While established superstars obviously have their place in the transfer market, unearthing a diamond prospect can be just as beneficial for the long term health of a team.
Some young players are immediate superstars.
For example, putting Jadon Sancho into a list of the best under-21 year old players wouldn’t take anybody by surprise. It’s far more interesting to dig a little deeper.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best prospects from across Europe’s big five leagues who you might not have heard of.
There are 46 players who are no older than 20 that have played at least 1,000 minutes – and here are some of the more obscure gems from among them.
Dejan Kulusevski (Parma)
Kulusevski spent the first half of the 2019/20 season on loan from his parent club, Atalanta.
His form was so impressive, Juventus splashed out 35 million euros to secure his services in January, before loaning him back to Parma for the remainder of the campaign.
The Swedish international – he earned his first cap in November – has played many different positions across the attack, but predominantly on the right.
Kulusevski’s main strength is his creativity, where he has logged an average of 0.25 expected assists per 90 minutes this season.
This ability has seen him set up seven goals, the most by any under-21 in the big leagues bar Sancho.
Dušan Vlahović (Fiorentina)
A 20-year-old from Serbia, Vlahovic signed for Fiorentina from Partizan Belgrade.
His goal tally of six this season may appear modest, but only two players of similar age have scored more.
And it’s no fluke as he has strong underlying performance.
Vlahovic’s average of 0.37 expected goals per 90 minutes matches the output of the likes of Dries Mertens and Jamie Vardy on this metric, and puts him within the continent’s top 75 players of any age for xG.
Takefusa Kubo (Mallorca)
Kubo is only 18 years old yet already has seven caps for Japan.
Real Madrid snapped him up from FC Tokyo last summer, and he has spent the campaign on loan at Mallorca.
Simply put, he is a wizard of dribble.
He completes 6.54 dribbles for every 90 minutes he spends on the pitch, which is an elite return. Only 13 players across the top five leagues have been successful more frequently.
Kubo’s end product needs to improve – his tally of three goals and two assists doesn’t jump out at you – but he’s guaranteed to get fans on their feet once he receives the ball.
Rafael Leão (AC Milan)
Leao hasn’t yet represented the full Portugal national side, but it’s only a matter of time.
Like Kubo, he’s a fine dribbler, which isn’t something you necessarily associate with a centre forward.
And more importantly, despite playing for an only moderately successful Milan side, he’s able to find good locations for shooting.
His expected goals average is the third best of young players in the top leagues, and is actually a shade down on what it was when he was at Lille last season.
A little more consistency and he should go far.
Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma)
Only five players are in the top 10 for both expected goals and expected assists when it comes to our prospects.
The likes of Sancho, Joao Felix and Kai Havertz are very well known, but Zaniolo is rather less so.
As he only has four goals and a single assist this season, that’s perhaps no surprise.
But his underlying statistics are impressive, and he also features in the top five young players for dribbling and touches in the opposition penalty box.
With the European Championships a year away, he will hope to add to his five Italy caps and make the squad.
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