As with every summer in the world of football, players from all over are now being linked with moves to pastures new, while rumours have fans in fits and giggles over their team’s alleged discovery of football’s next big thing. The hype surrounding young prospects is often heightened (and rarely helped) by Football Manager’s assertion that Teenager ‘X’ is a ‘wonderkid’, with many falling foul in real life of their simulated fate.
WhoScored.com here takes a look some potential future stars based on their stats from Europe’s top 5 leagues last season. With everyone aged 20 or above filtered out, we have picked out a few players to analyse, with regard in particular to their strengths and weaknesses, to see what kind of player they are and whether they might just have what it takes.
Tom Trybull (MC, DMC)
Strengths – Aerial Duels, Passing, Tackling
A year ago, Werder Bremen picked up a then 18-year-old Tom Trybull from the lower leagues, with the central midfielder quickly making the step up to first team football after just half a season in the reserves. Trybull’s inclusion in the first team straight after the winter break coincided with a run of 5 games unbeaten for Bremen, in which the youngster picked up an assist from a cross against Bayer Leverkusen and a headed goal in a 3-1 win at Hamburg.
Trybull was starting to show his potential and stake his claim to a permanent place in the Bremen team with his short-passing game. Of the 31 players that featured for Bremen last season, only left-back Florian Hartherz – who, incidentally, is also only 19 and made just 10 appearances – averaged more passes per game than Trybull’s 48.9, or completed more per game than his 41.1. His resultant pass success rate of 84.1% is fourth best overall in the squad – bettered by 2 players who played fewer than 7 games and centre-back Naldo, who would, for obvious reasons, be under less pressure than a central midfielder when in possession and therefore be less likely to give it away.
In addition to his passing game, Trybull also adds an aerial presence to his side – something that can only be a good thing for a team’s central midfield. He won 15 out of 19 aerial duels he competed in, and, as mentioned before scored his only senior goal via a header. Furthermore, he picked up one more assist later on in the season as his side lost at Wolfsburg, as he won a header in the box for teammate Markus Rosenberg to head home from close range. Seldom can central midfielders boast this part of their game, especially at such a young age, and this will only add to his value.
On the defensive side, ‘tackling’ pops up as yet another strength, with Trybull averaging 2.7 tackles per game, and providing some much needed defensive cover in front of the backline – a key attribute for a good, all-round central midfielder, as Trybull seems to be.
Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro (DR, DL)
Strengths – Dribbling, Ball interception, Tackling
19-year-old Toulouse full-back Jean Daniel Akpa Akpro made 13 appearances in Ligue 1 this season after making his breakthrough to first team football last summer. Of the 13 games he featured in, Toulouse kept an incredible 8 clean sheets, and while it would be unreasonable to attribute those clean sheets to Akpa Akpro’s presence, his input must have had a positive effect.
Rated as ‘very strong’ by WhoScored.com for his dribbling and interception skills, Akpa Akpro successfully dribbled past an opposition player on average 1.1 times per game – the joint most in the Toulouse squad with Moussa Sissoko, who played the majority of his season in central midfield, where one is always more likely to have more opportunities to attempt to dribble past an opponent. This shows in the fact that Akpro’s dribble success rate was nearly 74% compared to Sissoko’s 53%.
As for the defensive side of his game, Akpro averaged 2.3 interceptions per game, retaining possession 80% of the time he did so, while he also made 2.1 tackles per appearance. With the fact that he only completed a full 90 minutes on 4 occasions all season, it is telling that he had the second best rate at Toulouse in terms of both minutes per tackle (22.1) and minutes per interception (19.9), so given a longer run in the first team could well give him the chance to show his true worth.
He also has weaknesses in crossing and concentration, completing a quite astoundingly bad 1 out of 20 attempted crosses all season as well as committing one error that led to an opposition goal. However, at the tender age of just 19, he certainly has time on his side in order to work on any flaws he has.
M’Baye Niang (FW)
Very strong at – Long shots, Defensive contribution
Recently taken on loan at Arsenal, 17-year-old Senegalese striker M’Baye Niang has impressed at club level for Caen, although the striking stat for him is his meagre 2 goals in 23 appearances last season. He had 27 attempts on goal in those matches, giving him a conversion rate of just 7.4% - hardly the kind of statistic you would expect to attract the attention of Arsene Wenger.
From range, however, Niang’s stats are slightly more impressive. He attempted 9 shots from outside the box, with 4 of those hitting the target and one of them finding the back of the net. A conversion rate of 11.1% from outside the penalty area is much more reasonable.
When strikers have trouble in front of goal, it often encourages them to work back and show their worth on other parts of the pitch. Whether or not that was the reason for Niang’s defensive work we might not find out until he gets a bit older and we see his true colours. Nonetheless, he helped out with 0.7 interceptions per game - significantly more than any of Caen’s other striking options – while he also averaged 0.9 tackles per game.
His best performance of the season came in a 1-1 draw at Nancy, when he received a WhoScored Man of the Match award for scoring his side’s only goal from one of his two shots on target, whilst also turning provider with two key passes of his own. It remains to be seen whether he can impress sufficiently to win himself a dream move across the Channel, but Niang has certainly shown glimpses that he should be able to.