Six U21 Ligue 1 players that Europe’s best clubs should be trying to sign
France were the 2018 World Cup winners not because of the strength of the domestic league, but because of the strength of the domestic academy system in Ligue 1 and beyond.
On an annual basis, there are numerous teenagers who pop up and excel in France’s top flight – and some do not even make it so far before being hoovered by clubs from abroad.
As such, there is always a clutch of young players waiting for their chance to become the next Zinedine Zidane, Paul Pogba or Kylian Mbappe.
That is as true now as it ever has been over the last 20 years, and here is just a small selection of those hoping to make it at the very top of the game.
Benoit Badiashile (Monaco)
Monaco have a group of outrageously talented young players, including Aurelien Tchouameni, Sofiane Diop and Eliot Matazo – and even Willem Geubbels and Pietro Pellegri, who have been prone to injury.
While Tchouameni has gained the headlines this season in the midfield, Benoit Badiashile is the latest in a string of promising centre-backs to emerge from France and played a vital role as Monaco pushed for the Ligue 1 title. The 20-year-old has everything a modern defender needs and is being watched by some top clubs.
Sven Botman (Lille)
The arrival of Sven Botman at Lille from Ajax was one of the reasons that they became Ligue 1 champions: they could scarcely have hoped to have found a more reliable centre-back if they had spent their entirely transfer budget on one player.
Indeed, the youngster proved to have an old head and barely put a foot wrong all season. Lille’s defence was the reason that they won Ligue 1 – and Botman was one of the keys to this strong foundation. No wonder Liverpool took a look at him as they pondered their defensive crisis in January.
Eduardo Camavinga (Rennes)
The prodigiously talented midfielder only turned 18 in November, but he has long established himself as one of the players to watch not just in France but in the world. A central midfielder, he is technically impressive and surprisingly strong.
In the years to come, his role will become more defined but he appears set to play a dynamic central midfield position.
He is already being watched closely by Real Madrid with an eye to a move.
Rayan Cherki (Lyon)
In a side that has produced a conveyor belt of talent over the last 20 years, Rayan Cherki is the player that perhaps most is expected of since Karim Benzema. Although he is an attacker, he is a very different player to Benzema, occupying a wide role where his trickery is expected to unhinge defences.
At 17, he has already made 43 appearances for Lyon’s first team in all competitions and has shown a capacity to play across the forward line. He is a player who will really look to kick on next season.
Amine Gouiri (Nice)
Perhaps the best young offensive prospect playing in Ligue 1 currently is Amine Gouiri, who is another player to come through at Lyon only to move to Nice last summer.
He has found the Cote d’Azur to his liking, establishing himself as the key piece to Nice’s offensive line last season as he scored 12 times and laid on seven more in just 31 starts. Throw into the mix, too, that Nice were weak offensively and these numbers are especially strong.
Lucas Gourna-Douath (Saint-Etienne)
Undoubtedly the least publicised of the players on this list, 17-year-old Lucas Gourna-Douath quietly began making a name for himself in Ligue 1 last season in the heart of Saint-Etienne’s midfield.
The work he has done is best reflected in the interest he has gained from Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Paris Saint-Germain. As a defensive midfielder, he has not goals or assists to his credit, but he completes formidable quantities of work and is technically very strong. Unlikely to win headlines for months yet, he is one to keep an eye on.