100 Players to Watch in World Football in 2016
Welcome to B/R's rundown of 100 players you need to watch in 2016.
We've tackled the biggest storylines, the most contentious issues and scouted the players either on the verge of breaking through or set for big moves, collating them and forming a handy list for you ahead of the new year.
Will Paul Pogba finally make his big (record-breaking?) move? Will Leicester City's stars see out the season as Foxes? Who are the most attractive pending free agents ahead of the summer?
The players are ranked based on how compelling their storyline is, so go ahead, indulge yourself—and if you think we've missed someone, start the conversation in the comments below!
100. Alex Grimaldo, Barcelona
Grimaldo won't be signing a new deal with Barcelona due to a lack of first-team opportunities, and A Bola (h/t Sport Witness) believe Premier League clubs are queuing up to offer him an exit path. He is one of the most talented youngsters to emerge from La Masia in years.
UPDATE: Barcelona announced Benfica have snapped him up for a bargain €1.5 million. Can he usurp regular Eliseu and improve the left side?
99. Max Arnold, Wolfsburg
Progressing nicely into an energetic, box-to-box midfielder at Wolfsburg and will have machinations to gatecrash the German Euro 2016 squad. Joachim Low may be a little light in midfield as it stands.
98. Alvas Powell, Portland Timbers
A sturdy, impressive right-back who is perhaps flying under the radar a little despite having lifted the MLS Cup with Portland in 2015.
97. Mitchell Weiser, Hertha Berlin
Released by Bayern Munich in the summer, Weiser is showing his worth at Hertha. Only 21 years of age, his development via first-team football is something others should be watching closely.
96. Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United
“It is incredible,” Ayoze Perez said of the rumours linking him to Manchester United, per IB Times UK (h/t Chronicle Live). No one has signed him as yet, but he could be an under-the-radar move for Premier League clubs given the expected shortage of available January strikers.
95. Jonathan Tah, Bayer Leverkusen
A hulking beast of a centre-back, Tah is making good on his potential by excelling in a complicated Roger Schmidt system at Bayer Leverkusen.
94. Moussa Dembele, Fulham
Dembele came close to extending his contract with Fulham this year but opted against it, and can now move freely this summer (compensation will apply). Where will he end up?
93. Felix Passlack, Borussia Dortmund
Passlack may be fast-tracked into the BVB first-team in 2016 after tearing up the youth leagues. He can play anywhere from No. 10 to right-back and has a knack of scoring goals.
92. Marko Rog, Dinamo Zagreb
Rog is Dinamo's record signing (approx. €5 million), and for a Croatian club to spend that sort of money, they must be pretty convinced of their talent (and sell-on value). You've already seen him if you watched Dinamo tackle Arsenal this year.
91. Ali Mabkhout, Al Jazira
We've already seen one player depart Al Jazira and impress in the Premier League (Manuel Lanzini), and if there is to be a second, it will be Mabkhout. Goal machine, scorer of important strikes.
90. Kwadwo Poku, New York City FC
Poku is one of the most exciting players in MLS and stands a fan favourite with the New York crowd. The question is, how much will Patrick Vieira use him?
89. Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta
He's just a lot of fun. A good watch on the pitch, has a knack of making things happen in the final third.
88. Stefan Kiessling, Bayer Leverkusen
There's a giant question mark hanging over Kiessling's future, and it'll be really interesting to see how 2016 pans out for him. He's lost his place as a starter at Leverkusen, but will he be allowed to leave? Does he want to?
87. Marko Pjaca, Dinamo Zagreb
Ante Coric is the apple of Dinamo Zagreb's eye, but Marko Pjaca is another playmaker on that team turning heads. With plenty of first-team experience under his belt, he might consider himself ready for a big move.
86. Raphael Guerreiro, Lorient
If Fernando Santos isn't quite happy with Fabio Coentrao or Eliseu, Guerreiro—a flying wing-back type—could be an answer to Portugal's left-sided uncertainty. He's a lot of fun to watch!
85. Riechedly Bazoer, Ajax
Bazoer is one of the most thrilling players to watch in the Eredivisie when unlocked in a box-to-box role. He can be overly aggressive at times, but there are few who possess his mix of strong physique and superb technical talents.
84. Ivan Mocinic, Rijeka
Mocinic is a studious defender and holding midfielder who fulfills the anchor role without fuss. Could be a low-key, smart addition to any middling club this coming year.
83. Omar Abdulrahman, Al-Ain
One of the most gifted Asian footballers on the planet, Abdulrahman is still biding his time in the Middle East before moving to one of Europe's major leagues. Will 2016 be the year?
82. Ianis Hagi, Fiorentina (on loan at Viitorul Constanta)
Ianis, son of the great Gheorge Hagi, has been tipped by stardom. His father thinks he's better than he was at age 16 and is on track to captain Romania one day, per the Daily Mail. He will be at Fiorentina next season.
