FC99 FEATURES

FC99 PART EIGHT: NEW BEGINNINGS

Part eight features a set that will be starting at new clubs, returning from injury or making new strides altogether.

JAYSON MOLUMBY

20 / IRELAND / MILLWALL
BY RONAN MURPHY

“Wow, what a player he’s going to be.” Those were the words of Millwall manager Neil Harris after signing Republic of Ireland Under-21 captain Jayson Molumby on a season-long loan deal from Brighton. The midfielder was fast-tracked into the Ireland U21 setup, taking the armband as a 19-year-old for this summer’s Toulon Tournament where the Boys in Green surprised many by reaching the semi-finals of the competition.

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Molumby’s leadership and hard-working performances in the middle of the park were crucial to Ireland’s success. After shining internationally, he’s now looking to make similar progress at club level. The Waterford native has only a couple of EFL Cup games to his name at senior level to date but will be given more opportunities this season after moving to Championship club Millwall on loan.

Molumby probably would have much more experience at club level, but saw his early career hindered by injury. After those League Cup games, he was included on Brighton’s bench for a couple of Premier League games but never got the chance to step onto the pitch as a knee injury ruled him out for six months. Following that absence, he returned to training, but it quickly emerged that he would need knee surgery and that kept him sidelined for another eight months. 

Management change at Brighton means that his former boss Chris Hughton has moved on, but his new boss at Millwall is also a huge fan. At international level, U21 boss Stephen Kenny is also a big admirer, which will surely help Molumby’s chances when Kenny makes the step up next year to take over as Ireland’s senior manager.

RONAN IS A JOURNALIST AND SOCIAL PRODUCER FOR GOAL AND HAS A KEEN EYE ON GERMAN AND IRISH FOOTBALL.

ANA TEJADA

17 / SPAIN / REAL SOCIEDAD
BY MICHELE TAYLOR

Last season, when EDF Logroño won promotion, their central defender Ana Tejada created history by becoming the youngest player to play in the Spanish women’s first division. The then 15-year-old isn’t a stranger to setting records. She was the second-youngest player in Spain’s U17 World Cup-winning team in Uruguay late last year. Earlier in May 2018, Tejada won the Women’s U17 Euros with Spain, where she was also selected in the ‘Team of the Tournament’.

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Switching from midfield to center-back, defence has come naturally for Tejada – she feels at home there. It shows on the pitch in her innate sense of where to be at all times. When watching her play, it’s easy to think that she is much older than she actually is, because of her maturity and leadership.

This season, she has signed for Real Sociedad – a contract which will see her at the Basque club until 2023. It’s a significant step for the young player, and a big leap in terms of now being a footballer at a bigger Spanish club. Real Sociedad is showing serious intent to be a more competitive team for this coming season by increasing the team’s budget and support services, as well as strengthening the team with some solid signings – Tejada among them.

Her reference is Barça and Spanish central defender, Mapi León, and her driving goal is to be selected in the Spanish women’s senior team. If Tejada continues on her current trajectory, it won’t be too long before she is team-mates with her idol Mapi. In the meantime, she’ll be an exciting addition to La Real where she will continue to develop and build upon her already solid foundation as a quality player.

MICHELE HAS A KEEN EYE ON SPANISH WOMEN’S FOOTBALL. SHE FEATURES ON THE BARCA TALK PODCAST, COVERING THE WOMEN’S CLUB.

FEDERICO VARELA

23 / ARGENTINA / LEGANÉS
BY BRENDAN BOYLE

One of the shining stars of the Segunda Division last year, Buenos Aires-born Federico Varela has earned a move to the Primera having played a key role in Rayo Majadahonda’s first-ever season in Spain’s second tier. It was the first time Varela was given a consistent starting role in a senior side and he flourished in what was to be a very difficult environment given the resources Rayo had as well as the inevitable mid-season player turnover and, in the end, they were unable to stay afloat in an incredibly competitive division.

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However, Varela embraced the opportunity presented to him and stood out in a number of games against the Segunda’s biggest teams, excelling in the attacking midfielder role. He has arrived from parent club Porto and comparisons could be made to club legend, Deco; he possesses the same languid style, the ability to use dummies and backheels to expose space inside and is brave on the ball – a type of player his current club, Leganes, have lacked since their arrival to the top flight.

Majadahonda lacked quality up front last season and if they only had a decent goalscorer in their ranks, Varela would certainly have amassed more than his five assists. Therefore, playing behind the likes of El-Nesyri and Martin Braithwaite should yield improved numbers in what is, of course, a huge step up in level.

