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[FM22] Sophara United v2.0


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3 hours ago, abulezz said:

Yes, I am of the same thinking. I already promoted him to the first team as he is better than any backup CD I have currently. 

After a struggle for a centre back last year hopefully you have got one this time! 

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11 minutes ago, deez0r said:

After a struggle for a centre back last year hopefully you have got one this time! 

Struggling to get anything at this point, lol. Akim Lawrence looks like he is ready to contribute, though, and if he develops as my staff thinks he will, he will be great addition. 

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THE SOPHARA JOURNAL

 

SEASON REVIEW 2022/2023

 

TEAM REVIEW

There has never been a story like the one Sophara United is living through, at least not in the modern history of football. The team was put together by owner/manager Abul Ezz after being granted the professional license to operate the club in the League Two, and they have taken the footballing world by storm since their first season last year. Scouring the UK and Ireland for teenage talent, Ezz managed to form a squad of high school players, bringing them to London and guaranteeing a continuation of their education as well as university degrees for all who continue to stay at the club and desire it. What no one could have predicted was the outcome – in fact, Ezz spend the summer of 2021 being the laughing stock of the footballing world after announcing he has put a permanent ban on the club from buying players and will instead only use prospects that come up through the Sophara Youth Academy. His reasoning was simple – the SYA was the foundation of the club and it would be used as a tool to better the lives of all youngsters who come up through it.

No one is laughing anymore. Not only did the team capture the League Two title by a record margin while breaking other League Two records in their inaugural season without a single player over the age of 18, but they are now the new League One champions. Two seasons, two titles, two promotions. This will be the first team in history to play in the Championship next season without a single player over the age of 20. Their incredible 2022/23 season started out a little bumpy and it wasn’t until March that they finally took hold of the top spot, but once they did it was held on to in the tightest way – they finished the season with an 8 Point cushion against 2nd Placed Rotherham. The 88 Goals were a league-best and their 50 Goals Conceded was good to enough to be 7th best in the League One. Like the season before, things got rocky from November until January, and many thought the sales of two of the team’s most important players (CJ Beech to Burnley for a deal that could go up to £3M and John Smith to Sheffield United for £1.8M) would devastate it, but it did not happen. The team stuck together and the sale of Beech and Smith – which was done very reluctantly by Abul Ezz after recommendations from his finance team – ended up having almost no effect on the team’s form and results. The money was immediately reinvested in the SYA as well as the U18 facilities at the club itself, and now there are plans for a new stadium to replace Sophara Park. The title was sealed with three games left in the season, and Abul Ezz was rewarded with the League One Manager of the Year award while Tom Horgan was awarded the League One Player of the Season. An incredible seven players were named in the League One Select Team of the Year, including GK Elvis Kovic who was clearly the best player at his position in the league this season. They weren’t impressive in the cups, however – in the FA Cup they had a First Round exit at the hands of Barrow, in the Carabao Cup it was in the Second Round against Colchester, and in the Papa John’s Trophy they failed to make it out of the initial Group Stages for the second season in a row. Still, that did not put any dent on what was an incredible, historic, and unprecedented season for Sophara United.

With the Championship now a reality, the talk has shifted from ‘will the club survive with its unique system and concept in place’ to ‘does the club have enough talent to survive in the Championship next season’ – a good shift. There are no longer any questions about the viability of the club, not after it announced it had over £3M in its coffers and has no worries over its financial stability over the next few years. Will one of the most engaging stories in football continue its positive arc, or will they face the anguish of defeat and relegation as the clock strikes twelve?

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GOALKEEPERS

The highest rated GK in the League One, Elvis Kozic, who turned 19 this past March, led the league at his position with 7.10 AR and 4 PoMs, to go with his 1.00 Con/90 and 19 Clean Sheets (2nd in League One) in 45 Appearances. Being named to the League One Select was a no brainer as he proved – for the second year in a row in a more talented division – that he was the undisputed GK in the league. As such, his demands for a new contract were immediately addressed. Surprisingly enough, he has not yet garnered the attention of any national side’s youth teams that he is eligible for – namely, Sweden, Bosnia, and England. The experts believe he has the talent to do well in the Championship and the club’s backroom staff are of the same belief. He will have to maintain his standard in the club is to have any sort of success in the Championship.

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FULLBACKS

Club captain Drew Dowell delivered another solid campaign at RB this season – in 41 Appearances, he registered 4 Assists, 1.84 TpG, 135 Interceptions, and 6.95 AR. Despite his lack of pace, he has been able to do well for the club because of his strong defensive skills and instincts and his football IQ. He is obviously one of the team leaders in the locker-room and Ezz stated publicly that Dowell, now 19, has earned himself a new contract going into next season. Scouting reports suggest he is capable of being a Championship-level fullback, a notion that is agreed upon by most. Another one of his strengths, his versatility, has allowed his manager to play him at RB as well, which was especially important this season because of Lennon’s injuries.

Speaking of Ger Lennon, the 18-year-old Irish U21 international was plagued by nagging injuries all season long, leading him to play in only 37 Games. He had to deal with three different injuries at three different times of the season, not allowing him much chance to get into the groove of things. As such, his 6.87 AR was the lowest of any full-time starter on the squad. In any case, Lennon is still considered a high potential player, one of the few on the squad that have a 5/5 PA rating. Where he lacks in pace and aerial ability he makes for it with work-rate, strong attitude on the pitch, and technical skills. He will be receiving a new contract in the summer that should ease up interest in him for Premier League sides such as Sheffield United, who already have had bids for him rejected by Ezz.

The first name off the bench over the past two has been Jesse Cummins, who like Lennon was recruited on Chief Scout Badra’s trip to Ireland. He has shown fantastic progress and although he is unlikely to make it as a full-time starter, at this point Cummins, who is 18, is the most relied upon bench player Abul Ezz has. He played in 36 Games (18 Starts), registering 1.02 TpG, 90% Pass Completed, and 6.87 AR.