81. Corentin Tolisso, Lyon
Tolisso is an all-round midfield talent capable of doing just about anything asked of him. He's been turning heads over the last 18 months, and if Lyon's struggles continues, he might just entertain offers from elsewhere.
80. Nikola Kalinic, Fiorentina
Remember Blackburn Rovers' underwhelming Kalinic? Well, he's tearing Serie A up for Fiorentina right now, having hit double figures in the league before Christmas.
79. Sasa Ilic, Partizan Belgrade
Thirty-seven-year-old Ilic must be thinking about calling it a day, but he's within touching distance of Momcilo Vukotic's record of 791 Partizan appearances. Can he make history in 2016?
78. Ante Coric, Dinamo Zagreb
Earlier this year Coric was picked as a UEFA weekly wonderkid, underpinning his undoubted potential. A crafty, slight playmaker in the No. 10 position, he represents one of Croatia's next great hopes in sport.
77. Ondrej Duda, Legia Warsaw
Duda's talents are wasted in the Polish Ekstraklasa. An ambitious, controlling central midfielder who has a remarkable eye for a through-ball, he should be interesting any creative-needy teams in 2016.
76. Jefferson Lerma, Levante
Lerma is a bundling ball of energy, tearing about the pitch at 100 m.p.h. He presses, dispossesses and surges forward with the ball at his feet in eye-popping fashion.
75. Lorik Cana, Nantes
The much-travelled Lorik Cana will captain Albania to their first-ever European Championships in 2016. Can he resist the urge to grab his token red card amid all the excitement?
74. Aaron Mooy, Melbourne City
Mooy's strange career path took him from Bolton Wanderers to Melbourne via St. Mirren. He has established himself as a key member of the Australian national side after some early struggles and is looked to as a Tim Cahill-esque figure by some.
73. Adam Masina, Bologna
Masina is a great hulk of a man who moves unspeakably quickly for his size. Capable at left-back and centre-back, and aged 21, he should be of interest to Europe's bigger sides this year.
72. Emre Can, Liverpool
Can finally has a manager who won't misuse him, and his performances under Jurgen Klopp have been very good so far. Expect a steep upward trajectory as the German pushes toward a world-class ceiling.
71. Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
A year ago Giovinco looked washed up, a wasted talent. Fast-forward 12 months and he's the reigning MLS MVP with a thoroughly renewed outlook in sport. Could he catapult back into Europe's top order after such a profitable year across the Pacific
70. Adalberto Penaranda, Granada
Has just broken into the Granada first team and looks a box of aggression and energy from the striker's role. Scored his first goals in December and has that Angel Correa bite to his game.
69. Daniele Baselli, Torino
With Torino in the midst of an unremarkable season, it's easy to hone in on a remarkable talent in their ranks. Baselli is developing nicely into a regista-type presence and should be interesting Italy's bigger fish.
68. Jetro Willems, PSV Eindhoven
Top left-backs are never not in demand, and Willems has come a long way since the Euro 2012 disaster he is known for (and that really wasn't his fault). He has a high ceiling and solves a problem position for many sides.
67. Paulo Oliveira, Sporting CP
European Under-21 Championship analysts raved about Liverpool prospect Tiago Ilori impressing in Portugal's defence, but his partner Oliveira was just as good, if not better. He's on course to win a title under Jorge Jesus and is quickly developing into the complete package.
66. Andrija Balic, Hajduk Split
One of several superb young Croatian talents emerging. Tottenham Hotspur already tried and failed to poach Balic in 2014, per the Daily Mail.
65. Jordan Ayew, Aston Villa
If Aston Villa are to achieve the seemingly impossible and escape the Premier League drop, Ayew's goals will be key. He's shown new levels of maturity to embrace the challenge, now can he deliver the goods?
64. Nahuel Leiva, Villarreal
Nahuel has broken through this season at El Madrigal, filling the void of the departed loanee Denis Cheryshev. He's an inventive, diminutive playmaker with a lust for a dinked pass.
63. Alessandro Florenzi, Roma
Will Florenzi ever work out what his best position is? He seems to be very capable at right-back, right-wing, defensive midfield and attacking midfield, but will he ever be allowed to nail down one role and master it?
62. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal
The perennially injured Wilshere has a big role guaranteed for Euro 2016 with England...if he can stay fit. He's due back in January and Roy Hodgson is desperate for him to play the regista role for his country this summer. Is he durable enough to do it?
61. Raffael, Borussia Monchengladbach
If Gladbach are to continue their dramatic recovery and surge toward the Bundesliga's Champions League places, Raffael is key. He produces in every game and seems to be getting better despite passing 30 years of age.
60. Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Club
When will a top club take the plunge and pay Aymeric Laporte's release clause? It wouldn't surprise to see Real Madrid enter the market for him.
59. Matthias Ginter, Borussia Dortmund
Ginter's finally emerging as a top defender, but not in the role many expected. He made his name at Freiburg as a centre-back/defensive midfielder, but he's become an incredibly productive right-back under Thomas Tuchel.
58. Jack Grealish, Aston Villa
Can the Englishman put his off-field issues behind him and crack on with his football? He needs to win his place back at Aston Villa before he can even think about Euro 2016.
57. Mahmoud Dahoud, Borussia Monchengladbach
Dahoud is making waves in the Bundesliga for all the right reasons. At just 19 years of age, he's holding down a spot in a top Gladbach team and seriously impressed on his Champions League debut vs. Manchester City.
56. Denis Cheryshev, Real Madrid
Cheryshev had a wonderful 2014-15 at Villarreal on loan but hasn't managed to force his way into the Real Madrid setup this season. If he harbours hopes of making Russia's Euro 2016 squad, he needs a January loan.
55. Julian Weigl, Borussia Dortmund
For Weigl, see Maximilian Arnold (ranked 99th): emerging this season and capable of breaching the German Euro 2016 squad. The Borussia Dortmund man is a far steadier, calmer presence in midfield, though.
54. Alessio Romagnoli, Milan
Romagnoli's first half-season at Milan has been pretty poor; rash tackles, bad decisions and red cards have haunted him. Can the €30 million man recover?
53. Sadio Mane, Southampton
Per B/R's Dean Jones, Southampton want at least £30 million for attacking midfielder Sadio Mane should he leave in 2016. You'd expect at least two top Premier League clubs should be willing to pay it.
52. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Borussia Dortmund
We have all been witness to Aubameyang's remarkable rise in 2015-16; now, can it continue into the new year?
51. Dele Alli, Tottenham
Alli's remarkable rise from League One to England international, completed in just shy of 12 months, has been heart-warming. But now the pressure is on and the expectation is set; can he maintain his level, and even force his way to Euro 2016?
50. Ethan Horvath, Molde
The U.S. have become used to relying on a steady stream of top goalkeepers over the past few decades, but entering 2016 the situation is a little different.
Tim Howard's form has picked up this season but he's still nowhere near his best, while Brad Guzan has declined in ability over the last two years and struggles weekly with a poor Aston Villa side.
That makes the emergence of Ethan Horvath, and his strong showings for Molde at a Europa League level, an extremely interesting storyline to follow. Could he be the next American great between the sticks?
49. Renato Sanches, Benfica
After impressing heavily in the UEFA Youth League last season, Renato Sanches has been given a chance to succeed in Benfica’s first-team this season by Rui Vitoria...and what an incredible early impact he has made.
He netted a 40-yard rocket on his full Liga NOS debut just days after appearing in the UEFA Champions League against Astana, and fulfils an exciting, technical box-to-box role in Rui Vitoria’s team.
Sanches is a lovely watch due to his technical talents, and there’s every chance he’ll be linked away from the Eagles for a big move by the year’s end.
48. Danilo Pereira, FC Porto
The Portuguese national team have moved from a position of extreme weakness in the anchor midfield position to extreme strength. Leading up to the FIFA World Cup 2014 they were scrambling to re-naturalise Fernando so as not to rely on Miguel Veloso, but now they have three options to pick from, each as strong as the other.
Ruben Neves, a name many know across Europe, and William Carvalho, oft-linked to the biggest clubs in Europe, are two of the contenders, but the favourite to nail the starting role is Danilo Pereira.
The FC Porto man has impressed this season since joining from Maritimo, adding physicality and steel to Julen Lopetegui’s midfield. He’s strong as an ox, defensively conscious and ideal for Fernando Santos’ national side.
47. Matt Miazga, New York Red Bulls
Matt Miazga looks just about the best defensive prospect in the USMNT talent pool and is already a guaranteed starter for the New York Red Bulls in MLS.
He received his first call-up to the national squad in November as Jurgen Klinsmann shuffles his options at the back, but could play a vital role in any Olympic adventure the U.S. might have before becoming a fully fledged member of the senior side.
46. Nikola Vlasic, Hajduk Split
Nikola Vlasic is a player who, you might say, was always destined to succeed. B/R's Aleksandar Holiga wrote a wonderful piece in 2014 about him, his remarkable upbringing and his early successes.
Despite being just 18 years of age, he'll pass the 50 appearance mark for Hajduk Split early 2016 and is widely seen as one of the best players in the Croatian league. Despite the national side boasting an absurd amount of midfield talent, the calls to include Vlasic in the setup are borderline deafening.
