Good managers and talents: the recipe for entertainment in a league. The Ligue 1 has incorporated plenty of both bits this summer.
When the gap with the top 4 leagues was at risk of becoming unbridgeable, with the collapse of a TV rights deal that would apparently provoke a severe crisis and an exodus of their best players and youngsters, the truth is that the French division might be even more fun this coming season.
This addition of several youngsters and the youngsters already in Ligue 1 can pull their league out of the dirt. Also, the trickery and qualities of the clubs’ young gemstones may elevate collective football and make it much more enticing.
With that being said, FootTheBall has combined a list of ten talented youngsters who are set to light the 2021/22 Ligue 1 campaign.
Jonathan David, a Lille and Canadian forward, has only been playing professionally for a little more than three years, yet he has rapidly positioned himself as one of Europe’s hottest emerging prospects.
Notching 30 goals in 60 outings for Gent, where he began his professional career, and now after an outstanding debut season with Lille, where he tallied 13 goals in Ligue 1 and helped his team win it all, the Canadian is poised to go all out next season.
Despite his age, the 21-year-old is an all-rounder upfront and has reached an incredibly high level of maturity. He can act as the number 9 on his own, play behind a centre-forward or even occupy the wing. Aside from his amazing strength and speed, David understands when to vacate his area, when to drag the centre-backs out, and when to be the reference up top.
Jonathan David has been directly involved in 15 Ligue 1 goals this season — 13 goals & 2 assists.
Puts Lille on the brink of history. 💥 pic.twitter.com/wR1BmbNh2j
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) May 23, 2021
Reading of space, pace, control, and finishing: four attributes that perfectly define the Canadian, who has quality and goals in equal portions.
Jeremy Doku’s youthful legs symbolize speed. At only 19, the Rennes winger is deadly when given space, owing to his lethal combination of dribbling and pace. His terrifying acceleration may be used across a few meters, implying that he can be a game-changer in instances where the overall strategy is unlikely to establish opportunities in static scenarios.
When he gets near to his opponents, he may accelerate and acquire one or two more meters that did not previously exist. Apart from his coordinative excellence, he is innovative, attempts unexpected things that sound like being, or maybe, to show off, but he has the technique and talent to pull them off.
Jérémy Doku left everything on the pitch 👏👏👏
— UEFA EURO 2024 (@EURO2024) July 2, 2021
His value is not so related to creating goals but to what precedes them: destabilizing the opposing structure. He can even start from his own half, glued to the touchline, and progress upfield very fast. He is not someone to play between the lines or in tight spaces but to eliminate rivals with meters to run into.
A few days ago, Marseille acquired William Saliba from Arsenal, who is now out on his third loan spell back in his native France. Arsenal signed the defender from Saint-Etienne, however, he was loaned back to the French club for the 2019/20 season. Then, following spending six months on loan at Nice last season, the 20-year-old is returning to Ligue 1 and is primed to flourish.
The Gunners have high expectations for William Saliba and regard yet another loan spell as crucial to his development. And rightfully so. William Saliba is tailormade in all phases for a team that looks to practice a brand of positional play.
But apart from his qualities in defence, which should help Marseille be more proactive from the back, there is no denying where some of his most distinctive traits lie: in build-ups. He passes and moves, passes and moves. As soon as he releases the ball, he moves to offer another passing option, which is ideal to give continuity to the circulation. Aggressive in defence and calm in possession, Saliba is set to shine.
KONRAD DE LA FUENTE
Konrad de la Fuente, who joins from Barcelona, is another one of those interesting signings by Marseille. Due to the fact that he is still extremely raw, Barcelona allowed their academy product to leave for France, where he will strive to unleash his potential by playing considerably more than he did with the Spanish club.
In both good and bad ways, Konrad is a pure winger. On the one hand, he serves as a major focal point to unbalance defences. His shift of rhythm and acceleration is as impressive as his technique. He is an extremely aggressive player who is always looking to stretch the pitch vertically by taking on his defender.
Remember the name Konrad De La Fuente 🇺🇸
The touch. The finish. Just impeccable @OM_English 😍
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) July 29, 2021
On the other hand, his strength is also his weakness: he is overly focused on his duel and might get isolated. He struggles to comprehend what the team requires: in his inadequacy, he rushes ahead instead of waiting for others. He lacks the capacity to make judgments and never slows down, hence more variability is required from his side. Aside from that, the 19-year-old winger is a golden talent with a promising future.
From Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa to Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir, Lyon has produced a number of talents who have moved from bright potential to legitimate footballing stars. Rayan Cherki, 17, is the newest gem to emerge from Olympique Lyonnais’ academy pool and is destined to lift the club’s supporters off their seats for quite some time to come.