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CENTRAL DEFENDERS

Any conversation about Sophara United’s defense has to start with Tom Horgan. The 19-year-old DC became the first non-attacker in the past 10 years to win the League One Player of the Year award, capturing it after registering 4 Goals, 6 PoMs, 96% Pass Completed, 135 Interceptions (10th in League One), 57 Key Headers (2nd), 663 Headers Won (1st), 623 Clearances (1st), 519 Possessions Won (1st), and 7.49 AR (2nd). In other words, he was as dominate as they could come – there was no defender comparable to Horgan in the League One this season. He was of course named in the League One Select and won the 2023 Sophara United Player of the Year as he led the club to their second straight title. The Irish defender, whose obvious strength is his ability in air, has become one of the fans’ favorite players and a player that his manager has come to rely on immensely. Over the course of the club’s first two years, one would be hard-pressed to find a more influential player.

Horgan’s partner in the middle of the defense, James Burgess, also had a good season despite an apparent drop in form at the higher tier of football in the League One. He has developed a strong and solid partnership with Horgan that has become the foundation of the Sophara defense. Burgess, now 19, played in 45 Games, registering 2 Goals, 95% Pass Completed, 167 Interceptions (2nd in League One), 522 Clearances (3rd), and 7.18 AR – on the back of being one of the best at his position this season, he was also named to the League One Select. A physical and tough player, he is a workhorse who always leaves it all out on the field, and that has earned him the respect of both his teammates and the fans.

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CENTRAL/ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

Joe Sheppard had an exception year last season as a shadow striker behind Holland, but from the beginning of the 2022/23 season – at a higher level of football – it became obvious he was struggling at the position. Abul Ezz then shifted him to a more MC role, playing him as Mezzela in a two-striker formation. The shift worked immediately – Sheppard was a lot more comfortable dictating the pace of the attack then he was being involved in the middle of it. In the end, despite a very rough start to the season, he ended up being named in the League One Select as he showed himself to one of the league’s best midfielders. He played in 45 Games, registering 14 Goals, 8 Assists, 14.60 xG, 28 Clear-Cut Chances, 125 Key Passes, and 7.11 AR. His ability to control the game and set in motion the speed of attack was his biggest strength, taking full advantage of his high technical ability and good vision/passing ability. What was also impressive was his ability to become open and in position to score after setting up the attack, which led to his 14 Goals. His intelligence and decision-making were vital as they made him a deadly attacking option for the club. The 19-year-old is considered a Championship-level player already with the ability to become good enough to be a Premier League-level one.

Playing in a more defensive playmaker role was Ronnie Flood, who also made the League One Select. In 44 Games, he registered 2 Goals, 9 Assists, 84% Pass Completed, and 7.02 AR – what the statistics don’t show is how much he brought to the table regarding the intangibles. A consistent, committed workhorse of a player, Flood proved that there was no challenge or battle he would shy away from as he was constantly found in the middle of the action in the middle of the pitch or on the defensive end. The vocal type, he recently went to the media to complain about the lack of depth the squad has in the middle, stating that too reliance was being placed on himself and Sheppard. Nevertheless, he considers his manager Abul Ezz to be his favorite person in the game, holding a deep respect for the man who has led the squad to two straight titles.

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WINGERS

If Tom Horgan had not won the League One Player of the Year, then it most likely would have gone to his teammate Stan Drummond. The RW was exceptional, winning the League One Player of the Month award twice this season – the first was in December and the second time was in February. In 40 Games, he registered 7 Goals, 21 Assists (1st in League One), 9 PoMs (1st), 162 Key Passes (3rd), 40 Clear-Cut Chances (1st), and 7.48 AR (3rd), positioning himself as the club’s most important player going forward. His passing ability is second to none, and he attempted the most crosses in the league this season – this means he was extremely effective at getting into a good position to deliver a proper and dangerous cross into the opposition box. Like the rest of the team, he is an extremely hard worker with a never-ending engine – couple that with the fact that he is amongst the faster players in the league, and you have a very annoying combination that opposing defenders must deal with. He broke the club record with 9 PoMs, and the 19-year-old’s reputation has already started growing in England as eyes will be on him and how well he plays at the Championship level.

After the sale of John Smith in January, Sophara were left without a left winger of an adequate talent level. Players like Murray Boyd and Ryan Ramsbottom, while decent players within a rotation, where overwhelmed and did not perform up to task. The only other potential starter would be Lyndon Dsane, who completed his rookie year having played in 32 Games (14 Starts) and registering 3 Goals, 4 Assists, 1.63 TpG, 1.63 DpG, and 6.82 AR. In other words, he was not bad, especially for a 16-year-old, and he looks like the only real choice for the club at the LW position going into next season.

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FORWARDS

Despite sometimes disappearing in matches, one cannot give credit to Sophara United’s league best offense without giving Andy Holland his due credit. The League One’s second-leading scorer with 25 Goals, he played in 45 Games and registered 4 Assists, 3 PoMs, and 7.06 AR. The 19-year-old striker is the club’s vice-captain and is perhaps the most influential player in the locker-room, a good thing considering he adores his manager and is a die-hard supporter of the club. He is in line to receive the richest contract in the club’s short history as rumors have hinted - he has been offered £10k per week for the next five years. Last season, he was featured as a lone striker, playing as a poacher/advanced forward. This year, in a two-striker system, he was assigned as a target man as Abul Ezz looked to take advantage of his 1.86m height and his aerial ability. It worked wonderfully – he now has 60 Goals in 87 League Games over the course of his two-year career thus far. Like most of the starting eleven, he was named in the League One Select as he is a vital part of the set-up and was an important piece in the club’s title winning campaign.

Switching from a midfield role into an advanced forward position might have thrown most players off and it would have taken them time to adjust. Not Joe Reardon, as the 19-year-old made the change seamlessly, scoring 16 Goals and registering 5 Assists, 5 PoMs, and 7.03 AR while playing in all 46 Games. The outspoken forward has become one of Ezz’s favorite players and the backroom staff are in agreement – he is already considered a Championship-level striker with the potential to be a good Premier League player in the future. Relatively fast, efficient, and driven, Reardon is one of the three players on the squad with a 4/5 CA rating – the other two are Sheppard and Drummond. There has been talk around the club and the league that Reardon is set to take care Holland as the club’s main striker going forward, but Ezz has not commented on that.

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END OF SEASON REVIEW

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10 hours ago, deez0r said:

Congrats on back to back! 

Last season I spent too much time battling to get to the Premier League (where the real fun begins) so this year I figured let me take a shortcut and get to the point of the game I enjoy - PL action while trying to develop world-class talent through a world-class youth academy. One of the favorite parts of the game to me (if not my favorite) is following the careers of my newgens - with Sophara or somewhere else - so let me get to that point early! That's why the Create-A-Players I made are probably the highest quality collectively since I started this type of save 6 (or what it 7) year's ago. 