In 2014 Spurs tried and failed to poach him for £6 million, per the Mirror. Now he'll cost at least three times that.
45. Kemar Lawrence, New York Red Bulls
Kemar Lawrence could be the ultimate litmus test on how willing European teams are to take a gamble on a player impressing in the Americas.
His form for the New York Red Bulls has been brilliant, shoring up the left-back spot with some excellent performances, and he's also impressed for Jamaica in the Gold Cup and the Copa America.
There are plenty of left-back-needy teams across the continent and Lawrence wouldn't be too expensive, but will anyone roll the dice?
44. Aritz Aduriz, Athletic Club
Every year we think Aritz Aduriz is about to slow down, his form fall off a cliff, but each year he bats those suggestions out of the park with a flurry of goals.
He enters 2016 having already hit the 20-goal mark for the season, scoring consistently in La Liga and the Europa League, and having netted that famous hat-trick against Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana before the campaign kicked off.
A throw-back striker, Aduriz chucks himself about and plays a traditional big striker's role, dominating aerially and demanding crosses. He's so productive it's impossible not to rate him. Los Leones despaired when Fernando Llorente left, but it appears they've replaced him without issue.
43. Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew
To many USMNT analysts, Wil Trapp represents the future of Jurgen Klinsmann's midfield. He received his first senior cap all the way back at the start of 2015 and hasn't been given a look in since, but that should change in 2016.
He's been excellent all year, performing consistently at the heart of Columbus Crew's midfield. He was a key, driving force in The Crew's MLS play-off final appearance.
42. Adam Nagy, Ferencvaros
Adam Nagy's an intriguing, under-the-radar holding midfielder who has burst into our consciousness over the last several months.
At just 20 years of age, and with less than 30 senior appearances for his domestic club Ferencvaros to his name, the Hungarian holder has been fast-tracked into the national side and started the key play-off win over Norway to secure passage to Euro 2016.
He looks a typical destroyer, tenacious and happy to tackle, and given the shortage of those types of players in world football at the moment, it wouldn't surprise to see a bigger fish move for him.
41. Besart Berisha, Melbourne Victory
The A-League all-time goal record of 89, set by Archie Thompson, is under serious threat. Melbourne Victory's Besart Berisha will continue to close in on the mark in 2016 and could even surpass it by the end of the year.
Berisha has done nothing but score goals since landing in the A-League, be it for Brisbane Roar or Melbourne, and currently sits on a tally of 69. A 20-goal season, enough to equal the record, is hardly beyond the realm of possibility for the Albanian striker.
40. Goncalo Guedes, Benfica
Goncalo Guedes is an extremely exciting young winger who has burst into the first-team setup at Benfica, impressing with his explosive performances.
Right now he's more pace than technique and certainly has a few things to work on, but he's so much fun to watch when speeding down the wing. Switch balls to his flank are a clear path to goal, and playing opposite Nicolas Gaitan means no side can double-team him.
39. Bernardo Silva, Monaco
Bernardo Silva, sadly, is being under-utilised at Monaco this season. A star at the European Under-21 Championships, full of flicks, tricks and incisive creation, he's crashed back down to earth in France.
He's a victim of Leonardo Jardim's ultra-defensive approach, and he needs to get out. Comparable to his namesake David Silva due to his weaving dribbling stance and brilliant passing, Monaco is no place for him to grow.
Won't somebody end his provincial nightmare? He'd be £30 million superbly spent.
38. Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Wayne Rooney is a player to watch for all the wrong reasons, sadly. His form has suffered so badly under Louis van Gaal he's barely recognisable as the bullish, lethal striker we once loved.
It's this lack of form which makes him an incredibly intriguing storyline heading into Euro 2016, though, as he's technically captain of both Manchester United and England, and so far both LVG and Roy Hodgson have refused to drop him from their starting XIs.
Will either manager relent and drop him? Is Rooney's place in the England squad in serious jeopardy? Would United consider getting rid of him in the summer if he doesn't sparks back into life?
37. Diego Costa, Chelsea
By and large, Diego Costa’s had an awful half-season for Chelsea—a fact his meagre return of five goals in 15 Premier League games attests to.
Reports of player unhappiness, via B/R’s Dean Jones, have easily coincided with his apparent November spat with Jose Mourinho, and many will speculate he has now thrown in the towel.
His name was booed when announced on the PA system at Chelsea's home game with Sunderland, and he has a long road to winning them over. There's also his place in the Spanish national side to think about, as poor form will see him lose out to Alvaro Morata and Paco Alcacer.
36. Alphonse Areola, Paris Saint-Germain (on Loan at Villarreal)
Laurent Blanc will have been hoping Kevin Trapp was the answer to his goalkeeping issues after signing him from Frankfurt this summer, but that hasn’t been the case. He’s a better fit for Paris Saint-Germain than Salvatore Sirigu is—stylistically at least—but the mistakes in his game are tough to ignore.
