Players to watch out for in 2023: Who could star in European football this year?
Wednesday, 4 January 2023
UEFA.com picks out the players who have the potential to take European football by storm in 2023.
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It's the start of the year and as usual UEFA.com has drawn on its network of reporters, correspondents and editors from across the continent to predict which players have the potential to take European football by storm in 2023.
All players must be 21 or under at the start of the year and will be hoping to emulate some of our previous picks in making a huge splash on the European stage – Erling Haaland, Jamal Musiala, Rodrygo, Jude Bellingham and Mykhailo Mudryk to name but a few.
Here are the 40 players to make the cut this time...
Liel Abada (ISR, 21 – Celtic)
An incisive passer and confident finisher, the Israeli attacking midfielder won the 2021/22 Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year award in his first season following his switch from Maccabi Petah Tikva and is already in double figure for goals across club and country this term.
Arda Güler (TUR, 17 – Fenerbahçe)
Dubbed the 'Turkish Messi' due to his dribbling ability and penetrating passing, he became the youngest goalscorer in Süper Lig history last season. This term he has caught the eye in the UEFA Europa League and become the youngest player to represent Turkey since 2008.
Álex Baena (ESP, 21 – Villarreal)
The Spanish Under-21 international came of age when helping Girona win promotion to the top flight last season with a regular supply of goals and assists from the left side. Has been doing the same since returning to parent club Villarreal in the summer.
Martin Baturina (CRO, 19 – Dinamo Zagreb)
Another fine prospect from the Croatian champions' conveyor belt of talent. The central midfielder has added goals to his game this season despite only fleeting appearances, 11 of which have come in the UEFA Champions League.
Dion Drena Beljo (CRO, 20 – Osijek)
Also a Croatian U21 prospect, Beljo is named Dion after Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Shot into the spotlight during a goal-laden loan season at Istra last year and carried on that form back at Osijek with five in his first five league starts this term.
Armel Bella-Kotchap (GER, 21 – Southampton)
The imposing centre-back has been a cut above the rest in a struggling Saints side and was unfortunate his early season form was curtailed by a dislocated shoulder. The summer acquisition from Bochum recovered quickly to take his place in Germany's World Cup squad.
Moisés Caicedo (ECU, 21 – Brighton & Hove Albion)
The all-action, aggressive central midfielder has taken centre stage at Brighton following the departure of Yves Bissouma. The first player born in the 21st century to score in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying in 2020, Caicedo already has 28 caps for Ecuador.
Lucas Chevalier (FRA, 21 – LOSC Lille)
The goalkeeper impressed on loan at Valenciennes last season and has taken his chance back at LOSC this term, not least when starring and saving a penalty in the derby against Lens in only his second game in front of his home fans.
Mohamed-Ali Cho (FRA, 18 – Real Sociedad)
Became the second youngest player to sign a professional contract in France (behind Eduardo Camavinga) and quickly ascended to first-team regular at Angers. The purposeful ball carrier, who is comfortable on both flanks, is now coming to the fore at Real Sociedad after a summer transfer.
Zeno Debast (BEL, 19 – Anderlecht)
A ray of light in a disappointing season for the Belgian giants, the ball-playing centre-back appeared in every league game this term before the World Cup and forced his way into the Belgium squad for the tournament.
Strahinja Eraković (SRB, 21 – Crvena zvezda)
Established himself as a first-choice centre-back for his club in 2021/22, winning a second straight double for the Belgrade outfit. Part of the Serbia team that gained promotion to UEFA Nations League Division A, Eraković then made their World Cup squad too.
David Datro Fofana (CIV, 20 – Chelsea)
What is it with Molde and exciting young strikers? Fofana racked up 15 goals in 24 games as his team stormed to the Norwegian title, and he earned his first two caps for the Ivory Coast in November, then a transfer to Chelsea thanks to that form. Another Erling Haaland in the making?
