Top 10 Under-21 Breakthrough Talents of 2015

We’re a matter of hours away from impromptu New Year’s resolutions, copious amounts of drunk small-talk with friends of the family or distant figures from our school days but most importantly, the countdown to the end of 2015.

To mark the occasion we thought it would be fitting to provide you with an exciting countdown of our own (which is obviously completely original). 

We’re going down the route of heralding some of the finest youngsters who have established themselves among Europe’s elite in 2015.

Unfortunately there’s been so many players who fit into the under-21 category who have rose to prominence this year, we required some sort of ruling to stop there being  30+ players listed here.

To be eligible:

– Players must head into 2016 no older than 21 years of age.
– Players must have made a minimum of 10 senior top flight appearances in 2015.
– Players must not have made any more than 10 senior top flight appearances prior to 2015.

Such guidelines make the likes of Anthony Martial, Leroy Sane, Oliver Torres, Ruben Neves, Hector Bellerin, Bernardo Silva, Anwar El Ghazi, John Stones etc etc all ineligible and things more interesting.

So without further ado, here goes Futbol Narratives top ten breakthrough stories of the year.

10. Mahmoud Dahoud – Borussia Monchengladbach

The 19-year-old has thrived in adversity this season after the Foals were rocked by the early resignation of Lucien Favre in September.

Whist Dahoud was highly thought of by Favre, the Syrian-born midfielder was limited to token substitute appearances early in the season with Gladbach stuck in a dismal run of four consecutive league defeats.

In Favre’s last game Dahoud was trusted with his first start in the Bundesliga, and although Favre shortly departed, luckily for the rookie midfielder caretaker coach Andre Schubert was already fully aware of what the midfielder was capable of – after managing Dahoud at U23 level.

Dahoud has since established himself as a key member for Gladbach’s starting eleven which has also seen an upturn in their fortunes, with the club heading into the winter break in fourth.

Dahoud’s best performance of this season so far came against Eintracht Frankfurt where he tormented them with two assists and a goal – consequently earning him a warm round of applause from both sets of supporters in the Commerzbank Arena.

9. Amadou Diawara – Bologna

Earlier this year Amadou Diawara was just 17 and playing for San Marino Calcio, who were relegated from the third tier of Italian football. Now he’s 18 and starring for Bologna in Serie A.

Unsurprisingly Diawara hasn’t been fazed by such a huge leap in quality otherwise he wouldn’t be featured here. In fact the Guinean has adapted seamlessly into Italy’s top flight that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City already seeing bids of up to €20 million rejected by Bologna.

Whilst his physique is notable, its Diawara’s reading of the game and intelligence to position himself astutely which has stood out. Crucial interceptions have become somewhat of a trademark but Diawara also has the nous and ability to carry his team forward on occasion.

Comparisons have already been made to a young Yaya Toure and whilst such appraisals are lazy, Diawara has certainly imposed himself in Donadoni’s plans at the heart of Bologna’s midfield.

8. Assane Diousse – Empoli

The emergence of Assane Diousse has come in a season in which Empoli were expected to struggle following the departures of influential Manager Maurizio Sarri and key players such as Valdifiori, Hysaj, Vecino and Rugani from last season’s impressive return to Serie A.

However Empoli have remained ultra-competitive and have surpassed even their greatest expectations as they currently sit in eighth. Diousse has certainly played a key role in helping elevate his team to such heights showcasing remarkable poise when deployed as a ‘Regista’.

He made his debut at just 17-years-old in the first game-week of the Serie A season and has since featured 12 times, often providing the first port of call for his defence when they are looking for an out-ball.

Whilst on occasion he has been caught out in possession when being slightly too lax, the Senegalese midfielder hasn’t shied away from continuing to be so positive in demanding the ball from his team-mates.

As comfortable as he is on the ball, Diousse has also showcased he is just as comfortable when out of possession when he’s been tasked with physically bossing much more experienced opponents.

7. Joshua Kimmich – Bayern Munich

With ten appearances in the Bundesliga to his name, Kimmich just meets the criteria for this list and how deserving of it he is.

Plucked from Stuttgart last summer after impressing whilst on loan at RB Leipzig, Kimmich has been gifted game-time in recent months following injuries to the likes of Thiago and Xabi Alonso.

Having been present recently in the Allianz Arena for when Bayern lined up against Ingolstadt, it’s difficult not to get excited by the 20-year-old’s potential following a display which merely highlighted the young midfielder’s composure and intelligence.

Whilst Ingolstadt troubled Bayern for much of the first half and the likes of Javi Martinez and Arturo Vidal failed to gain any foothold in midfield, it was Kimmich who provided the necessary reassuring influence in midfield to help Bayern navigate themselves past their Bavarian rivals.

