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10 male footballers to look out for in 2022

Rahul Saha Rahul Saha

As one year ends and another one begins, it brings with itself the promise of prodigies and young generational talents coming through the ranks across Europe and the rest of the world. Talents like Gavi, Joško Gvardiol and Karim Adeyemi are already turning heads with some of their scintillating football.

 

The thrill remains the same as the world advances into 2022. The year ahead offers plenty of activity in club football as well as the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar this December.

While fans will be eager to see the game’s biggest stars in action, along with the cream of the crop, a few up-and-coming footballers should be kept in mind as well.

Many outstanding young players broke through in 2021, and they are likely to have the world at their feet in a few years. As a result, I have compiled a list of the top 10 most promising young people (aged 21 or under) to keep an eye on in 2022.

 

Note: Before we dive into the thick of the action, I would like to say that there are a myriad of reasons—many unquantifiable—that go into determining lists like these. These entries reflect upon my subjectivity, meaning you might agree with some of my mentions, or none at all. Either way, we would love to hear from you.

 

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 male footballers to look out for in 2022.

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Yéremy Pino

Country: Spain

Age: 19 years old

Club: Villarreal CF

Yéremy Pino
Still only 19, Yéremy Pino has already made over half-a-century appearances for the Yellow Submarines and has progressed from being a benchwarmer to a regular first-team starter in less than a year.

Pino impressed Unai Emery and the Villarreal coaching staff so much during the 2020-21 season that, ahead of the 2021/22 season, he was moved up from their C team in Spain’s fifth division to the first team in LaLiga, bypassing the third division B team which ideally serve as the stepping stone for budding youngsters.

The Spaniard started the 2021/22 season in fine form, scoring one goal and assisting three in his first four games, earning a call-up to Spain’s national side in October 2021.

The 19-year-old has already had 6 goal involvements so far this season. He attempts 3.6 dribbles per 90’, which has led to 0.17 Goal Creating Actions (GCA)—the highest in the league—and proved instrumental in Villareal’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage success earlier this season.

 

 

Arsen Zakharyan

Country: Russia

Age: 18 years old

Club: FC Dynamo Moscow

Arsen Zakharyan
Dynamo Moscow are challenging for their first league title since 1976. What really catches the eye, however, is the man leading their line, Arsen Zakharyan. He might be just 18 years old, but in the 13 months since breaking through, he is already the focal point of the Dynamo Moscow attack.

Despite playing just 13 league games throughout 2020/21 in which he scored three goals and set up another five, Zakharyan was voted Player of the Year by Dynamo fans; he also won the league’s Best U21 Player award. Zakharyan also scored in the U21s European Championship, which made him the youngest goalscorer in the tournaments’ history.

This season, the 18-year-old has already surpassed his playing minutes from last season and has scored 4 goals and provided 5 assists in 16 league starts. He was also destined to feature for Russia in the 2021 European Championship, but illness ruled out that possibility; he would have become the country’s youngest-ever debutant.

Reportedly a subject of tug of war between Real Madrid and Barcelona, there is no doubt the rest of the footballing world will become more aware of Zakharyan’s talent in 2022.

 

 

Noni Madueke

Country: England

Age: 19 years old

Club: PSV Eindhoven

Noni Madueke
The former Tottenham Hotspur academy graduate joined Dutch club PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2019. After impressing while playing for their youth side—scoring 4 goals and assisting 1 in 6 games—the left-footed right-winger was promoted to the first team for the last leg of the 2019/20 season.

During the 2020/21 season, Madueke made 24 appearances, only 7 of which were starts, but the explosive winger scored 7 goals and provided 4 assists in only 967 minutes of league football. The 19-year-old was also averaging 3.64 SCA per 90’.

Madueke’s versatility and passing abilities make him a valuable weapon in the attacking third and one of the best young players in the world. He can play as a winger or as an offensive midfielder. If he maintains his current form, the big teams in Europe will come calling for Madueke soon.

