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World Cup X-factors: Each team's potential breakout player in Qatar

At every major tournament, numerous youngsters and underappreciated stars boost their reputation and value with standout performances. Here, theScore selects a potential breakout player for each national team at the 2022 World Cup.

Group A

Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo BSR Agency / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Qatar: Akram Afif. Defender Boualem Khoukhi and goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb could be the busiest Qatari representatives at the tournament, but don’t be surprised if Afif makes the biggest name for himself. His quality stands far above many of his international teammates and has earned him spells in Belgian and Spanish football. Afif only turned 26 on Friday, so another European side could take a punt on the winger.

Ecuador: Moises Caicedo. Ecuador underwhelmed during its run to the World Cup, but expect 21-year-old Caicedo to turn heads as the engine room in Gustavo Alfaro’s outfit. “His physicality, his self-confidence, his mentality,” Alexis Mac Allister told theScore when asked about what impresses him most about his Brighton & Hove Albion teammate. “I think he’s got everything to become a top player – he already is a top player, but maybe in a big club.”

Senegal: Abdou Diallo. The Lions of Teranga conceded just twice in 660 minutes en route to Africa Cup of Nations glory earlier this year, so expect them to lean on their stingy defense once again at the World Cup. Diallo, 26, was immovable from Senegal’s lineup at AFCON, and, after being involved in expensive deals earlier in his career, his stock could recover in dramatic fashion.

Netherlands: Cody Gakpo. The PSV Eindhoven winger idolized Thierry Henry growing up, and his tendency to drift inside from the left is reminiscent of the Arsenal icon. The 23-year-old’s distribution is also impressive, and he’s surprisingly explosive for someone who stands at 6-foot-2. Gakpo has nine goals and 12 assists over 14 Eredivisie appearances from the left flank this season but mostly operates as a No. 10 for Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands.

Group B

United States’ Jesus Ferreira John Dorton/ISI Photos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

England: Callum Wilson. The 30-year-old was among Gareth Southgate’s surprise inclusions for the tournament, with many preferring Ivan Toney over the Newcastle United striker. There’s no doubting Wilson’s eye for goal. He’s scored 26 goals despite starting only 49 Premier League games for the Magpies and could make a significant impact off the bench in Qatar.

Iran: Saeid Ezatolahi. Mehdi Taremi waited too late to make the move to Europe, but the same can’t be said for Ezatolahi. The midfielder, who joined Atletico Madrid at 17, is now with Denmark’s Vejle and is an aggressive, brawny operator in Iran’s midfield. His energy and decent pressing range are vital to Carlos Queiroz and his team.

United States: Jesus Ferreira. Walker Zimmerman and Cristian Roldan have enough ability to earn late-career moves to Europe, but it’s Ferreira who could be thrust firmly into the spotlight while he profits from the work of the USMNT’s talented hoard of attacking midfielders and wingers. The 21-year-old was named MLS Young Player of the Year after racking up 18 goals and six assists for FC Dallas in 2022.

Wales: Neco Williams. The right-back has quickly become a popular figure at Nottingham Forest since his summer transfer from Liverpool. For Wales, Williams regularly crops up on the left to accommodate fellow full-back Connor Roberts, but that doesn’t diminish the 21-year-old’s contributions. He’s got boundless energy as he sprints up and down the flank, and he could tally an assist or two thanks to his pinpoint crossing.

Group C

Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Argentina: Enzo Fernandez. Giovani Lo Celso’s absence through injury has left a gap in Lionel Scaloni’s three-man midfield, and Benfica’s 21-year-old porteno could add bite and excellent spatial awareness to the center of Argentina’s lineup. The slick passer largely operates as part of a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 formation for his club – a shape Scaloni sometimes opts for – while his inclusion in a 4-3-3 could result in Leandro Paredes being given more license to roam as a No. 8.

Saudi Arabia: Firas Al-Buraikan. There will be tough competition for Saudi Arabia’s No. 9 spot, with Saleh Al-Shehri pushing hard after notching seven goals over 13 qualifying matches. However, Al-Buraikan should be starting his country’s opener against Argentina after the athletic target man hit form for a rather average Al-Fateh side in the Saudi Pro League.

Mexico: Edson Alvarez. It’s hard to believe Alvarez first made his name as a defender for Club America when you witness his elegance at the base of midfield for Ajax and Mexico. He’s the vital link between defense and attack, sometimes orchestrating play from a deep position or selflessly pushing higher up to act as a decoy for his attackers. At just 25, Alvarez has plenty of time to earn himself a big-money transfer from the Netherlands.

Poland: Karol Swiderski. Poland made a habit of scoring late in qualifiers, so substitutes could shine for Czeslaw Michniewicz’s side at the tournament. Charlotte FC’s Swiderski, 25, scored five times during the World Cup qualification cycle despite starting only four games. Fellow backup Adam Buksa – who was playing for the New England Revolution in Major League Soccer until May – was similarly dangerous during Poland’s road to Qatar but hasn’t hit the ground running at Ligue 1’s Lille.

Group D

France’s Youssouf Fofana Catherine Steenkeste / Getty Images Sport / Getty

France: Youssouf Fofana. The 23-year-old made a late dash into Didier Deschamps’ roster after making his first two appearances for Les Bleus in September, and he’s now pushing to be a starter in Qatar due to injuries to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba. AS Monaco’s Fofana relishes tackles and is a progressive passer from the No. 6 position, and he knows a standout campaign could earn him a blockbuster move to rival the fees Real Madrid paid for fellow France youngsters Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga.

