Meet the global wonderkids catching the Premier League's eye
Portugal’s heir to Ronaldo, the teenager terrorising defenders in the Netherlands… and yet another super-striker from Red Bull Salzburg! Meet football’s most valuable wonderkids from outside Europe’s top five leagues
- CIES have ranked the highest-valued under-23 players beyond top-five leagues
- Ajax’s academy yet again proves a hotbed for identifying superb young talents
- Portugal’s Primeira Liga claims the top three players – but for how much longer?
With the summer transfer window fast approaching, Premier League clubs will be breaking open their piggy banks and casting an eye over their playing squads to see where transfers can be made.
But the market is a cluttered one, with Premier League clubs up and down the table vying against one another, eager to spend big money on the young superstar to transform their fortunes next season.
With the top-five leagues – in England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy – hotly-surveilled by scouts amateur and professional, most fans have an idea of the wonderkids their clubs could be bidding on from Serie A or the Bundesliga.
But what about prodigal players around the globe?
Assessing the top-ten highest-valued players from beyond the featured European leagues, Mail Sport identifies the finest young talents that Premier League clubs will be keeping an eye on this summer.
Also known as ‘The Gunman’, Goncalo Ramos’ hat-trick against Switzerland whilst deputising for Cristiano Ronaldo set the World Cup alight
The striker has broken records in the Champions League and dazzled for Benfica at home
CIES value: £66million
Only a perfect performance could see a player swipe the headlines from Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal’s colours. But amidst a maelstrom of tension within the Portuguese camp that led to manager Fernando Santos benching his legendary captain, Goncalo Ramos proved he was more than capable of filling Ronaldo’s shoes.
Ramos’ hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 drubbing of Switzerland catapulted the Benfica player onto the world stage, and even more unbelievably, in his breakthrough season and just a month after receiving his first cap.
A product of the Portuguese club’s youth set-up, the 21-year-old had just eight months earlier become the second youngest player to score in the finals phases of the Champions League in Benfica’s history, with his goal against Liverpool at Anfield.
But his appetite for goals has only intensified since, and in early April, Ramos broke another record to become the youngest player to score 25 goals in a season since Portuguese titan Eusebio in 1963.
Ramos’ assassin-like efforts are transformative: in his 24 league games this season, Ramos has scored 17 goals and contributed six assists, and the forward has played a crucial role in delivering consecutive Champions League quarter-final qualifications for the first time in Benfica’s history.
The Wizard’s contract with Benfica is due to run until 2026 and the Portuguese giants have ensured that any club wishing to prise the player from them must have deep pockets by setting his release clause at £105million (€120m).
But that has not deterred suitors such as United, PSG or Chelsea desperate to secure the heir to Ronaldo’s throne.
Ramos inked his name in the history books with his Champions League goal against Liverpool
Most likely to end up at: Manchester United
The Red Devils’ pursuit of Harry Kane will undoubtedly end in futility, should Daniel Levy fail to change his stance on selling to Premier League rivals, and their back-up option to lead the line, Napoli’s Victor Oshimen, will reportedly come with an £132m (€150m) price tags.
Signing Ramos might hand Benfica yet another record-breaking fee, but it’s also – ludicrously – the inexpensive option to fix Erik ten Hag’s striker crisis.
CIES value: £58million
How impressive has Antonio Silva’s breakthrough season at Benfica been? Less than a month after his first match in the red and green of Portugal, then-manager Santos tapped the teenager to play the full 90 minutes in Qatar against South Korea, to give the barest indication of the rare defensive talent shown by the centre back.
Benfica’s impressive title charge has been spurred not only by Ramos’ goals, but Silva’s showings in the side’s backline.
After an injury crisis at the start of the season, Silva was given his senior debut, and only a few months later, the player was regularly starting for head coach Roger Schmidt in his debut season, having proven himself more than up to the challenge.
The player’s deadly accuracy – marked by a 91 per cent pass completion rate – coupled with his fearlessness has earnt him comparisons to his Portugal team-mate Ruben Dias, and appearances in the Champions League this season have seen him contain Kylian Mbappe and Dusan Vlahovic.
Antonio Silva has been lauded as the next Ruben Dias after bullying his way into the starting XI
The teenager kept Paris Saint-Germain’s twin forces of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at bay
Silva has an enviable feistiness and an element of street-smarts which bely his age. Stung Juventus, who Benfica helped knock out of the Champions League in the group stages, are said to be interested, along with Real Madrid, Liverpool, Napoli, United, and Tottenham.
