10 of the best breakthrough stars in Europe in the 2018-19 season
If you’re anything like us, you’ll have found yourself getting reminded of your own mortality on a regular basis as more and more young footballers break through.
Often, this feeling will arrive when you look up the fixtures from the weekend the latest debutant was born and realise you vividly remember watching the games in question.
We want to be positive about all of this, though, so instead of moaning, we’re going to praise some of the children to have broken through in the 2018-19 season.
All of the players in this list have made their league debut for a team in the Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga in the 2018-19 campaign.
For some, this is their first league appearance of any kind, while others have previously picked up minutes in lower divisions or non-European leagues.
One thing’s for certain, though – they all look good.
Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig
Adams might have had a fair few games under his belt with the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer, but the young American has instantly looked at home in a bigger league.
The midfielder went straight into the Leipzig starting line-up for a 4-0 win at Fortuna Düsseldorf a few weeks before his 20th birthday and has helped his new team confirm its spot in the 2019-20 Champions League with time to spare.
Lucas Paquetá – AC Milan
Paquetá might have racked up plenty of games before moving to Milan, but he’s still a 21-year-old embarking on his first European season.
The Brazilian has been a big part of Milan’s pursuit of a top-four place, even if he won’t be available for the run-in due to a red card against Bologna. But let’s be honest, he’s here for that rainbow flick as much as anything else.
Colin Dagba – PSG
PSG’s domestic dominance has made it easier for them to give game-time to youngsters, and defensive prospect Dagba has been one of the beneficiaries.
The right-back only turned 20 in September but has more than a dozen Ligue 1 games to his name as well as a Champions League debut in the victory at Old Trafford.
He’s been joined in the first-team shake-up by fellow youngster Moussa Diaby, who returned fresh from a quiet spell on loan at Serie A side Crotone last season.
Sofiane Diop – Monaco
Another young man to make the breakthrough in the French top flight, slight teenager Diop might not have the presence of some of his peers, but the Tours-born midfielder has played 21 times for Monaco during a season in which some of their more established players have struggled.
The 18-year-old has featured under Leonardo Jardim and Thierry Henry, earning four Champions League appearances under Henry in a move which will surely set him up well for the future.
He has played just once since Jardim’s return, but next season should offer more opportunities.
Rabbi Matondo – Schalke
After watching Jadon Sancho thrive away from Manchester City, Matondo opted to follow his former colleague to the Bundesliga.
The Welshman has already been thrown into the action since joining Schalke in the winter transfer window, including a cameo in the shock win at Borussia Dortmund, and made his international debut in November while still a City player.
Josh Sargent – Werder Bremen
On December 7, Sargent was substituted on after 76 minutes to make his Bremen debut against Fortuna Dusseldorf.
In the 78th minute, the teenage forward had opened his Bundesliga account with his first touch.
Admittedly, it was extremely *David Nugent for England vs Andorra*, but the USA international followed that up with another goal against RB Leipzig two weeks later, and Bremen seem to have a talent on their hands.
Unai Simón – Athletic Bilbao
The world-record sale of Kepa to Chelsea on the eve of the season left plenty of Athletic fans worried about being exposed in the goalkeeping position in 2018-19.
Yet while Iago Herrerín has spent the majority of the campaign as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, 21-year-old Simón caught the eye with a run in the team at the start of the season.
As former Bilbao stopper Andoni Cedrun told Marca in reaction to Kepa’s departure: “My son said the other day, ‘We have Unai Simón and €80million euros.'”
Vinicíus Júnior – Real Madrid
Given the struggles of Martin Odegaard to make an impact at the Bernabeu, you could have been forgiven for being slightly sceptical about Vinicíus’ prospects with Los Blancos following his arrival in a big-money move from Flamengo.
Yet while Julen Lopetegui was somewhat reluctant to use the 18-year-old, he has proved one of Real’s most exciting attackers under Santiago Solari.
Injuries have seen him sidelined since Zinedine Zidane’s reappointment, but he has already proven he can be a major part of the rebuild under the Frenchman.
Zidane on Viniciús:
'He's not just the present but the future of Madrid.'
— Loconte⚽️ (@Loconte199) May 4, 2019
Paulinho – Bayer Leverkusen
Vinicíus’ strike partner in Brazil’s youth teams, Paulinho’s move to Europe did not generate as much fanfare, and he has been phased into Leverkusen’s team more gently, starting games in the Europa League and German Cup while still waiting for his first Bundesliga start.
The 18-year-old has made 14 appearances from the bench in Germany’s top flight, scoring his only goal of the season against AEK Larnaca in Europe.
“The lad has quickly shown us what he can do with his technical ability, dynamism, assertiveness and goal threat,” said Leverkusen sporting director Jonas Boldt.
Nicolò Zaniolo – Roma
The youngest player since Francesco Totti to score three Serie A goals, Inter could live to regret selling Zaniolo to Roma in the summer for just €4.5million as part of the deal which saw Radja Nainggolan – whose season has been marred by disciplinary issues – move in the opposite direction to the San Siro.
Previously compared to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard by Inter Primavera coach Stefano Vecchi, the 19-year-old has bagged six goals from midfield in his debut campaign, including a brace against Porto in the Champions League.