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20 hottest prospects to look out for in 2017 - Part 2 (15 - 11)

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United - Premier League : News Photo
Lewis Cook made his first start for Bournemouth against Manchester United
Ayaz Moez Ali

The aim of this article, part of a four-part series is to determine the top 20 prospects that are primed to either have a breakthrough 2017 and/or have a year that will determine their future. To do so, a few criteria have been considered. Firstly, there is no specific age criteria but all are young players.

Secondly, all the players that have already been in the limelight in the past or are already at a good level with their club with no transfer on the cards that will evolve their careers. Some of these players are – Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer, Bernardo Silva, Ante Coric, Youri Tielemans, Marko Pjaca and Piotr Zielinski.

Following the list of the 20 hottest prospects to look out for in 2017 – Part 1 (20 – 16), here’s the list from 15 to 11.


#15 Lewis Cook – Bournemouth

Probably one of the unknown faces in this list but certainly held in high regard at youth levels of English football is Lewis Cook. Born and raised in Yorkshire, Cook was a part of the youth academy of the local giants, Leeds United, since the age of 7. A rapid progression in the youth academy followed and at the age of just 17, he made his debut as a 64th-minute substitute against Millwall on the opening day of the 2014-15 season.

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Cook was a member of a young and developing Leeds squad which included the likes of Sam Byram, now at West Ham, and Alex Mowatt, and their performances caught the eye of Premier League clubs. Within two years, two of the three made the leap to the first division while Mowatt is heavily touted to follow soon.

In the two years he spent in the first team at Leeds, the central midfielder amassed 88 appearances across all competitions. The teenager does not resemble the iconic English central midfielders of recent times like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Paul Scholes and neither is he similar to the recently emerged Dele Alli.

These four were or are a brutal force in front of goal, but Cook possesses very little goal threat. Out of the two goals he did score for Leeds, one was a 35-yard screamer against Fulham and was voted as the goal of the season.

Cook’s personal laurels aren’t restricted to that, though. He was awarded the Football League Player of the Year last season, following in the footsteps of players like the aforementioned Dele Alli and Gareth Bale. He was also declared the Football League’s Championship Apprentice of the Year for the 2014 – 2015 season and Leeds United’s Young Player of the Year for two seasons in a row.

Bournemouth have splurged an initial £6 million on the youngster and hold him in high esteem for the future. Although chances this season have been limited, the potential is immense and a breakthrough year in a club that encourages youth promotion is inevitable.

The youngster has a role model in front of him for a year in Jack Wilshere, who has faced his troubles and various injuries to finally have a positive injury-free year so far. Cook should take the advantage of the situation he will find himself in once Wilshere departs for Arsenal next season.

#14 Goncalo Guedes

Besiktas JK v SL Benfica - UEFA Champions League : News Photo
Guedes has been linked with a move to Manchester United

Benfica is a powerhouse not only in Portugal but in European football and more importantly, youth development across the world. One of the world’s finest talent spotters and talent developers, Benfica creates world-class talent on a regular basis and have a tendency of receiving large sums for them.

An example of the clubs’ brilliance in the youth and transfer market is Renato Sanches. Sanches was purchased for two dozen footballs and was last summer sold for an initial free in the range of £35 million, with another £20 million depending on the completion of clauses in the future.

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Benfica is heavily rumoured to have conceded the services of Victor Lindelof to Manchester United for over €35 million and the next in line to leave the Portuguese club is Goncalo Guedes. Born in Benavente, a town of just 29,000 people, Guedes has emerged from humble beginnings. After signing up with Benfica’s academy at the age of 8, he, like others on this list, progressed quickly through the age groups.

But unlike others in this list, he has had to wait for his shot at stardom, making his breakthrough at the age of 19. After impressing in the second division of Portuguese football with Benfica B, Guedes finally established himself in the first squad in the 2015-2016 season.

Since the start of the current campaign, he has become a mainstay in the first team. In the summer, Benfica sold their long-time first choice left winger, Nicolas Gaitan and that has opened up space for Guedes. The teenager is capable of playing at left wing, the number 10 role, as a supporting striker or as an out and out striker. Initially, he was highly successful on the left wing in his early days, racking up a lot of assists especially in the B team but he has since been deployed more centrally.

In 24 matches this season, he has been directly involved in 12 goals. His link up play, vision, and passing ability are commendable and highly appreciated but adding a little more conviction in front of goal will help his career towards a much bigger European side. With Manchester United, just one of the big names rumoured to be interested, and his agent’s name being Jorge Mendes, the second half of the campaign will be crucial for his summer and beyond.

