Welcome to the ESPN FC hotlist, which highlights some of the most in-form talent aged 23 or under across Europe’s top leagues each month.
Generally, young but established stars like Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham or Barcelona’s Gavi aren’t included — otherwise they’d be on the list every month — but we’ll shine a light on some of those who deserve praise for their performances and who could potentially be the European football’s next big name.
Oh, and there will be a list of players to have impressed at the ongoing South American Youth Football Championship later this week.
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A familiar name to followers of English football, the Arsenal striker is doing very well on loan at French side Reims and sits top of the Ligue 1 goal-scoring chart with 15 goals from 22 games in total and four from five this month (including a hat trick against Lorient.)
With a mix of trademark runs behind the defensive line, close-range tap-ins, fine volleys and the odd penalty, Balogun is playing the best football of his senior career under young English-Belgian head coach, Will Still. Mainly deployed to play to his strengths as a lone centre-forward, the 21-year-old has looked a constant threat with his pace, natural penalty area intuition and directness.
And, with another two years to run on his Arsenal contract when returning to the Emirates in the summer, the New York-born England youth international should make a credible claim for a starting spot for the Premier League leaders alongside Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah next season.
Having previously shown glimpses of his undisputed talent, the added maturity and consistency evident in January has seen the France U21 international finally arrive on the scene. The son of Parma and Juventus legend Lilian, and brother of Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus, has thrived in a slightly more advanced role as an attacking No. 8 and was particularly outstanding in the 6-1 Ligue 1 demolition of Montpellier.
Equipped with excellent close control, wonderful balance and command of his body, Thuram is a remarkable ball carrier who is able to seamlessly glide past opponents in midfield. Given the freedom to attack, his quick feet and functional technique allow him to set up forward runs with neatly executed passes or test the goalkeeper from distance. His enthusiastic, energetic running also make him more than useful in the defensive aspect of his game (he wins 60% of his challenges) and when tracking opposing runs in the transitional phase.
Few would have anticipated the immediate impact that the Irish teenager has had on Brighton’s first team. Ferguson has three goals and two assists from five games, including outmuscling William Saliba for a consolation goal against Arsenal and a well-directed late header which secured a point at Leicester. And his overall centre-forward game suggests he is completely unfazed by the hike in level.
While there’s nothing flashy about the 18-year-old, he sports exceptional physical strength, which he’s not afraid of using. Furthermore, the active and intense nature of his game sees him drop deep and drift wide to provide an outlet; once in the box, he instinctively picks up clever positions. His exceptional run has been interrupted after he picked up a knee injury in the FA Cup win against Liverpool but he has a bright future ahead of him.
Levi Colwill, 19, centre-back, Brighton
Another teenager who was thrown into the deep end by Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi over the festive period, Colwill’s full Premier League debut against Aston Villa in November ended in defeat, but the Chelsea loanee has since put in some stunning performances.
Not only has left-footed Colwill — who is also comfortable with his weaker foot — performed his defensive duties diligently, he’s also appeared assured in his distribution from the back. His wonderfully weighted through-ball for Kaoru Mitoma in the first half of the 3-0 win over Liverpool was a particularly fine example of his vision and quality on the ball. His inspiring performances for Brighton — before an injury put him out of action — even led to calls for the England U21 defender to be promoted to the senior team.
While it took the €17 million summer signing from Austrian side Sturm Graz some months to settle into the more restrictive nature of Serie A, Hojlund certainly came to life in January: scoring a goal in four consecutive matches.
Tall (6-foot-4) and powerful, the Denmark international is more than the usual target man though and, in his short Serie A career so far, it’s his pace and ability to time runs off the shoulder off the centre-backs that have proved decisive.
With well-developed upper-body strength and bags of determination, the former FC Copenhagen striker is particularly hard to knock off the ball when facing the goal. Hojlund’s speed and shooting ability also make him an alternative as a right-winger cutting infield on to his preferred left foot.
Despite only making his Ligue 1 debut in December — marked with two stunning goals against Auxerre — Ben Seghir is the next teenage sensation to graduate from the highly-acclaimed Monaco academy.
The 17-year-old France U18 international loves to float in space around the central striker and when he gets on the ball he often does so by way of a mesmerising touch that either sets up the next move or draws a foul from a puzzled opponent (he was fouled six times in 80 minutes against Brest and registered 12 dribbles.)
Agile, creative, technically brilliant and with an advanced footballing brain, Ben Seghir has proved most effective when finding space on the left, but his smooth, effortless movement can see him create havoc anywhere in the final third.
The Austria international was snapped up by Wolfsburg for €5m following an encouraging debut season with Arminia Bielefeld in the Bundesliga. Despite Wolfsburg losing their last two league games, Wimmer has been on the ascent since the restart of the league after the winter break and had a goal and two assists in January.
An energetic attacking midfielder who loves running at opponents, he is naturally right-footed but is comfortable on his left as well, which makes him hard to read and able to pass defenders on either side.
Wimmer plays with high intensity, which can sometimes see him lose the ball out of sheer eagerness, and while he prefers to play on the right side he has the tactical awareness to time runs through more central areas, often arriving late in the box for a rebound or a cutback cross. His high-octane engine also makes for a valuable pressing game.