France's best young football players

Best young France players

Brief scouting reports on some of our favourite emerging French talents

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.

More profiles can be found in the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers and strikers sections. Below, you’ll find profiles covering backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses, while providing links to where you can find out more about them.

For full in-depth analysis of some of the best young players from all over the planet, check out our profiles page. We have countlesss profiles on players there, focussing on a range of talents from across the world. There are also exclusive interviews too, and plenty more.

Last updated: October 14, 2022

Maxence Caqueret

Maxence Caqueret, one of the best young French players

Many OL academy graduates are thrust straight into key first-team roles as teenagers. This was not the case for Maxence Caqueret, who 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.

Maxence Caqueret's 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.

Maxence Caqueret is a hugely disruptive defensive presence whose tireless running and work rate make him an effective defensive-minded number six.

While strong in possession too, given his time at youth level playing as a more attack-minded player, Caqueret struggles to get into spaces to impact games in the final third when playing as a number eight.

Yacine Adli

Yacine Adli, one of the best young French players

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.

He later sealed a move to AC Milan in the summer of 2021, then was loaned back to Ligue 1 for the 2021/22 season, before finally joining Milan in the summer of 2022.




Yacine Adli's 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.

Yacine Adli is a high-level technician who is very press resistant, but he also has the vision, awareness and passing ability to escape pressure and then progress the ball with great execution.

Especially when he plays in an attacking midfield role, Adli’s game would benefit by him becoming a more consistent goal threat. He also lacks some straight-line speed around the ground.

Rayan Cherki

Lyon's Rayan Cherki, one of the best young French players

Despite being just 19 years old, it feels like Rayan Cherki has been about  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.

Rayan Cherki's 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 technician 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.

Rayan Cherki’s skillset is underpinned by his availability to function in tight spaces. He is also able to play on both feet at a high level.

Cherki’s athletic profile is not at a high level and hampers him in terms of his intensity in all phases of the play, but especially defensively.

Maxence Lacroix

Wolfsburg's Maxence Lacroix, one of the best young French players

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.




Maxence Lacroix's 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.

Maxence is a composed and intelligent defender with a flexible defensive skillset and a well-rounded physical profile.

Lacroix’s main defensive weakness is defending in his own penalty area. He prefers to be a front-footed proactive defender; his focus can sometimes slip playing closer to goal.

Johann Lepenant

Lyon's Johann Lepenant, one of the best young French players

Johann Lepenant is part of an impressive 2002-born group for France. He was a member of the team that reached a European semi-final and finished third at the World Cup at under-17 level in 2019. Many of his peers have broken into first-team football since, and Lepenant did the same last season, as he played just over 1,000 minutes for SM Caen in Ligue 2.

Lepenant carried that momentum into the 2021/22 season, becoming a regular starter in France’s second division, playing almost 3,000 minutes in total. Linked with a number of clubs in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, OLympique Lyonnais picked Lepenant up in the summer of 2022 for a reported €4.25 million fee.

Johann Lepenant's style of play

A six at youth level, his minutes in senior football have come as an eight. Lepenant is an up-tempo player, which makes up for his relatively small stature. He’s a very nimble athlete – able to twist and turn, and is quick over short distances – but lacks strengths in contact. He has room to fill out his body over the coming years.

Most of what he does on the ball is executed at quick tempo too. He’s adept at creating angles to receive and is able to control it with clean, positive touches. His technique is compact and crisp which enables him to punch the ball into different zones. At youth level, he showed excellent passing over range too when receiving the ball in deeper areas. In general, Lepenant’s mobile passing provides an effective method of progressing possession.

That tenacity is a big factor in Lepenant’s defensive skillset too, and it makes up for his lack of physicality. He has a very good work ethic, constantly pressing, recovering and engaging with the ball which is reflected in his league-leading defensive metric outputs. He reads and reacts to play very well and uses his sharp accelerations to compress space quickly. 

His own tempo can be used against him. Slowing down in approach, simple improvements in technique and a bit more robustness in contact would make Lepenant a very effective ball-winner, even at the higher levels.

There are similarities between Lepenant and Maxence Caqueret: diminutive midfielders that make up for their lack of size with up-tempo tenacity. He could play in Ligue 1 right now, and will do so in the near future. There is little to suggest that Lepenant couldn’t reach the levels Caqueret is currently playing at.

Johann Lepenant is an up-tempo deep-lying midfielder that is a tenacious ball-winner and adept link passer.

Johann Lepenant has a bit of room to become a more physical presence off the ball. His pass selection needs some improvement too.

Alan Virginius

LOSC Lille's Alan Virginius, one of the best young French players

Alan Virginius is yet another exciting product of Parisian football. He started at his local club in the commune of Soisy-sous-Montmorency, a suburb of the French capital. He later entered a professional academy at Paris FC before leaving for Sochaux as a 15-year-old. He has broken into the first-team set-up this season, playing 550 minutes in total across 16 appearances in Ligue 2 and the Coupe de France.

In the 2021/22 season, Virginius didn’t quite kick on as promised – his season was hampered by a horrible tackle he suffered in the third game of the season, as well as Sochaux’s long-standing shot at promotion.

Nevertheless, his breakout moment came in the summer of 2022 when he really announced himslef as a top-level talent at the U-19 European Championship. His performances were very exciting, and they lead to LOSC Lille signing him.

Alan Virginius' style of play

Virginius is a right-footed attacker who has played on the right-side of the attacking line, an increasingly rare profile.

His athletic profile is impressive for his age. He’s a strong runner with excellent top-end speed, especially over longer distances; his body control is decent, which enables him to shift direction; his rangy, athletic frame looks considerably bigger than the 5’7” he’s listed as. He has a lot of potential to fill out in his body too.

In terms of attacking impact, Virginius’ impressive movement adds a dynamic threat. His strong straight-line running makes him a dangerous option into depth in transition, and he knows how to vary his movements in the final third to suit the situation. He can come inside or retain width, he attacks the box with out-to-in runs, runs off defenders’ blindside, and is intelligent in the way he re-adjusts to make another run in secondary attacking phases. It’s an aspect of his game which has obvious high-level potential if developed.

His technical coordination is solid, if inconsistent. Virginius’ final action is of a similar standard. He has shown quality as a ball-striker (as a finisher and crosser) but needs to be more consistent in his execution to capitalise on the areas he gets into.

Virginius’ performances at the 2022 U-19 EURO showed the full breadth of his skillset and potential. Playing off the left wing, cutting onto his right foot, he made the most of the more natural angles presented to him as a dribbler, passer and shooter. That should be his long-term role.

Alan Virginius is an exciting wide attacker that combines sharp, shifty athleticism with intelligent movement and promising technical skill. He is properly fast, and he has the potential to impact games as a dribbler, runner, passer and shooter.

Alan Virginius’ biggest obstacle is his slight, underdeveloped physique. He has plenty of room to fill out and become more robust.

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.

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