It could be argued that last season, the Argentinean had the ideal coach in Antonio Iriondo, famous for his possession-based philosophy which allowed Varela to be heavily involved in games. Will the 22-year-old find himself in a similar environment at Butarque? Almost certainly not.

One key reservation about his choice of club is that Leganes are perhaps the club least suited to his style of play in the Primera. They are a big, physical, direct team who largely depend on wing play to create goalscoring opportunities and it remains to be seen if coach Mauricio Pellegrino is willing to evolve his tactics to a more possession-based game.

BRENDY IS AN IRISH JOURNALIST LIVING AND WORKING IN MADRID. A SEASON TICKET HOLDER AT ATLÉTICO MADRID AND RAYO MAJADAHONDA, HE COVERS ALL THINGS FOOTBALL IN THE SPANISH CAPITAL, FROM ESTADIO BUTARQUE TO THE WANDA METROPOLITANO.

JOE GOMEZ

22 / ENGLAND / LIVERPOOL
BY RAJ CHOHAN

Poached for a meagre £2.5 million from the Charlton academy at the tender age of 18 after a recommendation from then Liverpool assistant Sean O’Driscoll, Joe Gomez’s rise since has not come without his fair share of challenges.

Gomez

After a promising start playing at LB under Brendan Rodgers, disaster struck as Gomez tore his ACL, just one training session in Jürgen Klopp’s tenure at Anfield. From there, it was a long road back as he missed the rest of the 2015/16 season, before making his comeback to the first team in January 2017. Gomez looked out-of-sorts during the Fourth Round tie against Championship team, Wolves and it had many questioning whether his injury had ended chances of him making it at the top level.

However, Gomez did not give up so easily. 

It was this mental strength which enabled him to force his way back into the Liverpool first-team picture during the 2017/18 season. This time, he got his chance at right-back, rotating with fellow English youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold. Although it was another stint away from his natural position of CB, Gomez still showed his array of talents – comfortable on the ball and showing his intelligent positional sense, he helped the Merseysiders navigate their way to the Champions League quarter-finals with four starts in the competition as well as solidifying their place in the top four 

His drilled passes into the flying Salah were a feature of his play. We were given the clearest insight into Gomez’s vast potential during England’s friendly against Brazil in November 2017. He played in his favoured centre-half position on the right side of a back three, lining up against none other than Neymar, in what was his first-ever start for his country. 

In keeping with the mental fortitude shown during his career thus far, Gomez used a mixture of aggressive front-foot defending and athleticism to ensure Neymar was kept as quiet as you’ll ever see him, even when he isolated Gomez 1v1.

Unfortunately for Gomez, injury disaster struck again late in the 2017/18 season, which meant he missed the Champions League’s latter stages, as well as the World Cup. 

Yet again, Gomez was forced to call upon his reserves of mental resilience. And again he proved he had it in abundance. After an impressive 2018 pre-season, Klopp handed him his first Premier League start in his natural CB position against West Ham. Gomez did not disappoint. 

After shackling Marko Arnautović, he grew from strength-to-strength to nail down a starting spot alongside Van Dijk. Now, many have said that it’s easy for centre-halves to look good alongside the colossal Dutchman, but Gomez went beyond that and actually out-performed and covered for him on several occasions.

But for a third time, Gomez suffered more horrible injury luck. A strong Ben Mee challenge in December resulted in him suffering a lower leg fracture. This led to him making just three more appearances in the season. Gomez’s record with Van DIjk read just four goals conceded in nine league games (0.44 goals per game) – better than both Matip (0.65) and Lovren’s (0.82) partnerships with Van Dijk.

At 22, this season is huge for Gomez. His playing strengths of dribbling and passing the ball out the back, his recovery pace and ability to cover for others alongside his increasing aggression, are clear for all to see. His main area for improvement is simply staying fit. Liverpool need to help make this possible by adequately resting him, as well as limiting his minutes in the more physically demanding right-back position. If this proves successful, Gomez can fulfil his undoubted potential of becoming one of the league’s best defenders.

RAJ IS THE FOUNDER OF PREMIER LEAGUE PANEL – A POPULAR TWITTER FEED COVERING THE BIGGEST HAPPENINGS OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE, FOCUSING ON ALL THE TEAMS IN THE ENGLISH TOP FLIGHT. 

