Eastern European footballers caught the eye in 2020/21 and more will follow. From strikers faster than Kylian Mbappe to silky wingers and more.
From Dominik Szoboszlai scoring belters from long range at Red Bull Salzburg last season, to Adam Hlozek’s rampaging through defences in Sparta Prague colours and Dusan Vlahovic shrugging Serie A defenders aside, Eastern European talent enjoyed much of the spotlight during the 2020/21 campaign and have attracted some of Europe’s elite clubs in the process.
The 2021/22 season promises much of the same for Easter European talent.
Eastern Europe has been a hotbed for burgeoning talent and boasts academies like Partizan Belgrade, Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb who are some of the most productive academies in terms of producing professional players on the continent.
The below will hope to make their mark next season and have already shown glimpses of their tremendous potential.
Here are five Eastern European players FTF expect to have a breakthrough 2021/22 campaign and follow in the footsteps of Szoboszlai, Hlozek and Vlahovic.
Position: Winger/Attacking Midfielder
Born: 1st January 2004
From Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Tadic, Vojvodina have produced some of the finest Eastern European and Serbian players in this century. However in the past few years, the club’s academy has been relatively barren, Uroš Kabić has the potential to change that.
The 2004 born attacker debuted back in October 2020 in the Serbian SuperLiga as a 16-year-old and featured a further four times for the club’s first team during the 2020/21 campaign.
Kabic is highly rated in the club’s set-up having been at Vojvodina since the age of ten.
He is guaranteed to get more minutes next season. He’s shown he is ready for the step-up and netted the only goal for Vojvodina in two consecutive pre-season friendly games against Maribor and Slask Wroclaw.
Due to his impressive physique and ability to shrug players off with ease he is definitely suited for adult football.
Kabic’s technique is sublime, and he is good in one vs one scenarios when isolated on the wing or even in the middle.
So far in his Vojvodina career he has averaged 3.64 dribbles per 90 with a 57% success rate according to Wyscout. Of course this is an extremely small sample. But having watched his games for Serbia at U17 level Kabic has stood out with his ability to wrong-foot his opponents with a swift drop of the shoulder or a quick change of direction.
A left-footed player, Kabic likes to cut in from the right and he plays more of an inverted role when deployed on the wing.
When he does cut into the middle, Kabic is excellent at getting a shot off and even better at playing penetrating balls through to his teammates.
His assist against Hungary U17s at 27:20 in the clip below is a good demonstration of this. As well as the run he makes from 55:56 to set-up the second Serbian goal. And for how good he is at cutting in with his left-foot from the right, his goal at 1:27:40 should suffice.
Vojvodina have managed him well so far. After making his debut back in October, Kabic was back playing with the cadet team the day after to make sure he kept his feet on the ground.
So far in the first team he has been deployed as a CF operating just behind the striker and he has looked solid in the role. Barring the two goals in pre-season, Kabic is good at holding up the ball and he has the height and the physicality to win aerial duels against his opponents.
He will likely have a regular role at Vojvodina next season and it will be interesting to see how well he fares in the SuperLiga. Kabic has the skillset to succeed and his ability to play in various roles will aid him in terms of getting more playing time.
Lille are supposedly already tracking the 17-year-old but it would not be a surprise if others clubs started taking notice very soon too.
Born: 31st May 2003
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
With Patson Daka departing Salzburg this summer and Sekou Koita picking up a serious injury that will rule him out for at least six-months, the pathway for Benjamin Sesko to make a mark in the club’s first team is clear.
He’ll be working under Matthias Jaissle who helped him flourish at Liefering last season.
Sesko scored 18 goals and registered three assists in 17 matches under Jaissle for the club’s second string side.
A tall, quick and technical player, Sesko certainly possess the profile of a typical Salzburg forward.
One of the most frightening traits of the Slovenian forward is his speed. He clocked in at 36.11km/h last season. A speed faster than Kylian Mbappe. And it’s even more frightening considering his 1.94 metre frame.
Defenders in the Austrian second division struggled to contain him when he came hurtling towards them. When he is in full flow, Sesko is difficult to stop.
