Scouting studs: 6 emerging stars on display in Ajax-Lyon Europa tie
Lyon visits Ajax Wednesday in a Europa League semi-final first-leg clash that amounts to a centerpiece for scouts eyeing tomorrow’s talents.
Two former domestic heavyweights who have since fallen on comparatively harder times face off at the Amsterdam ArenA boasting squads littered with young stars certain to materialize on the continental stage.
Les Gones striker Alexandre Lacazette has become the object of interest of Europe’s marquee sides, as has Juventus target Corentin Tolisso and skilled attacker Nabil Fekir, but what about the budding talents whose names have yet to become common among the sport’s neutral followers?
Once a Dutch deity, Ajax more resembles a feeder club than a European giant, and on the other side of the halfway line, Lyon appears set to make some sales after club chairman Jean-Michel Aulas conceded as much in February.
The fact remains: both sides continue to profit from traditionally outstanding academies, and the benefits will be on full display as both sides vie for a spot in the Europa League final.
With that in mind, here’s a glance at a six-pack of young players scouts will be monitoring during the Europa League semi-final tilt:
Defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart, 20, made his first-team debut last season, though this year marks a veritable breakthrough, with 20 Ligue 1 appearances coupled with a half-dozen run-outs in the Europa League.
A traditional deep-lying centre-mid, Tousart has exceeded expectations this campaign on the heels of a stellar display for France;s Under-19 side during last summer’s European Championship in England.
Naturally, these steady performances for club and country have attracted the interest of several European behemoths, with Manchester United heavily scouting the Valenciennes academy product as an eventual replacement for Michael Carrick.
Towering France youth international Mouctar Diakhaby became the youngest centre-back to start a Champions League match in a 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the group stages, and his mature performances have started to deservedly earn some recognition.
Diakhaby, 20, is enjoying his first season of first-team football, boasting goals in three separate tournaments including a trio in the Europa League. He also set the tone for Les Gones’ European progression by scoring the opener in both legs of a Round of 16 defeat of Roma.
Reliable both domestically and in European competition, Diakhaby will remember solid performances in both matches against Juventus in the Champions League as a stepping stone for what’s likely to be a celebrated career.
Like Diakhaby, once-capped Argentine international Emanuel Mammana is a young centre-half enjoying a solid debut season with Lyon.
Mammana, 21, made a €7.5-million switch from Buenos Aires giant River Plate in the summer, quickly earning Bruno Genesio’s trust by making 23 starts in all competitions.
With a contract with Lyon through 2021 that features a reported €10.5-million buyout, the mature defender has attracted the interest of several top-tier clubs in England and Italy, including Tottenham, whose manager, Mauricio Pochettino, is more than familiar with centre-backs who’ve emerged from Argentina’s Primera Division.
Among Ajax’s young standouts, 19-year-old Danish forward Kasper Dolberg has become one of Europe’s top teenage talents this season.
His performances have reportedly attracted the interest of several marquee clubs, including Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United, and Manchester City, and rightly so, as the well-rounded striker has paired a team-best 19 goals with seven assists in all competitions.
With droves of scouts in attendance for both legs of Ajax’s Round of 16 Europa League clash with FC Copenhagen, Dolberg’s legend grew, as he scored a goal in each fixture to give him a quartet of tournament tallies.
After rejecting a formal offer from Barcelona last summer to join Ajax on a €5-million transfer from Medellin giant Atletico Nacional, once-capped Colombia international centre-half Davinson Sanchez has enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in the Dutch capital.
Sanchez, 20, has started all but one of Ajax’s 32 league fixtures, bagging five goals and registering a pair of assists while displaying a penchant for performing well with the ball at his feet.
Considering Barcelona’s erratic displays at the back this season amid a rash of injuries, Sanchez has done more than enough to merit a second advance.
While scouts are no strangers to being swayed by the intrigue of nepotism, Amsterdam-born right-winger Justin Kluivert, 17, has deservedly appeared on the radar of European talent escorts after making the jump to senior football this season.
Like his famous father, Patrick, Kluivert has made a teenage debut with Ajax, though the capable offspring is a pure winger whereas his old man was a textbook No. 9.
With goals this year for both club and country, Kluivert has displayed poise beyond his years, and Ajax boss Peter Bosz has taken notice, entrusting the teen with playing time 12 times in the league this season, with another four appearances in the Europa League. Justin’s dad is in his first year as the director of football at Paris Saint-Germain, and should he survive Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s impending summer cuts, links between Kluivert and a move to the French capital are inevitable.
(Photos Courtesy: Action Images)