 

Top 10 Countdown

#10 Caden Clark

Country: The United States of America

Age: 18 years old

Club: RB Leipzig

#10 Caden ClarkEven before turning 18, Caden Clark was one of two (other than Ricardo Pepi) of the most sought-after players in America. He joined the Barça Residency Academy in Arizona in 2014 and joined New York Red Bulls in the summer of 2020. Barely a year later, the Minnesota boy became RB Leipzig’s latest acquisition from the United States.

Standing just shy of 6 feet in height, the 18-year-old is an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal. Deployed centrally or off the left-hand side to cut inside, Clark is more of a modern playmaker, assisting defensively to his team’s play as well.

The American produces 2.52 Shot Creating Actions (SCA) per 90’, and 0.42 Goal Creating Actions (GCA) per 90’ while averaging 0.24 goals per 90’ and 0.18 assists per 90’. However, one of the key reasons why RB Leipzig poached him from MLS is due to his exceptional work ethic off the ball.

Clark averages 2.94 tackles per 90’, 1.01 interceptions, 0.86 clearances and 7.55 ball recoveries per 90’ while applying 27.44 pressures on average. The 18-year-old, to his credit, applies 9.77 successful pressures, which is the league-best, something that RB Leipzig crave and demand from their front four.

 

#9 Charlie Patino

Country: England

Age: 18 years old

Club: Arsenal FC

#9 Charlie PatinoCharlie Patino joined the Arsenal academy at the age of 12. A left-footed operator who can play anywhere in the middle of the pitch, Patino is already considered as one of the best young talents the club have ever produced; when you look at the talents coming out from Hale End every year, that is certainly a big claim.

For Charlie Patino, it was not a matter of if, but when. Mikel Arteta resisted the urge to play him for as long as he could, but he couldn’t hold him any longer, handing the teenager his debut against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup and watching him justify all the hype by marking it with a goal.

The elegant left-footer plays his best football as a box-to-box midfielder, regularly producing magical moments while possessing all the qualities of a top player. Passing range, vision, composure, touch, technique, maturity, retaining possession in tight spaces — these are just some of his standout qualities.

A regular in the Arsenal U23s setup, and now playing and training with Arteta’s first team, Patino’s development is way ahead of schedule, and he does deserve to be fast-tracked, with some of the biggest clubs in Europe like Barcelona, Valencia, Juventus all scouting the Englishman before he has even made his Premier League debut.

 

#8 Kamaldeen Sulemana

Country: Ghana

Age: 19 years old

Club: Stade Rennais FC

#8 Kamaldeen SulemanaKamaldeen Sulemana might have moved to a Top 5 European league just this summer, but the 19-year-old is already being eyed up by some of the continent’s biggest clubs. The right-footed left-winger moved to Europe just one year ago with Danish club FC Nordsjælland.

Sulemana scored four goals in the final matches of the 2019/20 season before carrying over his form to the next season, scoring 10 goals and providing 8 assists in 29 games. As a result, Stade Rennais bought the Ghanian for €15m, smashing the Danish Super League record.

This season, too, the 19-year-old is going from strength to strength. He has already scored 4 goals and provided 2 assists while completing 4.53 successful dribbles per 90’ — the most by any player in Europe, with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Jr. in second.

Sulemana contributes to the defensive side of things as well. He averages 2.90 tackles + interceptions per 90’ while applying 15.86 pressures with a 30.9% success rate.

Bayern Munich and Liverpool must be rueing their chances, having chosen not to pluck the Ghanian from Scandinavia even after months of scouting.

 

#7 Adam Hložek

Country: The Czech Republic

Age: 19 years old

Club: AC Sparta Prague

#7 Adam HložekIt is not often that we see players coming from smaller nations outgrow their national leagues before securing that elusive big move. However, 19-year-old Czech Republic international Adam Hložek looks to have certainly outgrown the league over the last year or so.

Since making his debut for Sparta Prague in the 2018/19 season, Hložek has bagged 90 appearances for the club, with his breakthrough performances coming in an injury-laden 2020/21 season; in just 19 appearances in the Czech first division, Hložek scored 15 goals and provided 7 assists to finish as the league’s top goalscorer, despite missing half of the season through injury.

