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As transfer fees soar and wages rise, there remains something pure about a young player bursting onto the world stage from relative obscurity.
Think Kylian Mbappe's rapid journey from 17-year-old Monaco striker to £166million PSG megastar. Or Marcus Rashford's rise to prominence at Manchester United.
Every year young talents emerge across the globe. Some live up to their early hype while others fade away. However, we have identified six players who are set for a breakout 2018. Remember the names!
Frenkie de Jong
Ajax have produced some quality talent in recent years and Frenkie de Jong is yet another young exciting player on their books.
Unlike many talented youngsters at the Amsterdam club, he didn’t come through the academy, instead joining from Willem II in the summer of 2015 after already making his Eredivisie debut.
He didn’t link up straight away with the first-team squad, instead joining Jong Ajax where he made nearly 50 league appearances over two seasons and scored six goals.
That form saw him being aware the Jupiler League’s Talent of the Season award for 2016/17.
And this season has been his breakthrough with the first team, with 15 appearances in all competitions, where he’s provided six assists.
The 20-year-old’s passing has been a particular asset with a 91.9 per cent passing accuracy so far.
Originally a winger, Alfonso Pedraza has been playing as a flying left-back for large parts of this season.
He spent last season on loan at Leeds United from Villarreal. This season he has been sent to Alavés where he’s followed in Theo Hernández’s footsteps. The Frenchman impressing at the Medizorrotza last season, earning himself a move to Real Madrid.
Pedraza could well be making a similar move in 2018, and is reportedly a Barcelona transfer target.
He has a €20million release clause, and Villarreal are reportedly willing to cash in on him.
With Lucas Digne out of favour at Barça, they will likely be looking at a back-up and Pedraza’s dribbling ability could make him the perfect candidate to substitute Jordi Alba when necessary.
Gifted 17-year-old striker Jann-Fiete Arp has taken the Bundesliga by storm since making his senior debut for Hamburg in September.
He’s been on the club’s books since he was ten and has been thought of as a prospect of real promise for some time after shining with their under-17 side when he was just 15, scoring 37 goals in just 45 games.
He has proven equally prolific at the same level for Germany, captaining the side and netting 18 times in 19 appearances, including five goals at the recent Under-17 World Cup in India.
Arp has gone on to make nine appearances for Hamburg since his debut in September, scoring twice and attracting clubs around Europe.
He says his idol is Tottenham and England star Harry Kane: “If there was just one player I had to pick as my role model, it’s Harry Kane. He plays the way I want to play,” he told UEFA.com in May.
“He’s quick and very comfortable with and without the ball. It’s difficult to stop him. You need to pay attention for 90 minutes because he can score at any time.”
Considering he’s made his big breakthrough around three years earlier than Kane, it’s fair to say he could be very good indeed.
When you’re 17 and captain of your club it's fair to say you're highly thought of.
At the start of this season, Perr Schuurs was made skipper of Fortuna Sittard in the second division of Dutch football.
That attracted interest in the defender from across Europe and he is reportedly a Spurs and Liverpool transfer target. But like young Dutch talent de Jong, he decided Ajax is the best place to further his career.
“It is a dream to be able to play at a top club like Ajax,” he said in a statement on Fortuna's official website after signing.
“There were several clubs interested and I also spoke with other clubs, but my feeling at Ajax was immediately very good. I think that's important.”
Ajax director of football Marc Overmars said: “He knows what is required of him to be able to reach the top. The fact that he is already captain at Fortuna Sittard at this young age also says something about his personality.”
Now 18, he could be a key part of a very exciting young Ajax team.
Another 17-year-old we’re tipping for big things in 2018 is Chelsea's Ethan Ampadu.
You have to be good to make your Premier League debut for Chelsea as a youngster. After all, John Terry was the last youth product to feature regularly for the West Londoner.
Ampadu came off the bench against Huddersfield Town for his first appearance in England’s top flight, having already made his debut and first start for Chelsea earlier this season in the League Cup.
He arrived at Chelsea after making 13 appearances for Exeter City in all competitions, becoming the club’s youngest-ever player when he featured in an EFL Cup tie against Brentford aged 15 years, ten months and 26 days.
The midfielder already has two Wales caps and unless it goes horribly wrong, he looks like he’ll be a real star in the future. Alongside Andreas Christensen, he may well prove that young players can get a chance at Chelsea.
From Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa and Clément Grenier, to Alexandre Lacazette, Corentin Tolisso and Nabil Fekir, there is one thing that Lyon do very well and that’s bring though the next generation of French superstars.
Houssem Aouar is the next one off the conveyor belt and everyone at OL is excited by what the 19-year-old can achieve.
If you need any more convincing, when Lyon sold a number of stars in the summer, the No.8 jersey was handed to Aouar before he had started a single league game for the club.
Able to play all across the attack, he can be a winger or a playmaker, drift wide to take on defenders, or play through the middle and pick passes. He has it all.
His first goal for the club came in the Europa League, using guile and movement to slip past AZ Alkmaar’s back four before finishing from a tight angle. His opening league goal came after he made a far post run to get on the end of a low cross.
There are elements of Christian Eriksen to his game, the way his size looks to be his downfall, but his vision and awareness make up for that and allow him stand-out.
Lyon know they have a star on their hands and they won’t be easily persuaded to part ways just yet, instead hoping he helps them to Europa League success next year.