Alphonse Areola, meanwhile, is impressing out on loan at Villarreal in place of the injured Sergio Asenjo. He’s a Paris-born academy product of French nationality, and may be of serious interest to Blanc with regard to the No. 1 shirt.
If Areola isn’t seen as the answer, where will he go? The 22-year-old has flashed top talent over the last few years and could develop into an elite goalkeeper. Can PSG afford to lose one of those from under their noses?
35. Julian Draxler, Wolfsburg
Julian Draxler, a man once heavily linked to Arsenal for a fee circa £40 million, per the Mirror, found his career spiraling a little in mid-2015. The steep upward trajectory everyone had planned out for him simply hadn't take its course.
But now, refreshed after a summer move to Wolfsburg, he's enjoying his football again. Playing the role of Kevin De Bruyne replacement—a tough task, you'll surely know—he's dazzling defences and slipping passes in for his strikers consistently.
He's even forced himself back into the reckoning for Euro 2016—largely because Joachim Low appears to love him.
34. Samuel Umtiti, Lyon
There will be plenty of top clubs across Europe looking at how nicely Kurt Zouma is progressing at Chelsea and wondering where they can get their own from. Well, Lyon may have an even better offering this summer.
Negotiating with Jean-Michel Aulas is an absolute nightmare, but clubs may just bite the bullet and do it if the end reward is Samuel Umtiti. He's in the midst of an excellent season for Les Gones—the defence has looked really ropy without him—and is much further along the development path than Zouma was when Chelsea plucked him from Saint-Etienne.
Anyone in need of an athletic, overbearing centre-back?
33. Charly Musonda, Chelsea
Chelsea need to be really careful with Charly Musonda; if they mismanage him over the next year or so, they could let a pre-eminent talent slip through their grasp.
The Telegraph reported in December that the Belgian wants a loan move—or any form of tangible progression from youth football—and that the Blues were under pressure to cater to him. If not, Arsenal, Manchester City and more are all hovering with intent.
Musonda's a brilliant playmaker who has wrecked youth teams from either advanced wing positions or deeper in midfield. Ensuring his development should be a priority, but how will 2016 shape up for him?
32. Jordan Morris, Stanford University
Jordan Morris has seven caps and one goal for the United States national team, yet isn't technically a professional footballer.
That's a sentence that will sound downright bizarre to many in Europe, but the explanation is simple: Morris is still at Stanford University and will likely turn professional ahead of the upcoming season.
If he does, there's a chance he becomes the highest-paid homegrown player in MLS history—even in his rookie year!
31. Lassana Diarra, Marseille
Lassana Diarra’s remarkable return to form with Marseille this season has been one of France’s major storylines. After a period on the sidelines he’s come back and slotted straight in without missing a beat.
Didier Deschamps has recognised this and brought him into the French national setup ahead of Euro 2016, and now there’s a legitimate chance he displaces both Morgan Schneiderlin and Yohan Cabaye for the holding midfield position in the starting XI.
Could Lass Diarra really play a key role for the hosts this summer? It’d be one of the great all-time comebacks in football.
30. Jairo Riedewald, Ajax
Jairo Riedewald, 19, already has three caps for the Netherlands and excels every single week for Ajax.
You may associate the Dutch giants with free-flowing, attacking football, but it's defensive sturdiness that's propelled them to the top of 2015-16's Eredivisie and Riedewald has been key to it.
He's big, quick, tactically intuitive and incredibly mature for his age. The ceiling on this one is high—really high—and it won't be long before his name is associated with a massive transfer fee.
29. Leander Dendoncker, Anderlecht
Much of the hype surrounding Anderlecht's young midfield prospects is understandably directed toward Youri Tielemans and Denis Praet, but a third star has emerged alongside them.
Leander Dendoncker, who is capable in holding midfield or in the back line, is impressing many in Belgium and has recently won his first senior national cap.
While there's no chance he's displacing Axel Witsel ahead of Euro 2016 he is busy catapulting his reputation into lofty regions, and it won't be long before the vultures begin to circle.
28. Anwar El Ghazi, Ajax
Anwar El Ghazi is downright brilliant to watch when he's good, but pretty bad when he's bad. He's quite the polar opposite footballer.
At 20 years of age his consistency struggles aren't too much of a worry, and Frank de Boer has been fairly happy to let him play through the bad games in order to get back to the good ones.
Wild step overs and 30-yard bullet strikes can be expected when he's on it; multiple turnovers and losses of possessions can be expected when he's not.
27. Angel Correa, Atletico Madrid
Angel Correa is perfectly placed to explode in 2016 should things fall his way.