That being said, I did not think they would be THAT good. They are a special class and they've done amazing. Of course, they all have the highest Determination and Loyalty - those were the two stats that I maximized. I only had £2.7M budget to spend on them, so I had to be picky and I limited their potential to keep the budget in line, but they have been wonderful. 

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WORLD REVIEW 2022/23

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: The toughest competition Bayern Munich faced on their way to their second straight Champions League title – also their third in four years and 8th overall – came from fellow Bundesliga team Bayer Leverkusen….It took penalties to separate the two in the Second Round, but after that Bayern Munich dominated….They took out Lazio 5-1 in the Quarter-Finals before disposing of AC Milan 5-2 in the Semi-Finals….Real Madrid were outclassed by the eleven-time Bundesliga champions in the Finals with the Germans playing in front of their home fans at the Stadion Munchen in Munich….Canadian Alphonso Davis, 22, won the CL Defender of the Season for the second straight year and his teammate Joshua Kimmich took the CL Midfielder of the Season award….Real Madrid took a who’s who list of European giants prior to their Finals loss – they defeated Man City, Paris Saint-Germain, and Arsenal on their path to Munich….The defending champions were the only repeat Semi-Finalists from the 2022 season….Chelsea’s Romelo Lukaku led all goalscorers with 8 Goals despite his team getting knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by rivals Arsenal.

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ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE: For the first time in ten years, Manchester United were declared champions of England, winning the EPL for a record 21st time….The former champions Manchester City (2nd) finished only a point behind their bitter rivals and had a superior Goal Difference….Destiny was written for legend Cristiano Ronaldo, however – his career took off with Manchester United and the club favorite was the one who ended up bringing the title back to it….The 38-year-old scored an incredible 28 Goals as he captured the EPL Top Goalscorer award and was named Manchester United 2023 Player of the Year….He has not yet retired from international football and is now only 2 Caps away from becoming the first player in the history of the game to play 200 Caps for his home nation….Liverpool (3rd) and Arsenal (4th) finished in the same positions as last season, rounding up the Top Four and those headed to the Champions League next season….Newcastle (5th) finished in their highest position since 2012, the last year they played European football….Chelsea (6th) and West Ham (7th) grabbed the last two spots in Europe….22-year-old Man City superstar striker Erling Haaland (29 Apps, 22 Goals, 7.50 AR) won his first EPL Footballer of the Year award, while the 2023 Golden Glove went to Liverpool’s Allison….Man United manager Antonio Conte, who replaced Solskjaer mid-way through the 2021/22 season, captured the EPL Manager of the Year award, having led his club to the title in his first full season.

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OTHER LEAGUES: Kylian Mbappe (37 Apps, 26 Goals, 7.69 AR), who joined Real Madrid on Free last summer, was as dominant as they come and is already being called the second coming of Ronaldo….He captured the 2023 La Liga Player of the Year as there really was no argument against it – the 24-year-old led his new club to their second straight title with a 10 Point advantage on rivals Barcelona (2nd)….After finishing in 4th Place last season – their lowest finish in over twenty years – the Catalan club was back competing for the title, led by their two World Cup winning 20-year-old stars in Ansu Fati (37 Apps, 15 Goals, 9 PoMs, 7.36 AR) and Pedri (38 Apps, 8 Goals, 16 Assists, 7.30 AR), with the latter having been crowned the Qatar 2022 Best Player….Real Sociedad (3rd) proved that last year’s finish was no fluke, and their star Mikel Oyarzabel (37 Apps, 9 Goals, 10 Assists, 11 PoMs, 7.65 AR) proving that he is indeed one of the La Liga’s finest player.

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In Germany, the BUNDESLIGA crowned two-time defending Champions League champions Bayern Munich as winners for the 11th time in a row, breaking their own record in the process….This came despite losing 34-year-old Polish star and club legend Robert Lewandowski to Liverpool for £13.25M….Joshua Kimmich (33 Apps, 5 Goals, 16 Assists, 7.59 AR) was the main reason for that – the 28-year-old German legendary midfielder has become the undisputed leader of the team and captured his first Bundesliga Player of the Year. Leipzig (2nd) continue to impress, finishing ahead of surprising Hoffenheim (3rd) and disappointing Borussia Dortmund (4th).

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After three years of falling short, Juventus won back the ITALIAN SERIE A title, wrestling it away from AC Milan (5th), who disappointing missed out on the Champions League all together after making it to the Semi-Finals of the competition this year….Led by Frederico Chiesa (11 Goals, 11 Assists, 8 PoMs, 7.64 AR), they finished an impressive 9 Points ahead of Roma (2nd)….Chiesa, 25, captured the Serie A Footballer of the Season award for the second straight year, while legendary Lazio (4th) striker Ciro Immobile, 33, continued to be the most dangerous striker in the league, scoring 24 Goals and winning the league’s Top Goalscorer award for the third time in four years and for the second straight season. Atalanta (3rd) were the other team to qualify to the Champions League, doing so for the second straight season after failing to get out of the Group Stages this year.

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There is arguably no team with as much star power in the world of football as Paris Saint-Germain, who expectedly took home their second straight FRENCH LIGUE 1 title….Neymar (31 Apps, 14 Goals, 7 Assists, 6 PoMs, 7.58 AR) and Lionel Messi (35 Apps, 16 Goals, 7 Assists, 6 PoMs, 7.53 AR) led the way for the champions, with the former winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Season award for the second time in his career….Monaco (2nd) gave PSG a rough time behind 30-year-old German striker Kevin Volland’s league-leading 27 Goals, the first time in his career he has registered over 20 League Goals in a season….Lyon (3rd) took the final Champions League spot – there was a clear difference between the top three and the rest of the league as Lille (4th) finished an incredible 17 Points behind Lyon.

