European Football

2022’s Potential Breakout Stars: Part 2

A few more to finish out the side…

If you have not read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. Now, we finish out this series with a few more bright stars poised for a breakout season.

Charlie Patino, Arsenal/England

Arsenal’s Hale End Academy has been one of the topics of choice for English football fans this season. The success of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka has highlighted the successes of Arsenal’s focus on youth development, and those two are certainly the main stars of Mikel Arteta’s youthful and exciting Arsenal. Next in line at Hale End, however, is a player who might be just as, if not more, exciting than his counterparts. Charlie Patino is very highly regarded among Arsenal’s youth prospects, so much so that he even made his first team debut and scored on his first senior team appearance, in the Carabao Cup against Sunderland. While he has not been making appearances with the Arsenal senior team since they were knocked out of the FA Cup, it is clear that both the club and Arteta view the 18 year old as key for the future of the club.

Charlie Patino is a very talented technical midfielder, one that, like many of the other midfielders we have profiled, is able to thrive in many different roles within the midfield. He is best as a deep lying playmaker, however, able to utilize his outstanding passing range to set play up from deeper positions. He also helps out in the defensive area of the game, while not being an elite defensive player, and this energy level and ability to read the game makes him ideal to fit into a double pivot in midfield, ironically just like the double pivot in Arteta’s 4-2-3-1. He has a skill set that Arsenal needs, and I would not be surprised to see him given more of a chance as we go into next season.

Castello Lukeba, Olympique Lyonnais/France

Yes, time for me to be a little biased. Castello Lukeba has been maybe the brightest positive of what has so far been a remarkably disappointing season for Lyon. Lukeba is next in the line of highly-touted products from OL’s famous academy, and he was one of the few youth talents given a chance in the first team. He has taken that chance with both hands and, especially since manager Peter Bosz made the decision to move to a back three, he has made himself undroppable. Seemingly almost an exact clone of fellow Lyonnais prodigy Samuel Umtiti, Lukeba looks to be the next great French center back that will take the world by storm.

Strong, smart, quick, good in the air, and capable with the ball at his feet, Lukeba has everything needed to be the modern center back. Despite not being quite as towering in height as, say, Van Dijk, he is able to compete in the air and is strong enough to physically challenge attackers. He is also incredibly composed, remarkably so for a 19 year old, which allows him to be strong in duels, time tackles very well, and seemingly not be phased by the moment or the competition. The kid has a bright future, and he will certainly be tasked with more responsibility in the first team at OL as the season progresses.

Gleison Bremer, Torino/Brazil

And now for maybe the oldest player on this list, just to show that I do not completely focus on Football Manager prospects for these lists, 24 year old Gleison Bremer is likely a name you have not heard but will very soon. As maybe the best performing center back in the first half of the Serie A season (outside of Kalidou Koulibaly), Bremer is certainly starting to catch eyes and attract attention. While Torino is only narrowly in the European discussion, they do have the third lowest goals against number in the league, trailing only Inter and Napoli. Much of that defensive success can be attributed to the imperious Brazilian at the heart of their defense, and if Torino want to be playing in the Conference League next season, they will need a strong second half of the season from their rock at the back.

The first thing you would notice about Bremer is, well, he’s quite big and intimidating. It’s not just his 6’2″ height either, but he is quite a heavy built player, and his pace and jumping ability make him a physically imposing center back in multiple ways. But he is not just a physical beast. He is also quite an intelligent player. Tackles are timed well, aerial duels are won with impeccable timing, and he marshals his defense well while being flexible enough to play in a back four and back three. He is immensely talented, and the interest from within Italy and beyond will likely accelerate as we move closer to the summer.

Benjamin Šeško, Red Bull Salzburg/Slovenia

Have Red Bull done it again?

Well, we might all be asking ourselves that question soon enough, as currently at Salzburg we have yet another tall and lanky striker with a quick turn of pace, comfort on the ball, and an eye for goal. Sound familiar? There was a pretty prominent Scandinavian player who left Salzburg recently with those same characteristics.

Obviously this is hyperbole, but it is true that Salzburg have in 18-year-old Slovenian Benjamin Šeško a player with apparent budding superstar potential. While he is only now beginning to be incorporated into the first team in Salzburg, he did enter this season on the back of a potent loan spell at FC Liefering, Salzburg’s feeder club, where he scored 21 goals in 29 league appearances. While not being a first team regular this season, he has still been able to rack up seven goals in all competitions at the halfway point of the season. Despite Salzburg manager Matthias Jaissle’s preference for Noah Okafor or Chukwubuike Adamu partnering Karim Adeyemi up top, it is becoming very apparent that Adeyemi’s days in Salzburg are numbered. Once Adeyemi leaves, the opening will be there for Šeško to pounce, and I have no doubt he will take it.

