European Football's Rookie of the Year Rankings

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 30, 2017

European Football's Rookie of the Year Rankings

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    You'd have to be made of stone to fail to appreciate what has been an incredible season for rookies and breakthrough stars. Across Europe's top leagues, many have made their bows in style, bursting on to the scene and looking right at home.

    In this list, we've picked out the very best for you to marvel over. The rules are pretty simple: For a player to be eligible, 2016-17 has to have been the first top-flight season in which the player has made more than five starting league appearances. There's also an age cap of 21.

    It was surprising how many that ruled out. If you're looking for Davinson Sanchez (more than 40 senior appearances with Atletico Nacional) or Andrija Zivkovic (just shy of 100 matches for Partizan Belgrade), you need to think even less experienced than that.

16-20

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    20. Mason Holgate, CB/RB, Everton

    Wherever and whenever Everton needed Holgate to play, he answered the call. He excelled as the right-centre-back in a three-man defence early on, then held his own as the No. 1 right-back for the final stretch of the season.

        

    19. Alex Grimaldo, LB, Benfica

    Injuries have been a problem for Alex Grimaldo throughout his short career so far, and yet more physical ailments limited him to just 14 league starts in 2016-17. Still, it was a first (if short) foray into senior football and a very impressive one at that.

         

    18. Manuel Locatelli, CM, Milan

    Milan place pride in the idea of developing youth, and when Locatelli fired home the winner against Juventus back in October, the realisation that another star had been born descended over the San Siro crowd.

         

    17. Federico Chiesa, Wing, Fiorentina

    Fiorentina's distinctly average season has been made more palatable for the fans by the emergence of Chiesa. A spritely, agile winger, he's scored some nice goals and brought an unpredictability factor to their play.

         

    16. Aaron Martin, LB, Espanyol

    The Sun linked Martin with a £26 million move to Manchester City in March. That speaks highly of his rapid progress this season as, at the beginning of last summer, he was yet to make his senior debut.

11-15

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     15. Allan Saint-Maximin, Wing, Bastia (on loan from Monaco)

    The weavy, mazy Saint-Maximin completed the Xth most dribbles per game in Europe this season (4.3)only Neymar (5.6) and Adama Traore (5) managed more. His time on loan at Bastia has showcased how impactful he can be; now, do Monaco trust him to replace Bernardo Silva or loan him out again?

         

    14. Harry Winks, CM, Tottenham

    A nasty injury at Turf Moor in April sadly curtailed what had been a season of development and progress for Tottenham's Winks. So at ease on the ball and capable of controlling a midfield single-handedly, he's Mousa Dembele-esque in some ways.

         

    13. Patrick Roberts, AM/Wing, Celtic (on loan from Manchester City)

    Roberts was a force for Celtic during their unbeaten season, contributing nine goals and 14 assists from 32 games. With Manchester City's attacking midfield quota looking pretty full, perhaps a Premier League loan is the next step in his development.

         

    12. Jesus Vallejo, CB, Eintracht Frankfurt (on loan from Real Madrid)

    Vallejo's taken some big steps forward this season on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt. A strong one-on-one defender who is pro-active and physical, he might yet force his way into Zinedine Zidane's plans at the Bernabeu for 2017-18.

         

    11. Lucas Tousart, CM, Lyon 

    Rock-like Tousart has forced a shift in Lyon's midfield powers this season, as slowly—ever so slowlyhe's encroached upon and then replaced Maxime Gonalons' influence in the middle. Tousart is 20, enjoying his first true season in a top league; Gonalons is 28 and the club captain. That's quite the achievement.

10. Tom Davies, CM, Everton

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    When Farhad Moshiri invested in Everton last summer, a huge transfer splurge was anticipated. Yannick Bolasie joining for £25 million was seen as just the start of what would be a project designed to close the gap on the top four.

    But the hallmark of the Toffees' season was not great expense, rather faith in youth. Ronald Koeman turned to a talented cluster of teenagers and gave them their chance to shine. Tom Davies, of all those players, impressed the most.

    A throw-back midfielder with messy hair and low socks, Davies proved a tenacious, box-to-box presence over the course of 24 Premier League appearances. A goalscoring, man-of-the-match performance against Manchester City made people sit up and take notice of his talent.

9. Andre Onana, GK, Ajax

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    Andre Onana's maiden season as Ajax's first-choice goalkeeper has had its ups and downs, but those few early jitters are firmly in the rear-view mirror and he now looks a confident, composed No. 1 who suits De Godenzonen's pass-first philosophy perfectly.

    The club snared him from Barcelona's academy, and it's clear his early football tuition involved extensive ball work. His distribution and accurate mid-range kicks have been a potent weapon for Ajax on the counter-attack, and his goal-line reflexes aren't bad either.

    There are some uncertainties and hesitations to iron out, but Onana, 21, has the makings of the kind of sweeper-keeper so many clubs are beginning to desire.

