Players to watch for 2022: Who could star in European football this year?
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
We pick out the players who have the potential to take European football by storm in 2022 and beyond.
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It's the start of the year and that means UEFA.com's team of reporters, correspondents and editors have dusted off their crystal balls to predict which young players, who must be 21 or under at the start of 2022, could come to the fore in European football this year and beyond. Who are the future stars of the UEFA Champions League? Who can you expect to be making headlines for years to come?
This time last year, we made positive predictions for the likes of Jude Bellingham, Charles De Ketelaere, Ryan Gravenberch, Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz and Pedri while a trip further back into the archives reveals now-established stars Jonathan David, Ansu Fati, Dušan Vlahović, Alphonso Davies, Rodrygo and Erling Haaland on our previous shortlists. So who makes the cut this time?
Karim Adeyemi (GER, 19 – Salzburg)
The striker is the next top-class forward off the Salzburg production line after Haaland and Patson Daka, and has already broken into the Germany team, scoring on his debut.
Amine Adli (FRA, 21 – Leverkusen)
Comfortable on either flank, the winger has continued to progress after a summer transfer from Toulouse and recently scored on his first two outings for the France Under-21 side.
Anouar Ait El Hadj (BEL, 19 – Anderlecht)
The versatile Belgium Under-21 international has the ability to play several roles across the midfield and is equally capable carrying or distributing the ball.
Ander Barrenetxea (ESP, 20 – Real Sociedad)
The left-sided midfielder – the first player born in the 21st century to appear in the Spanish Liga, in 2018 – has increasingly contributed to La Real's rise over the past year, with his ability to beat players catching the eye.
Stipe Biuk (CRO, 19 – Hajduk Split)
Biuk turned heads with an impressive cameo against Spain at last summer's Under-21 EURO finals, and the left-winger has been a regular starter at club level during the past nine months.
Erik Botheim (NOR, 21 – Krasnodar)
Transformed after leaving Rosenborg early last year, the forward notched 23 goals in 46 games in 2021 for Bodø/Glimt – two goals and three assists in a 6-1 win against Roma the highlight. A first Norway cap surely follows for the new Krasnodar signing.
Aguibou Camara (GUI, 20 – Olympiacos)
Snapped up from LOSC Lille in the summer, the Guinea international is a box-to-box midfielder who excels as a ball-winner and creative influence. Not the tallest, hence the comparisons to N'Golo Kanté.
Ersin Destanoğlu (TUR, 21 – Beşiktaş)
The goalkeeper has already passed 50 appearances for the Black Eagles and is keeping Turkey international Mert Günok out of the side. A towering presence with a knack for saving penalties too.
Hugo Ekitike (FRA, 19 – Reims)
Coach's dream of a forward due to his diligent defensive work and ability to bring others into play through holding the ball up. His fine movement has contributed to a regular goal output this season.
Harvey Elliott (ENG, 19 – Liverpool)
Brilliant on loan at Blackburn last season, the relentless midfielder broke into the Liverpool side before a bad injury in September. His passing ability will be a major asset when he returns to action in 2022.
Conor Gallagher (ENG, 21 – Crystal Palace, on loan from Chelsea)
Another from the Chelsea conveyor belt, the indefatigable midfielder has added a regular supply of goals to his all-action style since joining Palace. He made his England debut in November as a result.
Gavi (ESP, 17 – Barcelona)
A metronomic passer and calmness personified, the cultured midfielder burst onto the scene last term and did not look out of place when becoming Spain's youngest ever international during the UEFA Nations League Finals.
Étienne Green (ENG, 21 – Saint-Etienne)
Named after the city he represents by his French mother, Green is a modern-day ball-playing sweeper keeper. Thrown in at the deep end in April due to injuries, he's gone on to nail down the starting position.
Pierre Kalulu (FRA, 21 – AC Milan)
An increasingly influential defender since arriving from Lyon in summer 2020, Kalulu has proven himself as a solid central option and a marauding full-back in Stefano Pioli's ranks.
Arnaud Kalimuendo (FRA, 19 – Lens, on loan from Paris)
A former star in the UEFA Youth League for Paris, who has learned his craft from Kylian Mbappé. The striker's output has continued to increase in his second spell at Lens and for the France Under-21 side.
Odilon Kossounou (CIV, 20 – Leverkusen)
Kossounou's stock rose rapidly at Hammarby and Club Brugge before he headed to Germany in the summer. The centre-back's anticipation and tackling ability have already made him a key player at Leverkusen and for the Ivory Coast.
Kacper Kozłowski (POL, 18 – Union Saint-Gilloise, on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion)
A supremely talented midfielder who became the youngest player ever to feature at a EURO in the summer, Kozłowski is at ease in any central area thanks to his vision and incisive passing. Signed for Brighton from Pogoń Szczecin on 5 January.
Loizos Loizou (CYP, 18 – Omonoia)
Ukraine's Illia Zabarnyi, who figured in our 2021 picks, is the only teenager with more international caps than Loizou's 15; the left-winger played an understated role in Omonoia's title success.
Noni Madueke (ENG, 19 – PSV Eindhoven)
"The person that made me want to play football was Cristiano Ronaldo," he said. Madueke's power, pace and constant goal threat suggest the England Under-21 international has learned well from his hero.