Valgeir Lunddal Friðriksson (ISL, 21 – Häcken)
Scooped the 2020 Icelandic title with Valur before moving on. "I've improved a lot this season – I play with more composure on the ball," said the imposing full-back, a key player as Häcken became Swedish champions for the first time in their 82-year history in 2022.
Alejandro Garnacho (ARG, 18 – Manchester United)
The supremely talented wide man, whose fleet-footed dribbling has drawn comparisons with former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, has forced his way into the United set-up ahead of high-profile stars. Winning goals in the Premier League and Europa League suggest he's just getting started.
Gonçalo Inácio (POR, 21 – Sporting CP)
Played his part when Sporting CP ended their 19-year wait to win the Liga title in 2020/21 and the centre-back has gone from strength to strength thereafter. Has already played 60 league games for the club and a first international cap surely beckons.
Anthony Gordon (ENG, 21 – Everton)
Another to sparkle in a struggling Premier League side, the indefatigable midfielder is as purposeful defensively as he is trying to drag his team forward. The local lad has supplied goals for his club and the England U21 side as his profile continues to rise.
Malo Gusto (FRA, 19 – Lyon)
The right-back is one of the hottest prospects in French football and already closing in on 50 first-team appearance for OL. Played further upfield in his youth and retains those attacking instincts, often using his quality delivery and pace to good effect in both directions.
Piero Hincapié (ECU, 20 – Leverkusen)
The Ecuadorian centre-back had already reached 20 caps before heading to the World Cup in November. Will surely improve his discipline from that latest experience, to match his undoubted defensive strength and ability on the ball.
Milos Kerkez (HUN, 19 – AZ Alkmaar)
The left-back has seamlessly filled the void left by Owen Wijndal's departure for Ajax and has already found the net in the Eredivisie and UEFA Europa Conference League. First capped by Hungary at 17, the confident prospect may force AC Milan to regret allowing him to leave in January 2021.
Tom Krauss (GER, 21 – Schalke, on loan from Leipzig)
The holding midfielder, who has represented Germany at every age group up to U21 level, has stood out in a struggling Schalke side thanks to his strength, pace and fine reading of the game.
Victor Kristiansen (DEN, 20 – Copenhagen)
Winner of the Danish title with Copenhagen in 2021/22, the left-back showed his industry and aggression when playing in all six games, at the age of 19, for the Lions in this season's Champions League.
Luiz Henrique (BRA, 21 – Real Betis)
A midfielder or forward, he made his name back home with Fluminense. "They play with speed, dribbling and good passing – I think I can fit in well with that," he said after his summer move to Betis, and a stunning headed winner at Roma in the Europa League suggests he's on the right track.
Eliot Matazo (BEL, 20 – Monaco)
An impressive screener in front of ASM's rearguard, the former Anderlecht prospect has made a regular string of appearances over the past two campaigns. Matazo has been a constant fixture for Belgium's U21 side and his minutes have been increasing at club level this season too.
Quentin Merlin (FRA, 20 – Nantes)
Merlin was a mainstay in the Nantes team that went all the way in the Coupe de France last season. Capable of playing anywhere down the left side of the pitch, his set-piece and crossing ability make him a major asset going forward.
Adamo Nagalo (CIV, 20 – Nordsjælland)
Team-mate Andreas Schjelderup (18) is the top scorer in Denmark having made our list last year and Nagalo is enjoying a similarly impressive rise. Joined from the Right to Dream Academy in Ghana in 2020 – now first choice at centre-back for Nordsjælland.
Nico Williams (ESP, 20 – Athletic Club)
Arguably an even more heralded prospect than older brother Iñaki was at Athletic, Nico is a tricky wide man with dazzling skills. Nailed down a starting spot this term, with his goals and assists helping propel him into Spain's World Cup squad.