#13 Reece Oxford

Arsenal v West Ham United - Premier League : News Photo
Oxford has drawn comparisons with former West Ham player Rio Ferdinand

English talent over the years has had a tendency to become overhyped by the media causing an inflation in their market value. And West Ham is sitting on a pot of gold, but are highly unlikely to let this hot property leave as of now. Reece Oxford is one of the most anticipated talents in English football at the moment.

A central defender by trade, Oxford has set the record for the youngest player to appear for West Ham when he debuted at the age of 16 years and 198 days. In fact, he was an unused substitute in a league cup match a year earlier.

Born and raised in Edmonton, London, Oxford has had a personally complicated career so far. An Arsenal fan by heart, he started out at Tottenham’s academy, their North London rival’s before being dropped. At the age of 11, the youngster joined another local rival and his present club, West Ham.

As mentioned earlier, his rise through the West Ham youth ranks has been meteoric. In the season where he was training with the first-team squad at the age of 15, he earned the Dylan Tombides Academy Player of the Year, given to the best player at the age group.

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His style of play has been often compared to former Hammer Rio Ferdinand. He is good with the ball at his feet, while maintaining aerial strength and is very versatile. His versatility can also be a weakness as he could not switch roles effectively in different matches.

It’s not often that teams in the first division of English football give debuts at such an early age. And Oxford has rewarded the club by recently signing a 5-year contract extension valid till 2021. For the time being, that has put the transfer rumours to bed, but it won’t be long before the bigger clubs begin their attempts to lure him away again.

The current West Ham squad has been leaking goals this season. In the first 15 games this season, West Ham conceded 29 goals, almost two per match and have only just managed to stabilise the defence in the past three games. There is a clear need for a calm and composed ball player at the back that would support the club vice-captain, Winston Reid.

Their current manager, Slaven Bilic gave him his Europe league debut and has expressed his appreciation for Oxford’s potential. It should not be long before he is moved up in the order to provide a larger role in West Ham’s backline.

#12 Franck Kessie

Atalanta BC v Udinese Calcio - Serie A : News Photo
Kessi is similar to Manchester City’s Yaya Toure

Franck Kessie has recently come into the limelight after being linked with the heavy spenders of the English football after his impressive performances for Atalanta in Seria A. Born in Ouragahio, the Ivory Coast midfielder moved from Stella club in his home nation to Atalanta’s U-19 squad in 2014 on loan. The move was made permanent a year later and he has since established himself as one of the finest youngsters in the Seria A.

There comes a time in a player’s life that can define his future or his overall career. For Kessie, that was the year he spent in Cesena on loan in Seria B under the tutelage of Massimo Drago, a well-known manager reputed for promoting and developing youth in his teams.

Drago transformed Kessie from a ball playing defender to a box to box midfielder. He realised that Kessie possesses the features of a midfield destroyer who could carry the ball over the length of the pitch and even have an eye for goal.

Since the transformation, Kessie has become a reliable box to box midfielder, popping up in front of goals regularly. In 17 games this season, Kessie has 7 goals to his name already. The comparisons between Kessie and Yaya Toure are inevitable now. And he very well could be on his way to reaching the Manchester City player’s level and has garnered interest from Chelsea, Juventus, and Tottenham.

He has admitted his desire to play for Manchester United one day, but considering his current role in Atalanta, he would also fit in seamlessly in Chelsea due to their similar 3-4-3 formation. The second half of the current campaign will complete his first full season in Serie A, and this could be the breakthrough he would need to reach the upper echelons of the footballing world.

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#11 Alexander Isak

Will Alexander Isak be the heir to Zlatan’s throne?

Imagine a Swedish youngster dubbed the next Ibrahimovic in terms of playing style and who has had a breakthrough year similar to the one Marcus Rashford has had in the past 11 months. That is the current reality for Alexander Isak.

The 17-year-old striker, born in Solna to an Eritrean family has had a year he could have hoped for only in dreams.

In February, he made his debut at a tender age of 16. In April, he became the youngest goal scorer for AIK. In September, on his 17th birthday, he scored a brace against arch-rivals Djurgarden. The year started out with him representing the Swedish U-17 team, and now he is a part of the U-21 squad of the reigning European champions, a meteoric rise highlighting his ascension into the spotlight.

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In 26 games this season, the youngster has notched 11 goals. Standing at 6’ 3”, the striker possesses not only aerial prowess in his attacking game but his first touch and hold up play have earned considerable praise. The most impressive feature in his game is his calmness in front of goal, akin to Rashford.

With major European clubs circling around including an already rejected €7 million bid from Real Madrid in the summer, Isak will probably not stay beyond the 2017 summer and his decision will hold a larger significance than his performances at AIK.

If for example, he chooses, Real Madrid, his talent might stagnate similar to the situation Martin Odegaard finds himself in after his high-profile transfer. There are definitely a lot of positives in a high-profile move too, so Isak has a big year ahead of him.

Edited by Staff Editor

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