From rumours linking Karim Benzema with Arsenal to Mats Hummels being said to be seen just about everywhere other than the Westfalenstadion, we have come to know what to expect from the transfer window. Transfer sagas are stooped in conventional wisdom, centre on obvious choices and run, well-reported throughout, for months at a time. Manchester United’s quickfire signing of Anthony Martial for a huge £36 million changed the game. Suddenly, the would be Gary Lineker to be found in every office across the country, who this time last week had not heard of the 19 year old Frenchman, is calling in sick to watch clips of the ex-Monaco man. Here at Think Football we salute the workplace pundit, the once mighty creature whose rightful place is leaning nonchalantly on the water cooler telling all who will listen how they knew Martial was set for stardom ever since his Lyon days, and so this goes out to them, that they may never be caught out again: Europe’s five hottest prospects under the age of 22, with every chance of soon appearing in the Premier League…
It is becoming increasingly rare for players of worldwide repute to have earnt their way to the top by climbing the greasy ladder of lower-league domestic football, yet this is precisely what Hakan Çalhanoğlu has done. In 2013, the 21 year old was plying his trade for Karlsruher SC in the German third division. Seventeen goals in thirty six games from midfield later and the Turkish international had shown the kind of form that would inspire Bayer Leverkusen to buy Çalhanoğlu from Hamburger SV for €14.5 million in 2014. Averaging almost a goal every three games in the Bundesliga, alongside totting up six assists last season, the dynamic playmaker is adept at both creating and finishing attacks, as well as being renowned as the ‘best free-kick taker in Europe’. Çalhanoğlu brings excitement, vigour and real threat to any attack and will not stay unnoticed for long: the young midfielder was reportedly the subject of a £26.4 million bid from Manchester United on deadline day and is unlikely to remain at the BayArena for much longer.
The latest starlet to be represented by Jorge Mendes, Laporte manages to stand in the company of the likes of David de Gea and James Rodríguez without looking uncomfortable. Laporte is another established player who has hardly suddenly burst onto the scene, having made his debut in 2012 aged just 18. Now 21, the young Frenchman’s rise has been meteoric, with Athletic Club rating the youngster so highly as to increase his buyout clause for the third consecutive season to £36.5 million in the face of reported interest from Manchester United. Despite having signed a contract extension tying him to Bilbao until 2019, given reported interest from the likes of United, Chelsea and Real Madrid, the Basque outfit seem to be facing an uphill battle to keep the centre back. An imperious presence at the back with a composure that belies his young age, he could be exactly the kind of player United have been lacking since Vidić.
Mauro Icardi is a player who for some time has flattered to deceive, treading the line between exciting youth prospect and a player destined to make waves less for his actions on the pitch than for those off of it. The striker is not shy of confidence: last year, the 22 year old hit the headlines for not only marrying the ex-wife of his teammate at Sampdoria Maxi Lopez but for being tattooed with the faces of his children too: small wonder Lopez seems reluctant to shake the hand of his fellow Argentine. Nevertheless, this might just be Icardi’s year. Having managed to score 32 goals in 58 games for Inter Milan during a troubled period for the Italian outfit, Icardi not only survived Roberto Mancini’s renovation of the Nerazzurri this summer but has assumed the role of main striker too. The former Manchester City manager is not the only man to rate Icardi, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all reported to be monitoring the player. Given Mancini’s continued work at the San Siro and the improved support behind Icardi, this may well be the Argentine’s year.
José Luis Gayà
Valencia have long been renowned for their prowess at developing young players, from Juan Mata to David Silva, but what tends to escape attention is that the Mestalla is in particular the breeding ground for some of the most exciting wing backs in Europe. José Luis Gayà now treads a path that has led Jordi Alba to Barcelona and Juan Bernat to Bayern Munich all in the last three years alone and the 20 year old left back shows signs of being more than capable of holding his head high in such illustrious company. Like his predecessors, the Spaniard is capable both of adding steel to the defence as well as adding flair in support of any attack. Such a left back is an enticing prospect and Arsenal were said to have had a £15 million bid rejected by Valencia, but it appears that Gayà’s suitors come far more attractively dressed than those from The Emirates. Valencia may have tied Gayà down to a new contract until 2020 to ward off interest from Chelsea and Manchester City, but with Real Madrid lurking, an export of the Mestalla might soon to be found occupying the left back berth at all three of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Perhaps not since Rabah Madjer has an Algerian born offensive player been so highly rated as Nabil Fekir. As with Valencia, since Jean-Michel Aulas took control of Lyon in 1987 Les Gones have been a veritable production line for young talent, selling the likes of Karim Benzema, Michael Essien and Miralem Pjanić for large sums at a young age. Fekir could be the latest posterboy for this project. With 13 goals and 9 assists in Ligue 1 last year, the 22 year old is drawing attention for his performances as much as for his versatility, being capable of playing as a striker as well as in his preferred role as an attacking midfielder. Fekir is a powerhouse in the centre of the pitch, an offensive threat and a creative influence. Given that he is increasingly breaking into the French national team, for whom he scored his first goal in a 3-4 loss to Belgium in a June friendly, Fekir’s value was likely only to rise this season, but given his four goals in Lyon’s opening four games it seems that Les Gones were especially canny to pin him to a new contract until 2020. Nevertheless, Fekir is reported to have a special place in his heart for Arsenal and be open to moving club in 2016, rumours that seem likely to only increase given the way in which, since Martial’s move, Fekir has begun batting his eyelids at Manchester United.