Most likely to end up at: Manchester United
Having signed a new contract in September with a hefty £88m release clause, only the brave need apply. Liverpool would love nothing more than to anoint the player as Virgil van Dijk’s successor, but might be spooked by the price tag. Should United bankroll Erik ten Hag’s defensive revamp, Silva could prove the perfect replacement for out-of-favour club captain Harry Maguire.
Goncalo Ramos, Jurrien Timber, Benjamin Sesko and Yuri Alberto are the most-valuable under-23 players in their respective domestic leagues
Club: Sporting Lisbon
CIES value: £54million
Goncalo Inacio had an unforgettable turn against league leaders Arsenal in the Europa League
Whilst there are several players in Sporting’s line-up that Arsenal are unlikely to forget after their pulsating Europa League clash with the Portuguese club, Goncalo Inacio’s name must near the top of the list.
Not only did the imperious centre back suitably bully the north London club’s forwards during both legs of the competition, a dart-like header in the first leg and an accurate penalty in the second-leg shoot-out saw him find the back of Aaron Ramsdale’s net twice as his side knocked out the Premier League leaders.
Led by charismatic coach and Chelsea target Ruben Amorin, Sporting have thrilled this season, and Inacio has played a crucial role in ensuring clean sheets – 19, from his 47 appearances across all competitions.
A fan of his club since childhood, Inacio made his senior debut for the side in October 2020. Carefully nurtured by Amorin, the defender saw his role grow throughout the Leoes’ league and league cup-winning season.
United struck gold with Sporting once before in their claiming of Bruno Fernandes, and are looking to replicate the feat and snap up the creative, ball-playing centre back. But they’ll be in direct competition for Inacio with Newcastle, who reportedly had their initial offer snubbed by the player but show no signs of backing down.
Most likely to end up at: Newcastle
Inacio is said to have rejected the idea of the Magpies’ project under Eddie Howe, but he would do well to reconsider. Newcastle’s finely-tuned recruitment process and Howe’s interest in developing young player makes the Portugal international an ideal marquee signing as the Tyneside club prepares for European competition.
CIES value: £50million
At just 21, Jurrien Timber has played over 100 games for his boyhood club, nine years after he joined Ajax’s storied youth set-up.
After a blistering season in 2021/22, Timber was awarded the club’s Marco van Basten Award for Talent of the Year. He was also named Eredivisie Player of the Year, and Talent of the Year, with the club subsequently lightning-quick to tie him down to a lucrative new contract.
Jurrien Timber is one of the brightest of Ajax’s young stars and has been suitably decorated
Timber found ferocious form under his old manager Erik ten Hag – could a reunion beckon?
The Dutch international can play a mutable role in defence, strong both at centre back and as a right back, and with the highest pass completion percentage in the league this season, his thoughtfulness and accuracy sets the player up as a manager’s dream.
Liverpool are interested, and this was stoked further by Virgil Van Dijk’s comments that his compatriot was further along in his development than he was at the same age.
The Reds’ fortunes received a boost, as per the Dutch press, as Timber’s partner reportedly began house-hunting in Merseyside, but Bayern Munich are also circling, amidst rumours of an exit for Benjamin Pavard.
Most likely to end up at: Liverpool
Despite roiling interest from United, Timber snubbed a move last summer, and the club may not be so accommodating with their second offer. Ties to the Dutch national team in Merseyside have been further strengthened by the January arrival of Cody Gakpo, and combined with Timber’s quality and consistency, a move west feels like a no-brainer.
CIES value: £43million
A surprise inclusion on Louis Van Gaal’s 26-man squad to travel to Qatar for last year’s World Cup, Kenneth Taylor only made the briefest appearance for the Netherlands during their match against the host nation, but his dazzling Eredivisie form has cemented his reputation as another sterling Ajax academy product.
The two-footed midfielder, who can play centrally or defensively, broke into the senior team in 2020 under the tutelage of Ten Hag, before being handed a five-year contract to keep him at the club until 2027.
Kenneth Taylor has been quietly impressing in the Ajax midfield under John Heitinga
Ranked in the top ten for the highest percentage of passes completed and progressive passes in the Eredivisie, Taylor has become a bedrock in John Heitinga’s side, after first working with the manager – who replaced Schreuder in January – when he was the under-19 head coach.
