Reviewing football's most promising senior debutants in 2018
Football fans were treated to a host of prodigiously talented young players from across the globe in 2018.
Here, theScore looks at 10 gifted youngsters who made their mark for their club after being handed a senior debut this year, and from whom we’re sure to see a lot more in the future.
Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake)
Baird deserved his 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year gong for his debut campaign at Real Salt Lake, during which he missed just four games and finished as the club’s joint-third-highest scorer with eight goals and five assists. Called up to new United States head coach Gregg Berhalter’s first senior squad in 2019, the 22-year-old attacker is one of the league’s key talents to monitor.
Musa Barrow (Atalanta)
Barrow, a 20-year-old Gambian attacker who can play as a winger or through the center, made his debut for Atalanta in January of last season. Pacey and dangerous in attack with a box of tricks to boot, he may not have scored in Serie A this season but he’s already racked up seven goals and four assists in 33 appearances for the club, including a hat-trick in Europa League qualifying back in August. He won’t be in Lombardy for long.
Moussa Diaby (Paris Saint-Germain)
There’s a slew of young talents at Paris Saint-Germain – Timothy Weah, Yacine Adli, Kylian Mbappe – but perhaps the most exciting of their debutants this year was Diaby, who actually made his senior bow on loan at Italian side Crotone back in April. Since his return to Parc des Princes, the bamboozling France Under-20 winger has taken his chances for the French champions, recording an impressive three goals and five assists in 13 games in all competitions and tasting Champions League action for the first time. His is one of many career ascendancies to watch in the French capital.
Grady Diangana (West Ham)
Diangana had been impressing for West Ham’s academy side in recent times and was finally rewarded with his first senior chances this season. After scoring twice on his debut against Macclesfield Town in the League Cup in September, the 20-year-old Congo-born winger has stepped up in Andriy Yarmolenko’s injury absence, featuring in 11 of the Hammers’ last 13 Premier League games and displaying a fearlessness in attack that will delight the bubble-blowing onlookers at the London Stadium.
Sofiane Diop (Monaco)
Young prospects being given first-team chances has been a running theme at AS Monaco, and Diop is a prime contemporary example. The 2000-born midfielder made his senior debut in the Trophee des Champions season opener and has made 19 appearances in all competitions. Particularly prominent since Thierry Henry’s appointment at the beleaguered club, Diop has not yet recorded a goal or assist in the principality but has already shown an ability to play in a variety of positions across the midfield and attack.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea)
Being the Chelsea academy graduate not immediately loaned out to the Netherlands is a lot of pressure, but Hudson-Odoi appears to be handling it well. After scattered substitute appearances in the second half of last season and a goal and assist from four games in the Europa League group stage, the 18-year-old winger was handed his Premier League debut on Boxing Day. The Blues’ squad is stacked, but Hudson-Odoi has the talent to make it – if Chelsea can get him to commit his future to the club, of course.
Riqui Puig (Barcelona)
Barcelona’s La Masia seems to produce the majority of the world’s young talent, and they have another future gem in Puig. A member of the club’s UEFA Youth League-winning reserve side last term, the diminutive Spanish midfielder (stop us if you’ve heard that one before) was handed his senior first-team debut in early December when he played the final 35 minutes of a Copa del Rey tie against Leonesa, setting up Denis Suarez for La Blaugrana’s fourth goal. He has since returned to the B team, but expect Puig to make a big splash in 2019, whether it comes at Camp Nou or not.
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
A full four years younger than Baird, Missouri-born forward Sargent starred at the Under-20 World Cup in the summer of 2017 and became the first U.S. player ever to be called up for U17, U20, and senior international duty in the same calendar year. In 2018, he scored on his senior debut for his country in May and he repeated that trick for German club Werder Bremen in December after progressing from the reserves, coming off the bench to net with his first-ever touch in senior club football. Another starlet on which the U.S. can pin its hopes.
Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal)
Another club with a rich recent history of rearing young talent is Arsenal, and chief among their class of 2018 has been Smith Rowe, who joined the club at the age of 10. After traveling on the first-team preseason tour to Singapore, he made his competitive senior debut in September against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League and has gone on to score three times in six games in all competitions. An unused substitute in the Premier League three times already, a league debut cannot be far away for the talented midfielder.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace)
In a sport headlined by attacking stars, it can be difficult for a young defender to gain acclaim, but one man for whom that hasn’t been a problem in 2018 is Wan-Bissaka, who has earned recognition with a series of impressive and mature displays at right-back. A comparative veteran at 21, the England youth international was drafted into the Palace side during the defensive injury crisis in February, and he’s flourished under Roy Hodgson. This season, he’s cemented himself as a regular at Selhurst Park and hasn’t missed a minute of Premier League action since August.