HANY MUKHTAR

24 / GERMANY / BRØNDBY IF
BY TOKE THEILADE

Since his debut for Hertha BSC in 2012, the expectations for Germany’s Hany Mukhtar have been big. He scored the winning goal in the final of the U19 European Championships in 2014, and he also scored a hat-trick at the U20 World Cup in 2015.

Mukhtar

Despite the impressive achievements at youth level, Mukhtar has struggled to establish himself at senior level, where he moved from Hertha to Portugal’s Benfica and later Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, before finally ending up in Denmark at Brøndby in 2016. That turned out to be a match made in heaven.

Mukhtar was fantastic at Brøndby during his first two seasons, which saw the club reach two cup finals (winning one, their first since 2008) and finishing second in the league twice. From his position in offensive midfield, everything went through Mukhtar, who showed himself as a brilliant playmaker able of both scoring and assisting.

Last season though, Mukhtar and Brøndby struggled. The German star was supposed to be a major sale this summer, but because of his poor last season, that seems to have been cancelled. Nobody is ready to match Brøndby’s demands, and the club need Mukhtar to return to relevance in the Danish league.

Mukhtar is going into an interesting season, where he needs to put himself back on the European football map with strong performances. If he manages to do that, he can still reach the greatness he once looked destined to, but if not, there could be a long way back as he bids to re-establish himself to return to one of the top leagues in Europe.

TOKE THEILADE IS A DANISH FOOTBALL WRITER WITH FOCUS ON SCANDINAVIAN AND EASTERN EUROPEAN FOOTBALL. HE WROTE HIS MASTERS’ THESIS ON RACISM IN RUSSIAN FOOTBALL AND HAS FEATURED IN PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS MOSCOW TIMES AND THE BLIZZARD. HE IS ALSO THE FOUNDER OF VILFORTPARK.DK, WHICH HAS A KEEN EYE ON DANISH CLUB, BRØNDBY IF.

CAREL EITING

21 / NETHERLANDS / AJAX
BY DANNY LEWIS

Star players leaving and then being replaced is a key part of the Ajax cycle which has brought them so much success. Frenkie de Jong is among those to depart Amsterdam this summer, so there will be plenty of eyes on the man who takes his position in the team.

Eiting

While Razvan Marin has been bought in, Ajax could look to 21-year-old Carel Eiting to fill the void, having worked his way through De Toekomst. He has the vision and technical ability to break the lines with his passing and can set the tone of Ajax’s play from the middle of the pitch.

Filling this role won’t be alien to the Dutchman, as he did so in the early stages of last season. Look back to Ajax’s Champions League qualifying round ties with Sturm Graz and you’ll find De Jong was being deployed at centre-back, while Eiting was in the role which his Barcelona bound teammate has since vacated.

Eiting suffered a knee injury which kept him out for the majority of last season, but if he stays fit he could make up for lost time and make a real impact for Ajax. If things go well for the youngster, he could be the man dictating Ajax’s play this season, becoming their latest star man to be linked with a European giant.

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

MICKAËL CUISANCE

19 / FRANCE / BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH
BY ABEL MESZAROS

Ever since Borussia Mönchengladbach found then 17-year-old Michaël Cuisance at the U19 team of Nancy and signed him, the term ‘wonderkid’ has been used to describe the French midfielder’s game.

Cuisance

With an amazing footballing IQ, laser-sharp passes, excellent press-resistance and a great left foot, he burst into Gladbach’s team and participated in 26 games, logging close to 1,400 league and cup minutes in 2017-18, earning the unofficial “young Foal to be excited about amidst a meh season” award.

Unfortunately, last season’s switch to a 4-3-3 and the glorious half-season revival under Dieter Hecking claimed him as a victim and he barely cracked the 300-minute mark. He wasn’t even in the 18-man squad on eight occasions and even played in the fourth division for the reserves in October, scoring and assisting in a 2-1 win.

In the two Bundesliga matches where he got extended minutes, Cuisance was part of the Gladbach midfield that got overrun by Hoffenheim in the famous midweek 0-0 that saw Hoffenheim put up 3.93 xG to Gladbach’s 0.58 yet come away without a win.

In the other match, a first-half injury to Jonas Hofmann saw him come on against the counter-attacking and intense pressing of Hertha. Gladbach chased the game and due to horrendous playing structure, they would actually concede the second on a counter after Cuisance was out of options and gave the ball away.

However, with the appointment of the tactically astute Marco Rose, Cuisance could actually be one of the big winners: The ex-Salzburg boss likes to play a 4-1-3-2 diamond in midfield, and he could be an option for one of the number eight spots.