He’s good at bringing the ball forward and instigating attacks like this in swift attacking transitions.
Sesko’s height and physicality also makes him a nuisance in the box and his movement is intelligent enough to beat his opponents. With 5.62 touches in the penalty area per 90 according to Wyscout no one was more active in the opposition’s area than the Slovenian forward.
He also ranked in the top five for progressive runs for centre-forwards with 1.16 highlighting his ability to influence the game from deeper in the previous mentioned attacking transitions.
Using his speed, Sesko thrives against high defensive lines, and loves to run in behind the space between the opposition defenders and the goal.
Where the Slovenian needs to learn to become better is to become more rounded. Against low-blocks, Sesko has not proven enough versatility in his game to flourish.
He showed good moments in a recent friendly on his senior debut for Slovenian against Gibraltar, but he could not find the openings for himself and struggled to get into the game against a deep-lying defence. This was the case in Salzburg’s recent friendly matches against DAC and Monaco too.
But at just 18-years-old, Sesko has plenty of time to develop that side of his game. He has the physical traits and the technical ability to cause problems against low-blocks and positional training as well as further experience will help him understand how to handle that challenge better.
Born: 26th December 2002
Club: Hajduk Split
When Croatia needed a moment of inspiration in their U21 European Championship quarter final game against Spain, Igor Biscan turned to 18-year-old Stipe Biuk.
Biuk changed the game. His rapid explosive runs helped to stretch out Croatia’s attacks and he caused Barcelona right-back Oscar Mingueza a multitude of problems.
Biuk’s burst into the penalty area ultimately won Croatia the penalty which would see them take the game to extra-time.
Biuk has attracted interest from top European clubs, but he has opted to stay at Hajduk Split for now.
He ended last season with three goals and two assists in his last six games after making his debut in march.
In the junior side’s for Hajduk Biuk scored seven goals and registered fifteen assists and he is a player who is equally skilled at finding the back of the net but also creating opportunities for his teammates.
Last season he averaged 0.99 shot assists per 90 according to Wyscout and makes 2.36 passes into the penalty box per 90.
Biuk is a mature professional. He carries a warm aura around him. Having come from a modest background and having suffered early family trauma after losing his mother due to a brain aneurysm at the age of 12, Biuk definitely has a sense of mental fortitude and maturity beyond his years.
Since then his father, Robert, a retired special forces officer, has been taking care of him and his brothers as they grew up from his modest earnings.
“A wonderful guy, polite, extremely talented. He goes to you like he’s on skis, he just passes by, you can’t catch him and hold him with your hands either. The ball sticks to his foot,” Ante Bašić his former coach described Biuk to Sportske.Jutarnji.
Biuk is fast, he has long limbs standing at 1.84 metres, but he is technically too and is excellent at quick rapid bursts of direct change.
He is capable of making swift powerful runs across the wing and loves to cut into his favoured right-foot from the left-flank.
Last season he averaged 7.46 dribbles per 90 in the 1.NHL Croatia’s top flight (the highest of any player), with a success rate of 48.3%.
With 3.48 touches in the penalty box, he has the intelligence to find space inside the area and the ability to carry the ball through tight spaces in order to get into dangerous areas.
Some have already compared him to Ivan Perisic and there are definitely some similarities he shares with his fellow compatriot.
Bayern Munich reportedly invited him for a trial a few years back, but Biuk remains loyal to Hajduk Split.
When asked about which team he prefers Barcelona or Real Madrid he gave a simple answer to Slobodna Dalmacija.
“None, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool! I love how Borussia plays, offensively. And Marco Reus is my idol, the way he attacks, dribbles, penetrates.”
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Born: 31st January 2004
Club: Partizan Belgrade
Partizan Belgrade have a formidable reputation for producing young talent and not just in the region of Eastern Europe. Their graduates have worn the shirt of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid just in the last decade.
This summer Filip Stevanovic moved to Manchester City. Nemanja Jovic debuted for the Serbian national team and Samed Bazdar could follow suit.