Australia: Jason Cummings. The former Scottish international, who qualifies for Australia through his mother, has attracted negative headlines for his off-field antics in the past, but his sense of humor and overall eccentric behavior could help make the Socceroos the tightest team at the tournament. The 27-year-old made the World Cup squad after his January move to Central Coast Mariners, where he’s scored 12 goals and provided eight assists over 24 A-League outings.

Denmark: Andreas Skov Olsen. The reputations of Mikkel Damsgaard and Joakim Maehle probably rose most during last year’s run to the European Championship semifinals, so now it’s time for the other flank to shine. Club Brugge winger Skov Olsen, 22, has proven his tactical intelligence with Denmark: He moves inside to make room for the right-back or pick holes nearer the middle of defenses, and he can stay wide to deliver crosses. His pace will cause problems.

Tunisia: Ellyes Skhiri. Skhiri is an invaluable tactical piece for Tunisia, dropping into defense to allow the full-backs to advance while he pushes well-timed passes upfield. He’s completed more tackles and passes in the Bundesliga than any of his FC Koln teammates and ranks second for interceptions.

Group E

Spain’s Nico Williams Octavio Passos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Spain: Nico Williams. Pedri and Gavi’s outrageous potential has already been recognized with numerous individual awards, so they can’t be chosen. Meanwhile, Williams is on the cusp of breaking into Luis Enrique’s XI and could be a genuine breakout star in Qatar. The winger – who’s the younger brother of Ghana’s Inaki Williams – is pacey and full of tricks, and he could be a more daring selection in attack over the tactically minded Dani Olmo.

Costa Rica: Jewison Bennette. The 18-year-old has made a quick impression at Sunderland despite only appearing nine times as a substitute in the Championship. However, manager Tony Mowbray is refusing to answer fans’ calls for Bennette to play more until he settles on Wearside. “Let us hope when the next World Cup comes around, he has played 100 or more games for us and he is a big name on the international stage. He has the talent to do that,” Mowbray said.

Germany: Karim Adeyemi. Jamal Musiala is destined for superstardom, but let’s not pick the low-hanging fruit here. Adeyemi has room to improve, but his confidence and breakneck speed will be a valuable weapon off the bench for Hansi Flick. The 20-year-old’s summer move to Borussia Dortmund was disrupted by an untimely injury, but his quality was clear when he raced to 19 goals and five assists for Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga last term. “He’s a difference maker,” Dortmund boss Edin Terzic said recently.

Japan: Takefusa Kubo. The 21-year-old has one of the more recognizable names in Hajime Moriyasu’s ensemble from his time on the books of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He’s now with high-flying Real Sociedad where he’s earned his side six extra La Liga points with his two goals and two assists. He also leads his club teammates in attempted dribbles.

Group F

Belgium’s Leandro Trossard Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Belgium: Leandro Trossard. Charles De Ketelaere set the hype machine into overdrive through his exploits at Club Brugge, but his displays since his summer move to AC Milan showed he still has a lot to learn. Trossard, on the other hand, is the finished article and could take this tournament by storm if Roberto Martinez has the bravery to start him over one of Belgium’s veteran squad members. Brighton’s Trossard, 27, has seven goals and two assists in the 2022-23 Premier League season.

Canada: Ismael Kone. The 20-year-old’s composure, distribution, and ability to ride challenges are among the many reasons the midfielder has enjoyed a rapid ascent from semi-professional football in Quebec. “With one touch he would eliminate two or three players easily,” Rocco Placentino, sporting director of Kone’s former club CS Saint-Laurent, recalled of his first impressions of Canada’s exciting talent for theScore’s recent feature.

Morocco: Sofyan Amrabat. Many World Cup viewers will be more familiar with Amrabat’s older brother, former Watford winger Nordin Amrabat, but Sofyan’s in the process of outdoing his sibling through his performances for Fiorentina. Morocco can be porous in midfield, but with the ball, the younger Amrabat is an ambitious passer, composed, and extremely difficult to knock off the ball.

Croatia: Luka Sucic. Red Bull Salzburg are known for their conveyor belt of talent, and Sucic has the potential to become a quality winger. The 20-year-old won’t be an immediate starter in Qatar, but Ivan Perisic is 33 and Zlatko Dalic hasn’t settled on a regular player for the right flank. Sucic’s energy off the ball and willingness to test the goalkeeper could be valuable assets for Croatia as it journeys through the tournament.

Group G

Brazil’s Gabriel Martinelli Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Brazil: Gabriel Martinelli. Is there a Brazilian player who hasn’t broken out? Martinelli is the closest thing to it. The 21-year-old has established himself as a regular starter for Premier League leaders Arsenal, scoring five goals and assisting twice, but he’s one of the least experienced members of Tite’s squad with just three caps. It’ll be tough to break into this lineup, but if Martinelli gets a chance, you can trust he’ll make an impact with his ridiculous speed and lush dribbling.

Serbia: Strahinja Pavlovic. Serbia’s frontline grabs most of the attention and rightly so, but scouts will undoubtedly take a keen interest in 21-year-old defender Pavlovic. He’s an imposing figure at 6-foot-4 and uses his body to intimidate and overpower opponents in duels. Despite his brutish physicality, he’s also a tidy ball-player and is improving quickly with Red Bull Salzburg.