Atletico Madrid have Jackson Martinez and Antoine Griezmann as their first-choice forward pairing, but with the former struggling for form and Fernando Torres' future unclear, the door is open for Correa to impact.
He's been given sparing chances and is making an impact off the bench, combining inventive passing, mobility and end-product to put in game-altering cameos. Will Diego Simeone expand his role?
26. Andrija Zivkovic, Partizan Belgrade
Andrija Zivkovic won't be at Partizan Belgrade for long, and it'll be interesting to see which top club stumps up the cash—and how much cash it will take—to poach him from Serbia's domestic league.
A key part of the FIFA U-20 World Cup-winning side in 2015, Zivkovic is also the youngest-ever debutant for his national team and the youngest-ever captain of Partizan. That's quite the C.V. to have at 19 years of age.
He's a lovely watch, combining slick dribbling skills with brilliant long-range passing and long-range shooting. He prefers the right side but can dictate from the middle and drift to the left.
25. Kingsley Coman, Juventus (on Loan at Bayern Munich)
Kingsley Coman's loan move from Juventus to Bayern Munich last summer was something of a surprise, but the Frenchman has set about proving he's already a reliable first-team figure in 2015-16 with some very good performances.
Pep Guardiola has unlocked good form from him and, had the Spaniard stayed in charge, the €21 million required to turn his loan into a permanent deal would surely have been agreed. But now the figure of Carlo Ancelotti looms, and all of a sudden Coman's perfect, accelerated path to stardom falls under the microscope.
Will Ancelotti rate him as highly as Pep? Is his future in Munich in jeopardy as a result of the pending managerial change?
24. Lucas Romero, Velez Sarsfield
Lucas Romero finally looks set to leave Velez Sarsfield in 2016, and it will be interesting to see which European club wins the race for his signature.
At 21 years of age, and having spent three years playing consistently at a team who know how to develop their young players, he'll be ready for a bigger challenge, and his box-to-box explosiveness will intrigue tens of different sides across the globe.
His contract expires on the last day of June. Someone's in for a bargain.
23. Nicolas Gaitan, Benfica
Nicolas Gaitan, a man so often linked to Manchester United he's taken on Wesley Sneijder levels of fame, is widely regarded as the best player in Portugal and may finally move to a bigger European side in 2016.
Whether that’s in January or the summer is as yet unclear, but as with every top player either Benfica or FC Porto, the sell-by date is looming large.
Gaitan is as creative and tricky as they come, thrives dipping in off the left and could provide a boost to any flailing offensive setups.
22. Oscar, Chelsea
Oscar's performance against Sunderland—the first game which Guus Hiddink oversaw as caretaker manager (albeit from the stands)—was absolutely scintillating, a reminder of how talented he is.
He suffered under Jose Mourinho during the first half of this season because he was, in essence, the easiest player to drop. The Portuguese didn't want to bench Cesc Fabregas or Nemanja Matic but still wanted to fit in Pedro, so Oscar (unfairly) became the casualty.
Now, 2016 sets itself up nicely for an episode of Oscar's revenge. If Hiddink gives him the No. 10 role and lets him play, he'll instantly become one of the most watchable, dominant players in the Premier League.
21. Leroy Sane, Schalke
Leroy Sane's had a brilliant 2015, and looking ahead to 2016, it feels as though the sky is the limit.
An uber-talented young forward, Sane has quickly progressed into the Schalke first-team and already made his senior Germany bow. Which position he ends up in is unclear—he's capable across the front line—and his rise is one you'll want to chart.
A tricky, agile playmaker, he boasts a remarkable football IQ for one so inexperienced.
20. Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon
Alexandre Lacazette's incredible 2014-15 led to Lyon batting away interest in his services last summer. Jean Michel-Aulas was firm in his stance, and, incredibly, convinced the Frenchman to sign a new deal til 2019.
But 2015-16 has invoked something of a sophomore struggle; his goal output is far below what was expected, he didn't impressed in the Champions League group stage, and as a result his grasp on a Euro 2016 squad spot is slipping away.
Can Lacazette find form and secure a place in Didier Deschamps' France squad, or continue to let it slip away?
19. Juan Manuel Iturbe, Roma
Juan Manuel Iturbe looks all set to join Watford in January on loan, according to Sky Sport Italia (h/t ESPN)—a genuinely remarkable transfer to rival any considered shocking or surprising.
There's no doubt the Argentine—a tank-like winger who is blessed with speed and aggression—has flopped in the Italian capital, failing to perform as expected following a €22 million move. For him to join Watford is still a huge coup for the English club, though, and he could take them to the next level.
Can he resurrect his career in the Premier League?
