Summer 2018: Transfers You May Have Missed, Part 1
Whilst you've been away enjoying the World Cup, clubs have been securing the talents of the great and good that football has to offer. For Scouted Football, Stewart Brown highlights a few under-23 moves that you may have missed but will definitely want to keep an eye on for the season ahead.
• 20 years old
• MŠK Žilina to ACF Fiorentina
• €3 million fee
Milan Škriniar is widely-regarded as one of the most promising centre-back in Europe at the moment. Škriniar moved to Sampdoria from MŠK Žilina in January 2016, for a modest fee of around €1 million, before rapidly earning a €20 million move to Internazionale just 18 months later. That made Škriniar the most expensive Slovak ever.
Two months after Škriniar left Žilina, Dávid Hancko made his debut for the Slovakian side, before racking up a handful of appearances between then and the end of the season. The 2017-18 season would prove to be absolutely pivotal for Hancko: he was a first-choice selection, amassing 30 appearances, and impressing as a centre-back primarily, with a sprinkling of left-back as well.
Still just 20 years old, Hancko has a very interesting skill set. Firstly, he ticks the boxes defensively: tall enough, strong enough, and strikers don't get the better of him too often. He's not entirely dominant in duels, but he will get bigger and better. His recovery speed is that of a tall full-back rather than a centre-back, and he'll make key challenges when it matters most.
Supremely confident on the ball, Hancko was the main source of build-up play for Žilina, possessing a real ability to travel with the ball and find the feet of forwards. Hancko played every minute of every game during Slovakia's U-21 European Championship Qualification campaign, featuring mostly at left-back – and this is where his skill sets him apart from most promising central defenders of his age.
Hancko is a very capable crosser of the ball from any area, but particularly in the left half space. Whilst centre-backs don't tend to be asked to push that far up, if he is used as a centre-back in a three, you'll see Hancko doing some very special things. A terrific 2017-18 season lead to the Slovak being named in UEFA's 50 for the Future feature, and a €3 million move to Fiorentina came to pass. In my opinion, they've acquired a very special talent; the future is bright for Slovakia as well with a potential Škriniar and Hancko partnership at international level.
• 21 years old
• 1. FSV Mainz 05 to FC Schalke 04
• €10 million fee
Germany's youth development at the moment currently rivals any nation – it's terrific. From top to bottom, they have evolved their processes to produce a strong production line, churning out different profiles of player in most positions. What tends to happen is, when these players become established consistent performers, they join the grand, old superpower, FC Bayern München. Manuel Neuer, Niklas Süle, Mats Hummels and Sebastian Rudy are just a very select bunch of players that made their mark at other Bundesliga clubs before being plucked by the Bavarian giants. Even recently, Leon Goretzka has joined the long list.
Goretzka spent five years at Schalke 04 – making over 100 appearances – before leaving upon the expiration of his contract to Bayern. Schalke moved quickly to replace him with the acquisition of 21-year-old Suat Serdar from 1. FSV Mainz 05, parting with a reported €10 million fee. Serdar has been given the number eight shirt at Schalke, and he'll fulfil that role in the team.
Serdar only made 54 appearances for Mainz without really playing a full season in the side, but he was eye-catching when he did. He played mainly as a deep-lying midfielder asked to contribute defensively, but, more importantly, build and manipulate attacks.The German has excellent close control, a real ability to keep the ball in tight spaces and advances the game vertically really well.
The way he keeps the ball under pressure and uses short dribbles to get away from opponents reminds me a little of Emre Can, and I predict someone like Can is his ceiling. Serdar doesn't have the physique of his compatriot, but, on the ball, they both dribble their way out of trouble in a similar fashion, and they're both effective passers. The next step for Serdar will be becoming more of an influence on goals. At Schalke under Domenico Tedesco, he'll be given more of a chance to flourish in the final third and I'm sure he'll kick on to another level.
• 20 years old
• Montpellier HSC to RB Leipzig
• €16 million fee
RB Leipzig consistently recruit great talents almost every summer, and this one was no different. Whilst the departure of Naby Keita to Liverpool was a blow, they've unsurprisingly invested some of that money very wisely.
One of their most eye-catching acquisitions was Nordi Mukiele, who they recruited from Montpellier HSC for a not insignificant fee of around €16 million. The 20-year-old at Montpellier was predominantly used as a right-back, and sporadically as a centre-back, in the 2017-18 season. As a right-back, to begin with, Mukiele is an ideal athlete. Fast, tall, strong – he knows how to use all three attributes to his benefit. Right now he's certainly more comfortable at right-back. His athleticism allows him to dominate opponents and he's exceptionally comfortable taking the ball and finding players in tight pockets of the pitch. For two-thirds of the pitch, he's likely to be a star right-back in the Bundesliga. But to go to the next level, he'll need to start creating more shots and, in turn, more goals.
As mentioned above, he sporadically played as a centre-back for Montpellier last season. One can't be sure, but I feel this is where Leipzig will want him to play in the long-term. Moreover, he could certainly operate as a right-sided centre-back in a three-man defence: he's confident and competent enough to bring the ball out and build attacks from the back, and his experience as a right-back being put to good use in defensive areas, but in a two centre-back structure, he will need some work.
A gap in his skillset is certainly in the air. Whilst being tall and strong, he doesn't dominate; momentary lapses allow strikers to get a strong body position, making Mukiele second best. He can track forwards all day long, but in a two he has a tendency to be drawn out to wider positions, leaving an obvious frailty in the centre. Logically, this could be down to being played and coached more as a right-back, but it'll need to be coached out of his game for him to survive and thrive in the Bundesliga.
When coached in positioning and fully-focused, Mukiele will start cleaning house in the Bundesliga.
If all goes well at centre-back, I'd imagine we'd be seeing a lot of Presnel Kimpembe in Nordi Mukiele. It'll certainly be interesting to see where Leipzig see him playing but he is a terrific and versatile prospect. What seemed like a large outlay will prove to be shrewd busines.
You can follow Stewart on Twitter at footballstewart. Go follow him for more stuff like this.
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