• Our Opinion

Best Under-21 footballers in La Liga (Part 1)

Best Under-21 footballers in La Liga (Part 1)
Getty Images

Time to go to Spain and check out what type of talent is being developed there.

AGE: 21

Carlos Soler (Valencia)
– Valencia’s resurgence in Spain is a combination of a knowledgeable coach, couple of veterans and many newcomers who want to prove themselves. Soler is one of them. He began his career as forward, but is used mostly as a central midfielder now. Carlos is to Valencia what Saul Niguez is for Atletico Madrid. In order to block approaches from other clubs, Valencia had to restructure Soler’s contract three times in one year. The central midfielder is on Jose Mourinho’s bucket list.

Goncalo Guedes (Valencia)
– Guedes is a fascinating talent who came to us from Benfica’s brilliant youth ranks. After PSG won the race to sign the winger (€30 million), it loaned him out to Valencia for the duration of this season. He hasn’t been playing as often as he deserves to there. Goncalo has over 50 caps for Portugal’s youth teams and will travel to Russia with the senior squad this summer. He’s fast, electric and an excellent dribbler – a true dynamite on the pitch.

Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid)
– After making almost 100 appearances for Real Betis, Ceballos was finally recognized as a great talent during the 2017 European Under-21 Championship, where he was the Player of the Tournament. His technical superiority and confidence on the ball convinced Real Madrid to buy him that same summer. However, as we all know, Real’s midfield is relatively set, which made the decision to join Los Blancos a strange one. Rumors are swirling over a potential move to Liverpool this summer.

Theo Hernandez (Real Madrid)
– The story has been similar with Theo Hernandez. Originally an Atletico Madrid player, Theo was Alaves’ best member during his loan spell there last season. The French left back caused a stir when he decided to switch sides and join Real Madrid. Like Ceballos, he has struggled to find a way to enter Real’s starting lineup.

Jesus Vallejo (Real Madrid)
– Real bought Vallejo from Zaragoza in 2015. After two seasons elsewhere, he has been with the team this season, albeit rarely used. He inherited Pepe’s number 3, so who knows? Maybe one day he’ll become Madrid’s starting center back. I doubt it. On the other hand, I do believe he’ll be an excellent starter somewhere else.

Adrian Marin (Villarreal)
– Marin is a left back who has spent his entire club career in Villarreal. Last season, he was loaned out to Leganes. He’s now back with Villarreal. Injuries have prevented him from getting more opportunities, as he has only two appearances thus far. Nevertheless, Adrian is a gifted footballer and one to keep an eye on during the next couple of seasons.

Rodri (Villarreal)
– Rodri is short for Rodrigo Hernandez, a center midfielder who grew up in Madrid and was part of the Atletico Madrid academy until Villarreal bought him in 2013. He’s currently one of the clubs most important and most influential players, but that will change this summer. Atletico must have realized it made a mistake by letting him go and will bring him back for a reported €20 million fee.

Maximiliano Gomez (Celta)
– After scoring 28 goals in 47 appearances for Uruguay’s Defensor Sporting, Celta Vigo decided to bring Maxi Gomez to Spain. He has exceeded all expectations by finding the net 13 times, ranking in the league’s top 10. His natural physique makes it difficult for defenders to control him. Additionally, he’s a good technician as well. Celta know it has struck gold with the Uruguayan. That’s why his release clause is set at €50 million.

Iñigo Cordoba (Athletic Bilbao)
– Cordoba is the next in line on Bilbao’s young talents conveyor belt. Since he was trained in Athletic, it automatically means that the left winger has a team-first mindset. That’s great from a football point of view, since that’s the type of player you want in a team. On the other hand, that attitude could be detrimental to his development as a footballer, since he doesn’t have the freedom to fully express himself. It is why some of Bilbao’s talents can’t acclimate themselves when sent out into the world. There are success stories as well, though. We’ll see what happens with Iñigo.

Unai Nuñez (Athletic Bilbao)
– Nuñez is Aymeric Laporte’s replacement at Athletic Bilbao. He’s been a regular in the starting lineup ever since Laporte left in the winter. The Basques were quick to renew his contract, setting the release clause at €30 million. Unai is very similar to Laporte, which makes sense considering they were both trained by the same academy.

Antonio Sivera (Alaves)
– Sivera is the only goalkeeper on this list. The 21-year-old is a product of Valencia’s academy. Alaves signed him last summer to back up its number one – Fernando Pacheco. For now, Sivera is patiently waiting for his opportunity.

Alen Halilovic (Las Palmas)
– Many of you have probably heard of Alen Halilovic – the Croatian wonder boy with Messi-like dribbling skills. The youngest ever debutant and scorer in Croatian league history really did possess an incredible skill set, otherwise Barcelona wouldn’t have signed him back in 2014. However, Alen’s career hasn’t progressed as he had hoped. After loaning him out for a season to Sporting Gijon, Barca sold him to Hamburg. In Germany, he spent most of the 2016 season as a reserve, which is why the undersized midfielder was sent back to Spain, this time to Las Palmas. Halilovic is going through somewhat of a renaissance this season, so everything’s not lost yet.