The Czech forward has also added creativity to his play. In his 18 league appearances this season, Hložek has scored 5 goals and provided 10 assists, thus, taking his overall tally to 37 goal contributions in 37 league appearances since the start of last season.

Hložek has been a regular in the Czech senior national setup for over a year now and has been heavily linked with a move to Premier League club West Ham United. The Hammers are believed to be looking to bolster their already impressive Czech roster, and a move to the London club is likely to be on the cards in the summer of 2022, if not the ongoing January transfer window.

 

#6 Jurrien Timber

Country: The Netherlands

Age: 20 years old

Club: AFC Ajax

#6 Jurrien TimberRarely do defenders feature in lists like this one, as they don’t often break into the first-team setups at such a young age. Jurrien Timber, however, is one very promising centre-back from the Ajax youth system.

The 20-year-old has been sensational at the back for Ajax this season. He has already scored twice and assisted once in the Eredivisie. He completes a staggering 73 passes per 90’ with a 93.4 % success rate. The Dutchman also produces 6.3 passes into the final third while carrying out 5.12 progressive passes.

As part of Erik ten Hag’s expansive football, Timber operates in a high backline, and as a result, he applies 10.68 pressures per 90’ while making 3.74 tackles + interceptions; ten Hag’s inclination towards Total Football means his centre-backs share the same responsibility of creating as his central midfielders.

The 20-year-old produces 66.19 carries per 90’ and completes 1.92 dribbles per 90’. His 6.94 progressive carriers per 90’ rank him among the top 98 percentile in Europe, while 1.07 of his carries affect play in the final third of the opposition half.

Thus, looking at his sharp rise and development, it won’t be long before some of the biggest clubs in Europe come circling for his signature.

 

#5 Ricardo Pepi

Country: The United States of America

Age: 18 years old

Club: FC Augsburg

#5 Ricardo PepiThere is a strong possibility that the USMNT can become one of the sides to watch in future World Cups, and if they go far into tournaments, Ricardo Pepi could be the one leading their line.

Pepi ended the 2021 MLS season with 13 goals from 31 appearances, despite FC Dallas ending the season ranked 23rd in the 27-team Supporters’ Shield table. Pepi was included in the 2021 MLS All-Star team as well, while also winning the Young Player of the Year award.

Pepi had caught the attention of some of the biggest clubs in Europe like Liverpool and Manchester United, before FC Augsburg swooped in for a reported fee of US$20m plus add-ons.

Augsburg should serve as the perfect fit for Pepi, who needs nothing but game-time under his belt. The USMNT striker averaged 0.56 goals per 90’ before joining Augsburg and is someone who can excel in link-up play if worked on.

 

#4 Florian Wirtz

Country: Germany

Age: 18 years old

Club: Bayer 04 Leverkusen

#4 Florian WirtzThe prodigious German has been a revelation for Bayer Leverkusen this season; the 18-year-old has shown qualities—both on and off the field—that ridicule his age.

The German playmaker operates in the hole behind the centre-forward but with more attacking impetus — the role that earned Kai Havertz his Chelsea move and now sees the 18-year-old German excelling in it. Wirtz has exploded onto the scene for the Bundesliga club this season with 8 goals and 11 assists in just 20 appearances.

Throughout 2021, Wirtz averaged 0.35 goals and 0.41 assists per 90’, outperforming both his Expect Goals (xG) and Expected Assists (xA) metrics. He also averaged 2.51 key passes per 90’ and 3.62 passes into the penalty area — metrics that put him in the top 90 percentile among Europe’s Big 5 leagues.

Metrics like Key Passes can be misleading at times, as a “key pass” could be anything between a 2-metre pass to a 35-metre long ball. However, Wirtz’s Shot Creating Actions (SCA) at 4.67 per 90’ and Goal Creating Actions (GCA) at 0.89 per 90’ back everything that is written above.

