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Osimhen, Saka make list of top U21 players alongside Mbappe and Sancho

Osimhen, Saka make top 36 U21 players alongside Mbappe and Sancho

Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen and Bukayo Saka have joined the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Jadon Sancho Trent Alexander-Arnold in the list of top players in the world aged 21 and under.

Compiling this year’s list on ESPNTor-Kristian Karlsen, who has worked as a scout and executive for clubs across Europe, including Monaco, Zenit and Watford, stated that “appearances at the highest level and confirmed performance level over a sustained period,” are the two main criteria for inclusion.

The list top 10 include PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, Borussia Dortmund’s  Jadon Sancho, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt, AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde and Atletico Madrid’s  Joao Felix.

Nigerian players who are on the list are Lille striker, Victor Osimhen and Arsenal Academy graduate, Bukayo Saka, but Villareal and Super Eagles winger, Samuel Chukwueze missed out on the list.

Victor Osimhen won the Golden Boot as the top goalscorer and teammate, Kelechi Nwakali won the Golden Ball at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup (Credit: Getty Images)
Victor Osimhen won the Golden Boot as the top goalscorer and teammate, Kelechi Nwakali won the Golden Ball at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup (Credit: Getty Images)

European top clubs have indicated interest in Osimhen’s signature while reports yesterday emerged that Liverpool have opened negotiation with the player’s representatives.

Osimhen was one of the stars of Nigeria’s Under-17 World Cup triumph in 2015 when he was top scorer with 10 goals – including the winner against Mali in the final and won the tournament’s Silver Ball.

Before football season was halted by coronavirus, the 21-year old scored 13 goals in Ligue 1 this season, bettered only by three players (Neymar, Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder).

Speaking on the strength of the player, Karlsen said, “Osimhen is a no-frills centre-forward, who will run and chase a lost cause knowing that his impressive pace, intense pressing and alert mind often give him the chance to make something out of nothing. At a time when many strikers want the ball to their feet, he prefers running behind defences. He is direct, sharp and clinical in his finishing.”

On how he can improve, the report says, “At times, he is so eager to make runs behind opposing defenders that he does not even consider the option of retaining possession to allow his team to move higher up the pitch.”

Bukayo Saka is eligible to play for Nigeria and England
Bukayo Saka is eligible to play for Nigeria and England (Credit: Getty Images)

Another player who made the list is Arsenal fullback, Bukayo Saka. Though listed as an England player, Saka was born in London to Nigerian parents and is eligible to play for both countries.

Since making his Arsenal debut in November 2018, Saka has established himself as a regular for the Gunners under former boss Unai Emery and current coach, Mikel Arteta.

According to ESPN, “Saka has begun to chip in with goals, but his most consistent threat comes with the quality and precision of his crosses from the left side, which have led to nine assists in all competitions in the 2019-20 campaign.”

On his Strengths: “Already a hit at the youth level for England, Saka has become one of Arteta’s most trusted performers. Reinvented as a left-back from an out-and-out winger, the pacy and tricky Saka is Arsenal’s main outlet on the left, offering width and a constant option to switch play. Never short of effort, he catches the eyes with his eagerness to run at defenders and wholehearted application to defending and attacking.”

On how he can improve: “Saka is still a learner when it comes to direct defending against an opponent and taking up the right positions. There is also work to be done on his upper-body strength — he can get brushed off the ball too easily — while his crossing game also needs to improve.”

Saka told BBC Sport in December 2019 that none of the two countries (Nigeria and England) has approached him, but insisted he is yet to decide which nation to represent.

“No-one has been in touch but when I make a decision you will find out. I am always thinking about it but I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Saka, 19, was born to Nigerian parents, has so far represented England at youth level.

The Arsenal youth academy graduate said neither England nor Nigeria had so far approached him about his senior international future, but Osimhen and Saka may team up together for the West African giant.

Others youngsters to make the list are: Arsenal’s Gabrielle Martinelli and Matteo Guendouzi; Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount; Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood; Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo; RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano; Valencia’s Ferran Torres; Brescia’s Sandro Tonali; Lille’s Boubakary Soumare; Real Madrid’s Rodrygo, Martin Odegaard; West Ham’s Declan Rice; PSV Eindhoven’s Donyell Malen; Parma’s Dejan Kulusevski;  Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak; Borussia Dortmund’s Achraf Hakimi; Manchester City’s Phil Foden; Barcelona’s Ansu Fati; Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies; Gent’s Jonathan David; Stade Rennes’ Eduardo Camavinga and Lyon’s Houssem Aouar.

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