Take note, Premier League: these 7 Ligue 1 teenagers are en route to stardom
Over in Ligue 1, youth development remains as strong as ever. With Premier League clubs benefiting from huge revenues across the Channel, French sides are turning their attention towards their own youth academies in the knowledge that they can't compete with English outfits for established stars.
Below are seven teenagers who have impressed this season...
1. Ousmane Dembélé (forward, Rennes)
His ability to dribble and change direction at speed bears resemblance to Lionel Messi, while he can also score goals like his role model Neymar and run through players with the same direct style as Luis Suarez
Before November, only the most eager Rennes fans had heard of Dembélé. It’s been a whirlwind few months since then, culminating in a magnificent hat-trick against Nantes in the recent Breton derby – scored in front of Barcelona sporting president Robert Fernandez, no less.
In just 13 appearances for the first team, the 18-year-old has scored nine times and contributed three assists, helping Rennes climb up into Champions League contention. His ability to dribble and change direction at speed bears resemblance to Lionel Messi, while he can also score goals like his role model Neymar and run through players with the same direct style as Luis Suarez.
It’s easy to understand why Barça and Bayern Munich are interested.
2. Kylian Mbappe Lottin (forward, Monaco)
It may turn out to be premature to laud a player who’s played only 150 minutes in Ligue 1, but the early signs are more than promising for Kylian Mbappe Lottin.
Monaco have gone in a different direction after splurging huge sums on the likes of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez in recent years; the focus in the principality is now on developing youngsters who can then be sold on to the highest bidder. After a 30-minute cameo against Tottenham in the Europa League, Mbappe has already caught the eye of Premier League scouts.
Breaking Henry's record
A strong runner capable of playing anywhere across the forward line, the teenager is a confident dribbler with some fine skills up his sleeve. An assist against Spurs was followed by a first professional goal against Troyes, which saw him overtake Thierry Henry to become Monaco’s youngest ever goalscorer.
3. Issa Diop (centre-back, Toulouse)
Toulouse may be second bottom of Ligue 1 with the second worst defensive record in the division, but their situation would probably be even worse were it not for the centre-back
Toulouse are not unfamiliar with gifted young stars at present, but Diop is arguably the most impressive of them all. Le Téfécé may be second bottom of Ligue 1 with the second worst defensive record in the division, but their situation would probably be even worse were it not for the centre-back.
No player who has played over 10 games averages more clearances per match than Diop, who is dominant in the air and reads the game extremely well. He's got all the attributes to have a wonderful career – it’s just unlikely to be in the Rose city.
4. Adam Ounas (attacking midfield, Bordeaux)
All is not well at Bordeaux’s new Matmut Atlantique stadium. After a bright start, things had gone a little stale under Willy Sagnol – so much so that he was sacked three days ago. But the performances of Adam Ounas offer hope.
The 19-year-old has caught the eye with his Eden Hazard-esque dribbling skills and an ability to ghost past defenders as if they’re not there. A fanbase that enjoyed watching Zinedine Zidane in the mid-1990s have a new up-and-coming youngster to drool over.
Ounas has already demonstrated a keen eye for goal, as well as a willingness to find team-mates in better positions. Wahbi Khazri’s January move to Sunderland means the teenager is now les Girondins’ primary creative force.
5. Paul Bernardoni (goalkeeper, Bordeaux)
He won plaudits for his agility and acrobatic saves in the first half of the current campaign, keeping his relegation-threatened side in games on multiple occasions
After a season-ending injury to Cedric Carrasso, Bordeaux identified Troyes keeper Paul Bernardoni as the ideal replacement in January. A loan deal was agreed, with the 18-year-old picking up from where he'd left off at Stade de l'Aube.
Bernardoni only featured once as Troyes romped their way to Ligue 2 glory last season, but he won plaudits for his agility and acrobatic saves in the first half of the current campaign, keeping his relegation-threatened side in games on multiple occasions. His inclusion in the France U19 squad and links with the Premier League show how highly rated he is.
6. Maxwel Cornet (forward, Lyon)
A product of the excellent Metz academy, Cornet was snapped up by Lyon in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since. The 19-year-old has stepped up a level after making only a handful of appearances last term, with many now considering him a possible heir to Alexandre Lacazette’s throne.
A centre-forward who’s learning his trade out wide, Cornet possesses the footwork to cut inside, the composure to score important goals and the strength and pace to lead the line. He seems to have matured in the last year, too.
7. Alban Lafont (goalkeeper, Toulouse)
MORE LIGUE 1
The failings of Ali Ahamada and Mauro Goicoechea this season forced Toulouse boss Dominique Arribage to look elsewhere for a new man between the posts. Imagine the surprise around the Stadium Municipal when, for the visit of Nice, he opted for 16-year shot-stopper Lafont.
Standing over 6ft 3in tall, the teenager has the physical stature of someone twice his age and the ability to match. He recorded a clean sheet on his debut, then followed it up with another against Troyes.
Commanding, strong, alert and with superb reflexes, the Burkina Faso-born teenager is the youngest custodian to have ever played in Ligue 1, breaking the record previously held by the legendary Mickael Landreau.