 

#3 Karim Adeyemi

Country: Germany

Age: 19 years old

Club: FC Red Bull Salzburg

#3 Karim AdeyemiKarim Adeyemi is one of the hottest properties in Europe right now. A product of the Red Bull Salzburg set-up, the 19-year-old German has been on fire this season for the Austrian club.

Filling in the void left by Patson Daka due to his departure to Premier League club Leicester City, Adeyemi has taken to the role like a duck to water. In his 23 appearances for RB Salzburg this season, the young German has already netted 17 goals and provided 1 assist, including 3 goals in the Champions League which secured his team’s first-ever progression from the Group Stage.

Due to his rapid pace and movement, Adeyemi draws 2.62 fouls per 90’, resulting in 1.05 Shot Creating Actions (SCA) per 90’ — the highest among all European leagues. Having become a Germany international in September 2021, Adeyemi is a creative force despite having registered just one assist this season.

Adeyemi carries out 6.10 progressive carries, 2.09 carries into the final third, 1.92 carries into the penalty area, and 1.22 key passes per 90’. The young German is already being monitored by some of the biggest clubs in Europe, while there is a strong possibility that he could be Erling Haaland’s replacement at Borussia Dortmund this summer.

 

#2 Joško Gvardiol

Country: Croatia

Age: 19 years old

Club: RB Leipzig

#2 Joško GvardiolThe 19-year-old Croatian has impressed this season with his matured displays. He completes 53.22 passes per 90’ at a success rate of 81.3%. One of the key factors contributing to this low pass completion rate is that he is often found trying to find that line-breaking pass up field.

Gvardiol averages 0.09 Expected Assists per 90’ while playing 0.63 key passes per 90’ — most by a centre-back in Europe’s Top 5 leagues. He plays 4.67 passes into the final third and 4.85 progressive passes per 90’.

Gvardiol’s distribution and vision has led to 1.30 Shot Creating Actions per 90’. He also completes 1.03 dribbles per 90’—most by a centre-back—and draws 1.96 fouls on average. Defensively, the Croatian attempts 5.21 tackles + interceptions while applying 14.10 pressures with a success rate of ~41%.

Gvardiol was the subject of a £22m move to Premier League club Leeds United in the summer of 2020, but the Croatian opted out to further his development. In the end, RB Leipzig signed him on a five-year deal for a reported fee of €19m plus add-ons, and following half a season with the club, Gvardiol was loaned back to Dinamo Zagreb on a season-long loan to fast-track his development.

 

#1 Gavi (Pablo Martín Páez Gavira)

Country: Spain

Age: 17 years old

Club: FC Barcelona

#1 Gavi (Pablo Martín Páez Gavira)The final player on the list is the youngest one as well.

Gavi’s rise through the Barça ranks has been nothing short of sensational. The young Spaniard has one goal and three assists from his 16 LaLiga appearances.

Despite his young age and lanky physique, the 17-year-old is a monster on the ball thanks to his superior technical abilities. Gavi has a wide passing range, likes to dribble to beat his man, holds the ball well, and contributes defensively to the team’s play as well. However, finishing and discipline are the two facets of his game that require polishing.

The Spaniard is currently underperforming both his Expected Goals and Expected Assists metrics, averaging 0.30 goal contributions per 90’. He is also producing 1.73 Shot Creating Actions and 0.37 Goal Creating Actions per 90’, while averaging 7.06 progressive carries per 90’. Being a central midfielder, 2.66 carries into the Final Third is outstanding for any midfielder, let alone a 17-year-old.

On 30 September 2021, Gavi received a surprise call-up to the Spanish senior national side by Luis Enrique. He made his debut against Italy in Spain’s UEFA Nations League semi-final victory, making him the youngest player to represent the Spanish national side at that level. Since then, the Masia graduate has represented Spain three more times.

Given Barça legend Xavi Hernández is now in charge of Barça’s senior men’s team, Gavi is set to explode in 2022 with Xavi likely to build the team around him.

 

 

 

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Rahul Saha

Rahul Saha

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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