Welcome to the ESPN FC Hotlist, which highlights some of the best under-23 talent from across Europe each month.
In general, young but established stars like Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham or Barcelona’s Gavi aren’t included – otherwise they’d be on the list each month – but we’re spotlighting some of those who deserve praise for their performances and who could possibly be the next big name in European football.
Next week we also take a look at the top players from the U20 World Cup, which is currently taking place in Argentina.
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The astute winger and playmaker, signed on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain last summer, capped a sensational full season at senior level in style as he passed AZ Alkmaar defenders and scored both goals in a 2-1 away win last Sunday.
Simons is not only a source of creativity (1.6 key passes and 4+ successful dribbles per 90 minutes) and end product – he finished the season as the Eredivisie’s top scorer with 19 goals – but also enthusiastic about his pressing duties. The Dutch international’s exceptional performances raise questions as to whether he played his last game for PSV as there are many clubs interested.
Yamal became the youngest player to feature for Barcelona in a league game when he came on for Gavi in the 83rd minute against Real Betis on 29 April. He was then selected for Spain at the European Under-17 Championship in Hungary and was in outstanding form there.
Although Spain lost 3-1 to France in the semifinals, Yamal was arguably the best player of the tournament. With four goals (two of which were genuine world-class goals), the lavish talent – compared to Ansu Fati and, inevitably, Lionel Messi as well – has shown why he is a potential star of the future.
Yamal is naturally talented and possesses remarkable foresight. He wowed the crowd with no-look passes, quick turns and great first touches. His performances in Hungary could see him become a permanent fixture in Barcelona’s first-team as early as next season.
Jackson is arguably the most productive LaLiga player in recent months, scoring eight times in his last seven games. In addition to his goalscoring abilities, he is most effective in the transition phase, where his pace, physicality and one-on-one skills make him difficult for defenders to deal with.
The Gambian-born Senegalese international has also improved in other areas of his game: his first touch is becoming more reliable and he seems more aware of his teammates’ movements when jumping deep to tie the game. He has also shown growing maturity as he selflessly assisted two goals against Girona.
Earlier this month, Wahi famously scored four times in a Ligue 1 game against Lyon, but went on to lose 5-4 as former Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette also scored four! But while the France Under-21 international is famed for spectacular finishes – astounding fall discards and flamboyant chipping count among his 17 league goals this season – there’s so much more to his game.
Normally tasked with leading the attack, his playstyle is more like that of an old-fashioned, roaming ‘second striker’ than a centre-forward. Wahi uses his acceleration, brilliant movements and dribbling skills to fool opponents, and when the space clears, every defender is fair to beat in a one-on-one sprint duel.
His remarkable form for Montpellier has inevitably sparked speculation about a potential summer move, with Arsenal and AC Milan often being linked.
Some fans may have been surprised when Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic fielded the 17-year-old, ahead of other big names on the substitutes’ bench, while his side fell 2-0 behind Mainz in the Bundesliga championship decider at the weekend. Although the game ended in a 2-2 draw and a heartbreaking result for Dortmund when Bayern Munich just shot them at the post, it was clear Terzic knew what he was doing.
The fast, nimble and technically brilliant teenager was the ideal player to make a difference against the ultra-deep Mainz block. During his debut, Duranville registered two important passes and repeatedly beat his opponents for fun (seven successful dribbles).
Although he couldn’t make the crucial difference, the introduction of the €8.5 million new signing from Anderlecht in January provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
Isaksen has made a name for himself as an energetic, quick right winger and his strike rate has recently increased after moving to a more central position. Since the start of the year, the Denmark Under-21 international has scored 13 goals in 14 appearances and has landed with both feet, making him difficult for his opponents to find.
With his excellent high-speed dribbling, Isaksen manages to exploit spaces in wide areas or behind the defensive line. He is mentally alert, often lunging for rebounds and adept at finding the right space to run into off the ball.
There’s every chance he’ll be the next Danish Superliga star to move to a top flight, while his Europa League goals against Lazio and Feyenoord have convinced all the traveling scouts he’s ready to step up to a higher level to dare.
It’s difficult to find a young right-back with great potential who hasn’t yet been spotted by Europe’s elite clubs, but Salzburg’s number 70 is one to keep an eye on. Dedic was born in Austria to Bosnian parents and is already a regular in the Balkan country. In March, he scored a great left-footed goal against Iceland.
What makes Dedic particularly attractive is his energy and dedication. By always playing up front, he can quickly take down opponents (six interceptions per 90 minutes) and constantly pushes forward to create a right flank escape.