UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE
Chadaille Bitshiabu Torben Rhein Gavi Bradley Fink Liam Delap Kian Fitz-Jim
We’ve profiled a collection of the young stars due to compete in this season’s UEFA Youth League, as well as some additional information about the competition. Below, you will find profiles covering a player’s background and style of play, looking over each of their individual strengths and weaknesses.
You can find our best and most detailed 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 features and interviews also included. We will be keeping this page updated regularly with new reports, as well as updating existing profiles.
Click on the player’s name to automatically scroll to their mini profile.
WHAT IS THE UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE?
The UEFA Youth League is Europe’s premiere club football tournament for under-19s. The tournament features all 32 clubs competing in the UEFA Champions League, as well as an additional 32 clubs that qualify through the ‘Domestic Champions Path’ for winning the title in their country’s youth league.
Real Madrid are the current title holders, having won the tournament in 2019/20, while the 2020/21 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How does the UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE WORK?
The UEFA Youth League is split into two sections; the 32 teams that have qualified due to the senior team’s appearance in the Champions League (the UEFA Champions League Path), or through winning their domestic youth league title (the Domestic Champions Path).
The UEFA Champions League path follows the same group stage format as the senior tournament, with groups of four teams playing each other home and away. The group winners will progress directly to the round of 16, while the runners-up will move into a play-off clash against teams progressing through the Domestic Champions path.
The Domestic Champions Path differs, with teams playing two-legged knock-out matches until 32 teams becomes eight, when they will be drawn against (and host) teams that were runners-up in the UEFA Champions League Path.
All matches from the round of 16 onwards are one-off ties, and the tournament reaches its conclusion with the semi-finals and final in Nyon, Switzerland.
UEFA Youth League 2021/2022 prediction
The UEFA Youth League is always an open competition, but there are a few perennial favourites: Chelsea, Red Bull Salzburg, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Benfica, Porto and Paris Saint-Germain. But this season we should also expect Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund to be competitive.
El Chadaille Bitshiabu
El Chadaille Bitshiabu (2005) is a name that has been in the public domain for three years now. You may remember him from viral pictures: the 6’2” 13-year-old Paris Saint-Germain youth team player that looked twice the size of his peers. Three years later and three inches taller, Bitshiabu is already heavily involved with PSG’s first-team and building on the superficial hype that surrounded him.
He featured regularly in PSG’s pre-season this past summer, and you could never tell that he was 10 years younger than his team-mates and opponents. He is an extremely mature athlete – tall, obviously, but strong with a solid physique too. His length enables him to cover bigger spaces efficiently; he’s a quick runner once he hits stride.
The 16-year-old is also strong in contact, even against senior opponents. He uses his physique intelligently to lever or bump players off the ball, be it in static duels or on the move, and he’s difficult to move off of it once on it. Poor body shape when defending high lines means he can be caught out by straight passes into depth, but he is alert when defending in his own box.
Bitshiabu’s ability on the ball is promising. His first touches can be erratic at times, but generally his body shape and ball control are of a decent level. He’s fairly quick to recycle possession around the back, and is adept at playing fast passes into midfield that often break the first line of defensive pressure. There is obvious potential for him to become a valuable ball-player in build-up phases.
The UEFA Youth League has probably never seen an athletic profile like Bitshiabu’s at that age. He has the potential to be a dominant defensive force in the competition. Don’t be surprised to see him involved with PSG’s first-team throughout the Champions League too, especially in the last knockings of the group stage. He’s already signed his professional contract; now it’s up to PSG to lay out their pathway for him. A senior debut is definitely on the cards.
Last Updated: 13.09.2021 | Llew Davies
After dominating the Premier League 2 last season with 24 goals in 20 games, Liam Delap is taking his final steps now before he eventually explodes onto the scene at senior level.
Delap – the son of former Stoke City midfielder Rory Delap – is still only 18, but has already developed into an extraordinary athlete, combining a strong 6’1” frame with the speed and body control to match. Even in fleeting outings against senior opponents, Delap has looked very physically competitive, with no reluctance to go body-to-body with his marker to leverage space for himself to take possession.