18. Gabriel Barbosa, Santos
Gabriel Barbosa, or "Gabigol," if you will, is the latest star attacker to be churned out by the famous Santos youth system. He follows in the footsteps of Neymar, Robinho and, of course, the great Pele.
After Neymar's incredibly successful transition to European football, top clubs on the continent will be looking at Barbosa and hoping gold can be struck twice. He has the potential to be a truly lethal wide forward, but isn't ready to play as a No. 9 yet—especially in the Premier League.
When will he make his move, who to, and how will he fare given the expectation in place?
17. Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli
Lorenzo Insigne has buckled down and finally appears to be making good on that limitless potential he has. His half-season with Napoli in 2015-16 has been absolutely stunning.
The diminutive winger plays aggressive, direct football and dribbles constantly, adding an element of end-product to his game this year in order to reach the next level.
Italy's forward line is lacking some heading into the European Championships, and Insigne could be the X-factor Antonio Conte needs...if he's bold enough to play him.
16. Michy Batshuayi, Marseille
Michy Batshuayi's having the season most expected Alexandre Lacazette to have. He's already past the 10-goal mark for the campaign in Ligue 1 play and continues to impress with every performance.
It's a welcome sight for Belgium manager Marc Wilmots, who will be looking at Christian Benteke's poor form for Liverpool and seriously worrying over his squad options for Euro 2016. As it stands, based on performances, Batshuayi is shooting into the No. 2 spot to back up Romelu Lukaku.
Arsenal have been linked with him, per Calciomercato (h/t the Metro) and a big move could be on the cards in 2016. He's that No. 9 so many are searching for.
15. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Milan
Arguably the most surprising storyline of 2015 was Gianluigi Donnarumma, a 16-year-old academy goalkeeper, displacing the seasoned Diego Lopez in goal for the mighty Milan.
Sinisa Mihajlovic may have failed to spark the Rossoneri into life this season, but spotting the talents of Donnarumma, and then having the cajones to put him in the first-team, is worth talking about for all the right reasons.
Italy's ever-green Gianluigi Buffon is still the No. 1 between the sticks and is enjoying a renaissance, but the lack of elite talent behind him was once a cause for alarm. Donnarumma could be the next great, and he'll continue to hone his craft at San Siro in 2016.
14. Marko Grujic, Red Star Belgrade
The Liverpool Echo are reporting that Red Star Belgrade midfielder Marko Grujic will join Liverpool in 2016, likely staying in Serbia on loan until the summer. Given the sheer number of clubs that had been linked with him in the past, including Paris Saint-Germain, this seems a real coup.
Grujic is an unknown quantity to many, but he comes highly recommended from his home nation and won the U-20 FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2015. He's tall, hardworking, mobile and aggressive in the middle of the park, offers a goal threat from distance and, on paper, fills a big need at Anfield.
13. Sofiane Feghouli, Valencia
It's not often such a desirable free agent opportunity rears its head. Clubs will be scrabbling for Sofiane Feghouli's signature come the summer should he not re-up his contract with Valencia.
An all-round, talented, hard-working midfielder, the Algerian is a productive presence on the wing similar to Willian in many ways.
He'd be a bit of a risk for the Premier League's top order, given he needs a run of games to hit his groove, but don't be surprised to see the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United try to lure him in any way.
12. Anthony Martial, Manchester United
Anthony Martial has been crowned the European Golden Boy for 2015—an award that only affirms his immense potential and future prospects.
But things haven't gone too smoothly since joining Manchester United, as after doing well to put to bed any "panic buy" theories, he's been under-utilised and misused by Louis van Gaal.
Martial is a box of tricks and positivity, plays on the front foot and takes risks—making him a bad fit in a LVG system. Some of the enthusiasm in his game has already curtailed after just a few months with the Red Devils; will they allow him to move from strength to strength in 2016, or continue to hinder him?
11. Matias Kranevitter, Atletico Madrid
Matias Kranevitter's transfer to Atletico Madrid was agreed months ago, and he will join in January following a final stint in the Club World Cup with River Plate.
The timing genuinely couldn't be better, as Tiago's broken leg, ruling him out for the campaign, has created a sizable hole in the midfield roster and Kranevitter can fill it.
The Argentine is a very Diego Simeone player, seen as long-term successor to Javier Mascherano in the national side thanks to his awesome blend of tough tackling and ability to bring the ball out from the back.
10. Paulo Dybala, Juventus
We're just halfway through Paulo Dybala's first season with Juventus, and already we're seeing links to Barcelona crop up. It's very clear he'll be a star, but Massimiliano Allegri won't have expected this so soon!
We covered Dybala in detail ahead of the season, likening him to Carlos Tevez and tipping him to become the attacking conduit Juve's system relies on. He's scoring golazos, making the difference in key games and growing exponentially with every passing week.