Mature beyond his years. It’s difficult to find a player more suited to this definition than Cherki. A veteran in the body of a boy, he plays with self-sufficiency and maturity that is unbelievable for someone of his age.
Cherki, a free-flowing number 10, excels between the lines rather than dropping deep into his own half. He enjoys exploiting openings in his opponent’s structure, making a one-touch pass, or evading the press with the ball glued to his foot. He prefers to control the play behind the central attacker, and despite his young age, he is already breathtakingly polished, able to disentangle a defence with a ball or gliding past a defender with almost great ease.
A Paris Saint-Germain academy graduate, 19-year-old Adil Aouchiche is primed to take over Ligue 1 with his talent. The Frenchman was named the second-best player in the U-17 World Cup in 2019, indicating that his brilliance is already widely acknowledged on a global scale.
A smart creative midfielder, he is a player who moves well without the ball, reads spaces accurately, and facilitates better performances from his teammates. Aouchiche could be included in the imaginary list of the world’s “most intelligent young players.” The midfielder has a footballing intellect and potential that should propel him to the elite in a matter of time.
Aside from his technical prowess, he is impossible to defend against in one-on-ones. He isn’t the quickest, but his feints, limitless technical capabilities, and start-and-stop style leave opponents in the dust.
FC Nordsjaelland’s Right to Dream academy has been producing endless talents for years now, and Kamaldeen Sulemana, 19, is one of The Tigers’ promising graduates. After an impressing tenure in the Danish Superliga, Rennes have brought the talented winger to France for a reported fee of $23 million.
Sulemana scored 10 goals and delivered 8 assists in the Danish 1st division which speaks volumes about the wingers’ all-around talent. While he is most prolific on the left flank, he is equally at home throughout the front line and rapidly positioned himself as one of the most menacing dribblers in Denmark’s top division.
19-year-old Nordsjaelland's winger Kamaldeen Sulemana – the best dribbler in the Danish Superliga with 99 successful dribbles!
2nd Louka Prip has… 45 successful dribbles.
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) April 12, 2021
With a quick change of speed, the striker has proven his creativity, dynamism, and ability to destabilize a defensive line, while his tactical acumen is outstanding for a player still in his teens. An amazing talent with groundbreaking potential, Rennes have captured a gemstone who promises to be the next big thing.
A product of the AZ academy, Calvin Stengs is ready to excel in the Ligue 1 for Nice after impressing during his time in the Eredivisie. The 22-year-old’s flexibility is one of his most significant characteristics, as he can play nearly everywhere in the final third and put up a consistent performance.
He is an unconventional, universal forward who isn’t hesitant to push himself beyond his comfort bubble for the betterment of the team. He wants to have the ball, move, dance, dribble, but he doesn’t overuse individuality and is constantly aiming to link up and provide meaningful movements for the collective.
One of Stengs’ finest qualities is that he is not context-dependent. He constantly has a variety of methods to weaken the defences. From his maturity in his moves to his quality on the ball regardless of whether he is wide or in congested zones, to his presence in the box, the Dutchman embraces everything.
Nathanael Mbuku, at the tender age of 19, is already a regular starter Reims and is a beast in the making. The winger is a speed dribbler, with a very accurate touch even while sprinting and with a unique ability to quickly change direction in 1v1s.
Moreover, with his deceptive physique, defenders always have an arduous time trying to out-muscle pr catch him when he gets into his stride. Then, his shooting technique is perfect: the ball starts to rise early and falls quickly like a rock.
The problem is his end product and stats: since his debut with Reims, Mbuku has managed only 4 goals and 2 assists in 46 appearances for the club. Although, his close control, trickery, and powerful diagonal runs, he possesses a unique arsenal of skills that make him a constant threat to unbalance the defences.
Xavi Simons has been predestined for success since his days in Barcelona’s La Masia, and no one can dispute that the ‘new Xavi’ is a genuinely fantastic player.
Simons, a playing style similar to that of his countrymen Frenkie De Jong, is capable of gliding between the lines with the degree of fluidity that is seldom seen. There are many things which the 18-year-old has improved in the past few years, most notably his increased influence in the opposing half. While he had always been very press-resistant in build-ups, he has now managed to translate that to more advanced zones and he no longer needs very specific conditions to exhibit his qualities.
He has the rhythm dictating mindset that allows him to track back and receive the ball from the centre-backs, but he’s equally at home pushing further forward and attempting to open up defences with passes or shooting. His petite stature gives him the appearance of being a target for opponents, but the Dutchman has obviously learned how to use his physique to his favour.