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SUMMER 2023 NOTES

TRANSFERS: Four years after Atletico Madrid bought him for £112M, 23-year-old Portuguese midfielder Joao Felix will be heading to Man City for a deal that could reach £142M. Felix scored 20 Goals in his fourth and final season with Atletico Madrid and has been one of their most important players. He leaves the Spanish capital the Spanish La Liga title once (2021) and the Europa League (2023) while also becoming Atletico Madrid’s record sale and Man City’s record signing.….After two good seasons with Arsenal, Norwegian sensation Martin Odegaard will make the move to Paris Saint-Germain for £94M – not bad business for Arsenal considering they bought him from Real Madrid in 2021 for just £30M. The 24-year-old Norwegian international leaves the London club as its 2023 Player of the Year, breaking the club’s record with 18 Assists (overall) – he played in 37 League Games, registering 7 Goals, 11 Assists, 4 PoMs, and 7.27 AR as Arsenal finished in 4th Place for the second straight season. He was crucial in their Champions League campaign last season as they made the Semi-Finals. He has now become Arsenal’s most expensive sale in its history…..Replacing Odegaard will be 26-year-old Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans, who makes the move from Leicester to Arsenal for a deal that could go up to £88M. The 26-year-old had spent five years at Leicester (including his initial loan season), having won the FA Cup with them in 2021 and broken the club’s record for assists with 16 during the 2021/22 season…..Newcastle United continued to build towards their goal of Champions League football, adding Czech defender Tomas Soucek, 28, from West Ham United for £64M and English international striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 26, from Everton for £57M. The former becomes both club’s record sale and signing, while the latter was part of England’s Qatar 2022 squad that made the Finals. With Everton getting relegated, the striker demanded a move away from the club…..Newly crowned English Premier League champions Manchester United signed 28-year-old Spanish LB Javi Galan from Celta Vigo for £55M, making the 2023 Celta Vigo Player of the Year recipient the club’s most expensive transfer sale of all-time. Galan was bought by his now former club for just £3.4M two years, so they managed to turn out a very nice profit.

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SENEGAL WINS AFRICAN NATIONS CUP FOR FIRST TIME: For the first time in the history of the competition, Senegal came out as victors, defeating Egypt in the Finals in Abidjan, Ivory Coast….Led by 26-year-old Al-Ahli (KSA) striker Alassane Ndao (7 Apps, 3 Goals, 5 Assists, 7.73 AR), who won the 2023 ANC Best Player award, Senegal were dominant, defeating continental heavyweights South Africa, former defending champions Nigeria, and Morocco on their way to the Finals….Egypt stumbled on their path to the Finals, however, needing extra-time to defeat Algeria and Guinea in the previous rounds….The tournament’s Golden Boot winner with 6 Goals was Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri, who became the fourth player in the tournament’s history to win the award in consecutive tournaments.  

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ASIAN NATIONS CUP 2023 GOES TO SOUTH KOREA: For the third time in the competition’s history – and the first time since 1960 – South Korea captured the Asian Nations Cup title, tying Iran and Saudi Arabia for second most victories after Japan’s four….Hosted in China for the second time (the first being 2004), South Korea defeated Iran in the Finals after beating Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia in the two previous rounds….Iran advanced to the Finals after defeating surprising Syria on penalties in the Semi-Finals….Japan stars Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal) and Daichi Kamada (6 Goals, Frankfurt) won the MVP and Top Goalscorer awards, respectively.

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ITALY WINS EUROPEAN U21 CHAMPIONSHIP: The Italian U21 side defeated the Czech Republic U21s in Bucharest at the Euro U21s after the match went all the way to penalties….The defending champions Germany U21s did not participate this tournament, which was hosted between Romania and George and takes place every two years….This was Italy’s first title win since 2004, making it a record 6th time they lift the trophy….There was no standout performer but Mitchel Bakker, Holland’s 23-year-old LB, managed to lead his team to the Semi-Finals before falling to the Czech Republic….Bakker ended up winning the Euro U21 Best Player, registering 7.60 AR over his four games.

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GOAL 50 2023 AWARDS

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WINNER

KYLIAN MBAPPE (France: 74 Caps/25 Goals) – Real Madrid, 24-years-old, Forward/Winger (Previous: 5th)

Capturing the award for the first time on the back of a sensational season, Mbappe registered 32 Goals and 7.47 AR in 49 Overall Appearances….He replaced Haaland as the Goal 50 winner having led his new club Real Madrid to the La Liga title….He also won the 2023 La Liga Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer awards, as well as the 2023 Best Player in Europe….He was also France’s best player as they captured European International League, defeating Holland as they won it for the second consecutive time….Valued at over £200M, Mbappe is arguably the biggest star in football presently, having taken the mantle from Ronaldo and Messi.

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2ND PLACE

JOSHUA KIMMICH (Germany: 86 Caps/4 Goals) – Bayern Munich, 28-years-old, Midfielder (Previous: 9th)

While Mbappe might be the most popular footballer on the planet, for the purists the best player in the world is Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich….He was appointed Germany’s new captain at the end of the last year after leading his nation to a bronze medal at Qatar 2022….He led his club to their 11th straight Bundesliga title, of which he has been a part of the past nine….He also led them to their third Champions League title in the past four years, including the last two….On an individual level, he captured the following awards in 2023: German Footballer of the Year (and Bundesliga Team of the Year), Bayern Munich Player of the Year, Champions League Midfielder of the Year (and CL Dream Team), all while breaking the club’s overall assist record in a season with 30 and getting appointed club captain this summer….He is the engine that makes the finely tuned Bayern Munich and German national team motor run, living up to the high praise he has received….It is argued he is the most indispensable player of any club in the world currently.  

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3RD PLACE

ERLING HAALAND (Norway: 34 Caps/27 Goals) – Manchester City, 23-years-old, Forward (Previous: 1st)

The only player that can give Mbappe a run for his money when it comes to global popularity is Norwegian sensation Erling Haaland….The 2022 Goal 50 winner, he sinks a couple of spots despite winning the 2023 EPL Footballer of the Year….Considered the best out-and-out striker in the game, Haaland is perhaps the most dangerous goalscorer football has to offer….His form in England has not been quite what it was in Germany, but there is little doubt about his ability….Already part of a great setup with Man City, he has stated his ambition to lift both the Premier League and Champions League titles with his new club.

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OTHER NOTABLES

The 2022 World Golden Ball and World Footballer of the Year Kevin De Bruyne slipped one spot to 4th Place. The 32-year-old Man City midfielder is second only to Liverpool’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, 35, when it comes to age in the Top Ten….Jamal Musiala (10th) made a jump of forty spots as he has developed into one of Bayern Munich’s most important players. At 20, he is the youngest player in the Top Ten….Man City’s Ederson (11th) maintains his place as the highest-rated GK on the planet, while his teammate Aymeric Laporte (14th) remains the highest-rated defender.

