All around Europe, you can see the fruits of France’s prolific youth system in top teams across the continent. From Anthony Martial at Manchester United, to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman, the success of the set-up at Clairefontaine and at Ligue 1 clubs goes way back to the likes of Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka.
As more and more clubs turn to France to pick up the latest stars at cut prices, the next generation of Les Bleus are taking their professional bows earlier than, perhaps, their club managers would like.
For us fans, however, it means we get a chance to watch these young men grow up on the biggest stage.
Here are my four wonderkids worth watching in Ligue 1 this season:
1. Allan Saint-Maximin: SC Bastia
After making his debut and impressing for Saint-Etienne two seasons ago, the 19-year-old Frenchman was signed by Monaco and then loaned to Hannover in Germany.
Having falling off the radar, the attacking midfielder is back on loan in France at SC Bastia for this season, where he will look to show all of Ligue 1 that the hype is real.
Saint-Maximin is a quick, tricky and confident winger, able to jink past defenders and drive at the opposition.
This stunning strike away at Lorient last week shows the damage he can do from distance (Source: YouTube, Ligue 1 Official).
Bastia have a real star on their hands and the islanders are certainly looking forward to more of the same in the coming months at the Stade Armand Cesari.
2. Yann Karamoh: SM Caen
We’ve only had a few glimpses of Yann Karamoh so far, but the Caen winger definitely looks like he is going to cause some damage this season.
Manager Patrice Garande had enough faith in the 18-year-old to give him his first start away from Lyon last week and he instantly showed why.
With pace to burn, he did very well against Lyon’s new Polish full-back Maciej Rybus. Still very raw, the first signs are that the forward is going to be a great option for Caen’s counter-attacking style.
Playing 4-1-4-1, the Normand side found a lot of success last term playing on the break, using pace and directness. With tall Belgian striker Ivan Santini through the centre, it’s the perfect complement to what Karamoh brings down the wing.
If he can add productivity to the pure speed, people will start to take more notice.
3. Maxwell Cornet: Olympique Lyonnais
It seems bizarre to add Maxwel Cornet to a list like this. You have to check twice to make sure he is still a teenager. The 19-year-old has established himself as a starter at OL, so much so that they have been able to take a hard-line stance on Everton target Rachid Ghezzal‘s contract situation.
Cornet is likely to develop into a centre-forward, but for now he has impressed on the wing. Right-footed, he has been playing on the left, cutting inside to create chances.
After impressing as a youth talent at FC Metz, Lyon pounced before he could make his first-team debut for the Moselle club. He made his debut for OL against his former side when Alexandre Lacazette picked up an injury and the teenager hasn’t looked back. Strong and powerful, he has got the skill to beat full-backs and the pace to get in behind.
Cornet netted eight goals and one assist last season, while his red card against Nice showed that he has got a fiery side. Undoubtedly the player has plenty to learn, but he has already become a very exciting member of the Lyon attack next to Lacazette and Nabil Fekir.
4. Issa Diop: Toulouse
Issa Diop made 20 appearances last season at the heart of the Toulouse defence. It may have felt like 20 years for the 19-year-old after helping TFC save their Ligue 1 status on the very last week against Angers.
Surviving in that adversity has added years of experience to the centre-back’s game and he looks as big a prospect as Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma did at the same stage of his career. He’s got that same ability as the former Saint-Etienne man – he attacks the ball from set-pieces at both ends of the field; this superb header in a 4-1 win over Bordeaux last week illustrates that.
Dominant in the air, quick along the ground, Diop is commanding and in control. Towering at 6′ 3″ tall, he is athletic and reads the game well.
Boss Pascal Dupraz has turned Toulouse’s fortunes around, but the downside to their success could be the future sale of this excellent young defender.