8. Kai Havertz, AM, Bayer Leverkusen

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    That Bayer Leverkusen lost Kai Havertz to "important exams" for their Champions League match against Atletico Madrid this season tells you just how fledgling a career his is. That he was a genuine loss tells you how important he's quickly become.

    He takes responsibility of the ball in midfield, racking up an insane number of touches at times, and has a sweet pass on him that releases runners with regularity. Slight he may be, but he dances between the lines and causes damage at will.

    If Leverkusen's 2017-18 season is even 10 percent more stable than their ridiculous 2016-17 iteration, Havertz will fully flourish and grow.

7. Matthijs De Ligt, CB, Ajax

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    Matthijs de Ligt's rise has been steep but not without its pitfalls. An error on his debut for the Netherlandswhich came much, much too soon, it must be saiddealt a first major career hiccup, but he's recovered admirably.

    That one so young can lead a defensive line all the way to a Europa League final is remarkable. De Ligt really is the complete package already, inclusive of height, power, recovery speed, patience and clean tackling.

    He became a full-time first-team fixture back in Feburary, having dipped in and out of Jong Ajax for months previously, and has formed a brilliant partnership with Davinson Sanchez in the centre.

6. Malang Sarr, CB, OGC Nice

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    OGC Nice surprised many this season by overcoming the loss of manager (Claude Puel) and key forward (Valere Germain) to finish third in Ligue 1, qualifying for the Champions League as a result.

    Defensive strength was the cornerstone of their success (they boast the third-best defensive record in the division), and key to that was academy product Malang Sarr. He debuted in August at age 17 and scored the winnera heroic startand impressed throughout the campaign thanks to his aerial ability and passing range.

    He's come from absolutely nowhere; he was just plugged in by a trusting manager, and ended up booking more than 2,500 minutes in all competitions in his maiden senior season.

5. Christian Pulisic, Wing/AM, Borussia Dortmund

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    Christian Pulisic represents a beacon of hope for the USMNT. Despite being just 18 years of age, he's probably the best player Bruce Arena can call upon and represents the heartbeat of his nation's midfield.

    He's not quite as important for Borussia Dortmund, but Thomas Tuchel did handle his integration extremely well. The American attacker played just over 1,500 Bundesliga minutes and started six Champions League games, impressing against Real Madrid in particular.

    A goalscorer and a creator, a dribbler and a passer, he's already on the cusp of stardom and perhaps would be spoken of more regularly were it not for the presence of Ousmane Dembele in the same side.

4. Kasper Dolberg, ST, Ajax

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    Kasper Dolberg's the type of footballer who simply brings a smile to your face; he's capable of scoring beautiful, jaw-dropping goals you can only sit back and applaud.

    His emergence this season has given Ajax an unpredictable threat up frontone who can drop in and link and one who can stretch the pitch a little. An added bonus is that he'll work extremely hard, creating his own chances from turnovers at times.

    His long-range shooting is lethal if he can manoeuvre a yard, and his ability to beat three players and finish calmly leaves defenders hesitant in their actions.

3. Moussa Dembele, ST, Celtic

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    Celtic took a flier on Moussa Dembele last summer, picking him up for free from Fulham and instilling faith in him as their first-choice forward. He'd shown promise at youth level and briefly in the Championship but nothing concrete or consistent.

    Their reward for said gamble was 32 goals in all competitions, per Transfermarkt, five of which came in the Champions League. He was outscored by Scott Sinclair in league play but not by many.

    His strength and movement has always been brilliant, but pre-Celtic, there were some concerns over his chance conversion rates. In 2016-17, the 20-year-old has put those worries to bed, though, and now, just a year on, the Bhoys are bracing themselves for huge bids to take him away.

2. Theo Hernandez, LB, Alaves (on Loan from Atletico Madrid)

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    What started as a simple loan move to Deportivo Alaves has snowballed, rapidly, into one of the biggest stories in La Liga this season.

    Theo Hernandez departed Atletico Madrid temporarily last summer to grab some first-team football but progressed so fast he soon became the standout player on a team punching well above their weight. He performed consistently well in La Liga and even helped them to a Copa del Rey final, managing to score in it, though they eventually lost 3-1 to Barcelona.

    His performances have caught the eye of many, including Real Madrid. The player has stayed quiet, but persistent links (h/t Goal.com) haven't gone unnoticed. All of a sudden, a 19-year-old who simply went out to play some football has sparked an inner-city rivalry between two of the best clubs in the world for his signature.

1. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco

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    What's left to say about Kylian Mbappe? Already a rock star of a footballer despite only playing half a season of football, he's the striker everyone wants.

    Overwhelming speed, incredible movement and a poise in front of goal that most strikers—even top onescan only dream of possessing combine to create a cocktail of unstoppable force. He's improved so dramatically, so quickly, it's difficult to work out how great he can become.

    Monaco's all-out attacking style suits him perfectly, feeding him constantly and releasing him in the channels. If you're questioning his level due to the fact he plays in Ligue 1, remember he's the only player who managed to score against Gianluigi Buffon in the Champions League knockouts. 

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    All statistics via WhoScored.com unless noted otherwise.

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