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MID-SEASON UPDATE 2023/24

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WORLD GOLDEN BALL/PLAYER OF THE YEAR/FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR: Given that he is probably the world’s biggest star currently, it is surprising that Kylian Mbappe claimed the World Golden Ball, World Footballer of the Year, and World Player of the Year for only the first time in his career….He captured pretty much every individual award he was eligible for this year, starting with the La Liga Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer awards….He broke the club’s record with 10 PoMs and then led France to the European International League title…..He also won the Goal 50 award and finished the year having played in 57 Games while registering 40 Goals, 10 Assists, and 7.51 AR overall….He beat out Erling Haaland for the awards, presumably what is the first of many battles between the two stars.

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WORLD GOLDEN GLOVE/WORLD GK OF THE YEAR: For the second time in his career, 31-year-old Real Madrid GK Thibaut Courtois won World GK of the Year award….He won the 2023 La Liga GK of the Year award for the fourth time in his career – his first two were with Atletico Madrid….He broke Real Madrid’s record during the 2022/23 season with 26 Clean Sheets….He registered 7.28 AR in 45 Games this year, the highest of any GK….Widely considered the best GK in the world now, his contract pays him an incredible £425k per week, making him not only the best GK in the world but amongst the best paid players.

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WORLD U21 FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR: For the second year in a row, the award went to Bayern Munich’s rising star Jamal Musiala….The 20-year-old German attacking midfielder is well on his way to becoming the world’s newest sensation, especially considering the season he is having….So far during the 2023/24 season, he has played in 17 League Games and registered 9 Goals, 7 Assists, 5 PoMs, and 7.69 AR, the highest in the Bundesliga….He was also selected for the 2023 World Team of the Year, with his official value now exceeding £125M….Now a two-time Champions League and four-time Bundesliga champion, Musiala is easily the world’s biggest star under 21 at this point.  

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TRANSFERS/OTHER NEWS: Man United shelled out £83M for 21-year-old Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol, becoming both the most expensive Croatian player of all-time and former club Leipzig’s record sale. He joined the German club in 2020 for £14.25M from childhood club Dinamo Zagreb, but it was only last season where he came into the spotlight, playing in 28 Games and registering 7.17 AR. This season, in 17 Appearances, he registered 7.20 AR for Leipzig before becoming a Man United player…..Borussia Dortmund’s Emre Can made his return to Italy – where he spent two years with Juventus in the late 2010s – after four years with the club, with AC Milan acquiring the 30-year-old German midfielder for £52M. The deal made him AC Milan’s most expensive signing of all-time…..After five years in the Ukraine with Shakhtar, Brazilian midfielder Marcos Antonio moved to Tottenham for £50M, breaking the Ukrainian record for most expensive transfer. The 2023 Ukrainian Player of the Season after registering 15 Assists and 7.21 AR, he helped Shakhtar to 2nd Place for three straight seasons.

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NxGN 50 2024

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WINNER

YOUSSOFO MOUKOKO (Germany: 4 Caps/1 Goal) – Borussia Dortmund, 19-years-old, Forward/Winger (Previous: 9th)

For the second straight year, the NxGn award went to a Borussia Dortmund player….Jumping up 9 Places was Moukoko, who is not a fully fledged German international….Considered the best striker in the world under the age of 20, he still has not grabbed a starting eleven spot with his club, but that is inevitable as he continues to improve….Quick and strong, the Dortmund backroom staff have nothing but praise for his attitude and his work ethic….Now valued at £80M, he is also due for a new contract that will presumably pay him a lot more than the

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2ND PLACE

GAVI (Spain) – Atalanta, 19-years-old, Midfielder (Previous: 6th)

How Barcelona let such a talented youth academy graduate walk away for only £4.9M remains a mystery….He made the switch at the beginning of the season and has been one of Atalanta’s best players thus far….Worth north of £40M, his fans have begun making noise as they believe he should be getting called up to the Spanish national team….A highly technical player with superb passing abilities, many have compared him to Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta….He moved up five spots from the previous year.

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3RD PLACE

ARTURO CARDENAS (Mexico) – Monterrey, 19-years-old, Winger (Previous: Unranked)

An overnight sensation, especially in Central America, Cardenas burst onto the scene after moving to Monterrey on Free from the Sporting Kansas City Academy in the USA….A product of the latter, he was part of the Mexican U20 team that came second in the 2022 North American U20 Championship….Amongst the fastest players in the Mexican First Division, his technical skills are also highly touted….He still lacks that killer attacking instinct and his passing abilities need improvement, but there is a lot of potential in him that is sure to start attracting interest from European sides before long.

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OTHER NOTABLES

Making his debut in the NxGn 50 list straight at 4th Place is 17-year-old Bosnian defender Almir Budimir. The FC Kobenhavn player, who came up through the club’s youth academy, won the Danish U19 Premier League two years in a row (2022, ’23) and was part of the Kobenhavn squad that were crowned champions of the Danish 3F Superliga last season. Already possessing fantastic defensive and tackling ability by any standard, his value of £11M is bound to increase very soon…..In 5th Place is also another newcomer – Portimonense’s 17-year-old defender David Videira. Equally comfortable at LB or DC, he was part of the Portuguese team that took the bronze at the 2023 U20 World Cup in Indonesia. A similar player to Budimir, he has been starting for the club in the Portuguese Premier League, and although his form has not been good his potential is considered limitless…..The highest ranking rookie in the list is 6th Placed Juan Goitea, Banfield’s latest midfield sensation. The 17-year-old Argentinian is already a starter for the club and has played in 21 Games, registering 7.01 AR leading him to be labelled the next Javier Mascherano. He was voted the Runner-up for the 2023 Argentine Young Player of the Year award…..The highest ranking GK is 9th Placed Pavel Brotanek. The Czech player, who is only 17, has already become the starter for his club Jablonec and has begun drawing heavy comparisons to legendary countryman Petr Cech. Despite this being only his rookie year, he already has a list of accomplishments – he was named Runner-up for the 2023 Czech Young Player of the Year award and was part of the Czech Republic team that came in second at the European U21 Championship…..Dropping one spot to 12th Place – for some inexplicable reason – is the supremely talented Macedonian international Bobi Ristovski. He has already earned 6 Caps for his nation while becoming one of Serbian club Vojvodina’s most important players. His passing ability is what has people talking, and the 17-year-old midfielder is sure to make a big money move to one Europe’s bigger clubs soon…..Colombian LB Fabian Varela, who plays for Colombian side Junior, recently earned his first 2 Caps for his nation. Varela, 17, has been touted as one of the most talented young LBs on the planet, but there are questions about his volatile and confrontational nature.