Octavian Popescu (ROU, 20 – FCSB)
The attacking midfielder was a regular fixture for FCSB in the previous two seasons and has been in the international set-up since turning 18. Full of flair and with an eye for the spectacular, he has drawn comparisons with Romanian icon Gheorghe Hagi.
Gonçalo Ramos (POR, 21 – Benfica)
Good at pressing and hold-up play, goals have flowed for him in the Champions League and Liga this season after being prolific at U21 and UEFA Youth League level previously. Scored a hat-trick on his first Portugal start at the World Cup – the youngest player to bag a treble in the competition since 1962.
Fabian Rieder (SUI, 20 – Young Boys)
Patiently developed by his hometown club – even after scoring against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 2021/22 Champions League – the versatile midfielder has wowed Switzerland coach Murat Yakin with his movement and doggedness.
Giorgio Scalvini (ITA, 19 – Atalanta)
Only just turned 19 but the centre-back has made a starting spot for La Dea his own this season and gained international recognition. His imposing presence, tactical intelligence and potential to play as a holding midfielder have boosted his prospects further.
Nicolas Seiwald (AUT, 21 – Salzburg)
Already a two-time Austrian double winner, the midfielder has been with Salzburg for more than 13 years. Played 59 times for club and country in a breakout 2021/22 season and has continued to catch the eye this term with his relentless effort and tenacity.
Xavi Simons (NED, 19 – PSV Eindhoven)
A gifted creator and goalscorer in a hurry. Left Barcelona then Paris to accelerate his development and those decisions have paid off with a rousing first campaign at PSV. Scored ten goals by mid-October and was thrown straight into a World Cup debut by the Oranje.
Georgiy Sudakov (UKR, 20 – Shakhtar Donetsk)
Our 2022 pick Mykhailo Mudryk may have grabbed the headlines for Shakhtar this season, but Sudakov's growth has also been notable. Started all six Champions League group games, chipped in with two assists and rarely lost possession.
Crysensio Summerville (NED, 21 – Leeds)
The former UEFA European Under-17 Championship winner has had to be patient since swapping Feyenoord for Leeds in 2020. A direct dribbler with bundles of pace, Summerville exploded onto the scene with four goals in as many Premier League games this term, including a winner at Anfield.
Abakar Sylla (CIV, 20 – Club Brugge)
Another to slip under the radar in the Champions League this time around, unlike his headline-making club. Had only played six minutes for Club Brugge before this campaign – four clean sheets in as many European games and his first three Ivory Coast caps followed.
Mathys Tel (FRA, 17 – Bayern München)
Bayern paid a large fee to snare the youngest player ever to represent Rennes – a record he took from Camavinga – and the forward quickly became the youngest to find the net for the German giants. Frightening potential and goalscoring instincts.
Kenneth Taylor (NED, 20 – Ajax)
The Ajax academy has unearthed another gem in the central midfielder. Another U17 European champion, Taylor possesses the silky passing skills and poise which are the hallmark of any Ajax midfielder, and has become a regular scorer this season too.
Destiny Udogie (ITA, 20 – Udinese, on loan from Tottenham)
Five goals from wing-back in 35 Serie A outings in his first campaign for Udinese persuaded Spurs to get a jump on the competition for his signature. Loaned back to Udinese, he continues to maraud from box to box and has thrived in Italy's U21 side.
Lesley Ugochukwu (FRA, 18 – Rennes)
The nephew of former Rennes player Onyekachi Apam, Ugochukwu was introduced gradually into the first team in 2021/22. Has been more prominent this term, with his physical and defensive attributes drawing comparisons with France great Patrick Vieira.
Nicola Zalewski (POL, 20 – Roma)
Discovered by former Roma player and Poland icon Zbigniew Boniek, left-sided midfielder Zalewski is combative off the ball and purposeful on it. "My life has changed so much in the last year and a half," he said after winning the Europa Conference League and heading to the World Cup with Poland.
This list was selected by UEFA.com reporters, correspondents and editors and is not intended to rival more established awards.