Now yes, the elephant in the room is still here in this instance. Šeško is obviously going to be compared to Erling Håland. It is just going to inevitably happen, and that is probably unfair on the young Slovenian. Håland is on pace to be one of the best forwards maybe in modern football history, and Šeško should not have the Norwegian be his barometer (even if it is within the realm of possibility that he reaches similar levels of superstardom). He can still be a world-class talent without being Håland. Even at this stage in their careers, the two have their differences. Håland was a better finisher, but Šeško is better with the ball at his feet. Håland’s athleticism was elite when he was off the ball, but Šeško is dangerous athletically with the ball at his feet as well. He is his own player, not acting in Håland’s shadow, and the Slovenian has the skill and potential to become a superstar in his own right.

Arsen Zakharyan, Dinamo Moscow/Russia

Now to go a bit further east for this next entry. 18 year old midfielder Arsen Zakharyan is, again, a name many may not have heard, and given how short his career has been so far, that is very understandable. The young Russian only made his professional debut for Dynamo Moscow a little less than a year and a half ago, but he has already made quite the impression in that short time. Despite only really featuring in the second half of the 2020/21 season, he was impressive enough to be voted Dynamo Moscow’s Player of the Month three times by the fans, as well as being the club’s player of the season and winning the league’s award for best U-21 player. He was also impressive in Russia’s brief spell at the Under-21 European Championships, becoming the competition’s youngest ever goalscorer. He even did enough to earn a spot on Russia’s preliminary squad for the European Championships, though illness prevented him from making the final team. He would eventually get his senior national team call up, where he would become Russia’s second youngest ever player and youngest ever outfield player. That is a lot of historical notes for an 18 year old, right?

Zakharyan is a brilliant technical player, confident on the ball with a keen eye for a killer pass and enough dexterity to be fairly effective with both feet. He plays with that youthful daring and exuberance that makes him a threatening, risk-taking player, but he is also smart enough to be useful in different tactical set ups. It is that tactical intelligence that allows him to play multiple roles, able to line up as a winger, number 10, or a deeper number eight midfielder. He is still a bit of a blank slate at this point, with the talent to shine in many different ways and just needing to be refined to the specific role and capabilities that a team would want out of him. He is certainly top of the list of players looking set for a migration from Eastern Europe as the year progresses, and if Russia are going to find their way through the qualifying playoffs and to Qatar at the end of the year, it might have to be on the back of some breakout performances from this young magician.

Ibrahim Sangaré, PSV Eindhoven/Ivory Coast

Now to highlight two African booming stars, as we are in the middle of the African Cup of Nations.

24 year old Ivorian midfielder Ibrahim Sangaré has gone through quite an evolution over the last year and a half. He was once just the random midfielder that was mentioned in every Tifo Football “Sensible Signings” video, being a player with immense physical presence and potential to be a great technical midfielder. He was always a hard worker in the engine room at Toulouse before making the move to PSV once Toulouse went down in 2020.

He evolved massively as a technical midfielder in Eindhoven, becoming a more adept passer and even improving his passing at longer distances, which was never something he has shied away from in his career. He is not an elite dribbler by any stretch, but he is a player who sure looks a whole lot more comfortable and confident on the ball and in possession, especially when under pressure, compared to a few years ago. He has gone from a simple defensive midfielder to a more well-rounded and tactically flexible midfield dynamo, and he has shined for both club and country this year, having won Eredivisie Player of the Month in November and currently being a crucial cog in a Côte d’Ivoire team that could realistically win AFCON. Sangaré will likely attract interest from clubs outside of the Netherlands at the end of the season, and he certainly looks like a player who would be useful for a variety of teams and fit in a variety of tactical set ups.

Kamaldeen Sulemana, Rennes/Ghana

One final bonus entry, as we are in AFCON season and there are many young, up-and-coming African talents worthy of discussion. We will finish the article with 19 year old Ghanaian winger Kamaldeen Sulemana. Sulemana was the next on the list of players to come from the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana and join their European partner club, Denmark’s FC Nordsjælland. He starred at Nordsjælland, earning a move to Rennes in 2021, where he has since been one of the best young players, and maybe the best newcomer, in Ligue 1. While he has not put up incredible numbers in his first season, largely due to being rotated around alongside Martin Terrier and Jérémy Doku, he has still attracted admirers with his incredible dribbling ability and dynamism, even winning Ligue 1’s Pépite du Mois (Young Player of the Month) award in October 2021. Despite a disappointing AFCON for Ghana, he is still firmly within the national team picture, and his stock is only going to go higher.

A rapid and tricky winger, Sulemana has found success as more of a creative force rather than a pure goalscorer at this point in his career. He is able to make things happen, find himself in scenarios where he can beat the defending fullback and force openings for other players. While he is not quite the lethal finisher that many top teams ask of their attacking wingers, he is solid with both feet and able to contribute to the attack in multiple ways. He is a player with substantial potential and room to grow, and he is certainly one to watch as the Ligue 1 season concludes, especially if he can help his Rennes team qualify for European competition next season.

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