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THE SOPHARA JOURNAL

SEASON REVIEW 2023/2024

 

TEAM REVIEW

Has any team in modern history overachieved to the degree that Sophara United have over the past three years? At the beginning of the August 2021, there were overwhelming doubts about the capabilities of a team, made up of teenagers, in perhaps the most competitive league tier in the world. Many experts and pundits claimed that the ‘Buy None, Produce All’ mentality was doomed to fail in spectacular fashion. Instead, this team made up of teenagers won two straight titles and two straight promotions and almost came close to competing for a third straight promotion – this time to the Premier League, the world’s most famous and toughest domestic league.

It was not meant to be, at least not this season – results started getting inconsistent in February and the team could not get back into proper form, falling as low as 11th Place after battling its way to a Playoff spot. They ended up finishing in 7th Place, one spot off of the Playoff spots, a fantastic result, nonetheless. The talent difference between the Championship and League One was a much bigger jump than the latter and League Two, something that affected some players more than others. As has been their pattern, the squad was offensively good, scoring 84 Goals and finishing with the 6th best offense in the Championship. Encouragingly, their defense was not bad, either – their 69 Goals Conceded ranked them 16th out of 24 but given the attacking talent they were up against as compared to before, it was not a bad outcome. Meant to battle against relegation, the club didn’t even sniff a relegation battle, instead focusing on trying to make it to the top of the other side of the table. They also reached record highs in both the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup – they were knocked out in the Fifth Round by Premier League side Watford in the former and advanced to the Third Round in the latter, although they were disappointingly knocked out by Oxford in what was a very winnable match.

Almost all the starting eleven – except for Ger Lennon (19) and Lyndon Dsane (17) – turned 20 this season and all will be returning for next. The team cohesion is nothing short of excellent and the club atmosphere is similar as there is no player unhappy currently on the squad. The manager/owner, Abul Ezz, has the full support of the players and the board, and the club’s finances are healthy even after the heavy investment in developing the Sophara Youth Academy. The scouting and recruitment teams for the SYA has done a good job scouring Europe for talent, and these youngsters are starting to make their imprint on the team. The current starting LW, Dsane, is part of the ’22 Youth Class, while the first player to earn international caps on the team, Akim Lawrence with Dominica, is part of the ’23 Youth Class. Both have become a big part of the first team as well as Ben Smith, who is also part of the ’23 Youth Class. The story of Sophara United has taken on a life of its own, and the way it is headed, this team could very well find itself in the Premier League before long.

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GOALKEEPERS

ELVIS KOZIC (Sweden) – Age: 20 – Position: GK

Since the club played its first game in 2021, Kozic has missed one game, which happened last season. His manager stated this season that the Swede might be the most indispensable player on the squad – his reasoning is simple: there is simply no quality of talent at the position other than him. Thankfully, he has proven himself extremely durable – the only real injury he has had over the past three years was a pulled groin that took him about a week to heal from. He found the Championship tougher than the previous leagues, as his 1.50 Con/90 was the highest of his career and his 12 Clean Sheets and 6.99 AR career lows. He continues to garner interest from European clubs, especially second tier ones, but also top tier ones in the smaller leagues such as in Sweden and Turkey. Currently operating at a Championship level according to internal reports, there is belief that he has the potential be a Premier League level GK in the future.

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FULLBACKS

DREW DOWELL (England) – Age: 20 – Position: DL (DC, DR)

The only captain the club has ever known in its short history, Dowell is one of Abul Ezz’s biggest fans. Recruited from the now-defunct Tranmere youth academy, the Liverpool-born left-back more than held his own this season – in 42 Appearances, he registered 3 Assists, 1.99 TpG, 92% Passes Completed, and 6.87 AR. His lack of pace will always be his biggest weakness, but given his versatility and bravery, he makes up for it in other aspects of the game. Most importantly for Ezz, he is a fantastic leader for the team, especially now as younger players are entering the first team that need guidance. Dowell is one of those players who’s worth cannot be measured with his official value – which stands at £1.8M – but instead can be seen with his ability to calm the team down on the pitch and keep them focused. Mature is a word used quite often to describe him, as well, and one would be hard-pressed to find a player who approaches the game with his level of professionalism.

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GER LENNON (Ireland: 26 U21 Caps/1 U21 Goal) – Age: 19 – Position: DR (DL)

One of Chief Scout Badra’s original four players recruited from Ireland when Abul Ezz was looking for young talent to fill the squad, Lennon was part of his nation’s preliminary squad for the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany before becoming part of the final cut. Injuries have been a major issue for him thus far in his career – his 33 Appearances this season were the lowest of his career, but he has yet to play in more than 37 Games in a season. He also registered 2 Assists, 1.38 TpG, and 6.86 AR – although he had his struggles as well as his good games, there is a consensus that Lennon can be a Premier League level full-back in due time, injuries permitting.

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JESSE CUMMINS (Ireland: 6 U21 Caps/1 U21 Goal) – Age: 19 – Position: DL (DC)

Also one of the original four Irish players who joined Sophara United, Cummins has been a crucial part of the rotation at the back for the club and this season was no different. In 34 Appearances (17 Starts), he registered 1.74 TpG, 93% Passes Completed, and 6.86 AR, filling in at left-back when Lennon got injured and Dowell switched to right-back. He has already played in 106 League Games for the club and he has yet to turn 20.

