In the Football News yearly “GFFN 100” publication, published on the first day of each calendar year, there is a section dedicated to 20 players who we predict to be the ones to watch for the 12 months that follow. In this article, we take a look at this list, and see whether the individuals that we tipped to breakout in 2017 have succeeded in doing so, or whether they have flopped.
Youssef Ait Bennasser, SM Caen (on loan from AS Monaco)
An injury has somewhat hindered Ait Bennasser’s progress in Normandy, but after being used rather more sparingly during his loan spell at Nancy last season, the Monaco loanee has firmly established himself as a first-choice player for Caen. Whether partnering Julien Feret in a more defensive role or playing as a box-to-box presence, Ait Bennasser has shown an impressive level of determination, becoming an important part of Caen’s strong start to the season.
He can sometimes be guilty of trying too much with the ball at his feet, and his positioning has left him caught out when playing in front the back four, but his decision-making has improved. Another six months of regular top-flight football should see him in good stead come next summer, allowing him to compete with the likes of Kévin N’Doram and Youri Tielemans for a spot in his parent club’s midfield.
Ludovic Blas, EA Guingamp
Guingamp have struggled to some degree to start this season, and Blas has been among those underperforming. He has found it hard to displace Lucas Deaux and Étienne Didot in central midfield, and the fitness of Nicolas Benezet and the arrival of Abdoul Camara have also limited his opportunities on the flanks. Wary of hindering his progress, Antoine Kombouaré has tried him in a variety of roles, but with Guingamp rarely playing three in midfield, Blas has been ill-suited to most of the positions in which he has been tried.
Too lightweight and impetuous to be an orthodox holding midfielder, or even a relayeur, Blas would be best suited with being played as a creative player in a midfield three, or as an inverted winger. He has retained his ability on the ball, to be sure, but he has also frustrated in not demonstrating an ability to adapt to Kombouaré’s demands, no small matter given how close the battle for relegation looks to be. Still only 19, there is plenty of time for Blas, but perhaps a January loan to afford him some consistency would be ideal.
Gabriel Boschilia, AS Monaco
Boschilia’s talent has never been in doubt, as his stunning free kicks were the source of much joy among Monaco supporters last year. Seen as the heir apparent to Thomas Lemar on the left, the Brazilian unfortunately suffered a cruciate injury last Feburary, which has seen him barely play this year, as an abortive comeback earlier this season was limited by another injury. Easily one of the most talented players on this list, if Boschilia can get back to full fitness, he will again be one of Ligue 1’s most highly touted prospects, but for now the jury must remain out given the severe nature of his injury and his time away from the pitch.
Marcus Coco, EA Guingamp
After making 31 starts a year ago, Coco, like his teammate Blas, has unquestionably regressed. Again, the fitness of Benezet and the arrival of Camara have hindered his opportunities, but after playing the lion’s share of Guingamp’s matches last season, Coco has rarely started. His poor decision-making, a trait often ameliorated by his pace, doesn’t seem to have improved, and Coco is beginning to look a bit like a one-trick pony. Now in his third full season with the first team, and 22 at season’s end, Coco may be reaching the point where he demonstrates an ability to focus and improve the weaker aspects of his game or risk being written off. It’s a disappointing potential outcome, but one that looks increasingly likely.
Adama Diakhaby, AS Monaco
Diakhaby’s move to Monaco raised some eyebrows this summer, as he had failed to pull up any trees in Brittany. He looked bright at the beginning of the season, as his pace, movement and energy showed signs of his being an ideal partner for Radamel Falcao. The arrival of Keita Baldé has dimmed the promise of that early connection, and now Diakhaby must prove his worth as something other than a second striker. Given that his teammates in wide roles, players such as Thomas Lemar and Rony Lopes, have much more ability on the ball, Diakhaby may find this challenging. This being the case, he must keep his head down and work, making the most of his pace as a potential game changer. Never likely to be a world-beater, Diakhaby can still likely carve out a career similar to that of Clinton N’Jie, becoming an effective striker in Ligue 1, but unlikely to trouble the thoughts of Didier Deschamps.
Mouctar Diakhaby, Olympique Lyonnais
A bundle of energy, the hulking Diakhaby is a thrill to watch, gamboling about the pitch and using his powerful frame to affect the game. Sometimes that enthusiasm lets the youngster down with an errant pass or poor tackle, and one can see why Jérémy Morel has been preferred at times this season, but physical gifts see him remain one for the future. Quick, strong in the air and in the tackle, his positional sense could use some improvement, but for now Diakhaby, especially alongside the experienced Marcelo continues to improve, and having Morel as cover will allow him to do that at a comfortable pace.