As well as influencing in midfield, Taylor offers a substantial goal threat for a player with defensive talents, scoring eight and assisting three more in his 27 league appearances this season.
Unsurprisingly, Taylor has made his way onto the wish list of his former manager Ten Hag, who championed him during his rise at the Amsterdam club, as United’s quest to recruit a deep-lying midfield rolls on.
Most likely to end up at: Liverpool
Despite his high valuation, Taylor has a lower profile than many of Ajax’s regular starters, and may yet come as a bargain for what he has to offer. As Liverpool looks to make wholesale changes in their midfield, investment in Taylor could pay long-term dividends for the club.
But a move may prove less likely at this stage in the player’s career, with former team-mate Ryan Gravenberch’s 2022 transfer to Bayern Munich acting as a cautionary tale for promising Ajax youngsters.
Club: PSV Eindhoven
CIES value: £41million
Paris Saint-Germain’s less-than stellar reputation for letting talented young players slip through their grasp – Kingsley Coman and Christopher Nkunku to name just two – is further stoked by the achievements this season of Xavi Simons.
The Dutch teenager, who was part of Barcelona’s youth set-up, attracted the interest of both Real Madrid and Chelsea before the Parisian giants pipped them to the post, signing the player in 2019, but after he failed to break into the first-team, the midfielder plumped for a move to PSV in 2022.
Xavi Simons failed to imprint himself in his old PSG side but has latterly played a starring role in Holland for PSV
Quickly becoming a regular starter, Simons has scored 14 goals and contributed eight assists in 29 Eredivisie appearances this season, and was part of the Europa League side that beat league leaders Arsenal in the group stages.
With millions of Instagram followers tracking his every move and a bumper Adidas deal to match, his club are keen to ensure the youngster’s ego stays relatively in check amidst his rapid rise and have applied less-than orthodox methods of doing so – a video circulated in January of Simons cleaning his team-mates’ boots after training.
Represented by Erling Haaland’s super-agent Rafaela Pimenta, Barcelona and Arsenal are said to be gearing up to bid for the Eredivisie’s joint-top scorer come July.
Most likely to end up at: PSG
Simons will be the first to admit he wants another chance to scrap for a place in the starting XI, sharing not-so-subtly in an interview with NoS Sport in February that he ‘missed France’. The Ligue 1 behemoth has a dizzyingly-low £10m (€12m) buy-back option that they should run, not walk, to deploy.
CIES value: £38million
Mohammed Kudus has stepped up following Antony’s summer departure to join United
He featured heavily for a promising Ghana side at the World Cup, putting two past South Korea
Where would Everton be had Ajax allowed their £30m play for Mohammed Kudus to go ahead? For the Goodison Park it likely doesn’t bear thinking about.
Kudus is a jaw-dropping talent, capable of not only playing an eye-catching role in his star-cluttered Ajax side but for the Black Stars at last year’s World Cup. Stuck in knotty Group H, Ghana failed to make it out of the group past South Korea and Portugal but Kudus distinguished himself throughout, capping a strong international showing with two goals against South Korea.
After his Premier League move failed to come to fruition, and having been robbed, notably, by their former manager of star forward Antony, Ajax were forced to assess Kudus’ role in Amsterdam.
The player took up the task fluidly, scoring four goals during the side’s Champions League campaign, and 18 across all competitions.
As his star has risen this season, Ajax is closer to understanding that his next move shouldn’t be blocked. Arsenal, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Liverpool have all been circling.
Most likely to end up at: United
For all of Richard Keys’ suggestions that Ten Hag should try managing in the Eredivisie, the manager has more fun when he remakes the Dutch league in his own image. Having heavily plundered from Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord last summer, acquiring Kudus would scratch the itch to nurture Dutch-flecked talent whilst also providing United with a versatile attacking or midfield option.
CIES value: £30million
Things may not have gone exactly to plan for Yuri Alberto. After securing a long-desired £22m (€25m) move to Europe in January 2022, the 22-year-old no doubt hoped that a spell at blue-chip Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg would help showcase his talents to amongst the top five leagues.
A month later, and Russia had invaded Ukraine. The ban on Russian clubs from competing in UEFA competitions remains in place to this day, and six months later Alberto returned to Brazil on loan to play for Corinthians, who signed him permanently in January 2023.
