Five young stars who lit up European football despite Covid-19
From Alphonso Davies to Victor Osimhen, here are five young players who had breakout 2019-20 seasons with their clubs
For a while, it looked like the coronavirus pandemic had ensured Europe's top football leagues would not be returning to the field to conclude their uneasily paused seasons. But return they did, with restrictions and empty stadiums, to see the remaining games through. Now, with the transfer market heating up, scouts and managers will be placing their bets on the next young phenomenon. Here are five players, all 21 or under, one from each of the top five European leagues, who had a breakout 2019-20 season, all of whom will be keenly watched when the next season begins later this year.
Bundesliga: Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
In any other year, Erling Haaland's 44 goals for Red Bull Salzburg and Burussia Dortmund would be a cinch for Bundesliga Rookie of the Season. But 19-year-old Canadian Alphonso Davies had an exceptional year for Bayern Munich. Sneaking into a heavyweight team on the back of injuries to Niklas Sule and Lucas Hernandez, Davies—who till then had mostly been a winger—was deployed at left back. His defensive abilities improved with every game, and his serious speed (he was clocked as the fastest in the league) meant he could make up ground at the back as well as break with devastating pace going forward. He also scored three goals and provided 9 assists in 42 games across competitions.
La Liga: Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Ansu Fati, 17, made it a habit to set records for FC Barcelona in the 2019-20 season. In his first senior appearance for the Catalans in August 2019, he became the club’s youngest goalscorer and the third youngest goal scorer in La Liga’s history, aged just 16 years and 304 days. In February, he became the youngest player to score a brace in La Liga. In July, he scored the 9,000th goal in Barcelona’s history in a 4-1 win at Villarreal. His remarkable return of 7 league goals in 24 appearances has already got everyone talking of a superstar in the making at the Camp Nou. In a campaign which saw plenty of fault lines appear within the team itself, which culminated in Barcelona surrendering the league title to rivals Real Madrid, Fati proved to be a big positive.
Premier League: Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)
At 18, Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood is already being considered for an England call up, if recent reports are to be believed. The two-footed attacker has been one of the highlights of United’s campaign, which saw them clinch Champions League qualification for next season. Greenwood has scored 17 goals across all competitions so far. Of these, 10 came in the league. The last English teenager to do so was Wayne Rooney in the 2004-05 season. Whenever it looked like there wasn’t a goal in this United side, Greenwood came up with the goods. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already acknowledged the youngster as his most potent finisher and with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes around him, you can expect more goals out of Mason Greenwood next season.
Serie A: Sandro Tonali (Brescia)
At 19, Tonali is already being compared to the Italian great Andrea Pirlo. He joined Serie B team Brescia in 2018 and won promotion to the Serie A the following year. The deep-lying playmaker made 33 appearances across competitions in 2019-20, with 1 goal—an extraordinary free kick against Genoa, taken almost on the touchline, curled into the top corner—and 7 assists. Not surprisingly, Italy’s biggest clubs are looking to snap him up, led by Inter and Milan.
Ligue 1: Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC)
While you read this, there’s every chance that finishing touches are being applied to a deal to take 21-year-old Victor Osimhen from Lille OSC to Napoli in the Serie A, as per multiple reports. Such have been his exploits in Ligue 1 this season. The 2019-20 Ligue 1 was called off in April amid the pandemic, but you can’t take anything away from Osimhen, who finished third in the goal-scoring charts with 13 goals. Only PSG’s Kylian Mbappé, AS Monaco’s Wissam Ben Yedder and Lyon’s Moussa Dembélé managed more goals than Osimhen, who possesses frightening pace and a goal poacher’s instinct despite his tall frame. The forward, who also has 7 caps and 4 goals for the Nigerian national team, reminds many of former Nigerian great Nwanwo Kanu. Having shaken off a disappointing start to his career with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, Osimhen looks set for the big time.