3 U21 Premier League Signings You May Have Missed
Youth is key to building a long-term project at a club.
We always have one breakout star from the U21 age range every season, from Dele Alli to Trent Alexander-Arnold, we here at Taste Of Football want to help you spot the next youth star before everyone else, so you can claim bragging rights among your friends as ‘the football expert’.
Ben Wilmot – Watford
Within England’s international youth set-ups, you expect the teams to be flooded with players from Category A academies, such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. But Ben Wilmot has bucked this trend. Slugging it out in League Two with Stevenage, Wilmot had only played 6 months of first-team football, but from those 6 months, he made such a profound effect that he caught the eye of Paul Simpson, England U19 boss, and was called up to his squad for the three UEFA 2018 UEFA European U19 Championship qualification matches in Skopje. This made him the first Stevenage player to appear for England at youth level.
One thing that is clear when watching Wilmot play: the lad is an extremely intelligent CB. Despite only moving there in the first year of his scholarship at Stevenage. He is confident stepping out and meeting his opposition, either through interceptions or standing up his man and winning the ball.
We have always known he was a Premier League talent – Stevenage Chairman Phil Wallace.
He does not jump into tackles, but that does not mean he doesn’t like to get stuck in. In a recent interview, he commented on how he ‘loves getting hurt’. What a characteristic that is to have. Possessing a surprisingly vast experience in midfield means that Ben is also more than capable of distributing the ball.
Many CB’s find it hard to turn and chase balls in behind them, but with his intelligence and physique, Wilmot is able to pluck the ball out of the air or stop the opponents from getting in behind.
Watford have surely picked up a future England CB, and even at 18, he could shock many by breaking into that Watford backline.
Issa Diop – West Ham
West Ham’s new signing is a literal man-mountain. Looking down upon us mere mortals at 6-foot-4, Issa Diop is bound to be a success at West Ham. Under the tutelage of Manuel Pellegrini, his raw defensive ability will progress into consistent performances, much like when Vincent Kompany was put to the next level under the Chilean’s reign. It was no coincidence, and expect good things of Diop in the coming seasons.
Issa Diop was part of the youth revolution at Toulouse in 2015, which saw Lafont, himself and 3 other youth players breaking into the first team squad. He has been involved in each level of the French national youth set-up and is destined to be handed his first cap by Deschamps (£10 it will be this season).
Within the first month of signing his professional contract, Diop made his Ligue 1 debut aged 18, on 28th November 2015 against Nice, playing the full game alongside fellow debutant Lafont. His meteoric rise didn’t stop there, as in April 2017, aged just 20, he was handed the captaincy of Toulouse. The kid is a natural leader, and West Ham have got him. Not a bad piece of business for a reported £22 million.
Unlike other lanky CBs, Diop is not exposed when in open space. Balls in behind are easy to cover, with long strides helping the French defender make up whatever he lacks in pace. Not scared of meeting the opposition in the defensive midfield area, Diop possesses a natural swagger in the way he plays, both offensively and defensively.
Like most modern centre-backs, he is able to march out of defence with the ball and pick out a pass. I would best describe him as a mix of Joël Matip and Sergio Ramos. Ramos’ confidence on the pitch and presence in the opposition box are characteristics they share, and the way Matip is purely focused on defending and will do anything to prevent the opposition from passing him. Diop is a defender your dad will love, but also one you can admire.
Diogo Jota – Wolves
Nuno Espírito Santo is certainly building something special in the West Midlands, and tricky winger Diogo Jota is sure to be key in their success. Having never made an appearance for Atleti, Jota probably realised his career was going to falter if he stayed at the Wanda Metropolitano.
Diogo has represented Portugal at U19, U21 and U23 levels, and now has a great season in the Championship under his belt. It is surely only a matter of time before he is called up to the senior team. A reported €14m is no doubt set to make him one of the bargains of the summer.
Having spent the majority of his season out on the left for Wolves, Diogo still racked up 17 goals and 6 assists in the Championship whilst Wolves obliterated the rest of the league. Looking at his skill set, it is clear he will be giving opposition fullbacks nightmares next year.
With pace for days and confidence going inside and out, he will punish you anywhere. Underrated ‘attitude’ in his game means he does not mind pressing and winning back the ball, whereas most wingers of his quality think they are too good to contribute defensively (not naming anyone).
Furthermore, the finishing on the lad makes you think you are watching one of the world’s best. His ability to unleash venomous strikes or simply beat you with finesse often leave opposition goalkeepers in stitches.
Jota will be familiar with the Wolves fans and those up to speed on their EFL knowledge but trust me when I say this, the ‘top 6’ will be scrambling for Jota, and also his compatriot, Helder Costa, next summer. His playing style reminds me of a certain Eden Hazard, due to the amounts of fouls he suffers against himself. A figure of 2.47 beats Salah, Sterling and Sane, and is only 0.5 behind the Belgian, meaning Jota is not afraid to run at you. 2.54 successful take ons per game and a 66% success rate also ranks him 2nd in both categories, still only behind Hazard.
Believe me, we are not ready for what Wolves are about to unleash on the Prem, with Jota on one wing and Costa on the other.