Switzerland: Breel Embolo. The 25-year-old forward is already a veteran of three major tournaments for Switzerland and has been a popular breakout pick for each, but Embolo’s finishing has improved slightly since the European Championship in 2021. He used to play as a winger, so he’s also a skilled dribbler and creator.

Cameroon: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Bewitching Georgian winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has attracted most of the attention at Napoli this season, but Anguissa is turning into a complete midfielder in Italy. He’s a true box-to-box operator, battling for the ball and then quickly trying to create attacking scenarios for his team. At 27, he still has time for a massive transfer.

Group H

Portugal’s Rafael Leao Gualter Fatia / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Portugal: Rafael Leao. Leao is one of the biggest names on this list – he was named Serie A’s Most Valuable Player when AC Milan won the Scudetto last season – but it still seems the Portuguese phenom is a little overlooked. The 23-year-old should be demanding a fee that comfortably exceeds €100 million when he eventually leaves Milan. Leao is incredibly entertaining to watch, with one of his unique trademarks being a knack for finding an extra gear as he surges past opponents.

Ghana: Mohammed Kudus. The 22-year-old is already playing in the Champions League with Ajax, where he scored with an explosive effort against Liverpool in September, and has played in every position in the midfield and attack during his career. This could be the competition where he realizes his huge potential.

Uruguay: Nicolas de la Cruz. The Uruguay squad is awash with players starring across Europe, but De la Cruz is 25 and has yet to venture outside South America. In recent months, the River Plate winger appears to have fought off Giorgian de Arrascaeta for a place in Diego Alonso’s starting lineup, and he could rack up a few assists while creating chances for Edinson Cavani, Darwin Nunez, and Luis Suarez.

South Korea: Cho Gue-sung. The worrying form of Hwang Ui-jo intensified Paulo Bento’s four-year search for a No. 9. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ Cho may be the player to belatedly answer his head coach’s prayers. “He has everything: a physical presence, he’s decent in the air, can finish, and perhaps most importantly has great movement,” K League United associate editor Paul Neat explained to theScore.

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Transfer window preview: 50 players who could move in January

Find the biggest stories from across the soccer world by visiting our Top Soccer News section and subscribing to push notifications.

With the January transfer window set to open on the first day of the new year, we’re teeing up the wheeling and dealing by presenting 50 players who could be on the move.

LEAGUE DEADLINE DAY
Bundesliga Feb. 1 (12 p.m. ET)
Ligue 1 Feb. 1 (5 p.m. ET)
Premier League Feb. 1 (6 p.m. ET)
La Liga Feb. 1 (6 p.m. ET)
Serie A Feb. 1 (7 p.m. ET)

Note: Estimated transfer values provided by transfermarkt.com.

Premier League ?gbeng

Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Age: 25
Position: Goalkeeper
Estimated value: €28M

Unseated by the arrival of David Raya, Ramsdale’s future is a little murky. Arsenal are unlikely to sanction a loan move, especially to a Premier League rival, but with an eye on Euro 2024, the netminder needs more minutes.

Lloyd Kelly (Bournemouth)

Age: 25
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €16M

Bournemouth don’t want to lose him, but with Kelly’s contract set to expire in the summer and no sign he’ll renew, defender-needy clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are circling in the hopes of sealing a midseason signing.

Ivan Toney (Brentford)

Age: 27
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €35M

Toney’s eight-month ban for betting breaches ends in January, and his return to the pitch could precipitate a transfer. He’s a proven scorer with 32 goals in 68 Premier League appearances, and plenty of clubs need help up front.

Marc Cucurella (Chelsea)

Age: 25
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €25M

Despite his recent injury, Cucurella headlines a trio of defenders who may leave west London this winter – Ian Maatsen and Trevoh Chalobah could also depart. Chelsea, as ever, will be fascinating to watch when the window opens.

Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €42M

One of the window’s most intriguing names. Only Axel Disasi has played more minutes for Chelsea this season – Gallagher has even worn the armband – but he represents the Blues’ best chance of making a sizeable profit in January.

Noni Madueke (Chelsea)

Age: 21
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €25M

January is about finding opportunities to bolster your squad or, in some cases, find a piece to push your team over the top. Madueke, clearly very talented but getting few chances to shine at Chelsea, could fit the bill.

Joao Palhinha (Fulham)

Age: 28
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €60M

After coming agonizingly close to joining Bayern Munich in the summer – Palhinha was literally in Bavaria waiting, in vain, for a deal to be closed – the excellent midfielder will once again be a hot, though expensive, commodity.

Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City)

Age: 28
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €28M

Nobody needs a January transfer more than Phillips, whose career has derailed since joining Manchester City; Pep Guardiola has repeatedly apologized for his lack of opportunities. Juventus are reportedly interested.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Age: 28
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €15M

Erik ten Hag may say that Manchester United aren’t looking to move Martial, but the Frenchman’s limited amount of playing time this season speaks louder than the manager’s words ever will.

Jadon Sancho (Manchester United)

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €23M

With Sancho and Ten Hag perpetually at odds, it’s in everyone’s best interest to just part ways. A loan seems most likely in January, with United having a better chance of recouping some of his huge transfer fee in the summer.

Raphael Varane (Manchester United)

Age: 30
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €25M

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich need help in central defense, and Varane could represent excellent value. His familiarity with the Spanish club would make his transition seamless, which is always a key consideration in January.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham Hotspur)

Age: 28
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €28M

Hojbjerg has only started three Premier League matches this season under Ange Postecoglou. In what will become a common refrain on this list, the Dane could depart in search of more regular playing time ahead of Euro 2024.

