FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART FIVE: TALENT ACROSS EUROPE

Part five looks at nine players across Europe's top leagues who may have a key role in the upcoming season.

NICOLÒ BARELLA

22 / ITALY / INTERNAZIONALE
BY KAUSTUBH PANDEY

It seems fairly obvious why Antonio Conte has signed Nicolò Barella at Inter as he gears up to use a trademark 3-5-2 shape at the San Siro from the next season. Barella represents what Arturo Vidal was to Conte’s Juventus from the days gone by – a workhorse, no-nonsense ball winner and someone who would carry the ball forward with purpose.

Barella

Having seen Barella carefully for how he was for Cagliari over the past two seasons, Conte would have found similarities in his ways and the approach that Vidal takes. While the Chilean is more ferocious and relies more on a breakneck engine, Barella is blessed with more technical ability on the ball than Vidal.

Under current boss Rolando Maran, Cagliari have played a flat back four well more often than playing a 3-5-2 formation. But Barella’s role is defined regardless of what shape they play. The team relies on his ability to win the ball back and circulate it forward neatly or dribble with it to watch the opposition napping.

In the 4-3-1-2 shape that Maran predominantly played, Barella played as a box to box midfielder who took the burden off Artur Ionita, who played as a number ten behind the towering Leonardo Pavoletti and Joao Pedro. This allowed Barella to make the most of his strengths as he recycled the ball forward once it was won back in the deeper areas.

Roberto Mancini used Barella more as an attacking midfielder and played him alongside Marco Verratti and Jorginho – two sitting midfielders. He impressed on his debut and nearly scored a goal or two in the 1-1 draw. It was reminiscent of the 2017-18 campaign with Cagliari, when he played in that position multiple times and scored six times that season.

As things stand, the initial loan move to Inter seems a one that Barella really deserved for how much he has grown in stature over the last two seasons. His completeness as a player and the comparisons to players like Steven Gerrard (at his lung-bursting prime) have added to the hype for someone who was one of the stars for the Italy U21s side in the recently concluded U21 European Championships.

While Stefano Sensi has been signed on an initial loan deal from Sassuolo, the midfielder will essentially be second fiddle to Marcelo Brozovic in midfield. Barella will be the undisputed second midfielder who will join the dots for the side in the heart of the park.

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.

SARA DÄBRITZ

24 / GERMANY / PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
BY GIANLUCA LIA

The 24-year-old midfielder, Sara Däbritz, excelled with Germany during the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, which was disappointing for her nation as they were dumped out by Sweden in the quarter-finals while they lost the opportunity to defend their Olympic title next year.

Dabritz

Däbritz will be starting a new chapter in her footballing career next season as she joins Paris Saint-Germain from Bayern Munich, with whom she played since 2015. Personally, I feel that the German is one of the most underrated players in the women’s game. Her tactical astuteness and football knowledge are the features that make her a very notable player, with her brain being her favourite muscle.

Moreover, this enables her to be on the scoresheet several times having scored 39 times for Bayern during her spell there – she can run in the space and anticipate every move of her opponent which puts her in the right place at the right time.

Däbritz is an Olympic gold medalist, a European champion, a U20 world champion and a U17 European champion – a proper winner which PSG need to enhance their midfield department and challenge giants Lyon on both the domestic and the European scene. PSG are looking to dominate the women’s scene, and Däbritz is a solid player to have on their side.

GIANLUCA IS THE MEDIA OFFICER AT THE MALTA FA WOMEN’S DEPARTMENT AND SPORTS REPORTER AT THE TIMES OF MALTA. HE ALSO CONTRIBUTES TO INTERNATIONAL PLATFORMS SUCH AS SB NATION AND VAVEL.

TAKEHIRO TOMIYASU

20 / JAPAN / BOLOGNA
BY GABRIELE ANELLO

From an underground gem to a solid profile being scouted by many European observers: Takehiro Tomiyasu’s 2018-19 was proof of how you can grow in silence and away from the hype. After being developed by Avispa Fukuoka between J1 and J2 League in Japan, he moved to Sint-Truiden in January 2018, a Belgian club owned by a Japanese company, DMM.