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CENTRAL DEFENDERS

TOM HORGAN (Ireland: 13 U21 Caps/1 U21 Goal) – Age: 20 – Position: DC

The 2023 League One Player of the Year, Sophara United’s top defender did not disappoint this season, either. In 38 Appearances, he registered 96% Passes Completed, 5 PoMs, 135 Interceptions, and 7.33 AR, which was the second best on the team and the ninth highest in the league. Horgan has developed a fantastic partnership with Burgess in the middle of the defensive line and names his manager as one of the biggest factors in his success thus far. He is an overachiever – his form on the pitch far exceeds what someone of with his ability is supposed to give. The analysis below tells the complete picture – he is a dominant defender who has become a fan favorite with the club’s supporters. Ezz has grown to rely on him in the back as he rarely makes mistakes and almost always delivers a top performance.

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JAMES BURGESS (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 20 – Position: DC (DR)

The bond between Burgess and Horgan has been a pleasure to watch – both considers the other a fine partner and there has developed a level of understanding that can only come by playing side-by-side over the past three years. While Horgan is considered close to being a finish product as far as his abilities go, most experts believe that Burgess can still improve significantly. He is already a dominant defender at this level – in 42 Appearances, he registered 3 PoMs, 95% Passes Completed, a team-leading 148 Interceptions, and 7.09 AR. His value has now reached approximately £8M, making him one of the highest-valued players on the squad.

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AKIM LAWRENCE (Dominica: 2 Caps) – Age: 16 (’23 Youth Class) – Position: DC

Already subject to an intense transfer bid war in January – bids which Abul Ezz shot down without giving any thought to the matter – Lawrence has become the club’s first ever international player. He made his debut for Dominica at the age of 16 a few months ago, becoming the nation’s youngest ever international player. His rookie year was a success by any metric – in 31 Appearances (23 Starts), he registered 96% Passes Completed and 6.91 AR while proving himself excellent at clearing and blocking. His football IQ is already high, and he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time – his positioning without the ball is fantastic. He has also shown good physical progress as he has grown stronger and faster, enough for him to be considered one of the top prospects in England today. That fact is reflected by his value, which is now at £10M, making him the highest-valued player on the squad. All of this before he has turned 17. He will definitely be one to watch over the course of the next few years.

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CENTRAL/ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

JOE SHEPPARD (England: 2 U21 Caps) – Age: 20 – Position: MC

Although the hype around him has down died a bit over the past two years, Sheppard remains just as important to the club as ever. He has become the highest paid player in club history with his new £12.5k per week contract, and his value is now around £8M. He was twice named the Championship Young Player of the Month (November, March), playing 45 Games and registering 8 Goals, 11 Assists, 3 PoMs, and 7.04 AR. He completed 114 Key Passes, which was second highest on the team, while his 33 Clear-Cut Chances were tied for second in the league. He is a natural playmaker and a highly intelligent one at that – his ability to create chances and get through difficult passes is his specialty. The Sophara staff believe he has one of the highest ceilings on the team in terms of potential.

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RONNIE FLOOD (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 20 – Position: MC

The more defensive-minded central midfielder to Sheppard’s most attacking game, Flood continues to get better even as the competition continues to get stronger. In 42 Games, he registered 3 Goals, 8 Assists, 2 PoMs, 1.07 DpG, and 7.09 AR, just a little off his career-high of 7.12 AR recorded during his rookie year in the League Two. He is consistent, he is durable, he is tough, and he never backs down from a battle. Although already considered a Championship level player, the excitement around his potential has experts predicting him to be good enough to do well in the Premier League.

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WINGERS

STAN DRUMMOND (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 20 – Position: AMR (AML)

The pacy winger might be the club’s most underappreciated player – the plaudits usually go to the strikers or the defensive line, but without Drummond barreling down the right wing this team would have been a lot poorer. In 43 Appearances, he registered 8 Goals, 14 Assists, 2 PoMs, 1.45 TpG, 3.47 DpG, and 7.20 AR, exceptional numbers for a player who greatest gift is his speed. His 133 Key Passes led the team, and it was his ability to cross the ball that allowed his manager to confidently play Andy Holland as a target forward. An outspoken and confrontational personality, he is loyal to the club and has made secret for his love towards it.

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LYNDON DSANE (England: Capped at U18) – Age: 17 (’22 Youth Class) – Position: AML (AMR, SC)

Not many – including his own’s club coaching staff – thought Dsane would be talented enough to break into the first team, but through necessity and luck it was the young winger who was the club’s starter at LW this season. The good news? He played well. In 43 Appearances, he registered 7 Goals, 7 Assists, 2.11 TpG, 86% Passes Completed, 3.05 DpG, and 6.85 AR. He is a similar player to Drummond in that his greatest weapon is his speed, which is still developing as he matures. Technically, he still has ways to go but he has shown major improvements in all aspects of his game since breaking into the first team two years ago.

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FORWARDS

JOE REARDON (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 20 – Position: SC (MC)

The star of the side and the club’s new Player of the Year, Reardon was simply amazing this season. He led the Championship with 32 Goals, winning the league’s Top Goalscorer award, and was the only Sophara United player to be named to the Championship Team of the Year. He was the obvious selection for the league’s Young Player of the Year award, which he won nearly unanimously. The interest in him has come from all over Europe – from Sweden to Turkey – as his progression and improvement over the past two years has been strong. In 43 Appearances, he registered 32 Goals, 11 Assists, 8 PoMs, 48% Shot Target, and 7.43 AR, which was amongst the highest in the league. He broke the club record with 40 total Goals this season, leading one of the most vicious frontlines in the Championship. There has been a deadlock on the contract extension – it still has three years on it but his manager, who is one of his favorite people, has been looking get it extended for a further two years.

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ANDY HOLLAND (England: Capped at U20) – Age: 20 – Position: SC (AML)

A combination of higher tier football and becoming the second option behind Reardon up front brought Holland’s numbers down this season. The club vice-captain has recorded 35, 25, and now 13 Goals over the past three seasons, respectively, and his AR has gone from 7.32 to 6.95 over the same time frame. He did register a career-high 10 Assists in his 44 Appearances, and has drawn comparisons with old-time English striker Nat Lofthouse, who scored 30 Goals in his 33 Caps for England in the 1950s. Holland was part of the English U20 team that won the 2024 European U20 Elite League as England became the first team to repeat as champions and win the tournament twice. The competition at the position is high with young talent such as Ben Smith and fresh SYA graduate Huw Sagoe both fighting for playing time and it will be interesting to see how Ezz juggles it in the upcoming season.