Delap can improve his first touch and overall ability to secure possession (though he can occasionally surprise with some immaculate receptions), but once in possession he displays strong technical quality. He has very clearly worked on a few dribble moves that he can instinctively execute. Most impressive is his ability to shift the ball to create chances for himself; he is not just reliant on the delivery of others to score his goals.
And he is never out of games. He can play in transition, he can play with his back to goal, and he combine decently as well, even if at times he holds onto the ball a little too long.
Last Updated: 13.09.2021 | STEPHEN GANAVAS
With Youssoufa Moukoko having now joined Borussia Dortmund’s senior team, Bradley Fink has emerged as their new goalscoring phenom at under-19 level.
He has exploded onto the scene in 2021, having scored 12 goals across his first six games at club and international under-19 level.
Fink is 6’4”, towering above his opponents at youth level, but he is not reliant on his size. The Swiss striker has a lovely soft touch, receives the ball superbly and has wonderful penalty box sense, finding himself in the right place at the right time to score goal after goal from close range.
While he is not one-dimensional, Fink can still develop his on-ball technique to become a more well-rounded player. He is very efficient playing with his back to goal, but less so when having to carry the ball towards it. Improvement in this area will also likely help him to become a more varied goal scorer, rather than being heavily reliant on the creativity of wide players.
Last Updated: 13.09.2021 | STEPHEN GANAVAS
Kian Fitz-Jim (2003) has yet to play in the UEFA Youth League. Signed from AZ Alkmaar in 2019, he spent most of that season with under-17 team before stepping up to Jong Ajax – the club’s B team that competes in the Dutch second division – last season. He’s now established himself as a regular starter at that level. If you’re wondering where his unusual surname comes from, his father hails Hong Kong – and he also has Surinamese heritage.
The 18-year-old is a really interesting player. Despite his smaller stature, he packs a punch. Usually playing at the base of midfield, often as the single pivot, Fitz-Jim is an important contributor in build-up phases. He’s a typical Ajax player in that he constantly shows for the ball, and creates good angles to receive it. He scans regularly too, which contributes to a strong situational awareness, and takes clean touches with either foot which set up positive actions.
In possession, he’s always looking to play forward and regularly finds clever angles to play progressive passes. He’s especially effective over medium-range, sliding passes with speed and accuracy into receivers between lines. His passing technique, clean and compact, is impressive as well. Fitz-Jim can also play at different tempos, showing decent understanding in when to slow play down and speed it up.
In terms of athleticism, Fitz-Jim’s primary asset is his burst of the mark. He’s quick off the back foot and moves through the gears quickly; once at top speed, he can run past player pretty easily. He uses that change of pace to good effect in defensive situations. It enables him to cover space pretty efficiently and, in combination with intelligent positioning and anticipation, intercept passes. Once he recovers possession, he’s quick to play fast, incisive passes through midfield that catalyse threatening counter-attacks.
Update: With Ajax using their designated under-18 squad, Kian Fitz-Jim hasn’t (and will not) feature in this year’s competition. Instead, he’s starting for the Jong team in the Eerste Divisie and is well-placed for senior squad involvements in the coming months. You won’t see him in the UEFA Youth League, but you will see him at higher levels soon.
Last Updated: 30.09.2021 | Llew Davies
FC Barcelona are desperate for some good news stories in 2021/22, and La Masia product Gavi might be the player to provide them.
Having already made his senior debut in La Liga this season, it remains to be seen how much we will see of Gavi in the UEFA Youth League. But should he play, he will bring his undeniable touch of class to proceedings.
The 2004-born midfielder is everything one has come to expect from a Barcelona youth product; sharp control, technique, passing and constant movement. His rapid shifts of weight help him to weave his way through traffic in midfield and wrong-foot would-be tacklers. And he always wants to be on the ball, as he constantly moves to form triangles or one-twos to keep the ball fizzing around.
For players like Gavi that are so classy in possession, it is often the movement and scanning off the ball that amplifies their on-ball quality: they anticipate where the space is and can pre-meditate actions before receiving the possession. Off the ball, Gavi is a high-energy presser and quite combative despite his size disadvantage at senior level. At UEFA Youth Level, this should not be as much of an issue.
