For years, I’ve written about u21 (or u23) talents either with expiring contracts or no contracts. In the first of these articles, in 2020, I chose four exciting talents: Angel Gomes, Malang Sarr, Abdul Mumin, and Luca Zidane. Nearly three years later, Gomes and Sarr are in Ligue 1, Mumin is in La Liga, and Zidane is a starter for Eibar — who will likely be a La Liga team next season.
Still, several years later, the u21 free agent market is underutilized. Reserve teams in particular are big culprits, letting promising talents leave for free and replacing them with prospects worth millions who don’t pan out.
This year, in particular, there are plenty of talented youngsters who will be available for nothing. Here are some of the best u21 players who will be free agents in the summer.
GK Noah Raveyre, 2005, AS Saint-Etienne: Raveyre was part of the French team that won the u17 Euros last summer, although he played just once. The 17-year-old made his Saint-Etienne debut in August, becoming one of the youngest players in the club’s history. Raveyre is rumored to have agreed to a move to AC Milan, where he would play for the Primavera (youth) side.
GK Charlie Setford, 2004, Ajax: Setford joined Dutch giants Ajax at the age of 8, where he has remained ever since. While he has yet to play for the senior team, he has been on the bench several times and started regularly for Jong Ajax (the Ajax reserves). Setford has been linked with some top sides, but a starting job looks unlikely and he would probably join the reserves.
CB Becir Omeragic, 2002, FC Zürich: Omeragic is a star in the Swiss Super League, although he’s struggled with injuries this season. Regardless, he is one of the biggest bargains available — a Swiss international with nearly 100 top-flight appearances by the age of 21. He’s been linked with teams from everywhere, but a Bundesliga move would suit him the best.
CB Mees Hilgers, 2001, Twente: Hilgers has made an incredible rise, having played just three Eredivisie matches with Twente until last season. Since then, he’s made nearly 50 league appearances for the club and become a Dutch youth international. A logical move is an upgrade in the Eredivisie to one of the league’s giants, like PSV, Feyenoord, or Ajax.
CB Alexios Kalogeropoulos, 2004, Olympiacos: Olympiacos saw enough potential in the Greek talent to sign him at the age of 16. However, Kalogeropoulos has made just four appearances, spending most of his time with the u19s and reserves. He’d be a great signing for a reserve team in Italy or Germany, or he could try to find a starting role in the Greek Super League.
CDM Kacper Urbanski, 2004, Bologna: Urbanski broke onto the scene with Lechia Gdansk in 2019, becoming the second-youngest player in Ekstraklasa at the age of 15. A transfer to Italian side Bologna followed, where he has made two appearances and starred for the Primavera. A move to the Serie B, Ekstraklasa, or Bundesliga 2 could create more playing opportunities.
CDM Eyüp Aydin, 2004, Bayern Munich: Aydin signed for German powerhouses Bayern when he was 12 and has never left. Last season he starred for Bayern II (seven goal contributions) and this season he has continued and even trained with the first team. However, the competition for the first team is stiff and a move to a lower Bundesliga or Bundesliga 2 would give him playing time.
CM Martim Neto, 2003, Benfica: Neto came through the famous Benfica academy, having spent the last eight years with the club. He has worked his way through the various Benfica sides, eventually making his senior debut last season. However, he hasn’t made any other appearances for the first team, and a move to another Liga Portugal team would make sense.
CM Cher Ndour, 2004, Benfica: Another Benfica midfielder, Ndour only joined in 2020 but he has quickly made an impression. The Italian midfielder became the youngest-ever player for Benfica’s reserves at the age of 16 and shortly after helped the youth team win the UEFA Youth League. Ndour is rumored to be interested in renewing but a Serie A move could make sense.
CAM Lukas Ambros, 2004, Wolfsburg: Ambros is a player I’ve talked about at length, although since the previous article was written he has debuted for Wolfsburg.
RW Sontje Hansen, 2002, Ajax: Hansen made headlines in 2019 when he won the Golden Boot in the u17 World Cup, with the Netherlands reaching the semi-finals. He debuted with the club that same year, although injuries have prevented him from establishing himself in the team. A move to another Eredivisie side where he can regain his form would be good for Hansen’s career.
RW Ilias Akhomach, 2004, Barcelona: Akhomach was hailed as the future of Barcelona when he debuted in the Derbi Barceloní at the age of 17, making two more appearances that season. However, his progress with the club has been slow, and the Spanish forward has fallen far down the pecking order. Leeds United are reportedly interested, although they are battling relegation.
LW Joelson Fernandes, 2003, Sporting Lisbon: Fernandes was one of the world’s top prospects, featuring four times for Sporting Lisbon at the age of 17. However, his career was derailed when he joined Swiss side FC Basel on loan. Zero goals and three assists in 23 games didn’t impress Lisbon, who haven’t played him since his return. Any move would be good for Fernandes, although staying in Portugal makes the most sense.
LW Amourricho van Axel Dongen, 2004, Ajax: Once Ajax’s top prospect, van Axel Dongen’s career has suffered because of injuries. He’s been limited to just three appearances with Ajax, having multiple different injury problems. The talented forward remains one of the most promising players out there, and Manchester United is rumored to be interested.
ST Víctor Barberá, 2004, Barcelona: Barbera is one of the top scorers in the UEFA Youth League, with seven goals in five matches. Additionally, he has eight goals in just 13 starts for Barcelona’s reserves, but he has not had a chance with the first team. He reportedly has an agreement with Club Brugge, who signed another former Barcelona striker, Ferran Jutgla, last season.
Image Courtesy of jikatu, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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