By Tim Todd; Chief White House Football Strategist
Those who have followed this blog for any amount of time know that I have a sort of formula for “scouting”* young forwards. It’s simple: how many shots did they take?
The logic here is that young players (U21) almost never get a chance to play, unless they are really good. Think about Arsenal over the last 20 years. Wenger tries to incorporate young players into his lineup but when they fail, he puts an arm around their shoulder and then loans them out before selling them off.
However, once in a great while a player will be so good that Wenger is compelled to play him. Fabregas was one. Wenger not only played him, he built an entire team around him. He banked an entire stadium build on him! That’s a good player. Bellerin has gotten his chance over the last few seasons and Iwobi has gotten his chance as well.
So, if this young guy is playing he’s probably pretty good. And if he’s getting a lot of shots, well, that just means that he’s real good.
Of course a young guy could fall off the face of the earth, Josip Drmic for example. Drmic scored 17 goals for Nurenberg back in 2013/14 when he was just 21 years old. Fast forward to three years later and he’s scored just 8 goals in three years. Injury and attitude problems have ravaged his bright young career.
But using this formula I pegged Gabriel Jesus to be a big sensation as well as Anthony Martial and Ousmane Dembele. These were all players who were getting a lot of shots at a young age. Indicative of precocious talent.
Right now the players I’m big on are Enes Unal and Kasper Dolberg in the Eredivisie. Unal is going to be a big name soon but Manchester City have him locked up and loaned out. Dolberg is an Ajax prospect who already has 10 goals to his name this season.
But the player I’ve seen this season with the most chance of making it to the next level, plays in France, can call his own shot (53), can create a shot for others (38, that’s more than Ousmane Dembele), and is the undisputed u21 dribble king of Europe (151! That’s 50 more than Demebele and double the number of Dele Alli) is…
Not Mbappe. Mbappe didn’t even make my radar.
If I sort U21 by shots I get guys like Dele Alli, Timo Werner, Malcolm, and Iwobi.
If I sort by key passes I get Dembele, Julian Brandt, Dele Alli (he’s really good, y’all), Malcolm, Iwobi, and Harit.
If I sort by dribbles I get guys like Harit, Dembele (he’s really good y’all), Brandt, Harit, Pulisic, and Alli.
But one guy tops them all and it’s not Mbappe.
It’s Allan Saint-Maximin.
53 shots in 22 appearances, 106/151 dribbles (70%!), and 38 key passes. All of those top my list of best U21 players. Saint-Maximin is actually a Monaco player who has spent his entire Monaco career on loan because there is so much competition for places in the Monaco midfield it’s crazy: they have Mendy, Lemar, Silva, and the young Brazilian Boschilia.
Allan’s problem is that he shoots too much from the outside: 35 of his 53 shots are from out of the box and I prefer shots in the penalty area (I’m Wengerish that way). Timo Werner tops that list with 40, Alli is second with 29, and our young Iwobi already has 25. This is actually where Mbappe-Lottin DOES hit my radar. He already has 23 shots in the 18 yard box, 6th best in Europe and the very youngest of all those players at 18.
Mbappe’s dribbles rate is atrocious, though, at just 6/20 and his key passes rate is just basic at less than one per game.
However, he is just 18. And he’s playing in a Monaco team with a lot of competition at the starting forward spot, with ball hog and entirely one-dimensional Falcao taking the majority of the shots on Monaco, then Germaine, Silva, and Lemar taking the remainder it’s hard for an 18 year old to get shots!
But he’s taking more shots than 25 year old Argentinian Guido Carrillo, so he may just be one to keep an eye on. Or, given that the market is so insane, maybe just buy him if Arsenal can afford him? Monaco already rejected a £35m bid from Man City. I expect this kid to go for £40-50m this summer.
It’s only money!
*I’m not even trying to pretend that I’m a scout or have any eye for talent. Hence the air quotes.
OBLIGATORY VIDEO OF ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN
(This kid is good)