Tomiyasu

His rise through the Belgian league was evident and many scouts were already watching him before the Asian Cup (Werder Bremen made the first attempt, but it didn’t work out), where he had been among the best players in the competition. Called up by Japan for the 2019 Copa América, his stock was constantly on the rise and that prompted Bologna to make a move for him.

As a young child, he dreamt of being a professional footballer and playing in Spain, and in the way he’s going, it may well be possible. Tomiyasu needs to carry on doing what he is already doing, having shown great potential in recent months.

Technically, he can still improve, but it must not be forgotten that he is still only 20-years-old and his decision-making in that position is extraordinary. He will have to fight for his place in the team, with new signings such as Stefano Denswil and Mattia Bani competing with the Japanese but looking at the price paid for the centre-half, it does seem likely that Tomiyasu will feature heavily in the first team.

Tomiyasu will be the first Japanese in Serie A since Keisuke Honda. The comparison can’t stand for now and the centre-back has to be as effective as possible in a delicate role in a mid-table team. It won’t be easy, but his calm and solid skills should provide a nice rise to watch.

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.

MATTIA PERIN

26 / ITALY / JUVENTUS
BY ROBERTO GROSSO

There was a point in time when Mattia Perin had the entire peninsula gushing over his prowess inside the 18-yard area. The hot topic of conversation in the always-present debate of who will be Italy’s ‘next Buffon’. In his five seasons at Genoa, it was hard to argue against the natural talent blossoming on the pitch week after week.

Perin

Gifted with extraordinary reflexes and swift footwork, the moppy-haired shot-stopper exhibited an unlimited dose of courage commanding the area. A contagious personality that set him apart from his peers.

Unfortunately for Perin, the one thing he couldn’t stop was the revolving door of injuries constantly halting the momentum he built for himself.

A total of 18 months of missed action since 2015. Back-to-back knee surgeries were enough to derail the career of any athlete, let alone an explosive goalkeeper. Questions began to surface if Perin risked becoming a “what if” case in Italian football. His stock may have taken a blow but once he received the green light to return in the 2017-18 season, he answered back by posting a career-high 12 clean sheets in 37 appearances – his best since the 2013-14 Serie A season in Liguria.

Finding himself at the heart of transfer rumors again last summer, it suddenly became a ‘now-or-never’ moment for the 26-year old. Keep hold of his comfortable position with the Grifone or finally make the leap to a bigger club in search of silverware & Champions League football. Switching allegiances in a £12 million transfer to Juventus, the Latina-native had the intent of pushing Wojciech Szczęsny for the coveted starting role.

Unfortunately, despite promising performances on their pre-season tour, Perin was forced to settle for the unfamiliar position as a back-up. A total of 810 in nine Serie A games and not a single Champions League appearance summed up a disappointing campaign.

Next season could become yet another long stay on the sidelines, however, it would not be out of the question for Perin to cut short his time with the Bianconeri. If he wishes to re-emerge in the national team picture, there is no other solution but to find regular playing time. With clubs such as Roma ready to start over in their goalkeeper search, the opportunity could be there for him to get his career back on the right track.

ROBERTO IS A GOALKEEPER COACH, CALCIO WRITER AND ITALIAN FOOTBALL ROMANTIC. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS LIKE THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND THE GENTLEMAN ULTRA.

IÑAKI WILLIAMS

25 / SPAIN / ATHLETIC CLUB
BY RYAN PLANT

It is easy to forget that Iñaki Williams is only 25 years old. His Athletic Club debut in December 2014 feels like a long time ago. His bow came as the result of an injury to Aritz Aduriz. Over 200 appearances later, it is now his job to replace the 38-year-old.

Inaki

He scored a career-best 12 LaLiga goals in 2018-19 and must now continue to improve as Gaizka Garitano’s side look to regain their place in the Europa League. It is important to remember that last season began poorly under Eduardo Berizzo. Garitano, helped by Williams’ goals, pulled Los Leones from relegation danger to European qualification contention before dropping to eighth.