Joris Gnagnon, Stade Rennais
Gnagnon has been curiously dropped of late by Rennes’ new boss, Sabri Lamouchi, but he remains one of Ligue 1’s best young centre backs. Slightly undersized for his position, Gnagnon more than makes up for it with a preternatural intelligence and calm. His distribution can be found wanting at times, but that’s a small caveat given the newly minted Ivory Coast international’s ability in the tackle. Using his powerful frame and decent foot-speed, Gnagnon is a superbly gifted player, and should his situation in Brittany become untenable, he will doubtless have a bevy of suitors.
Amine Harit, Schalke 04
Things looked rather dour for Harit after the installation of Sergio Conceicao in December; he was no longer an automatic first-choice for Les Canaris, and when he did play, it was often from the bench. After playing ninety minutes in 11 of Nantes’ first 12 matches, did so only five more times in the team’s remaining 27 matches. After finishing the season with just one goal and one assist in more than 2,000 minutes, patience was beginning to run out for Harit, and when he moved in the summer, it seemed somewhat inevitable.
Nantes did well to recoup a good fee for the academy product, but his destination surprised many, as a move to Schalke seemed a massive step up given what he had achieved in professional football. Surprisingly, he has made that step with ease, his energy, pace and versatility being instrumental in Schalke’s improvement this season. As the Royal Blues push for the Champions’ League places (they are third at the time of writing), Harit has been used in attacking midfield, central midfield, on both wings and even as a second striker. Now a full international for Morocco, Harit, still just twenty, is one of the Bundesliga’s brightest young talents, and is looking increasingly like the one that got away for Nantes.
Gauthier Hein, FC Metz
Hein’s star was bright after making a handful of cameo appearances for Metz last season, and he was looked at as being part of the reason the side felt so comfortable in selling Ismaila Sarr in the summer. However, injuries in the run-in stunted his form, and he rarely featured in 2017. He was loaned at the eleventh hour to Tours, and things haven’t improved there. The team sit at the foot of Ligue 2, and despite that, Hein has featured only sparingly for Jorge Costa’s side, with just a solitary goal and less than 400 minutes played. With Mathieu Dossevi looking a rare bit of good business at his parent club, Hein’s chances for an opportunity seem far and few between, and his once-propitious future is now in considerable doubt.
Yann Karamoh, Internazionale (on loan from SM Caen)
Karamoh made the surprising move to Inter after some contract squabbles with Caen, and he has barely played a minute, coming off the bench just once. He did look bright in that cameo, but given Serie A’s bigger benches, he has been often starved of action, unable to feature for either Inter or their U-19s. He has continued to receive calls for France’s various youth squads, but was crucially left out of the last U-21 squad. Part of this is down to the good form of the likes of Jonathan Bamba and Samuel Grandsir; Karamoh was selected for the U-20s’ friendlies against Morocco, and scored in the process, but it also speaks to the danger of selfishness.
Had Karamoh stayed at Caen he would no doubt be a regular starter ahead of Hervé Bazile and be on his way to burnishing what was already a solid reputation; instead he languishes on the bench at the San Siro. If Inter do sign him permanently, a loan to a team further down the table could pay dividends next season, but for now Karamoh’s development, so promising a year ago, is frustratingly in limbo.
Maxime Lopez, Olympique de Marseille
Lopez has had one of the more difficult years of the players listed here; after becoming a regular in midfield for Marseille last season, the acquisitions of Morgan Sanson and Luiz Gustavo have seen the youngster frequently dropped to the bench. Rudi Garcia’s preference for a 4-2-3-1 over last year’s 4-3-3 has done Lopez no favours, either, as he lacks the physicality to play in a two. He has made a handful of appearances in the Europa League, but sits firmly behind the aforementioned two and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa at the moment.
With Marseille currently close behind Lyon and Monaco as l’OM chase the Champions’ League, there is little to suggest that will change. For Les Espoirs, Lopez has continued to be picked regularly, but the sense here is that could change as well given the form of Lyon’s Houssem Aouar. More a victim of circumstance than any downturn in form, Lopez doesn’t seem to be in an ideal situation and could do with a loan move in January.
Vincent Marcel, OGC Nice
Marcel represents one of the biggest question marks on this list; he was decent at the U-20 World Cup for France, but the arrival of Allan Saint-Maximin has seen him pushed firmly down the pecking order at Nice. Much like fellow youngster Malang Sarr, he continues to feature regularly for the reserves, but with Nice having European, matches, it is disappointing from a developmental standpoint to see the likes of Rémi Walter being picked ahead of him.
No slight on Walter, a very tidy player on his day, but if Marcel, linked with Spurs in the summer, can’t displace a player who is really more of a box-to-box midfielder than a winger, perhaps his progress isn’t to what might have been expected of him a year ago. Unselfish, powerful and good with the ball at his feet, there is undoubtedly a player here, but he needs to show it in professional football. Another good candidate for a loan move, perhaps playing with regularity can improve Marcel’s stock.
Kylian Mbappé, Paris Saint-Germain (on loan from AS Monaco)
Mbappé has had a few frustrating moments this season, but has generally looked impressive, building on a near-legendary second half of 2016-17. He is still lacking maturity and poise at times, but it’s easy to forget that he is still just eighteen. A superb finisher, inventive on the ball and quick, he has all the tools necessary to succeed at the highest level; now he just needs to prove it. Given the reputation of Unai Emery for improving younger talents, there is every chance that Mbappé could be discussed in the same breath as his new teammate Neymar in a few years as being in the very highest echelon of players.
Steve Mounié, Huddersfield Town
Injuries have hindered Mounié’s progress in England after opening the season with a brace against Crystal Palace, but he seems well-suited to the English game. Relatively quick, superb in the air and an unselfish presence with the ball, Mounié is a fairly complete player, and one who is still improving, having only first played regularly on loan at Nimes in 2015-16. Reasonable targets for the current season should be displacing Laurent Depoitre in David Wagner’s starting line-up and pushing for double figures in goals, whilst helping his club avoid relegation. Those should be easily done for the big former Montpellier man, who could be destined for even bigger things should he succeed.
Clément Michelin, Toulouse FC
Michelin is one of two superb young fullbacks on Toulouse’s books, and has thus far this season had to play a reserve role to the other one, Kelvin Amian. Unfortunately for Michelin, his presence on the first team’s bench has been deemed rather more important than playing for the reserves; Michelin has featured in just four league matches thus far. A hard-working player, Michelin isn’t as impressive going forward as Amian, but his grit and physicality mean that he continues to exude promise, evincing a considerable acuity in regards to his defensive duties. Another player for whom a loan move could be helpful, perhaps to Ligue 2, there is no hurry quite yet for Michelin, but his progress could begin to be stunted by his lack of playing time.
Adam Ounas, Napoli SSC
Much like Karamoh, Ounas’ situation in Bordeaux was untenable, although rather than frustration over his contract, the Algeria international developed a reputation for a bad attitude. Being supplanted by Malcom in his preferred position will surely have dented his confidence, but the little winger should have displayed more maturity in his interactions with Jocelyn Gourvennec last season. Also much like Karamoh, Ounas is now at a side well beyond his level, starved of playing time (barely ninety minutes across all competitions) and in no good place to advance his career. A January loan, maybe back to Ligue 1 (Caen could do with a right-sided attacker) is all but imperative, especially if he wants to be an integral part of a rebuilding Algeria side.
Nicolas Pepé, Lille OSC
Pepé is one of a raft of players on this list that made a move in the summer, and what looked at first to be a rash over-payment on the part of Lille (€10M) now is beginning to seem an intelligent move. In the first half of 2017, Pepé was often kept out of the Angers first team by Jonathan Bamba, and struggled as a centre forward upon arriving at Lille. However, with four goals in his last six appearances, his scoring form is helping ease his side away from relegation in the post-Bielsa era. As he continues to refine his relationships with his teammates, his form could even improve. He still has much to prove when it comes to his passing vision and positional awareness, but he deserves massive credit for his persistence and eventual improvement compared to the player of four or five months ago.
Valentin Rongier, FC Nantes
Rongier has continued his long road back from injury with aplomb this season. A box-to-box midfielder under previous managers, he has, with the improved form of Abdoulaye Touré and the arrival of René Krhin, been used in a more advanced role this season. Not an especially effective goal-scorer, his ability to affect play lies instead in his skill in linking play and a rare determination when Nantes are out of possession. Solid on the ball as well, Rongier would probably thrive in a midfield three, something which he hasn’t always been afforded at Nantes. Whether he continues his career at the Stade Beaujoire or seeks greener pastures, like many of the others on this list, remains to be seen, but Rongier has firmly proved he belongs in any discussion of France’s best young midfielders.
Allan Saint-Maximin, OGC Nice
Saint-Maximin cut a talented but frustrated figure for Bastia last year, on loan from Monaco. His talent on the ball was evident, but he seemed to lack much trust in his teammates, and often tried to do much at once. Since returning from that loan spell, and a subsequent move to Nice, he has seemingly improved, even as he has struggled to adapt to playing as an orthodox winger. A hamstring injury has slowed him over the last month or so, but Lucien Favre doesn’t seem to have developed a reliable solution in his absence, so he should continue to get plenty of opportunities. While undoubtedly disappointed not to have succeeded at Monaco, Saint-Maximin still seem to be writing his story and remains a player to watch this season.
Vincent Thill, FC Metz
Still just seventeen, it’s hard to know what to make of Vincent Thill. He certainly turned heads upon making his debut last season, but even with a change in managers, he has found playing time hard to come by. That’s hardly hindered his selections for Luxembourg, and he has continued to feature regularly for the reserves. That said, the focus here has to be on his performances for his club, a measure by which it is hard to accord Thill much praise, even if it is by dint of his having barely featured. Thill may pan out but for now he’s a player who, while young, is unable to get a look in on a team that is comfortably Ligue 1’s poorest, something which is in and of itself a fairly strong indictment.