6 under-23s who Premier League clubs WILL be watching at the Africa Cup of Nations – and who they'd suit
1. Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)
Victor Osimhen’s return to prominence has been a hell of a ride. He went from being regarded as one of the best talents in football after his exploits at the U17 World Cup in 2015, to losing confidence completely at Wolfsburg.
The 20-year-old finally recaptured his form after Belgian side Sporting Charleroi took a chance on him in January, signing him on loan. It was there he reignited that spark, scoring 20 goals.
He beat Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho to making Nigeria’s 23-man list for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and, although behind Odion Ighalo and Paul Onuachu in the pecking order, his quick movement and ruthlessness would place him well as Gernot Rohr’s wildcard in Egypt.
As soon as the 2018/19 campaign ended, Charleroi snapped him up permanently from Wolfsburg – with the intention of cashing in on their talent as soon as possible. He caught the attention of English suitors after the U17 World Cup, but this time, if he thrives in the little time he's going to be afforded in Egypt, he might just be playing in the Premier League next campaign.
Would suit: Southampton, Sheffield United, Brighton.
2. Noussair Mazraoui (Morocco)
Mazraoui produced some terrific performances last season as one of the catalysts for Ajax’s tremendous campaign in the Eredivisie and Champions League
Ajax are a selling club and this does put them in a tight position when other top European clubs start circling for their talents. It will be difficult for them to tie down the 21-year-old, who is expected to play a prominent role in Herve Renard’s Morocco set-up at this tournament.
Mazraoui only got his second international cap in March, after filling in a right-wing-back role against Argentina, but his heroics in the Netherlands and Europe – plus Achraf Hakimi’s versatility – mean he'll be a regular soon enough.
Would suit: Tottenham.
3. Youcef Atal (Algeria)
After being on the receiving end of an Atal masterclass, Guingamp boss Jocelyn Gourvennec described the Algeria international as “an electric player”.
Nice manager Patrick Vieira had asked the right-back to deputise in a rare left-wing role, and the youngster notched a sensational hat-trick to help his side to a 3-0 victory. In doing so, he became the first Algerian to score a treble in the French top flight for 33 years.
Atal’s immense contribution defensively and in attack had seen him likened to former Tottenham star Gareth Bale. He's rated at £35m and has already been linked with Chelsea and Tottenham, so a positive run in his maiden Africa Cup of Nations campaign with Algeria could cause a transfer tussle among England's big guns.
Would suit: Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea.
4. Franck Kessie (Ivory Coast)
Individually, the Ivorian had a brilliant season with Milan. He scored seven goals and laid on two more in 34 Serie A games but was unable to help his side make a Champions League return.
Having made a forgettable Africa Cup of Nations bow two years ago, the midfielder will look to steer his team to a far more successful campaign this time around.
A strong showing from the 22-year-old – who has been strongly linked with Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea in the past – would put him back towards the top of wishlists. Milan’s inability to secure Champions League football might mean he won’t return to San Siro after leaving Egypt.
5. Maxwel Cornet (Ivory Coast)
The Ivory Coast's post-golden generation is gradually becoming a big deal, and their 23-man squad is filled with exciting talent.
Attack is where they are strongest, with Crystal Palace renowned dribbler Wilfried Zaha and in-demand Lille winger Nicolas Pepe leading the charge. Lyon winger Maxwel Cornet is expected to deliver the sort of performance he pulled off against Manchester City in last season’s Champions League upset.
He's still feeling hard done by with the amount of game time he received under former coach Bruno Genesio, and with his decision not to agree a contract extension, the 22-year-old would find it hard to resist Premier League offers. Liverpool have already shown interest.
Would suit: Leicester, Everton, Liverpool.
6. Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria)
As one of the breakout stars of La Liga last season, Chukwueze was faced with the prospect of representing Nigeria at the U20 World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations – but naturally opted for the tournament that will attract a greater deal of attention.
Blessed with amazing dribbling skills and an eye for goal, Chuwkueze – nicknamed ‘Arjen Robben’ – finished his first season in senior football with eight goals, including one in Villarreal’s unlucky 2-2 draw against Barcelona.
He only transitioned to senior football earlier last season and was crucial to Villarreal’s fight against the drop, but the Yellow Submarines would have to be combat-ready: the 20-year-old is now firmly in Nigeria chief Gernot Rohr’s plans and it would be difficult for the former Arsenal target to resist the temptation of a Premier League side.
Would suit: Bournemouth, Leicester, Arsenal, Watford.
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