Athletic’s Cantera policy, which sees only players with ties to the Basque region eligible, means Williams is likely to remain as Garitano’s premier forward as he approaches 30. He is already an eminent club luminary. His goal against Torino in the Europa League in February 2015 made him the first black player to score for the club, and he is one of only five Athletic players to make 100 consecutive appearances.

Williams is tall, yet agile, and quick and strong, and able to play on either flank or as a central striker, where he is likely to be employed for the foreseeable future. His second of two goals in a 2-0 win against Sevilla in January evidenced his qualities. He passed the challenges of Sergi Gómez and Quincy Promes in his own half, before rounding Tomáš Vaclík to finish.

Alarmists will allude to a curious statistic which ended that night: he had gone 41 appearances at San Mamés, a run stretching from December 2016 to January of this year, without scoring. Therein lies a basal truth: his finishing must be improved, particularly using his weaker left foot.

If he is to add to his solitary Spain cap, and if Athletic are to reach the Europa League, a similarly barren run cannot be repeated. It is true that he is already one of Garitano’s key players, but more consistency will see him worth his €80 million release clause.

RYAN IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT PRODUCER FOR LIVEWIRE SPORT. HE HAS ALSO FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND THE GUARDIAN. YOU CAN FIND HIS WORK ON FOOTBALL CHRONICLE HERE

JOSH CULLEN

23 / IRELAND / CHARLTON ATHLETIC
BY DANNY LEWIS

Having gone out on loan three times, making an impact during every one of them, it would have been ideal to suggest that now was Josh Cullen’s time to make an impact as West Ham United. Instead, perhaps due to the busy summer in the transfer market, Cullen will be returning to Charlton for the fourth loan spell of his career.

He goes into this campaign having put in the cross that earned Charlton Athletic promotion to the Championship, before being selected for the Republic of Ireland’s national squad.

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The 23-year-old is now approaching the stage where he will no longer be regarded as a youngster, so if he is going to make it at London Stadium in the future, it will likely need to be in the next few years. Though the fact he hasn’t been involved in the Hammers’ first-team is arguably through no fault of his own, as he has impressed throughout his loan spells and in the youth ranks.

His individual awards to date include the Dylan Tombides Award (for being West Ham’s best academy player) in 2014 and Republic of Ireland U21 Player of the Year in 2018 but getting games in a claret and blue shirt after the spell away would likely be reward enough for his efforts this time around.

His style has been compared to Mark Noble by some, as he is combative in midfield. He also has the passing ability to keep play ticking over and move his team up the pitch.

Cullen is on the cusp of breaking into the first-team squad for his country, but minutes on the pitch for his parent club seem unlikely; he now needs to take the opportunities at Charlton and step up his game to prove himself to those at the London Stadium.

DANNY IS A FOOTBALL WRITER WHO’S WORK HAS FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS NO PLACE LIKE HOME, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES AND FOOTBALL PARADISE. 

LUCAS ALARIO

26 / ARGENTINA / BAYER LEVERKUSEN
BY SIVAN JOHN

When Marcelo Gallardo brought Lucas Alario from Colón to River Plate in 2015, he knew what he was looking for in the 6’1” forward. He wanted a player that had an element of decisiveness to his game and Alario was the perfect player.

Alario

Alario’s immediate contribution was to help River Plate win their first Copa Libertadores title in 20 years. Some of his goals and assists came in the most pivotal moment. By now, it was pretty obvious that there is only one way his career is going to project and that is upwards.

While his numbers may not look pretty for a striker, make no mistake that there a lot more to his game. His height and built fused with his smooth and suaveness movement makes him a dangerous player inside the penalty box. To add the cherry on the icing, he is also a player that could manoeuvre well and helping creating chances for his teammates.

A call up to play for Argentina and of course, a move to Europe was only a matter of time. By 2017, he had accomplished just that. I was privileged enough to watch him playing for the Albiceleste in a friendly against Singapore, in which he scored.

A few months later, Alario would go on to sign for Bayer Leverkusen. While his two years in Germany hasn’t really fired up as many would have expected. Alario has spent a great deal of time on the bench. Last season, he only made 11 starts out of 27 appearances.