Update: If you don’t know by now, Gavi is starting games for the Barcelona first-team, an opportunity afforded to him by Pedri’s injury. He’s just been called-up to Spain’s senior international squad too. He’s completely skipped the Youth League stage of his development, and he has a big future in senior football.
Last Updated: 3o.09.2021 | STEPHEN GANAVAS
Torben Rhein (2003) has experience in the UEFA Youth League. He started five of Bayern München’s seven games during the 2019/20 campaign, which was curtailed by GNK Dinamo Zagreb for Bayern and the COVID–19 pandemic for the remaining participants. He’s one of the few starters from that campaign that will play a part in this season’s revived competition.
Having spent most of last season turning out for Bayern II in the German third division, their relegation back into the Regionalliga with allow Rhein to be a key component of the club’s Youth League team this season.
He will do so in midfield, where Rhein primarily operates as a number eight. The 18-year-old is at his best when moving between both boxes. He’s adept at contributing to each phase of possession play, from build-up to chance creation His single greatest strength is his technical quality – Rhein is completely ambidextrous, playing comfortably and taking corners with either foot, he scans regularly, his technique and control as a passer is excellent and he’s very adept at turning with his touch.
Rhein is an intelligent player too, showing impressive nous in his ability to catalyse play at every level of midfield. He’s adept at punching passes through lines from deeper positions, injecting tempo into build-up sequence. He’s also good at linking play in the final third, using his strong situational awareness to feed passes into a runner or access the open space.
His small stature has its pros and cons. His smaller frame offers him a very nimble agility which he uses to turn with the ball and manipulate smaller spaces, but he lacks the physicality to withstand contact in duels – both offensively and defensively. He makes up for the lack of size with tenacity, he’s a hard-worker and a willing tackler, but struggles to be genuinely impactful against senior opponents. As his Bayern contract rolls into its final year, Rhein seems set to follow in the footsteps of Angelo Stiller, another UEFA Youth League standout.
Update: Torben Rhein hsn’t been involved in this year’s competition, owing a somewhat surprising decision by Bayern to incorporate a younger grou[ than anticipated. Even Eyüp Aydin (DM, 2004) hasn’t been involved. As with Fitz-Jim, B team involvements make the Youth League difficult to account for.
Last Updated: 13.09.2021 | Llew Davies
Red Bull Salzburg have a seemingly endless conveyor belt of talent. Every year, a new high-level talent emerges to replace their latest high-profit sale. This summer was no different: following Patson Daka’s sale to Leicester City, Karim Adeyemi has stepped up. Their succession planning is among the best in club football; they do so through two channels: developing home-grown domestic players from their academy (Schlager, Wolf) and aggressively recruiting teenage talent from other markets, usually in neighbouring countries.
Roko Šimić is a prime example of the latter. Like Erling Braut Haaland and Benjamin Šeško in years prior, Red Bull Salzburg invested a significant seven-figure fee to sign Šimić this summer, off the back of a breakthrough season in at NK Lokomotiva Zagreb. And like Šeško, Šimić has been placed ‘on loan’ at FC Liefering, Red Bull’s base-level club in Austria’s second division – operating as Salzburg’s B team in effect.
The son of former Inter and AC Milan defender Mario, Roko cuts a distinctive figure on the pitch – especially at youth level. He’s tall, lanky, quite slight with flailing limbs, not dissimilar to a younger Haaland. Like the Norwegian, he’s fast for his size – he has an explosive burst off the mark and has good top-end speed. He combines both to cut across defenders, attacking high defensive lines or creating separation in the box.
He’s a strong ball-striker from set positions, consistently hitting the ball with power when it’s there to hit, but he isn’t as clean from snapshot situations off a dribble or loose ball. Šimić is capable in the air too, with his size being an advantage: his 1.90 metre frame creates mismatches in the box. You should expect to see a couple of really good finishes from Šimić in this year’s competition, and in future.