If Rose favors the Hofmann-Zakaria partnership, Cuisance could compete for the 10 spot with last year’s revelation in Florian Neuhaus and the captain Lars Stindl if he gets fit. In two pre-season matches, the Frenchman played in the 10 spot and while he was a step slow in defense\pressing, he was always an option to receive and move the ball even if he had to drop deep to collect it. In addition, he scored a wonderful goal with his right foot.

There is a lot of excitement about the young Foals, as they added Breel Embolo, Marcus Thuram, with Stefan Lainer following his coach from Salzburg. Given the unfortunate injury to Christoph Kramer and Stindl still training individually after a leg break in April, Cuisance could get more playing time and perhaps even nab a starting spot.

Failure to do so could also result in him looking to leave in search of regular playing time, so it’s definitely a make-or-break season for the youngster, who looked impressive in the U20 World Cup in an otherwise disappointing France team.

ABEL IS A BUNDESLIGA EXPERT AND CONTENT CREATOR FOR VARIOUS OUTLETS, INCLUDING SPORT TV OF HUNGARY, WHERE, BESIDES PROVIDING STUDIO ANALYSIS, HE IS ALSO A REGULAR ON A WEEKLY MAGAZINE SHOW. HIS LATEST PROJECT IS THE BUNDESLIGA BULLETIN, A SUBSCRIPTION-BASED NEWSLETTER COVERING GERMAN FOOTBALL.

LUIS ALBERTO

26 / SPAIN / LAZIO
BY MAXI ANGELO

Luis Alberto had a disappointing 2018/19 season contra his exceptional 2017/18 season where he truly made a name for himself. One of Italy’s leading creators never got it to click in the same manner this season as the season before. Twelve goals and 18 assists in 2017/18 became six goals and six assists in the next year.

Alberto

Alberto was a player who looked like he always had his next move decided before even receiving the ball, but this season it looked like he almost panicked at times because he didn’t know what to do when having the ball. His vision for where and when to make those last passes weren’t there in the same manner. In his defense, Lazio, as a team, weren’t as good this season, but as one of the pillars of the offense, Alberto was missed in particular.

Personally, I believe next season will be vital for Luis Alberto to establish himself as the top midfielder that he has the potential to be, instead of being categorized as a one-season wonder. He probably knows that too. He is an important piece for Lazio to function as well as they can.

Alberto has the qualities to be a top-level player. He doesn’t have anything in particular to improve, but he needs to find his rhythm again. With Danilo Cataldi developing nicely and Joaquín Correa making tremendous progress, Alberto’s role at Lazio is in big risk if he doesn’t step up and show who he is and what he’s at Lazio to do. If he doesn’t, not only will he lose his role at Lazio, but the interest around him and his value on the market will decrease in parallel to that as well.

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.

CHE ADAMS

23 / ENGLAND / SOUTHAMPTON
BY HARSH MISHRA

On 1 July, Southampton secured their second summer signing in the form of Che Adams. The ex-Birmingham City forward was said to be on Hasenhuttl’s radar for quite some time, with him even saying, “We’ve been monitoring Adams for some time” and that he “fits the profile of a player Southampton needs.”

Adams

Adams’ move to Southampton comes at the back of a stellar season in the Championship, with 22 goals (xG 18.22) and five assists in 48 appearances. He became the first Birmingham player to score over 20 goals in a season in over 20 years. The goals exceeding the xG values is not new to Adams though, in the two seasons prior to 2018-19, he scored a total of 15 goals against an xG of 12.05. Along with highlighting his quality finishing, his goals from the last season also highlight his ability to unload shots quickly on the turn, his first goal for his new club was also an indication of that.

Adams’ athleticism and pace not only helps him get in behind the defenses, but also allows him to effectively press the opposition high up the pitch, an integral part of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s teams. While he is capable of leading the line on his own, he formed an effective striking partnership with Lukas Jutkiewicz for Birmingham, last season. Should the Austrian manager opt to have 2 men leading his line, we could well see an all English duo of Danny Ings and Adams.

To get a chance to work under a manager obsessed by speed, strength, youth and high pressing, everything suggests that he has landed at a perfect club, willing to offer him the chance to develop his game and add his name to the list of non-league talents to make a name in the Premier League.

HARSH CAN MOSTLY BE FOUND WRITING ABOUT TOTTENHAM HOSTPUR AND TWEETING NONSENSE BEHIND A HARRY WINKS AVI. HE IS A CONTRIBUTOR TO THE TOTTENHAM WAY AND CHANCE ANALYTICS.