He cost the Old Lady a whopping €40 million. They'd probably ask for double that in order to sell, but he might well end up worth it.
9. John Stones, Everton
What does the future hold for John Stones?
Everton’s brilliant young defender was the subject of three bids from Chelsea last summer and the Blues will re-enter the market for him again, per B/R’s Dean Jones. Barcelona and Manchester United are also interested, but is a mid-season move in his best interests if a Euro 2016 starting spot could be up for grabs?
That’s a lot to mull over for a young man.
8. Mauro Icardi, Internazionale
For the first time in quite a while, Internazionale have a shot at winning the Scudetto. The post-Jose Mourinho years have been barren of trophies and success, but Roberto Mancini has restored the prospect of winning.
Central to those hopes is Mauro Icardi, a 22-year-old Argentine striker who is highly likely to attract attention from Europe’s richest clubs in 2016. If he scores the same tally of goals (22) as he did in 2014-15, Inter will be neck and neck with Juventus and Napoli at the end of the year.
Regardless of success, he might just move on to bigger and better things. Chelsea certainly need a No. 9, and Icardi may be the only attainable one of the requisite quality.
7. Jamie Vardy, Leicester City
The narrative surrounding Jamie Vardy’s record-breaking exploits earlier in the season has well and truly dissipated, but heading into 2016 there are still two major question marks.
Firstly, will he make the Euro 2016 England squad? Roy Hodgson likes him, and with Daniel Sturridge’s persistent injury troubles, in addition to Danny Welbeck’s long-term absence, he’s in with a great shout if his form continues.
Second, will he get a big move? B/R’s Dean Jones detailed in December how Vardy is in line for a big new deal at the King Power Stadium, but with a new line of limited edition crisps already under his belt, could his head be turned?
6. Romelu Lukaku, Everton
Romelu Lukaku's dramatic upturn in form in 2015-16 has not gone unnoticed. Everton have placed a £45 million price tag on his head, per the Daily Mail, in the face of interest from Paris Saint-Germain, and both Manchester United and Juventus have taken a look at him, per the Express.
He's already past the 10-goal mark in Premier League play this season, emerging as a reliable goal-scoring figure once again after a genuine down year in 2014-15. He's feasibly looking at a 20-25-goal campaign, and is there well worth the money.
Whether Lukaku breaches the famous goal mark, and where he plays his football from summer onward, are intriguing storylines to monitor.
5. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City
Riyad Mahrez’s performance over the first half of the season has been utterly phenomenal; the level at which he is playing has prompted serious questions about where he might find himself playing football as soon as January.
Any top club in need of a dynamic, attacking wing talent should pay serious attention to his rise, and the way with which he schooled Cesar Azpilicueta during Leicester City’s 2-1 win over Chelsea proved he can do it against the very best.
Will he go off the boil, his star fading, or will he secure a huge move?
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain
Throughout his long career at the top level, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has always been worth a watch due to the remarkable things he's able to do on a football pitch.
But golazos and flicks aside, the Swede enters 2016 with his future undetermined—could he make one last big move, could MLS land him, or will he retire at Paris Saint-Germain?—and the European Championships will probably be his last major international tournament.
We're running out of time to savour Zlatan's heroics. Savour these moments while you can.
3. Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema’s name has been populating tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, with his sex tape scandal involving Mathieu Valbuena casting a shadow over France’s Euro 2016 preparations.
Will the Real Madrid man be part of Didier Deschamps squad? Will the situation be resolved in time for the tournament? Per the Independent, he’s been suspended while the investigation continues, and the FFF president has sided with Valbuena.
It’s difficult to see France lifting the trophy on home soil without the presence of their only elite striker.
2. Paul Pogba, Juventus
Despite Juventus’ marked improvement over the past few months, battling back from a shocking start in Serie A, it should seem fairly obvious to Paul Pogba that they’ve hit a glass ceiling in world football. Contesting with Barcelona in the Champions League final last season was a remarkable feat, but that won’t happen on a consistent basis.
It opens up the distinct possibility of a big move this coming summer, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich likely all in for his services should the Italians name an affordable price. There’s every chance he’ll break the world record transfer fee mark set by Gareth Bale in 2014.
Why wouldn’t you want to keep tabs on that storyline?
1. Neymar, Barcelona
Neymar has a genuine chance of breaking the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo Ballon d'Or duopoly in 2016, be it by winning the award in January, or excelling across the year and landing the 2017 edition in 12 months time.
His performances over the past year or so have been absolutely brilliant, and his excellent, in conjunction with Luis Suarez's goal-scoring knack, is the chief reason Barcelona barely skipped a beat during Messi's injury in late 2015.
No one other than Messi or Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or since its inception in 2010, but that could be about to change. That makes him our most pertinent storyline and No. 1 to watch in 2016.