7 Young La Liga Stars Destined for Big TransfersJune 20, 2019
It threatens to be the most dramatic summer of football transfers in history. Already Real Madrid has dropped over €300 million on new signings. Atletico Madrid—who announced the sale of Lucas Hernandez to Bayern Munich in March for a reported fee of €80 million—has to rebuild half its team, and Barcelona are being linked with a sensational return to La Liga for the wayward genius Neymar Jr.
Some of La Liga's rising stars are in the shop window. Atletico Madrid's 22-year-old defensive midfield lynchpin Rodri has declared he wants to leave the club, per ESPN FC's Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal. Although he missed out on last summer's FIFA World Cup finals in Russia, Rodri has built on his impressive season under Diego Simeone by winning several caps with Spain's national team. Bayern Munich are reportedly interested in activating his €70 million buyout clause, although it seems more likely he will be enticed into joining Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Other English Premier League clubs have already been swooping for La Liga's hottest young talent. West Ham picked up the exciting Pablo Fornals, who came off the bench earlier this week to score a game-winning goal for Spain's team against Belgium in the final minute of normal time in their UEFA Under-21 Championship match.
Bleacher Report has compiled a list of seven other La Liga youngsters who are destined to make a big splash over the next decade and are likely to command significant transfer fees in the short term. We've asked the famous Spanish football agent Josep Maria Minguella—the man who brokered the deals that brought Diego Maradona, Romario and Lionel Messi to La Liga, amongst other stars—to assess their key attributes.
Marc Cucurella, 20, left-back
- Club: Eibar
- Player comparison: Dani Alves
- Potential destinations: Real Betis, Sevilla
Marc Cucurella grew up in Barcelona, where he got to taste both of the city's famous football academies. Born in 1998, he joined Espanyol in 2006 and spent six seasons at the club before being cajoled into joining the famous school at La Masia. He eventually graduated to Barcelona's first team for his debut as a substitute in a Copa del Rey tie against Real Murcia in October 2017.
Cucurella has just put down an impressive first full season in La Liga on loan from FC Barcelona at Eibar. He started most league games for the Basque side during their campaign and even had the temerity to score the opening goal against his employers in a 2-1 defeat for Eibar at the Ipurua Municipal Stadium back in May.
At the end of the season, Eibar triggered their option to buy Cucurella, but Barca will likely activate their own buy-back clause—rumoured to be about €4 million—in order to sell him on for a greater fee or use him next season as back-up for Jordi Alba. Already his market value is €10 million.
Minguella's verdict: "He's a player that, coming from the full-back position, has become more like a winger than a defensive player. He's more like a full-back from Brazil than a European one. His style of play reminds me of Dani Alves or Cafu or, in his moments, Marcelo as well. Players like that might line up in a defensive position at the beginning of a match, but their instinct is to attack. It comes easy for them—to get into an attacking position, to get wide. He is also very young. He has only played his first year in the premier division, but he has played a full season of matches, and he has been a surprise for those who didn't know him."
Mikel Oyarzabal, 22, left winger
- Club: Real Sociedad
- Player comparison: Erik Lamela
- Potential destinations: Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, Inter Milan
Everybody's talking about Mikel Oyarzabal because he keeps getting better and better. He has muscled his way onto the Spain national team. He came off the bench in the team's last competitive game against Sweden to score. Although just turned 22, he has racked up well over a century of La Liga appearances for Real Sociedad, and he has an eye for goal, with 33 league goals scored in his career.
Born in Eibar, he is one of the Basque Country's prize jewels, which makes him a sought-after commodity in the region. Already Real Sociedad have repelled attempted transfers to local rivals Athletic Bilbao. He has a contract until 2024, but it seems only a matter of time before one of Europe's bigger clubs comes in for him. His market value is €50 million, but he could go for a bigger sum. His buyout clause is €70 million.
Minguella's verdict: "He has been a long time appearing as a good option in the youth academy at Real Sociedad. In Spain, he has been the sensation of the new attackers this year, which is saying something because it's not easy to find good Spanish attackers. Most of the good ones are from other countries, and the Spanish ones find it hard to get starting positions and to get the confidence of trainers. He has good technique, and he's intelligent. He has a lot of promise. Let's say he is already a reality in Spanish football."
Oscar Melendo, 21, attacking midfielder
- Club: Espanyol
- Player comparison: Carles Alena
- Potential destinations: Celta Vigo
City rivals Barcelona and Espanyol played out a nasty, bloody Copa del Rey quarterfinal tie in January 2018. Barcelona had to come from behind after the first leg to proceed 2-1 on aggregate. A young attacking midfielder called Oscar Melendo, who had made his La Liga debut for Espanyol as a teenager back in November 2016 against Alaves, ghosted into the box to score Espanyol's winner in the dying minutes of the first leg. It was the finish that caught the eye.
As Melendo ran onto the ball from the edge of the box, he had to stop momentarily to get his balance before hitting a slide-rule pass across his body with the inside of his boot into the bottom corner of Jasper Cillessen's net. It was an exquisite piece of skill, which sent Espanyol's fans into meltdown. Last season, he was a vital cog in the midfield that has brought Espanyol back into European competition for the first time in a dozen years, and part of a generation of homegrown players, including Marc Roca and Adria Pedrosa, whom Espanyol's fanbase are enamoured with. Although Melendo has a contract until 2022, the Catalan club will do well to hold on to him.
Minguella's verdict: "He is the typical product of a youth academy at a club like Espanyol, which works very well with its academy players. He has shown good potential. He has impressed at all under-age levels and with Espanyol's reserve team. He has very good technique. Maybe he needs more physicality to win more balls, but he is very good with the ball. He's a very interesting player."
