With the year coming to an end, we take a look at five defenders who are on the path to become the next sensation in the world of football.
There were plenty of incredible young footballers to choose from for this list. We decided to present you with five players who just rose to fame and haven’t yet asserted themselves as footballing stars. This means the list won’t feature the likes of De Ligt, Ruben Dias, or Alexander-Arnold. Those defenders have already finished the route from wonderkid sensation to a star player.
5. Mohammed Salisu – Southampton FC
This player is the only entry on the list who is yet to have any minutes on the pitch this season. The 21-year-old joined Southampton back in August on a €12 million transfer from Real Valladolid. However, a combination of injuries and lack of fitness had the young defender sidelined for the first half of the season. Nevertheless, Salisu’s performances in La Liga last season make him worthy of fifth place on the list. The center-back was a crucial part of a team that conceded only 23 goals in 27 matches. In fact, Valladolid even set a new record for a bottom-half side in the Spanish league.
4. Rhys Williams – Liverpool FC
This 19-year-old went from playing in the National League to pocketing Harry Kane in a matter of months. Williams began the season playing for Liverpool’s Under-23 side, as Van Dijk and Joe Gomez formed one of the best defending duos in the world. However, as the pair sustained long-term knee injuries, Jurgen Klopp needed a quick solution for the center of his defense. Rhys Williams began looking a bit shaken at the back but quickly asserted himself as a player his manager could trust. His performance against Tottenham earned him praise from both Klopp and captain Henderson. Not even Harry Kane could get past the 1,95m youngster, proving his above-average aerial capacity.
3. Nuno Mendes – Sporting CP
If you follow the latest transfer rumors, you’re bound to have heard of this 18-year old. Sporting just increased the player’s release clause up to €70 million after his latest performances. In fact, the left-back is being monitored by several top European clubs and there’s a good reason for it. Mendes made his debut for the Portuguese club just six months ago but is already a crucial part of Sporting’s title hopes. His pace and agility are remarkable given that he’s quite tall for a left-back (1,84m). Moreover, Mendes has great crossing abilities and can hold his own at the back as well. With his speed and strong profile, it’s not so easy to dribble past the youngster.
2. Perr Schuurs – AFC Ajax
The 21-year-old is the latest sensation of an impressive batch of Dutch defenders. Schuurs took advantage of Joel Veltman’s departure to assert himself in the center of Ajax’s defense. The Dutch’s performances earned him the interest of Premier League champions Liverpool. The Reds were looking into a solution in the winter transfer market after the long-term losses of Van Dijk and Gomez. Schuurs is still looking a little greener than De Ligt, even though the players are the same age. However, his tackles against Liverpool in the Champions League had the Reds craving his signing. Moreover, Schuurs’s long passes for the wingers would prove to be deadly in the Premier League.
1. Dayot Upamecano – RB Leipzig
We admit. Upamecano doesn’t really fit the relatively unknown rising star profile. However, his season at Leipzig has turned him into one of the most wanted defenders in Europe. Therefore, the French center-back had to be on the list for defenders to watch in 2021. In fact, there’s little doubt that Upamecano will sign for a top club next year. The 22-year-old already has a market value of €60 million but that hasn’t slowed down the interest. Upamecano has an average 88% pass completion rate on top of his incredible strength and tackling skills. The future is bright for the France international and we’ll be watching closely.