Šimić’s coordination (for someone of his size) is pretty decent too. He has shown some ability with his back to goal, leveraging his big frame to shield the ball, and can manipulate the ball fairly well when squared up against defenders. But his link play is basic and can be erratic. His primary move is to drop to show for the ball, lay it off, then quickly spin to run at and stretch defences. In his current stage of development, Šimić isn’t a striker that can create for himself – he relies on decent service.
Another thing that will standout about Šimić is his tenacity. He works hard to pressure defenders and chase down the ball, as the Red Bull model dictates. He likes to battle opponents in contact too, fighting to retain or recover possession, creating chaos with his long limbs. His style create chaos, which defenders hate. Šimić will be a handful in this year’s UEFA Youth League.
Last Updated: 13.09.2021 | Llew Davies
Kaide Gordon is extremely highly-rated and has been for some time. He started at Derby County, rising through the ranks and playing well above his age at each step. He even appeared in a league game for his formative club in December 2020, just two months after his 16th birthday. But those fast-tracked involvements didn’t stop him from making a milestone move to Liverpool, though. They picked him up for a reported £3 million at the start of 2021. He has since been significantly involved with the club’s first-team whilst excelling for the academy teams.
The 16-year-old was a fixture in Liverpool’s most recent pre-season, playing invaluable minutes in a string of friendlies. Gordon plays off the right wing and cuts onto his strong left foot, in an all-encompassing style that isn’t dissimilar to the one that Mohamed Salah has mastered. Both are versatile attacking threats, capable of tearing teams apart with a dynamic set of skills – they can run, they can shoot score, they can create, and they’re pretty relentless in doing so.
Underpinning a lot of what Gordon does is a really shifty athleticism. He has an excellent burst off the mark, accelerating quickly to a fast top speed. He’s also really agile, capable of shifting his slight frame sharply. His speed and agility combined enable him to create consistent separation against defenders, whether it’s running into space or cutting inside. Despite being listed as 1.73 metres tall, he definitely looks a few ticks taller on the pitch. Moreover, he has loads of room to develop physically yet – he could be a really well-rounded athlete in 3-5 years time.
Where Gordon differs fairly significantly from Salah is he’s much more of a dribbler than the Egyptian. He loves to drive at defenders, and is effective at doing so. He’s comfortable attacking inside and outside, his close control (small, quick touches) is good too. Crucially, he’s often able to shoot or cross after his dribbles, or at least draw a foul. His ability to create separation is key; he has the sharpness required to quickly create the angle to shoot, space to cross, or knick the ball away.
His ability to attract mulitple defenders creates space for others, and Gordon has shown promise in exploiting those situations. He’s especially adept at releasing overlapping runners (predominantly his right-back) with clever passing. Gordon’s style and talent makes him the star in Liverpool’s UEFA Youth League campaign.
Who won the UEFA Youth League last year?
Real Madrid are the current title holders, having won the tournament in 2019/20, while the 2020/21 edition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.In that team were current first-team players Miguel Gutiérrez, featured in Volume XI of the Scouted Football Handbook, and Antonio Blanco, as well as Pablo Rodriguez, now of Lecce in Italy’s Serie B.
It was a tough road to the title, with Madrid conquering a group featuring Paris Saint-Germain, Galatasaray and Club Brugge, before beating Juventus, Inter Milan, Red Bull Salzburg and then Benfica in the final in Nyon.
How do you qualify for UEFA Youth League?
Teams qualify for the UEFA Youth League by winning their domestic youth title, or by having their senior team qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
Who has won the UEFA Youth League over the years?
There have so far been five clubs that have won the UEFA Youth league since its inception in 2013/14: Chelsea (2015, 2016), Barcelona (2014, 2018), Red Bull Salzburg (2017), FC Porto (2019), and Real Madrid (2020).
In the United Kingdom, UEFA Youth League matches are broadcast on BT Sport. In the United States, games will be broadcast on Paramount+. In Australia, matches are broadcast on Stan Sport. UEFA.tv will stream four select games to all territories each matchday as well.
The UEFA Youth League final is held every season at the Colovray Sports Centre in Nyon, Switzerland, across the road from UEFA’s headquarters.
There is no UEFA Youth Europa League.