Mykhailo Mudryk (UKR, 20 – Shakhtar Donetsk)
The stylish winger broke into the Shakhtar team this season and was involved in all their Champions League group matches, including an impressive start at Real Madrid. He's tipped for an international debut shortly.
Maksim Mukhin (RUS, 20 – CSKA Moskva)
Mukhin fleetingly appeared for Russia at EURO but has had a greater impact for CSKA since switching from Lokomotiv Moskva in May, establishing himself as a destructive force in the centre of the pitch.
Nico (ESP, 19 – Barcelona)
Another of Barça's La Masia graduates, Nico breaks the mould in that he is tall and powerful but also possesses the skill and technique honed at the club's academy. Now flourishing in the first team.
Luca Netz (GER, 18 – Mönchengladbach)
The assertive full-back became the youngest goalscorer in the history of his former club Hertha Berlin and has a purposeful turn of pace to complement a cultured left foot.
Bećir Omeragić (SUI, 19 – Zürich)
Defensive linchpin who has been pivotal in turning Zürich from league strugglers to title contenders, the composed Swiss international centre-back has already played more than 70 league games for the club.
Loïs Openda (BEL, 21 – Vitesse, on loan from Club Brugge)
A striker with impressive goalscoring numbers for Belgium's youth teams in recent years, Openda's speed and directness helped make him Vitesse's top scorer in the Eredivisie last season and it's been more of the same this term.
Yéremi Pino (ESP, 19 – Villarreal)
Full of pace and directness, Pino became the youngest-ever Spaniard to start a UEFA club competition final when Villarreal beat Manchester United in the Europa League showpiece back in May, aged 18 years and 218 days.
Nicolas Raskin (BEL, 20 – Standard)
A youth prospect at Standard, Genk and Anderlecht, Raskin's return to the former – his home-town club – has been the catalyst for the box-to-box midfielder to progress and hold down a regular starting spot.
Giacomo Raspadori (ITA, 21 – Sassuolo)
A member of Italy's EURO 2020-winning squad who has Roberto Mancini's faith, the adaptable and spritely forward scored ten Serie A goals in 2021 and is now a regular starter at Sassuolo.
Devyne Rensch (NED, 18 – Ajax)
"He has great vision, athleticism and technique – so a number of attributes that promise an amazing career," said coach Erik ten Hag of another Ajax gem, who can play on the right or as a centre-back.
Nicolò Rovella (ITA, 20 – Genoa, on loan from Juventus)
Juventus acted quickly to snap up the deep-lying midfielder last January and he has continued to blossom back at Genoa. Rovella has the potential to be a top-class regista while being defensively reliable.
Georginio Rutter (FRA, 19 – Hoffenheim)
Signed from Rennes in February 2021, the confident young attacker has been gradually afforded more game time, with recent performances and goals suggesting there is much more to come this year.
Andreas Schjelderup (NOR, 17 – Nordsjælland)
A regular starter for the Danish club since joining from Bodø/Glimt at 16, the inventive midfielder has been likened to, and is touted to follow in the footsteps of, previous Nordsjælland talent Mikkel Damsgaard.
Benjamin Šeško (SVN, 18 – Salzburg)
Having notched 20 league goals on loan at Liefering last term, the tall and speedy striker has drawn obvious comparisons to Haaland; he's also Slovenia's youngest debutant and goalscorer.
Mohamed Simakan (FRA, 21 – Leipzig)
Leipzig backed this well-rounded centre-back and Joško Gvardiol, who made this list last year, to cover for the departure of Dayot Upamecano, and the former Strasbourg stopper has hit the ground running.
Wilfried Singo (CIV, 21 – Torino)
The fast, strong and determined wing-back has become a key player for Torino with his continuous forays down the right flank. He broke into the Ivory Coast team in the summer.
Emile Smith Rowe (ENG, 21 – Arsenal)
The attacking midfielder has been a revelation for Mikel Arteta's men this term, reaching double figures for goals in all competitions and breaking into the England set-up courtesy of his energy and guile.
Khéphren Thuram (FRA, 20 – Nice)
Son of French great Lilian, Thuram Jr is also a significant presence at centre-back, has made more than 60 first-team outings for Nice and has eased into regular appearances for the France Under-21 team.
Jurriën Timber (NED, 20 – Ajax)
Synonymous with developing talent, Ajax have struck gold again with Timber. The silky centre-back is entrenched in the club's ethos, impressed in Ajax's perfect Champions League group stage and already boasts six caps for the Netherlands.
Adrien Truffert (FRA, 20 – Rennes)
Comfortable anywhere down the left flank, Truffert has settled into the Rennes side as a full-back with an attacking streak, his characteristics displayed perfectly with a recent two-goal salvo at home to Lyon.
Arsen Zakharyan (RUS, 18 – Dinamo Moskva)
At home on either wing, as a creative force or goalscorer from any range, Zakharyan was voted Best Under-21 player in the Russian league last season and became the youngest outfield player ever to feature for the national team.
This list was selected by UEFA.com reporters, correspondents and editors and is not intended to rival more established awards. All ages at 1 January 2022.