An abortive move to Zenit St Petersburg represented Yuri Alberto’s first spell outside of Brazil
The briefest of spells in St Petersburg was impressive – he scored four times in just 11 appearances – and back in Brazil, the versatile player, who can start on the left, right, or as a centre forward, continued in a rich vein of form.
Alberto was part of the youthful Brazil side picked by interim manager Ramon Menezes during the March international break, alongside Rony, Vinicius Jr, and Chelsea’s young Brazilian talent, Andrey Santos, and made his appearance off the bench during the Selecao’s 2-1 defeat to Morocco.
West Ham showed an interest in the player last summer after his public wish to leave Russia, and Arsenal and Manchester City have previously made enquiries, but the line remains strangely quiet for such an obvious talent.
Most likely to end up at: Newcastle
Having a freshly-inked five-year deal with Corinthians suggests the player is happy to bide his time awaiting the right offer from a top-five club. But for Newcastle, Alberto could represent a long-term talent at an enviable price, as they seek to continue their sustainable recruitment model following the club’s Saudi-backed takeover.
CIES value: £29million
One of the strongest progressive passers in the Eredivisie, Turkey international Orkun Kokcu is also one of the league’s highest scoring midfielders.
Handed the captain’s armband at the start of the season, Kokcu is a vital piece of Feyenoord’s title charge, with the club vying to top the league for the first time in six years under manager Arne Slot.
The Haarlem-born 22-year-old became a first-team regular four years after he joined the youth set-up in 2014, and broke Dutch hearts when he chose to play for his mother country in 2020.
Flinty, high-scoring midfielder Orkun Kokcu was handed the captain’s armband in August
Kokcu has long been on Arsenal’s radar, with rumours of the club’s interest in the midfielder beginning to swirl as early as February 2020. The upcoming transfer window could see pursuit of the player ramp up, as they begin preparations for a season with Champions League football and refresh their ageing midfield.
The player – who courted controversy in his refusal to don the FIFA ‘One Love’ armband in support of the LGBT+ community, citing his Muslim faith – previously snubbed West Ham last summer, but Arsenal could face competition from suitors as varied as Brighton, Wolves, Leicester and Real Madrid.
Most likely to end up at: Brighton
Whilst Arsenal have made no secret of their desire for a midfield revamp, they remain the favourites to snap up West Ham’s Declan Rice as he seeks a big-money move from the London Stadium. Brighton may have secured Pascal Gross’ services long-term, but question marks linger over how long Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo will remain at the Amex.
A move to Brighton, and the ability to play a key role in Roberto De Zerbi’s energised and fluid side would mark the perfect start to a Premier League career.
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
CIES value: £29million
Sesko may not yet have the goals to back up his status as the next Erling Haaland, but his performances in the Austrian Bundesliga this season have gone some way to burnish his reputation.
Like his predecessor leading the line for Red Bull Salzburg, Sesko is 6ft4 but deceptively nimble, and at 19, already a confident performer on the international stage.
The Slovenia international pulled off an audacious volley ten yards out to outfox Sweden’s goalkeeper Robin Olsen in what should have been a shoo-in for a Puskas Award nomination, and already has six goals for his country in 19 appearances.
But it’s his league showing has attracted admiring glances from the Premier League: the striker has netted 15 goals and three assists across all competitions, with a goal involvement coming every 89th minute.
In a fortunate but not wholly-surprising twist of fate, a number of Premier League scouts were in attendance when Sesko stole the show in his side’s 4-2 win against Rapid Wien in March.
Benjamin Sesko’s reputation has been burnished by stellar goals, and lots of them, in Austria
As the team were flagging, Sesko scored a seven-minute hat-trick in the final ten minutes to see out the win and extend his club’s lead at the top of the table.
Most likely to end up at: United
A complicated one. Sesko was hotly pursued by Ten Hag during his first transfer window last summer, but United were rebuffed as the player chose to sign a five-year contract with sister-club RB Leipzig, to start in June 2023. However, Sesko was reconsidered in January, and remains highly prized by the Dutch manager – with Leipzig said to be open to being bought out of their existing deal.
With Wout Weghorst viewed as a temporary fix at the front, Sesko could yet step into the number nine role at Old Trafford should Ramos prove too rich for United’s blood.
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