La Liga ??

Ferran Torres (Barcelona)

Age: 23
Position: Forward, winger
Estimated value: €35M

Despite getting consistent opportunities since joining the club, there’s always been a sense that Barcelona don’t truly believe in Torres. Already fierce competition for minutes will be more extreme following Vitor Roque’s arrival.

Miguel Gutierrez (Girona)

Age: 22
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €20M

Gutierrez has been one of the breakout performers helping to fuel Girona’s fairy-tale title push. Real Madrid reportedly have an €8-million buyback option on the youngster, who seems destined for a big move soon.

Juan Miranda (Real Betis)

Fran Santiago / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 23
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €9M

Miranda, a product of Barcelona’s famed academy, is another soon-to-be free agent who could yet leave in January if his club wants to procure a transfer fee. AC Milan, seeking defensive depth, are working to sign the Spaniard.

Rafa Mir (Sevilla)

Age: 26
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €5M

Sevilla are among the most obvious candidates for a big January shakeup following a dismal opening half of the season. Mir’s struggles – just two league starts and one goal – are emblematic of the rough campaign in Andalusia.

Serie A ??

Joshua Zirkzee (Bologna)

Age: 22
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €30M

Zirkzee’s been one of the revelations of the European season, helping power Bologna’s top-four push. The Dutchman reportedly has a €40-million release clause, and Bayern Munich retained a buyback option worth half that.

Radu Dragusin (Genoa)

Age: 21
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €20M

A physically imposing center-back with the necessary on-ball skills to thrive in the modern game, Dragusin is garnering interest across Europe. Atalanta, perhaps anticipating Giorgio Scalvini’s summer exit, are reportedly keen.

Samuel Iling-Junior (Juventus)

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €20M

The Englishman has received little playing time after breaking into Juventus’ senior side last season. If Juve decide to sacrifice one of their young talents to generate funds, Iling-Junior seems the likeliest candidate at the moment.

Victor Osimhen (Napoli)

DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

Age: 24
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €110M

Osimhen may have just signed a contract extension with the ailing Italian champions, but that won’t stop the rumors, especially with his reported €130-million release clause. Chelsea remain in desperate need of a proper No. 9.

Lazar Samardzic (Udinese)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €20M

Looking for something – anything, really – to help jump-start their miserable title defense, Napoli have apparently turned their attention to Samardzic, who provides silky dribbling and playmaking ability from midfield.

Bundesliga ??

Piero Hincapie (Bayer Leverkusen)

Age: 21
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €35M

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to leave red-hot Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen right now, but Xabi Alonso’s preferred back-three doesn’t include the Ecuadorian, which could facilitate a January transfer.

Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €20M

Reyna must move to get his once blossoming career back on track. A variety of factors contributed to his recent status as a bit-part player at Dortmund, but he’s flashed enough potential in the past to earn a chance elsewhere.

Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 24
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €35M

Dortmund tumbled down the table following a rough run into the winter break, leaving Edin Terzic on thin ice. Against that backdrop, parting with one of your few scoring threats would be a tough sell, but rumors about Malen persist.

Manu Kone (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Christian Verheyen / Borussia Moenchengladbach / Getty

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €35M

After several clubs, including Bayern Munich and Liverpool, were linked with his services in the summer, the trail has gone a little cold on Kone of late. That’s sure to change in January. A deadline-day deal is a distinct possibility.

Fabio Carvalho (RB Leipzig)

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €14M

Carvalho’s loan move to RB Leipzig simply hasn’t worked out as anyone had hoped. He’s made just three starts, prompting Liverpool to explore the possibility of recalling and sending him elsewhere in January.

Serhou Guirassy (VfB Stuttgart)

Age: 27
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €40M

Scoring 17 goals in 14 Bundesliga games doesn’t go unnoticed. A January move for the Guinean is complicated by his expected involvement in AFCON, but his extremely modest €17.5-million release clause has clubs salivating.

Ligue 1 ??

Tiago Djalo (Lille)

Age: 23
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €15M

Instead of losing the Portuguese defender for free in the summer, Lille are reportedly considering cashing in now. With Inter, Juventus, and Atletico Madrid all in the mix, the French outfit could incite a decent bidding war.

Leny Yoro (Lille)

Age: 18
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €25M

Already one of the standout defenders in France despite his tender age, Yoro is someone Lille will fight to keep for as long as possible. PSG, now trying to scoop up every emerging talent in the country, will need to pony up.

Khephren Thuram (Nice)

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 22
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €40M

Thuram, despite interest from England and Italy in the summer, remained in the French Riviera – who could blame him? Both he and teammate Jean-Clair Todibo will feature prominently as the January rumors swirl.

Hugo Ekitike (Paris Saint-Germain)

Age: 21
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €15M

Ekitike’s big move to the French capital went sour very quickly. PSG tried to offload him in the summer, to no avail. Stuck behind Randal Kolo Muani and Goncalo Ramos, he’s played a measly nine minutes in Ligue 1 this season.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

Age: 25
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €180M

What, you thought we’d get through a transfer window without rehashing Mbappe’s flirtations with Real Madrid? The saga will inevitably heat up again now that Madrid can negotiate openly with the impending free agent.

Around the world ?

