager — and his performances caught the eyes of Fiorentina, who signed the Burkina Faso-born Frenchman to a five-year deal.

Lafont’s 2018-19 did not go as he would’ve hoped, though. Despite appearing in 38 matches, including 34 in the Serie A, Lafont failed to make a positive impact. Fiorentina finished 16th in the league, their worst finish since the 2004-05 season.

Lafont, despite being touted as the best French goalkeeper prospect in the world, never settled in. Sure, he did deliver some incredible, gravity-defying stops. But for every great save, there was a cross that was spilled, a rebound punched into a terrible territory, or a ball stripped off of his overconfident feet.

A string of high-profile errors stained any cloud of admiration he had built, and the mistakes bled into the summer. France were eliminated from the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup after Lafont failed to control an American shot in the tournament’s round of 16 stage.

Lafont now finds himself back in France with Nantes. The Canaries, forced to look for a new goalkeeper following the departure of Ciprian Tătărușanu, signed Lafont to a loan deal with an option to buy. It more than likely spells the end of Lafont’s short Fiorentina tenure, but it gives him a chance to fix his mistakes in a setting he feels comfortable in.

Twenty is far from an age where one must start worrying about a goalkeeper’s potential, so this is far from the end of his career. A move back to France is the perfect next step for Lafont, and it’ll be interesting seeing how his 2019-20 season shapes up now that he has returned home.

MOUHAMAD RACHINI IS A SOCCER JOURNALIST WHO TENDS TO COVER GOALKEEPERS. HE IS THE FOUNDER OF THE BETWEEN THE STICKS BLOG AND THE KOORA TV YOUTUBE CHANNEL. HE IS CURRENTLY BASED IN TORONTO, CANADA. 

YEFERSON SOTELDO

22 / VENEZUELA / SANTOS
BY MARISSA BLACKMAN

Yeferson Soteldo was 16-years-old when he played his first professional match. Since then, he has played for four different clubs, the latest of which is Santos in Brazil. Counting domestic cups, the 22-year-old Venezuelan winger has scored 37 goals for his collective clubs and three goals for his country.

Soteldo

In 2015, Soteldo led his first professional club, Zamora FC, to a Primera Division title, and he scored 12 times that season. By 2017, Soteldo had already established himself as a desirable asset to any team, and Huachipato of Chile signed him for 1.5 million. He did not receive much playing with the Chilean club, and he was sent to Universidad de Chile for a $1.5 million season-long loan. At that team, he earned more playing time, and was able to achieve statistics similar to his days with Zamora FC before his move to Brazil.

Soteldo is enthralling to watch. He is a dynamic player who moves fast and constantly creates chances. He tends to win the hearts of fans everywhere he goes with his knack for scoring in rivalries and high-stakes matches. In the past year, Soteldo has been rumored to be signing for both FC Dallas and Atlanta United.

According to Gazeta Esportiva, Santos’ President, Jose Peres, says that he would not let go of Soteldo for less than for 50 million. Although he is only 22, his career is missing longevity. With the exception of Zamora, he hasn’t remained with any club for very long. He fits the Santos system well, however.

If he can make a meaningful long-term impact with Santos, he can establish himself even further as the kind of player who other teams would pay for 50 million for. Staying with Santos for the long term with prove that Yeferson Soteldo is more than just a hot topic.

MARISSA IS THE CREATOR OF SIDELINE SHINDIG. SHE HAS ALSO PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HER WORK HERE.

JOSIP ILIČIĆ

31 / SLOVENIA / ATALANTA
BY MAXI ANGELO

The people that have followed Serie A for a long time have known about the magical footballing abilities Josip Iličić possess. But what they also know is that he’s perhaps one of the players who historically struggle the most with inconsistency in the league.

Ilicic

This season, however, Iličić was an instrumental part of Atalanta reaching the Champions League for the first time in their history. He delivered with consistency throughout big parts of the season, perhaps even keeping up that good form throughout the season. His unpredictability on the ball, his mesmerizing technique and the threat he possesses in the final third makes him an amazing asset to any team.

Iličić managed to score 13 goals and record nine assists this season for Atalanta. He also had his best points-per-game ratio ever with 1.90 points per 90 minutes. Even in the games where he didn’t record any points, he was a key component to Atalanta’s offensive functioning. He sometimes mantled a role of bridging the front three and midfield. If he didn’t do that he was still an immense threat going forward.

Why I think it’s important for him to step up next season is because the stakes for Atalanta are bigger. They now find themselves in the Champions League and are even more dependent on consistent delivery from players like Iličić, Duvan Zapata and Papu Gomez.

By finishing fourth last season, they also have bigger expectations on them domestically in Serie A, which is a status they themselves want to maintain and cement for the future. Iličić also needs to step up for personal reasons; to finally be that top player he can be instead of being “the mid-table Messi” which he sometimes is called in the Serie A community.

MAXI IS A SWEDISH-ITALIAN JOURNALISM STUDENT AND FOOTBALL WRITER. A LOVER OF ALL FOOTBALL LEAGUES, HIS MAIN AREA OF EXPERTISE IS SERIE A. HE HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS BREAKING THE LINES, SEMPRE MILAN AND LFC TRANSFER ROOM.

RYAN KENT

22 / ENGLAND / LIVERPOOL
BY DOMINIC JOSÉ BISOGNO

Coming into the 2018/19 season, Ryan Kent had found his three recent loans from Liverpool to Bristol City, SC Freiburg, and Barnsley all fall flat. The last was the only to give the English winger more than 11 appearances and his more recent loans Bristol City and SC Freiburg had left many Liverpool supporters unsure of what to think of the otherwise highly anticipated talent.

Kent

A new stage in Kent’s journey, however, would come when he joined Steven Gerrard at Rangers in the midst of a hopeful revolution by the Liverpool legend. Kent would register 43 appearances between the league, Europa League, and domestic cup action, registering six goals and nine assists. On top of his numbers, Kent’s intense and energetic play brought attention from Rangers and Liverpool supporters who had previously been unsure of how to take the youngster’s loan.

The 2018/19 season, however, would not be a complete fairytale for Kent, who missed several league and European fixtures due to a hamstring injury before seeing his side fail to win any silverware from either, in addition to not making either domestic cup finals. While Gerrard’s arrival at Rangers did not achieve its highest of goals, there is certainly time for things to grow and Kent may be a part of that if Liverpool are convinced to re-loan or sell him to the club. It is currently not clear where the club plan to send Kent, though it doesn’t seem there is any intent on bringing him into the squad for the next Premier League season.

With some real buzz finally back in his grasp, Kent will need to follow up the 2018/19 season with a strong 2019/20 campaign, wherever he may be. A good season could finally rid him of poor stints in the championship and Bundesliga, but a drop of form or further injury struggles may prove all it takes for pessimism to return like a cloud over the 22-year-old’s future.

DOMINIC IS A FOOTBALL WRITER THAT HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS BREAKING THE LINES AND FOOTBALL PARADISE. HE MAINLY FOCUSES ON VENEZUELAN FOOTBALL. HE HAS ALSO PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE – YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK HERE