It’s that time of they year again when fans of all but a handful of clubs have turned their attention to the age old tradition of squabbling over what players should be brought in to help them do better next year.
We can all expect the usual names to be bandied about Europe with monotonous regularity. Names like Kun Agüero, Sneijder, Fabregas and Benzema are a deadline day reporter’s dream. The slightest mention of them along with the tried and tested phrase ‘…said a source close to the player’ is enough to have newspapers jumping off shelves and web page hit counters spiralling ever upwards.
The best thing to do to prove yourself as a truly knowledgeable football fan these days though is to have in depth knowledge of obscure players from foreign leagues who you have probably never seen play. Being able to rattle of the stats of an unknown 18 year old striker plying their trade for a club in Ligue 1 mid-table obscurity is what separates the hardcore from the prawn sandwich brigade. So without further ado I give you my top ten Unknown Knowns that you need to cry out for your club to sign this summer if you want to be taken seriously:
Club: FC Rennes | Age: 20 | Position: Defensive Midfielder
A tough tackling a tenacious defensive midfielder, M’Vila made his breakthrough at the start of the 09/10 season at the age of only 19. Notching up 39 appearances in all competitions in his debut year, M’Vila made a reputation for himself at the heart of the Rennes midfield. Powerfully built and athletic he is your quintessential ‘anchorman’ style midfielder combining pace and power with a great understanding of the game, a crunching tackle and a keen eye for an interception. He has also captained France at several underage levels, and he made his debut for the senior team last August and looks set to become a key component of Les Bleus under Lauren Blanc.
Estimated Cost: €16,000,000
Club: Paris Saint-Germain | Age: 21 | Position: Central Defender
From one highly rated young Frenchman to another. Breaking into the PSG first team aged only 19 it was clear from very early on that this commanding Parisien defender was going to be the real deal. He has cut his teeth against such players as Lisandro Lopez and Andre-Pierre Gignac and has not been found wanting. Possessing a surprisingly calm head under pressure for someone so young at only 21 he is already the lynch pin around which the PSG backline has been constructed and is currently the vice-captain behind the apparently evergreen Claude Makélélé. Explosive pace along with the strength to handle even the most physical of centre forwards has brought Sakho to the attention of many of Europe’s top clubs looking to bring in some steel to shore up a porous back line. He is another player who has captained France at youth level and along with compatriot M’Vila he has been brought into recent ‘Les Bleus’ squads under Lauren Blanc, looking set to feature prominently for them for years to come. He has recently signed a contract extension that could see him stay with PSG up until the end of the 13/14 season, however more than likely all it will do is drive up the price for any club looking to purchase him.
Estimated Cost: €15,000,000
Club: LOSC Lille Métropole | Age: 20 | Position: Winger
Probably the most highly rated young talent plying his trade in mainland Europe right now and the ultimate ‘YouTube Player’. Hazard is a dynamic attacking midfielder who can operate on either flank or through the centre behind a lone striker. Blessed with pace, technical ability and bags of confidence in his own ability, it is not surprising that comparisons have been drawn to a young Cristiano Ronaldo by a procession of former youth team coaches and opposition managers. Despite questions about his work ethic being levelled at him by Belgian national team Manager Georges Leekens Hazard has been instrumental in Lille’s recent purple patch of form. Since his explosion onto the first team scene he has helped them to a recent, high finish of 4th place in Ligue 1 as well as a domestic cup this season, the first since 1956 as well as requiring only four points from their remaining league games to secure their first title in 57 years. While his club goalscoring stats aren’t great for someone so highly rated (only 28 goals in 140 appearances), the mere threat of him on the pitch often causes him to be double marked and leaves space for the likes of Gervinho to steal the headlines. He is another who has recently signed a new contract at his club, however don’t expect that to deter the ever growing pack of suitors trailing the two time Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year.
Estimated Cost: €22,000,000
Club: Napoli | Age: 23 | Position: Attacking Midfielder
Probably the best known of those listed so far. The mohawked midfielder is currently plying his trade for Serie A high flyers Napoli and is one part of possibly the most devastating trio in world football at the moment along with Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. The young Slovak is the kind of player opposition defenders hate. Often found wandering from his assigned position to pick up spaces between the opposition midfield and defence to receive the ball, he is the type of player that, once turned, is an immediate threat. A great range of passing coupled with great vision and a sweet strike of the ball make him a real danger in the final third. This is proven by the fact that since joining Napoli at the start of the 2007 season he has averaged just under a goal every three games. Captain of his national team and vice-captain of Napoli at only, 23 it is already clear that Hamsik possesses the maturity to make the most of his prodigious ability. Capable of playing in central midfield, in the hole or even on the right side of an attacking three, his versatility combined with his obvious talent has made him a much pursued figure in season past.
Estimated Cost: €20,000,000
Club: Ajax | Age: 24 | Position: Central Defender
A long time target of both Arsené Wenger and Alex Ferguson the big Belgian is getting to the stage of his career now where he may start agitating for a move abroad to a bigger club. A sad reflection in itself on the demise of Ajax but that is an issue for another article. His playing style is often compared to that of national team compatriot Thomas Vermaelen. He is a left footed centre back with an eye for goal and a propensity to steam forward and join in any attacks. However standing at six foot three he is much more of an aerial presence than Vermaelen although is also a shade slower. His willingness to push forward at any opportunity as well as his comfort on the ball in tight situations has seen him deployed in a defensive midfield role when injuries or occasion demanded it. With a number of English and German clubs sniffing around Vertonghen already don’t be surprised to see him seal a move away from the Amsterdam Arena this summer.
Estimated Cost: €12,000,000
What’s that I hear you say? Not enough South American flair…well there will be plenty of that in Part 2 tomorrow!