Jota (Al-Ittihad)

Age: 24
Position: Forward, winger
Estimated value: €9M

Jota’s move to Saudi Arabia has been an unmitigated disaster for everything but his bank account thus far, sparking rumors that the ex-Celtic star could be one of the first players to make a swift return to Europe from the Middle East.

Thiago Almada (Atlanta United)

Age: 22
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €27M

It’s simply a matter of when Almada makes the leap to Europe. The only question is whether the diminutive Argentine will break Miguel Almiron’s €24-million record as the most expensive outgoing transfer in MLS history.

Antonio Silva (Benfica)

Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 20
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €45M

Enzo Fernandez’s mammoth move to Chelsea proved that Benfica aren’t afraid to sanction sales of vital players in January if the offer is sweet enough. Silva, whose price tag is only rising, could be next in line.

Valentin Barco (Boca Juniors)

Age: 19
Position: Left-back
Estimated value: €13M

Chelsea are reportedly keen on Barco. Strasbourg, the French side also owned by the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital consortium, could be used by the Blues as a means to beat the likes of Manchester City to the Boca starlet.

Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge)

Age: 24
Position: Winger, wing-back
Estimated value: €8M

Inter are reportedly advancing in talks for the rapid Canadian, who’s viewed as the ideal replacement for the injury-ravaged Juan Cuadrado. Buchanan would serve as Denzel Dumfries’ backup in Simone Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 formation.

Benjamin Rollheiser (Estudiantes de La Plata)

Age: 23
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €10M

Newcastle United, decimated by injuries and in search of reinforcements, are reportedly tracking the electrifying dribbler, who’s lighting things up in Argentina. Not to be outdone, Benfica and Atletico Madrid are also circling.

Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati)

Age: 25
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €8.5M

Vazquez was unable to replicate his breakout 2022 campaign this past year, but that hasn’t deterred clubs intrigued by his blend of power and scoring prowess. Brentford, given the uncertainty around Toney, could make a move.

Nico Gonzalez (FC Porto)

Age: 21
Position: Midfielder
Estimated value: €9M

Things haven’t quite worked out as planned after a summer move to Porto, with the former Barcelona midfielder spending most of his time on the bench. An immediate return to La Liga shouldn’t be ruled out.

Mehdi Taremi (FC Porto)

Diogo Cardoso / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 31
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €12M

Inter continue to show strong interest in Taremi, who was one of their targets in the summer window before they settled for a low-cost option in Marko Arnautovic. The Iranian striker is a free agent at the end of the season.

Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord)

Age: 22
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €50M

The prolific Mexican is one of the game’s most coveted scorers after a sensational 2023 in which he broke Luis Suarez’s record for most Eredivisie goals in a calendar year. Feyenoord will demand a fortune, and rightly so.

Andre (Fluminense)

Age: 22
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €25M

The Brazilian, who was scouted by some of the Premier League’s top teams over the summer, put them all on high alert when he recently said his “big dream” is to play in England. How long can Fluminense hold on to him?

Denis Bouanga (LAFC)

Age: 29
Position: Forward
Estimated value: €10M

On the heels of capturing the MLS Golden Boot in 2023, Bouanga suggested he could soon return to Europe. Any move would require a “hugely expensive” transfer fee, according to LAFC general manager John Thorrington.

Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven)

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Estimated value: €40M

Wingers who excel at beating their defender and teeing up teammates inside the penalty area are always in high demand, so the collection of big clubs eyeing Bakayoko should come as no surprise. An opulent transfer beckons.

Georgiy Sudakov (Shakhtar Donetsk)

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €18M

Already a regular for his national team, the Ukrainian is being monitored by Juventus, who are looking for more guile and creativity in midfield amid the continued absences of Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli.

Viktor Gyokeres (Sporting CP)

Age: 25
Position: Striker
Estimated value: €45M

Sporting made out like bandits when they signed Gyokeres from Coventry City for a modest €20 million this past summer. The Swede is now worth more than double that amount after going on a tear since arriving in Portugal.

Goncalo Inacio (Sporting CP)

Age: 22
Position: Center-back
Estimated value: €40M

Like his compatriot Silva at Benfica – a player to whom he’s often compared – Inacio has been scouted by some of the continent’s heavyweights. The defender reportedly has a €60-million release clause in his contract.

Claudio Echeverri (River Plate)

Age: 17
Position: Attacking midfielder
Estimated value: €12M

Manchester City are working hard to beat Barcelona to Echeverri’s coveted signature. The ascendant Argentine was one of the standout players at the recent Under-17 World Cup and could reportedly cost up to €25 million.

Arthur Vermeeren (Royal Antwerp)

Age: 18
Position: Defensive midfielder
Estimated value: €30M

Chances are your favorite club has been linked with Vermeeren at some point in recent weeks. Judging by his displays in the Champions League, the prodigious Belgian already looks capable of handling a big transfer.

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theScore's 50 favorite moments of 2023: Titles, twists, and one epic speech

This year in sports was defined by inspiring stories, historic achievements, and surreal events that not even Hollywood could script. We loved them all. With 2023 drawing to a close, theScore is looking back on 50 moments that resonated most with us over the past 12 months. Our five-part series, which counts down every Friday in December, continues below with moments 30-21.

Dec. 1 Dec. 8 Dec. 15 Dec. 22 Dec. 29
50-41 40-31 30-21 20-11 10-1

30. Bellingham takes down Barca ?

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

Jude Bellingham was already hailed as the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo before he led Real Madrid to victory in his first Clasico. The English midfielder morphed into one of the best finishers in the world after joining the club from Borussia Dortmund. His 13 goals in his first 10 games – including various winning strikes – were two more than Ronaldo scored to start his iconic career in Madrid. But nothing compared to Bellingham’s heroics against Madrid’s bitter rivals, Barcelona. After scoring a spectacular equalizing goal from 30 yards out, the 20-year-old further endeared himself to fans with an opportunistic winner in the dying minutes. – Gordon Brunt

29. Etienne’s Pyrrhic performance ?

Everyone loves a big fantasy football performance – unless you’re on the wrong side of it. Imagine how Travis Etienne felt after posting one of the best games of his career while playing against himself in fantasy football. The running back exploded for 136 rushing yards, four receptions, 48 receiving yards, a pair of touchdowns, and a two-point conversion against the Bills in Week 5. His opponent surely appreciated the 30+ fantasy points, but Etienne was likely happier winning the game in real life on the back of his dominant outing. – Andrew Dixon

28. PGA TOUR, LIV Golf join forces ?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. After more than a year of legal battles, the PGA announced a surprise merger with Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf, shocking just about everyone. While LIV golfers like Phil Mickelson rejoiced, many PGA golfers found out about the merger through a leaked press release on social media, and members of Netflix’s docuseries “Full Swing” found out on camera. Those who refused LIV Golf’s massive payouts were angered by the PGA’s lack of loyalty, and Tiger Woods was “frustrated” with the lack of player involvement. The tours have until Dec. 31 to finalize the agreement but, regardless of the outcome, June 6 will go down in golf history as a day stranger than fiction. – Sarah Wallace

27. FDU stuns No. 1 Purdue ?

Five years after No. 1 Virginia lost to No. 16 UMBC, New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson handed Purdue an opening-round loss in the same setup. The Knights had to win in the First Four to qualify, while the Boilermakers lost four games to end the regular season before winning the Big Ten title. FDU held off No. 1 Purdue with two clutch blocks in the final minute of play to advance the Knights to the second round. Meanwhile, No. 4 Virginia lost to No. 13 Furman, marking the second time in three years the Cavaliers lost in the first round. – Donald Higney

26. Aces breathe rarefied air ?

The Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty were on a collision course to meet in the WNBA Finals all season long. Both teams were loaded with stars and dominated in the regular season to earn the top seeds in their respective conferences. The Aces took the first two games at home before the Liberty responded with a victory in Game 3. Las Vegas lost starting point guard Chelsea Gray and starting center Kiah Stokes to injuries before Game 4 but withstood their absences to claim a 70-69 victory. The win made them just the third repeat champion in WNBA history, and the first since 2002. – Josh Goldberg

25. José Ramírez decks Tim Anderson ?

It was a bad, bad year for Tim Anderson. The former batting champ struggled through injuries and underperformed in the most disappointing campaign of his career. But the worst night of his dreadful season came on Aug. 5 when he picked a fight with the wrong guy. The White Sox shortstop hurled his glove to the ground and put his dukes up after getting into a verbal dispute with Guardians slugger José Ramírez – which turned out to be a poor decision. Anderson hit the dirt like a ton of bricks after catching a wild overhand right from Ramírez. The fight led to a bench-clearing brawl and Eloy Jiménez even got stepped on as Anderson was sidelined recovering from embarrassment. – Bryan Mcwilliam

24. Nuggets, Jokic claim 1st title ?

Garrett Ellwood / National Basketball Association / Getty

For the fifth straight season, the NBA got a new champion. The Denver Nuggets won their first championship after taking down the Miami Heat in June. Nikola Jokic dominated the playoffs, averaging 30 points, 13.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 1.1 steals per game – elevating his game as the competition and stakes increased every round. Denver got a boost from Jamal Murray, who put up 26.1 points and 7.1 assists in the postseason as he played in his first campaign after an ACL tear. With this tandem, the Nuggets look to be a formidable championship contender for the foreseeable future. – Higney

23. Coco conquers US Open ?

Greatness was expected of Coco Gauff ever since she made her professional debut at 14 years old. But those expectations quickly became a burden, weighing her down even as she spent her high school years winning various 500- and 1,000-level tournaments. So when she came back from a set down against Aryna Sabalenka to win the US Open in September – clinching her first major title at the grand old age of 19 – Coco had a few things to say. “To those who thought they were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it, and now I’m really burning so bright right now,” she said as the 28,000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted in support. Now it’s no longer about whether Coco can win majors, but how many victories she’ll collect. – Anthony Lopopolo

22. You come at the king … ?

LeBron proved that you can’t count him out, even during his 20th NBA season. After then-Memphis Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks sent him numerous taunts and a hit in the groin, LeBron got his revenge. Leading by three points in overtime of Game 4 in their opening-round playoff series, the dueling players found themselves matched up – with LeBron driving past Brooks and drawing a timely foul to help put the lower-seeded Lakers up 3-1 in the series. In a cathartic moment, King James burst into emotion as the Lakers crowd went crazy. L.A. went on to win the series, while the Grizzlies declined to re-sign Brooks, allowing him to join the Houston Rockets. – Higney

21. Wild Bill’s legendary parade speech ?

Warning: Video contains coarse language

There have been some incredible Stanley Cup parade speeches over the years, but Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson gave one for the ages in June. The moment he took the mic shirtless and drenched in sweat, it was clear he was about to deliver an all-timer. It’s two minutes of absolute gold: Karlsson initially censoring himself but dropping an actual F-bomb 22 seconds later. The Arizona Coyotes catching a stray. That poor woman trying in vain to get him to wrap it up with a tap on the back, the hand-across-the-throat gesture, a plea of “let’s go,” and finally dragging him across the stage. Perfection. – Josh Gold-Smith

Let us know what your favorite sports moments were in the comments!

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Why does European soccer keep ignoring African coaches?

The rest of Europe didn’t take notice when Albanian club KF Tirana hauled itself out of relegation trouble before miraculously clinching the title in 2020. For a continent where Champions League glamor and the wealthiest domestic competitions hog the limelight, Albanian football isn’t even an afterthought.

But on this occasion, Tirana’s climb up the Kategoria Superiore table captured the attention of millions outside Europe. Africa was watching.

“I didn’t follow the directive of the owner of the team, or the president or the directors, because they have been doing it the wrong way – and that is why the team didn’t win the league for 11 years,” former Nigerian international Ndubuisi Egbo told theScore about how he became the first African coach to guide a European team to a league title.

“It’s like Frank Sinatra: I did it my way.”

Albania’s most successful club was a mess. In addition to the boardroom issues that contributed to Tirana’s prolonged title drought, Egbo found the squad’s “harmony was destroyed because the players were arguing and fighting with each other.” He tried to ignore club politics and address some of its problems in simple ways, like putting players in their correct positions. Most crucially of all, in his debut at the helm, he masterminded Tirana’s first win over archrival Partizani Tirana in almost six years.

It sparked a 17-match unbeaten run across all competitions. Tirana, once sitting eighth in a 10-team league, went on to win their 25th Albanian title, finishing the campaign with a four-point cushion atop the league.

It wasn’t all good news, though: Egbo’s incredible Tirana turnaround came amid a backdrop of racism from opposing supporters. He had a banana thrown at him. He was spat at. He felt people around the country wanted him to fail because he’s Black.

Egbo in Tirana’s technical area for a match vs. Young Boys DeFodi Images / DeFodi Images / Getty

“It’s what motivates me,” Egbo said about racism he experienced firsthand.

Egbo’s played and coached in Albania. The former goalkeeper, who experienced two Africa Cup of Nations campaigns with Nigeria, became an Albanian citizen in 2014 and speaks the language fluently.

“Even though I’m Albanian by citizenship, still they will always see you as a foreigner,” Egbo said.

Egbo refused to be cowed by the racists, and won. He’s a trailblazer: the first African coach to win a domestic title in Europe, and the first from the continent to qualify for any European competition. Many African and Black coaches called him after his achievements in Albania. He showed them what was possible.

‘A lack of trust’

Egbo’s feat came in 2020, over 130 years after African footballers began making an impression in Europe. A group of African-born stars, headlined by proud Mozambique native Eusebio, famously helped Benfica win the European Cup twice in the early 1960s. Why did it take African coaches so long to follow in the players’ footsteps?

Another rather brutal caveat is that Egbo won a title in what is effectively Europe’s football wilderness. But it’s no surprise the breakthrough needed to happen in a country like Albania, well beyond the continent’s top competitions. Patrick Vieira, the Senegal-born World Cup winner with France, held the greatest coaching job in Europe’s top five leagues of anybody hailing from an independent African nation. Vieira oversaw Crystal Palace for 20 months until he was sacked in March – and the English club certainly isn’t a giant despite its longstanding Premier League status.

Oluwashina Okeleji, a Nigerian journalist for BBC Sport, understands and feels the frustrations of African managers not getting top jobs in Europe, but he thinks someone from the continent will land one soon.

“Gradually, African coaches are punching,” he told theScore.

Okeleji picks out Walid Regragui and Aliou Cisse as coaches he believes are nearing big European breaks. Regragui won two league titles in Morocco: the Moroccan Throne Cup, Qatar’s first division; and the African Champions League. He then moved into international management, where he made Morocco the first African team to reach a World Cup semifinal at Qatar 2022. Cisse’s guided Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations glory and earned qualification to back-to-back World Cups; his side reached the knockout rounds in Qatar despite the absence of star player Sadio Mane.

Serial trophy winner Pitso Mosimane is another head coach whose achievements should place him among managerial candidates of clubs in Europe’s top five leagues, but there’s little to indicate that’s the case. The South African tactician continues to discuss the lack of African managers in Europe since he’s taken over clubs in the Middle East.

Mosimane wins CAF Champions League for Egypt’s Al Ahly picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

“I don’t know what our future will be. Europe is Europe, man – it’s not how good you are. I’ve got all these European Pro Licence coaches here in Saudi and we’re beating them every day,” Mosimane said in a Radio 2000 interview in May. “Why can’t we get a chance?”

Mosimane ended a turbulent period for Mamelodi Sundowns before igniting the most prolific spell in club history with five South African titles, four domestic cups, and its first and only African Champions League triumph. He then tested himself with a move to Egypt’s Al Ahly in 2020, where he won a league and cup double, and hoisted the Champions League trophy twice in three years. More recently, he guided Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli to promotion in his single season in charge before he took over at Al Wahda in the United Arab Emirates in June.

It’s an impressive resume – and just one example of many managers who’ve flourished in African club football (and in Mosimane’s case, even further afield). But Europe’s focus appears to be elsewhere.

