France's best young football players

BEST YOUNG FRANCE PLAYERS

PROFILING SOME OF FRANCE'S EXCITING YOUNG TALENT

France – along with Brazil and England – are producing high-level talent extraordinarily regularly at the moment, with players emerging from all levels of the national game. Here are reports on some of their emerging generation. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.

You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.

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LAST UPDATED: APRIL 21, 2022

Yacine Adli

Girondins Bordeaux's Yacine Adli

DATE OF BIRTH

29/07/2000

positions

Number 8/10

CLUB

Girondins Bordeaux

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-20s

HEIGHT

1.86 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Right

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

background

Yacine Adli is another Paris Saint-Germain academy product that got away. After toying with a potential free agent move to Arsenal in 2018, the French midfielder would re-sign with PSG before leaving just six months later to join Bordeaux in search of more playing time, establishing himself as a regular starter and a consistent and dependable performer before sealing a move to AC Milan in the summer of 2021. He has since been loaned back to Ligue 1 for the season.

STYLE OF PLAY

Three years ago, Adli was a wonderful technician and creative threat, but he was undoubtedly a weak link on the defensive side of the ball. Fast forward to now, and with his introduction to senior football, he has been turned into one of the highest pressing midfielders in Europe.

But it is on the ball where Adli is so much fun to watch. His skillset can be best described as silky, with the shaggy-haired midfielder gliding around the pitch as he looks for in-roads into attacking areas.

His excellent touch, close control and spatial awareness make him effective in tight spaces in the attacking half, while his short passing into attacking players is well-weighted and accurate, giving these players the best possible chance to evade oncoming pressure.

The addition of more goals to his game will increase the overall threat that Adli could bring, but overall, he is progressing very strongly.

Rocco Ascone

LOSC Lille's Rocco Ascone

DATE OF BIRTH

12/09/2003

positions

Attacking midfield

CLUB

FC Nordsjælland

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-18s

HEIGHT

1.80 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Left

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

background

One of the surprise deals of the January transfer window was Rocco Ascone’s move from LOSC Lille to FC Nordsjælland on an 18-month loan with an option to buy. It is difficult to find what price the option to buy is exactly (for what it’s worth, Football Manager has it at €1 million), but it nonetheless represents a shrewd acquisition for the Norwegian club for a player that was on the brink of the LOSC first team.

STYLE OF PLAY

Ascone is a delightfully gifted creative midfielder, blessed with absurd technique and wonderful vision and creative passing range. Technically, he looks like one of the top-tier players that we’ve seen in the UEFA Youth League so far, which probably explains why he has been in and around Lille’s first team. His dribbling looks absurdly good.

His creative passing comes to the fore when he plays in advanced role, but he can also tuck deeper into midfield and become more of a ball carrier that can beat his man easily and drive play forwards, or simply become a tempo-setter with his passing.

To improve his game, he just needs to be better at finding space to receive the ball more often. Though at youth level at Lille he often played in a transition focused side meaning his involvement often came in flashes – and routinely very good flashes.

Nonetheless, one can only begin to imagine the impact he could have when given the ball regularly to disrupt mid-to-low blocks with his incisive style.

Maxence Caqueret

Lyon's Maxence Caqueret

DATE OF BIRTH

15/02/2000

positions

Number 6/8

CLUB

Olympique Lyonnais

NATIONAL TEAM

Seniors

HEIGHT

1.74 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Right

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

background

Many OL academy graduates are thrust straight into key first-team roles as teenagers. This was not the case for Maxence Caqueret, who has had to bide his time before a break-out year in 2020 saw him thrust into the European spotlight.

Impressive league performances and a stand-out contribution in Lyon’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2020 saw the French midfielder establish himself as a first-team regular after many years of starring for his country at youth international level.

STYLE OF PLAY

Caqueret spent much of his time at youth level playing in attacking midfield but has emerged at senior level as a shuttling number eight or as a six.