Dani Ceballos, 22, central midfielder
- Club: Real Madrid
- Player comparison: Luka Modric
- Potential destinations: West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Napoli, AS Roma, Sevilla
It hasn't worked out for Dani Ceballos at Real Madrid. He arrived at the club two seasons ago, lifted from Real Betis. He's the latest in a long line of bets Real Madrid has made on the most exciting talents to emerge in Spain, following, for example, the likes of Asier Illarramendi (who returned to Real Sociedad after two years failing to break into Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid team) and preceding players such as Alvaro Odriozola, also a Real Sociedad youth academy graduate who has been lured to Real Madrid.
It seems inevitable that Real Madrid will sell Ceballos this summer. He had an explosive start to his career with Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane's management, scoring twice in his first full La Liga game against Alaves early in the 2017-18 season. He has failed, however, to nail down a starting place on the team and isn't favoured by Zidane, who has returned as manager.
A successful campaign with Spain's under-21 team at the UEFA Under-21 Championship—given he has already scored a golazo against Italy and was "Player of the Tournament" two years ago—could further increase his market value, which is currently at a bargain €30 million. If he can take a step up, he has the potential to be one of Europe's best central midfielders.
Minguella's verdict: "He is a not well-defined player. He appeared at Real Betis, and the big clubs were very interested in him from early on. He has good technique, and he's an intelligent player, but I think he is too cold. He's another kind of player from the Andalusian School where they have good technique but they need more of a combative soul. This lack of passion, in my opinion, will make it hard for him to get to be a starter in a big team."
Pedro Porro, 19, right-back
- Club: Girona
- Player comparison: Joao Cancelo
- Potential destinations: Valencia
Teenage wingback Pedro Porro grew up down in the southwest corner of Spain, close to the Algarve. He learned his trade at Rayo Vallecano's youth academy in Madrid. He joined Girona in 2017—just as the Catalan club's two-year La Liga adventure was starting—reportedly turning down offers to move to some of Europe's grandest clubs (Real Madrid and Bayern Munich among them) to get access to first-team football quicker. The gamble paid off. He broke into Girona's team last season and became one of the league's breakout stars, scoring, for example, against Real Madrid in a Copa del Rey match.
Unfortunately, a muscle injury has kept him out of this summer's UEFA Under-21 Championship in Italy. The international exposure would likely have increased his €10 million market value. As Girona were relegated, he's almost certain to move to one of Spain's bigger clubs, or overseas, in the next few weeks.
Minguella's verdict: "He is a kid that nobody knew anything about. Then he got a place on the squad at Girona. It's a shame the team couldn't hold on to its premier division status. He is a player with a lot of possibilities. Let's see wherever he goes during the transfer window and how he adapts to a new team and a new trainer. I will be keeping an eye on him as a player to follow in the future."
Maxi Gomez, 22, centre forward
- Club: Celta Vigo
- Player comparison: Luis Suarez
- Potential destinations: Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Valencia
Maxi Gomez is another top-class Uruguayan striker, although a decade younger than his compatriots Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Cristhian Stuani. Gomez was linked with a move to Barcelona during last season's winter transfer window, which is a measure of his growing status in the Spanish league.
Gomez is a bull of a centre forward physique-wise and is typically robust given his Uruguayan lineage—he's already picked up 16 yellow cards and a sending off in 71 league games for Celta Vigo. His strike rate is impressive: He's notched almost a goal every other game since joining Celta Vigo from Defensor in Uruguay two years ago.
West Ham have already had a transfer request rebuffed – and it's reported that Valencia have agreed to personal terms with Gomez—so it might require a club to pay his €50 million buyout clause to nab him for next season.
Minguella's verdict: "He is the typical goalscorer, the typical No. 9 from South America. A fighter. No ball is ever a lost cause for him. He has a sense where to find the goal. I don't think he will improve more than he is already. Of course, with goalscorers, you never know, because sometimes they could have a good spell and then suddenly everything changes."
Samuel Chukwueze, 20, right winger
- Club: Villarreal
- Player comparison: Arjen Robben
- Potential destinations: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City
Young Samuel Chukwueze is obsessed with football. As a kid growing up in Nigeria, his parents used to confiscate his football boots and burn them in an effort to get him to stop playing football and focus on his studies. It was a lost cause. Dribbling with the ball and scoring goals is what he knows best. He's already an under-17 FIFA World Cup winner with Nigeria and has made his senior international debut as a teenager.
Having joined Villarreal's vaunted youth academy in 2017, he caught the eye globally when he scored a magnificent goal—and provided an assist—against Barcelona in a 4-4 thriller back in April. He's an explosive player. Perhaps nobody's stock has risen as sharply over the last 12 months. Last summer, his market value was €2.5 million. This summer, it wouldn't be a surprise if a club activated his €40 million buyout clause. A genuine star in the making.
Minguella's verdict: "Samuel has been a sensation in the second half of the Spanish league season. He's a physically superior player, with a speed of movement that is outstanding. It makes him very competitive in 50-50 situations with his markers. His way to move, his way to interpret the game and of course his speed gives him a big advantage over competitors because speed nowadays is so important. It's more important every day. Sure, players need to have the technique to play, but if you are not fast, you can't win any race, and you are not a positive for your team."
Other players to keep an eye out for:
Marc Roca (Espanyol), Adria Pedrosa (Espanyol), Bryan Gil (Sevilla), Igor Zubeldia (Real Sociedad), Jesus Vallejo (Real Madrid).
Note: Exciting young players—such as Riqui Puig (Barcelona), Carlos Soler (Valencia) or Oscar Rodriguez Arnaiz (Real Madrid, on loan at Leganes)—who are not likely to be sold by their clubs were not considered for assessment.
Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz