USMNT's Dest at Barcelona among young stars poised for breakthrough seasons
Tor-Kristian Karlsen
October 2, 2020
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In April, I looked at the next generation of football stars; the top talents, aged 21 or under, who have shown the promise and ability to become the next household names.

While the 36 players on that list were already reasonably established at their clubs, there were also lesser-known names knocking on the door for inclusion. Since then, the performances of several have made them genuine candidates to push for top-10 status in next year's list.

With that in mind, here's a look at the players who could be the next breakout stars, compiled from clubs across Europe (Premier League excluded).

Sergino Dest | 19 | Defender | Barcelona

The Netherlands-born defender, who chose to represent the United States due to his American-Surinamese father, made a mini-breakthrough last season after impressing for Ajax in domestic as well as European competition.

As one would expect from a modern Ajax product, Dest takes up positions high up the pitch when the team is building from the back, and he certainly doesn't deny himself the chance to find room and carry the ball forward when picking it up in deeper positions. He's enthusiastic, full of energy and always prepared to take on opposing full-backs. He can still improve his final ball and, like most young full-backs, his one-on-one defending.

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Rayan Ait Nouri | 19 | Defender | Angers

While arguably one of the best in his position in Ligue 1 last season, the 19-year-old's consistency and high potential have flown somewhat under the radar. Although he still plays for a relatively unfancied side, there's nothing understated about Ait Nouri's all-action style. He is happy to charge up and down the flank all match, he's aggressive and he often enters into challenges with the kind of physical impact that is only tolerated by a lenient referee.

He is still a bit rough around the edges, given his young age. His final product in the last third still leaves more be desired, and he's prone to be impatient or lose focus when defending, but there's no denying that the France U21 international is one of the most promising full-backs in European football.

Jude Bellingham | 17 | Midfielder | Borussia Dortmund

The England U21 international is acquitting himself well at his new club, having started Dortmund's first two games of the Bundesliga season. Against the existing backdrop of a genuine youth wave in European football, it's remarkable that a 17-year-old, who just arrived from the Championship in English, is starting for one of the top sides in Germany.

Bellingham's first season was supposed to be about finding his feet at a new level of the game, but he already impressed enough in the Bundesliga to be more than a bit-part player. If nurtured well, the talent of this athletic, intelligent, versatile and natural footballer and box-to-box midfielder has no real limit.

Myron Boadu | 19 | Forward | AZ Alkmaar

Despite scoring in his debut for the Netherlands, the 19-year-old striker is still relatively unknown outside his home country and is, surprisingly, set to spend another season with AZ. On the one hand, he's quick off the mark and direct -- he rarely participates in the buildup play but rather makes runs in behind the opponent's defensive line -- and on the other is an opportunistic poacher with excellent timing and movement.

Although he rarely scores from outside the box, he can convert chances with either foot or his head. It's only a matter of time before he steps up a level from the Eredivisie.

Takefusa Kubo | 19 | Midfielder | Real Madrid

Drawing comparisons to Lionel Messi for his deft skill and creativity, Kubo spent his formative years at Barcelona's La Masia academy before he was ordered to leave by FIFA after the club broke rules about the recruitment of underage players. His footballing brain allows him to play quick-combination football, often by means of neat flicks and touches, while his quick, sensitive feet allow him to execute moves with precision and flair. He can play on either wing or as a supporting striker.

Creative and bright, Kubo spent last season on loan at Mallorca, and further progress during a season-long loan at Villarreal in 2020-21 could mean Zinedine Zidane won't let him out of sight next summer.

Sven Botman | 20 | Defender | Lille

Instead of returning to Ajax from a positive season on loan at Heerenveen, the 6-foot-4 centre-back joined Lille, replacing Gabriel after his move to Arsenal. Like the Brazilian, Botman is left-footed and has so far slotted well into the Lille back four, with the French side undefeated with just two goals conceded in five games.

The Dutch U21 defender plays with an air of authority well beyond his years; he's particularly assertive in his marking game and has a dominating presence, winning nearly 75% of his aerial duels. In the mould of the departed Brazilian, Botman is safe rather than too adventurous in his passing game.

Giovanni Reyna | 17 | Midfielder | Borussia Dortmund

With exceptional footballing genes -- his parents, Claudio Reyna and Danielle Egan, were both U.S. internationals -- the 17-year-old American's emergence is no real surprise. He has already started as many league matches this season (two) as he did in all of 2019-20, even registering a goal in the opening round against Borussia Monchengladbach (adding to the goal he scored in the DFB-Pokal the week before).

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As a creative, technically gifted attacking midfielder -- he prefers cutting in from the left or as a traditional No. 10 -- it's hard to find obvious weak points in his game. He makes forceful and smart off-the-ball movement to pick up possession in dangerous positions, passes the ball well and is always keen on taking on his opponents. As such, he suits Dortmund's free-flowing, combination-based attacking football to perfection.

With expectations high, his proper international breakthrough is imminent.

Rayan Cherki | 17 | Forward | Lyon

Announcing himself with a second-half substitute appearance in the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich, Cherki is, along with the brilliant Maxence Caqueret, the latest product to emerge from Lyon's supply line of talent. Due to the club's wealth of attacking options, the 17-year-old is being fielded in any position behind the striker.

Perhaps still a bit too keen on the flair side of football -- he has exceptionally quick feet and loves a back-heeled flick -- once he finds the right blend of consistency and maturity, the quick, technically gifted and creative Frenchman is...
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