A couple months ago, I wrote an article on of the best free agents under the age of 23. (You can find that article here). In that article, I highlighted some players at the time still remaining as free agents who could become difference makers. It’s fair to say that there were some hits and misses in that list. So far, at least, all those players still have a tremendous amount of potential.
Jandro Orellana, a talent I praised but was wary of his injury history, resigned with Barcelona B shortly after and has—you guessed it—missed multiple matches with injuries. His contract is once again expiring. His former teammate Oriol Busquets joined French side Clermont but has made only one start all year. Aliou Traore eventually joined fallen giants Parma, but has struggled for game time. North Korean striker Kwang-song Han’s career is essentially over following wage funneling accusations. Former Tottenham striker Kazaiah Sterling now plays in the USL.
However, Mattia Viviani has proven to be a revelation in midfield. The Benevento midfielder has missed some time due to injury, but has been key when playing. They’ve only lost four matches when he plays, while Benevento currently (per FBref.com) average 0.4 goals more with Viviani on the field than they do with him off of it.
That’s the thing with free agents. They tend to be talented players that teams take a swing on and hope for the best. It’s impossible to determine who will and won’t be a future star (Viviani has looked a successful prediction so far!). With that being said, it’s important to keep an eye out for exciting talents—it’s easy to miss the next up-and-coming gem if you don’t look at all. Here are five of the best under 21 players with expiring contracts who could be the next big thing.
Fábio Carvalho, 19, Fulham
One of the biggest discoveries of this season, Fulham attacking midfielder Fábio Carvalho has been gaining attention. The Portuguese-born talent has nine goals and seven assists in the English Championship. Fulham are currently first in the league and a Premier League return is imminent.
Carvalho almost signed with English giants Liverpool in the January transfer window, but the clubs were unable to reach an agreement before the deadline. It appears Carvalho will end up at Liverpool regardless, with Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano tweeting that Liverpool have reached an agreement:
Despite Carvalho’s expiring contract, reports are that Liverpool will pay a fee to Fulham for the player.
Berke Özer, 21, Fenerbahce
Long hailed as an exciting talent, Turkish goalkeeper Özer’s progress is picking up steam after previously stalling. After being signed in 2018, Özer was loaned out for two years to Belgian side Westerlo with mixed results. He returned to Fenerbahce this year as a backup to star goalkeeper Altay Bayindir, who is another name to look out for in the future.
However, Bayindir dealt with a lengthy shoulder injury this season, allowing Özer to make his Turkish Super Lig debut. Özer has made fourteen appearances this season, putting in solid performances. His future remains unknown, with Jose Mourinho’s Roma allegedly interested (unlikely) and rivals Besiktas supposedly interested as well (slightly more likely). I’d expect Özer to join another Turkish side, but I wouldn’t rule out a move to Germany or Italy.
Xavi Simons, 18, PSG
Xavi Simons may be just 18 but he’s no stranger to running down contracts. The midfielder was highly rated at Barcelona, but didn’t to renew his deal in 2019 and decided to join PSG. Because, you know, PSG are a team that integrates young talents.
The Dutch midfielder made his professional debut last year, and was ranked as one of the top 60 talents in the world by The Guardian in 2020, but has barely played. This is a problem that most promising talents face in the star-studded French capital. Simons is allegedly choosing between Barcelona and PSG once more, but he’ll need more constant scenery to realize his potential. He’ll likely rejoin Xavi’s Barcelona.
Robert Navarro, 20, Real Sociedad
Spanish midfielder Navarro caused a stir in 2019 when he became the youngest debutant in AS Monaco’s history at the age of 16 years and eight days. In doing so, he passed some of the biggest names in football: Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe, and, er, Anthony Martial were all older when they made their debuts for the French side. Not long after, Real Sociedad paid the team’s 14th largest transfer fee ever to bring Navarro back to Spain.
Since then, Navarro has played just eight matches for Sociedad’s senior team, mainly limited to the reserve team. He last appeared for the first team in December, not necessarily a good sign for a player with an expiring contract. However, Navarro is working his way back to the Spanish youth teams (even scoring on his return), and Sociedad will likely retain his services. He is only 20, after all.
Lee Buchanan, 21, Derby County
One of the sadder stories this season is Derby County’s relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in their history. This is mainly due to the club having 21 points deducted after entering administration (not being able to pay off debts), which also has caused financial issues. An exodus of talent is likely, with many players already announcing their departure.
England youth international Lee Buchanan is among those expected to leave, with his contract expiring this summer. A constant all season for Derby, Buchanan has 24 starts so far this season and Nottingham, West Ham, and Celtic are all linked. Expected to stay in England, I wouldn’t rule out that a potential move to Germany, where many English talents have succeeded in the past, could also happen.
While the headlines will focus on the contracts of Mbappe and Dybala, some of these players can be as important. All the players on the list are youth internationals already, with some potentially eyeing a senior call-up in the future. Some, like Carvalho, are preparing for a massive move whilst others, like Özer, are looking to solidify a starting spot. It’s just a question of who takes a chance.
Think I missed any free agents? Let me know in the comments!
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