Some players tipped to be Europe’s next generation of football stars
Domenico Berardi | 22 | Sassuolo | Striker/Right Wing
Berardi has come a long way since he was spotted playing five-a-side while visiting his brother, a University student, in Modena. The youngest player to reach 30 top flight goals in Serie A since 1958, he had a hand in 47 in his first two seasons in the top flight, including four goals and a hat trick against Milan. Last term, however, Berardi went backwards. It didn’t stop Juventus calling in their option to sign him but, curiously, he turned them down. Rather than a lack of ambition, it showed great maturity; Sassuolo is the best place for his development right now and if his start of the season is anything to go by — Berardi struck three times in Europa League qualifiers against Luzern — he is back on track.
Saido Berahino | 23 | West Brom | Striker
Berahino’s apparent intention to see out the final year of his West Brom contract should hopefully focus his mind before he cashes in big as a free agent next summer. Alternatively if the Baggies do bring in another striker, and Stoke and Palace are patient enough to wait for that to happen, then he might finally get the move and pay-rise he so desires. Tony Pulis claimed Berahino was “away with the fairies last year.” It would be great to have him back and see him fulfill his potential this season.
Munir El Haddadi | 20 | Barcelona | Striker/Winger
Maybe it’s the memories of Bojan, Giovanni dos Santos, Cristian Tello and Gerard Deulofeu who all struggled at the Camp Nou, or perhaps it’s the impression that it’s easier to score at Barcelona when your teammates are Lionel Messi and Neymar, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta. But little-by-little Munir is gradually proving himself at Barca. Going into this season, his record was six goals in seven appearances in 2016 and he scored at the weekend as a second-half sub in the Super Cup. He could certainly get more game time this season, as one of the lessons Luis Enrique had to learn from last season is that he should rotate his front three more to keep them fresh.
Manolo Gabbiadini | 24 | Napoli | Striker
Gabbiadini has waited patiently for his chance to step out of Gonzalo Higuain’s shadow since joining Napoli 18 months ago. He has scored 29 goals in the past two years without playing much at all but, when he got the opportunity, more often than not, he took it. Gabbiadini has had a hand in a goal every 84 minutes in Serie A and the Europa League with Napoli; expect a big season from him and for Italy to soon have a new No. 9.
Thiago Alcantara | 25 | Bayern Munich | Midfielder
When Bayern asked Pep Guardiola whom he wanted to sign three summers ago, his answer left them in no doubt: “Thiago or nothing.” Injuries, however, meant the playmaker missed 88 games while Pep was in Munich. On the whole, he has been good, sometimes very good, but there is a sense that Thiago’s great potential is as yet unfulfilled. Carlo Ancelotti has worked with Andrea Pirlo, Marco Verratti and Luka Modric in the past. Thiago promises to be the next player to benefit from his wisdom.
Julian Brandt | 20 | Bayer Leverkusen | Winger
It’s a little bit of a mystery why Brandt hasn’t generated the same hype Marco Reus, Julian Draxler and Leroy Sane did outside of Germany. Put it down to a lack of a standout performance in the Champions League, but there should definitely be more Brandt awareness. He scored in seven straight league games at the end of last season (becoming the first teenager to do so since Dieter Muller 42 years ago) and his goals helped automatically qualify Leverkusen for the Champions League group stages. Maybe this’ll be the year when his talent transcends the Bundesliga.
Gabriel Barbosa |19 | Santos | Striker
“Gabigol” made his debut for Santos in Neymar’s final game for the club and was discovered by the same scout, Zito, a double World Cup winner and captain of Pele’s side. Brash and already in love with the high life, his attitude contrasts with that of Brazil’s other Fenomeno Gabriel Jesus — nicknamed Baby Jesus — but his talent for scoring goals has given him the pick of Europe’s top clubs.
Ousmane Dembele | 19 | Dortmund | Winger
Dortmund picked up the hottest prospect in European football this summer. Ligue 1’s young player of the season last season, Dembele scored 12 goals and set up another five for his Rennes teammates. Dortmund did exceptionally well to beat fierce competition to sign him. Transitioning away from Jurgen Klopp’s team, they are building an uber-talented young one. Dembele joins Julian Weigl, Raphael Guerreiro and Emre Mor at the Signal Iduna Park. The future is bright.
Renato Sanches | 18 | Bayern | Midfielder
Jose Mourinho believes the lateness of his appointment at Manchester United contributed to them missing out on Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches, saying: “If I had arrived earlier, I would have fought for him.” Instead Bayern got there first for €35 million and were able to sit back and relax as Sanches, once integrated into the team by Fernando Santos, won the Euros with Portugal while also landing the Best Young Player award. Reminiscent of Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf rolled into one, is it any wonder Carlo Ancelotti believes Bayern did “good business?”
Marco Asensio | 20 | Real Madrid | Midfielder
When Asensio was 12, his parents bumped into Florentino Perez in Mallorca. “They said to me: ‘President, this is my son Marco and one day he will play for Real Madrid.” The Asensios were right. Reduced to tears after scoring in and winning the European Super Cup, Asensio has been a star in Real’s preseason, convincing Zidane and the club to put their faith in him rather than sending him back out on loan. It remains to be seen if the midfielder can win a place for himself in the first-team on a regular basis like Saul Niguez, the Spain Under-21 captain, has done to great effect at crosstown rivals Atletico.