Pep Guardiola’s trust in his young starlet also highlights just how highly regarded Kimmich is, with his manager recently heralding one of his performances against his old club Stuttgart as “simply unbelievable”.

6. Marcos Asensio – Espanyol (on loan from Real Madrid)

Asensio helped light up the U19 European Championships in the summer where he helped guide Spain to yet another youth title. If you haven’t seen his extraordinary reverse-pass assist which helped Spain see off Russia in the final, make your way to youtube shortly.

The creative midfielder who can be deployed out wide was snapped up by Real Madrid from Mallorca back in 2014, where he continued to reside until Real decided he was ready for the step-up to regular La Liga exposure – with Espanyol keen to take the prospect on loan for the season.

Since moving to Catalonian shores, Asensio has been trusted with the number ten berth which has enabled him to notch five assists already this term.

Such performances have even led to rumours that his parent club are interested in cutting his loan deal short so that he can come back into the reckoning in the capital, however hopefully common sense prevails in the matter and Asensio is allowed to continue to influence La Liga on a weekly basis.

5. Riechedly Bazoer – Ajax

This 19-year-old is potentially the most exciting talent to emerge from Ajax’s famed academy since Christian Eriksen.

In the midst of his first season with the first team Bazoer has become a pivotal figure in Ajax’s charge to regain the Eredivisie crown from rivals PSV Eindhoven. Who remarkably, Baxoer left on his own accord at just 16.

In his favoured deep-lying playmaker role, Bazoer has shown all the right attributes and the required intelligence to suggest he’s going to feature prominently over the next 15 years in European football.

Bazoer is now being strongly monitored by Barcelona amongst others and it would be no surprise to see a big money move away from the Eredivisie even now, given just how well his formative steps into professional football have been.

4. Julian Weigl – Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund are benefitting tremendously from the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel this season and Julian Weigl is certainly flourishing too.

Bought in the summer from 1860 Munich, Weigl was seen as one for the future but after impressing in pre-season, the young German leapfrogged past Sven Bender in Dortmund’s midfield pecking order and has since struck up a fine partnership with Ilkay Gundogan.

What makes Weigl stand out the most is his sense of space, range of passing and his abilities to intercept just about everything.

3. Inaki Williams – Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao are famed for their philosophy of solely using Basque born players and their latest prospect Inaki Williams has certainly made a significant impression on the club.

Williams has already made history when he became the first black player to score for Athletic in February, with a goal against Torino in the Europa League.

Whilst initially Williams looked an extremely raw prospect without any real end product to match his exasperating pace and power, this season he has added a finesse to his game which has been devastating.

His 7 goals in 16 appearances show a vast improvement from last season’s haul and the best of the lot came in November against Espanyol with an audacious overhead kick. Again, go ahead and YouTube it if you’ve missed it.

2. Delle Alli – Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham and England are yet again benefitting from the progressive management of Mauricio Pochettino. This time thanks to allowing the emergence of another gem in Delle Alli.

In his first pre-season with the club since joining from MK Dons, Alli quickly made an impression on his manager with a nutmeg on former Spurs man Luca Modric.

Such self confidence has always been evident in Alli, with his former manager Karl Robinson often reciting a story of how with his first touch on his league debut at just 16-years-old, Alli demonstrated a deft back-heel flick to a team mate.

With five goals and four assists and two England caps to his name this season, Alli is thriving in North London and is almost guaranteed to feature in next summers European Championships.

1. Kingsley Coman – Bayern Munich

Coman has long been touted for big things since his days coming through PSG’s academy but thanks to their riches and instance on splashing the cash, Coman was never really given the required game-time and subsequently left for pastures new.

Coman again was limited to very rare appearances at Juventus last season, but his talent didn’t fail to shine in the various cameos he was given.

This triggered the interest of Bayern Munich last summer who would have also been delighted with Coman’s performances in the U19 European Championships for France.

Thanks to the absences of Ribery and Robben for much of the season, Coman has earned the faith of Pep Guardiola and has repaid it to the tune of four goals and six assists so far this season.

Notable mention:

Gianluigi Donnarumma narrowly misses out on the list having failed to secure ten senior league appearances for AC Milan this year. Self-imposed rules are rules, but to not acknowledge the 16-year-old’s frankly absurd achievements in 2015 would make a mockery of this website.

Just one more appearance this year would have landed the shot-stopper a high-ranking spot on our list, but luckily for Donnarumma, his grasp on the number one jersey for the Rossoneri and the respect of the footballing world is assured. Just ask Buffon.