With a wealth of creative quality capable of playing in advanced midfield roles, Caqueret’s disruptive defensive qualities have been key to his success playing from deep. While he is ineffective in physical duels¬ – he is quite small and slight – his sheer determination off the ball makes him a net positive defensive asset for OL. He also knows when to foul a player when he is physically outmatched and likely to be beaten in a duel. Furthermore, he presses incessantly and sneaks into passing lanes cleverly.

In possession, he is technically sound, with a great eye for short and medium range passes into dangerous areas. His positioning from deep means he might not be as damaging in the final third as he could be though, and it would be great to see him become more impactful in this way as he was as a youth player.

Rayan Cherki

Lyon's Rayan Cherki

DATE OF BIRTH

17/08/2003

positions

Attacking midfield

CLUB

Olympique Lyonnais

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-21s

HEIGHT

1.76 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Both

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

background

Despite being just 18 years old, it feels like Rayan Cherki has been around for five years – and he almost has been! Long touted to be an exceptional talent coming out of the Olympique Lyonnais academy, he made his debut not long after he turned 16, becoming one of Ligue 1 and the Champions League’s youngest-ever debutants.

Since then, he’s been on the fringes of the first-team without establishing himself as a starter – but has impressed in a number of his countless appearances off the bench. Cherki’s next step is to break into the XI.

STYLE OF PLAY

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Cherki is the best talent to emerge from OL’s famous academy since Karim Benzema, the best of the lot.

Cherki is an excellent technican in multiple aspects, one that operates between lines. He’s found a role off the right at senior level but he’s just as adept in central areas or on the opposite side. He can do so because he uses both feet effortlessly – he receives, turns, touches, passes, dribbles and shoots off both feet, making him a difficult player to pin down. His two-footed ability goes far beyond just striking the ball, he uses both feet in every action, often in the same sequences.

He has the ability to weave through and burst out of smaller spaces, and he can go both ways once one-on-one against a full-back – cutting onto his left to open the angle or sliding to the byline. He’s also shown a decent ability to arrive into goalscoring areas, with his technique ensuring he strikes the ball cleanly a lot of the time.

While he may have areas to improve against the ball, particularly in his awareness and pressing, they’re outweighed by his ability on it. Cherki is too good a talent not to be playing regularly at this formative stage of his career, and OL simply can’t afford not to try and maximise his elite-level potential.

Maxence Lacroix

Wolfsburg's Maxence Lacroix

DATE OF BIRTH

06/04/2000

positions

Centre-back

CLUB

VfL Wolfsburg

NATIONAL TEAM

Under-20s

HEIGHT

1.90 metres

PREFERRED FOOT

Right

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

background

Born and raised in Paris, Maxence Lacroix broke into senior football in Sochaux-Montbéliard, whom he joined in his mid-teens. After just 1,700 minutes in Ligue 2, Lacroix was picked up by Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg for €5 million. He quickly settled in the first-team there despite his relative inexperience, and has since become one of Europe’s most sought after young defenders.

STYLE OF PLAY

Lacroix a well-rounded athlete – there are no outstanding weaknesses to his athletic profile. He’s tall, strong, lean, mobile and agile. He can handle the unique demands placed on Bundesliga defenders.

A significant factor to what makes Lacroix an especially promising defender is the flexibility of his defensive skillset. Similar to his athletic profile, there aren’t many holes in his defensive game. His reading of play is good and he is quick to cut out danger by stepping into passes and engaging attackers early; he covers wide and deep spaces adeptly, making the most of his turn of speed; he’s competitive in aerial duels as well. His maturity and composure in defensive situations is very impressive.

There’s an aggressive edge to his game that needs to be tempered at times, but that can come with more experience. In possession, Lacroix is pretty comfortable in a lot of what he does. He isn’t expansive but neither is he restrictive – he keeps the ball moving at a decent tempo and can execute a line-breaking pass from time to time.

You should expect to see Lacroix playing at a strong European level in future.

Kylian Mbappé is a truly generational talent. Beyond him, there’s a really strong emerging group that includes a number of high-level players already, including the likes of Aurélien Tchouaméni.

An almost unique aspect to France’s youth development is that talent emerges from a wide spectrum of clubs at every level. Paris, and the wider metropolitan area, ranks as one of the best producers of talent in the world.