“There’s a lack of trust in African managers. There’s a lack of belief in their ability,” Okeleji said.

“Africans are only good at playing football, they’re not good at managing – (it’s) a stereotype that has been going on for so long,” he added.

In an era where clubs rely heavily on data to find marginal gains on the pitch, fine-tune training methods, and uncover players from around the globe, it’s hard to conceive a reasonable excuse for Europe’s failure to find a gifted coach from the world’s second most-populous continent.

It’s not specifically Africans who are overlooked, either. In England, there’s a talent drain of Black footballers once they finish playing. The Black Footballers Partnership reported in January that Black players made up 43% of Premier League squads and 34% of squads in tiers 2-4 in 2022, and added in March that only 4.4% of manager-related roles in English football were held by Black employees.

Egbo believes the lack of diversity among coaches presents a missed opportunity for English clubs to improve communication with their players.

Nigerian icon Nwankwo Kanu and Egbo celebrate on Super Eagles duty Matthew Ashton – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

“If you look at the English Premiership, you find that the number of Black African players who are playing there is very high,” Egbo, now managing Kosovan side Prishtina, said. “And in many teams you still find they’re being coached by European coaches who don’t know anything about African culture; who don’t understand where the player is coming from, who don’t understand what he’s going through, who don’t understand anything about his family upbringing.”

The challenges

A popular suggestion to make European football more representative of society is to introduce something similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule. The policy was adopted in 2003 and made it mandatory for NFL teams to interview minority candidates for positions. The Rooney Rule has undergone several revisions, but today includes requirements like interviewing at least two external minority candidates for head coaching vacancies, and that a minority and/or female candidate be included in the interview process for senior positions like club president or executive roles.

But Seyi Olofinjana, who made 239 appearances across the top two divisions of English football, doesn’t feel comfortable with a similar policy for soccer.

“I want to get the job because I’m good enough, rather than some system saying some quota of Black or other ethnic minority should give me a job,” he told theScore.

Olofinjana considered leaving football and “going a different route altogether” once he retired from playing. He studied throughout his career, even obtaining a chemical engineering degree before he made his life-changing transfer to Europe, but always felt the pull of the sport. He returned to the Wolverhampton Wanderers in a non-playing capacity, and eventually landed his “dream” job of sporting director with Grasshopper Club Zurich. The position fit neatly with his other studies: he also has masters degrees in project management and sporting directorship, and carries UEFA’s top coaching qualifications.

The ex-midfielder, a member of Nigeria’s squad for three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, offers a unique perspective through his year with the Swiss giants. He has empathy for fellow Africans trying and struggling to get into the European game, but also understands some of the barriers preventing this rare leap. He recognizes the huge pool of coaches available in each European country and across its borders, and he’s wary of the “very, very short” amount of time coaches are given to adapt in a results-based business.

And when discussing Africans’ oft-unsuccessful efforts to move north, it’s no surprise that someone with Olofinjana’s education is mindful of the coaching qualifications required to manage in Europe.

Olofinjana celebrates scoring for Stoke vs. Arsenal Neal Simpson – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

“People always think it’s racism or what have you – some element of it is that. But I see it both ways,” Olofinjana explained. “It’s a lack of trust on the part of the owners, probably a lack of acceptance of who we are as Africans. But on the other side, for some it’s a lack of education on the part of some African coaches.”

There are obvious hints that African coaching certifications – and those issued by non-UEFA confederations – aren’t deemed as valuable as their European equivalents.

A head coach in the African Champions League must hold an “A” license – the top coaching qualification available from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – or the equivalent top-level coaching certification issued by FIFA’s five other confederations. For the European Champions League, only UEFA coaching badges are accepted.

CAF ensuring its coaching courses and qualifications are of equal value to UEFA, and for this to then be reflected in the coaching regulations for Europe’s leading competitions, could open doors for African coaches.

But that point is moot if they aren’t even considered for roles in the first place. Michael Osei served as an assistant coach for the Under-23 teams of Germany’s Kickers Offenbach and FSV Frankfurt after spending a significant portion of his playing career in the country. Across the two different jobs, Osei helped the teams win three lower-league titles between 2008-2010. However, when a promotion to one of the clubs’ senior teams – which were both competing in Germany’s second tier – wasn’t forthcoming, the former Ghanaian international decided to return home.

“I didn’t get the opportunity. It wasn’t easy for a Black coach to get the opportunity to coach (in the) Bundesliga,” Osei recalled. “That’s why I switched to come back to Ghana to continue on my coaching career.”

Now in charge of Bibiani Gold Stars in the Ghana Premier League, Osei observes another major obstacle for African coaches wanting to obtain UEFA badges: cost. To attain the four UEFA coaching qualifications up to and including the coveted Pro Licence with the English Football Association, it would cost around $18,300 (£14,995).

The average monthly wage for head coaches in the Ghana Premier League is less than $1,000, another boss working in the competition told theScore. So even if a head coach is taking home $1,000 each month, the UEFA coaching qualifications cost the equivalent of over 18 months’ salary. That considerable cost is augmented by travel, accommodation, and other daily expenses. Studying also takes coaches away from their main source of income.

The backroom positions that Otto Addo and Gerald Asamoah, also Ghanaian, hold at Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke are among the reasons Osei has hope that things will change. However, he estimates it will be another 10-15 years before an African head coach is hired by a prestigious European club.

“We have to believe it,” Osei said.

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