The 17-year-old netted a remarkable 37 goals in 29 appearances for Partizan’s U17 side and debuted for the first team towards the end of last season.
He has featured regularly for the club in pre-season and will likely continue to be in and around the first team squad in the season ahead.
Bazdar is an intriguing prospect. At 6 feet he is not the tallest, but he can be effective from the air. He can play in a number of roles either as a centre-forward, an attacking midfielder just behind the striker or anywhere on either flank.
His best role in the future could be suited to a high-pressing offensive team as the Serbian is excellent in pressuring his opponents in the final third.
He won eight tackles and made three interceptions in 114 minutes of first team football for Partizan in pre-season to date from a centre-forward and left-attacking-midfielder role.
In a recent U19 fixture against Romania, Bazdar won 5 out of his 5 defensive duels again highlighting his defensive ability.
This play here against KS Cracovia in pre-season perfectly demonstrates what Bazdar is about. He wins a loose ball high-up the field, and ends up at the end of an attacking move for Partizan Belgrade moments after entering the field of play as a substitute. (From 34:28)
Bazdar is relatively quick. He is comfortable on the ball and has a good basic technique. Just take a look at the touch below against Hungary U17s from March. He’s in the yellow boots in the red shirt.
While he is yet to score in Partizan’s pre-season friendlies, he knows where to hit the target (as one would assume based on his stats at youth level) and has 100% shot on target percentage from three shots.
The Serbian is good at progressing the ball through runs and he is intelligent in his passing too always playing with his head up. He completed 12 out of 14 forward passes in two games against Romania U19s according to Wyscout.
Having watched him make his first tentative steps into adult football, while in terms of pace and rhythm his game is up to scratch, in terms of physicality there is plenty to work on for Bazdar. His frail frame needs to bulk up a bit in order to be ready for senior football at higher levels.
But his infectious energy is encouraging and it is well worth keeping an eye on him at Partizan Belgrade next season. He is likely to get a few chances in the first team and will be gradually integrated into the matchday squad on a regular basis.
Born: 9th November 2002
Nationality: Hungarian (also eligible to represent South Africa)
Club: KRC Genk
Born to a Hungarian father and a South African mother, Nemeth grew up in Hungary and spent time at Vasas’ academy where he was highly regarded until his father had to move to Belgium for work.
It did not take long for Nemeth to catch the eye of Belgian giants KRC Genk and the Hungarian has been honing his skills at the club’s renowned development programme.
A powerful and pacey forward, Nemeth scored 20 goals and registered 8 assists in 21 games for Genk II team last season.
Nemeth scored twice for Hungary at the U17 World and netted three goals at the U17 European Championships.
He’s already made his debut for the U21 team under Zoltan Gera and has slowly started to catch the eye in Genk’s senior set-up too.
Last season Nemeth sat on the bench for the last few games, and in pre-season he has been able to feature regularly for the club’s first team netting twice in three appearances.
Nemeth’s powerful frame is able to hold the ball up astutely. He has good basic technique but his best asset is his strength when encountering tight situations.
Standing at 1.87 metres and already possessing a strong upper and lower body, defenders struggle to contain the forward.
Nemeth’s finishing is also exemplary. In 12 games for Hungary U17 side he averaged 2 shots per 90 and got half of them on target scoring five goals in the process.
The range of his goals are impressive too. They include a well struck volley and a thunderous finish from outside the box.
The Hungarian is dangerous in the air too and fits the mould of a typical Genk forward.
Paul Onuachu will likely leave the club this summer which will open the space for a more regular first team role for the club next season.
Nemeth is helped by the fact that he can also play as a supporting striker or as a number ten due to his reading of the game and defensive work-rate.
He averaged 3.1 interceptions for Genk’s II team last season and 7.96 defensive duels winning 70% of them. At U17 level for Hungary he averaged 6.1 defensive duels coming out on top 64.2% of the time.
At 18, this is a big season for the striker and should Onuachu leave, a golden opportunity to break into the starting eleven of a side who values the promotion of youth.
If he is able to continue his excellent goal-scoring feat at youth level, the Jupiler Pro League could have yet another gem on their hands.
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