He has lived up to his clutch forte by scoring in wins over the likes of Bayern Munich, Augsburg and Nürnberg when called upon. His total tally of nine goals includes a hat-trick against Hertha Berlin on the last day of the season and also two goals at home to Eintracht Frankfurt two weeks before that, thus, wrapping up his second season on a high note.

There will be expectations from him to take his game to another level that is provided he stays in Germany for another term. Otherwise, a move elsewhere in search of game time could be imminent.

SIVAN IS A WRITER WHOSE WORK HAS FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MUNDO ALBICELESTE, THESE FOOTBALL TIMES, IN BED WITH MARADONA AND MORE. HE IS AN AVID FAN OF HUDDERSFIELD TOWN AND THE ARGENTINE NATIONAL TEAM.

CARLES ALEÑA

21 / SPAIN / BARCELONA
BY CAMPBELL FINLAYSON

Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy has produced many footballing talents over the years and Carles Aleñá is one of the latest players to make that transition into the Catalan club’s first team.

Alena

Last season saw the 21-year old force his way into the first team squad for almost three quarters of their La Liga matches, making 27 appearances in all competitions. However, his first team debut came way back in November 2016 against Hercules in the Copa del Rey. Three cameo appearances in the league followed but that would be his last taste of La Liga until Jornada 12 of last season. His performances for the ‘B’ side though attracted the attention of Ernesto Valverde who promoted the midfielder into his side and Aleñá hasn’t looked back.

Breaking into a Barcelona midfield that boasts the likes of Ivan Rakitić and Sergio Busquets is far from an easy task, but he did so successfully last season and with his goals against Villarreal and Alaves, Aleñá made a case for even more minutes next season. Boss Valverde spoke highly of the youngster after that game against Alaves, saying: “He is a player who gets into great positions and has a good shot. He’s a midfielder who can organise play, he can turn, he creates. He played a great game and I’m very happy for him.”

It’s clear that the local lad has a bright future ahead of him and he will be given chances at Barca despite the wealth of talent on show at the Camp Nou. The 2019/20 season could be crucial in determining his Barcelona future. If he can continue to get more minutes on the pitch then there is every chance that he could go on to star for the Blaugrana for years to come, but if that isn’t the case, there will surely be a long list of clubs competing for his signature.

CAMPBELL IS A SPORTS JOURNALISM STUDENT AT THE UNIVERISTY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND IN AYR. HE HAS PREVIOUSLY FEATURED ON PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS LALIGA NEWS UK AND MATCH WRITER UP AND HIS WORK CAN CURRENTLY BE FOUND ON VAVEL. WITH A KEEN EY ON FOOTBALL IN SCOTLAND, SPAIN AND FRANCE, HE IS ALSO PART OF THE MEDIA TEAM AT SCOTTISH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL, COVERING THER SWPL.

BOUBACAR KAMARA

19 / FRANCE / MARSEILLE
BY MAXIME VENDRELL

Not yet 20-years-old and already having immense responsibilities on his young shoulders, Boubacar Kamara is set to have a massive season in his career. After completing his first year in a satisfactory fashion from the player’s perspective, Kamara is set to be a prominent figure in the heart of Marseille’s defence next season alongside Duje Ćaleta-Car, while they also have the experience of newly-recruited Alvaro Gonzalez to contend with.

Kamara

Followed by many top clubs around Europe, Kamara would ideally be a hefty purchase, but with Marseille struggling financially, they would be eager to extend his diminishing contract or risk losing him on a free. But that’s something for the future. For now, there will be plenty of eyes on his performances and growth over the next 12 months. Identifying whether he can live up to his potential will be on the minds of many scouts.

Considered as a jewel in Marseille’s defence, Kamara will have to do well in Ligue 1, seeing as they can’t compete on the continental stage next season. Still young, there are a few things to work on: mainly his speed, agility, and concentration over the course of 90 minutes. Should he succeed in these aspects, there is no doubt that he will be considered amongst the best in France and will surely be knocking on the door to be considered amongst the senior set-up for the French national side.

There is an important year incoming for Kamara, and it could shape up where he plays his football in the coming years.

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