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BEN SMITH (England) – Age: 17 (’23 Youth Class) – Position: SC (AMR)

The rookie did well in his first year, playing 36 Games (10 Starts) and registering 6 Goals, 3 Assists, and 6,85 AR. When he came out of the SYA, he had a 4.5/5 PA rating but that is now 5/5 PA. He showed fantastic growth, especially in his shooting and technique skills, while also clearly becoming stronger and quicker. His metrics compared to other strikers in the league was encouraging – despite limited playing time, he hit the league average in all key statistics for starters at his position. A resolute, hard-working player, the major complaint on his is his inconsistency, a problem most players his age face. The club staff have singled him out as one of the few youngsters that they consider vital to the team’s improvement and have been monitoring his progress closely.

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END OF SEASON REVIEW

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WO RLD REVIEW 2023/24

   CHAMPIONS LEAGUE   

 Winner: Manchester City

For the first time in club history, Manchester City finally lifted the Champions League trophy….This was their third Finals in the past four years, and third time was the charm as they defeated two-time former defending champions Bayern Munich 2-1 at Wembley….Man City striker and global superstar Erling Haaland had one of the greatest Champions League seasons of all-time, scoring 17 Goals and equaling Cristiano Ronaldo’s record (set during the 2013/14 season) and registering a new record of 8.27 AR….The former World Golden Ball winner continued to build on an already outstanding legacy, made even more incredible by the fact that he is still only 23-years-old….This was Bayern Munich’s third Finals in a row – they actually defeated Man City two years in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the first of those three Finals appearances….Man City GK Ederson won his first CL GK of the Season after registering 0.50 Con/90 and 9 Clean Sheets in his 12 Appearances….Bayern Munich defeated Real Madrid for the second straight year – last season, they defeated them in the Finals on home grounds in Munich, while this year they took care of them in the Semi-Finals….As for the new champions, they looked like they were going to take it from the get-go – they took a 5-0 win over newly crowned La Liga champions Barcelona in the Second Round, defeated Juventus 6-3 in the Quarter-Finals, and then completely embarrassed Premier League rival Liverpool 8-0 in the Semi-Finals….It is also worth noting that this was Bayern Munich’s fourth Finals appearance over the past five seasons.

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       ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE       

Winner: Chelsea

Chelsea took home the Premier League title for the time in seven years, last winning it in 2017, finishing 7 Points ahead for former champions Manchester United (2nd)….The new Champions League title holders Manchester City (3rd) and CL Semi-Finalists Liverpool (4th) grabbed the last two spots in the most prestigious club competition in the world….Romelu Lukaku (37 Apps, 19 Goals, 7.39 AR) and Kai Havertz (37 Apps, 12 Goals, 14 Assists, 7.37 AR) led Chelsea to the title, but it was Liverpool’s 31-year-old Mohamed Salah (36 Apps, 19 Goals, 7.46 AR) who won the PL Footballer of the Year, capturing for the third time in his career….Southampton’s 24-year-old Spanish striker Abel Ruiz (38 Apps, 25 Goals, 7.07 AR) won the Top Goalscorer award – not a bad return for a player they had signed two summers ago for just £11.5M….Stefano Pioli, in his first year as manager of Chelsea having replaced Thomas Tuchel (who is currently managing AC Milan), captured the Manager of the Year after leading the team to the title and also the Europa League trophy….The 58-year-old is a former Serie A Manager of the Year and had never managed outside of Italy before taking over as manager of Chelsea.

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OTHER LEAGUES

LA LIGA: Barcelona – BUNDESLIGA: Bayern Munich – SERIE A: Juventus – LIGUE 1: Paris Saint-Germain

Barcelona captured the SPANISH LA LIGA title for the first time in five years, ending Real Madrid’s (3rd) streak at two….Real Madrid had a disappointing finish despite what was Kylian Mbappe’s (38 Apps, 33 Goals, 7.62 AR) finest season of his career thus far….The 25-year-old current World Golden Ball and World Footballer of the Year was also the unanimous winner of the 2024 La Liga Player of the Year, winning it for the second straight season….That means he has won the award in every year he has been in Spain….The newly crowned champions continued to be led by their 21-year-old stars – Ansu Fati (35 Apps, 22 Goals, 8 PoMs, 7.58 AR) and Pedri (37 Apps, 10 Goals, 15 Assists, 7.42 AR), both of whom were their country’s stars during their World Cup winning campaign at Qatar 2022….Real Sociadad (4th) captured the last Champions League spot as there was a clear top four in the La Liga this season.

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The GERMAN BUNDESLIGA crowned Bayern Munich as champions for a record 12th season in a row as the rest of the league continues to struggle as the Bavarian behemoth….They finished an incredible 22 Points ahead of Leipzig (2nd), with Borussia Monchengladbach (3rd) surprisingly finishing ahead of Borussia Dortmund (4th) as both clubs grabbed the last two CL spots….The Runners-up French winger Christopher Nkunku (32 Apps, 19 Goals, 8 Assists, 11 PoMs, 7.69 AR) won the Bundesliga Player of the Year for the first time….The 26-year-old joined Leipzig five years ago from Paris Saint-Germain for £12.25M – his value is now worth £120M….The champions continued to be led by their legendary midfielder, 29-year-old Joshua Kimmich (31 Apps, 4 Goals, 16 Assists, 8 PoMs, 7.60 AR) and their 21-year-old sensation and current World U21 Footballer of the Year Jamal Musiala (31 Apps, 13 Goals, 8 Assists, 7.44 AR), who won the club’s 2024 Player of the Year for the first time in his career.

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In the ITALIAN SERIE A, Juventus took home their second straight trophy, bringing their total haul to a record 38 titles….Roma (2nd) finished as Runners-Up for the second straight season, as well….Swedish international and Juventus winger Dejan Kuluvsevski (34 Apps, 10 Goals, 23 Assists, 10 PoMs, 7.80 AR) was named the 2024 Serie A Player of the Year, setting a new Serie A assists record in the process….The 24-year-old Swede, now valued at around £130M, was vital for the club as they captured their first of their back-to-back titles last year, but this season he was their most important piece, propelling himself to the top tier of the game….His teammate, 24-year-old Italian striker Moise Kean (34 Apps, 21 Goals, 7.07 AR) led the Serie A in scoring, capturing the Serie A Top Goalscorer award….Napoli (3rd) and Lazio (4th) rounded up the Champions League spots, denying Inter Milan (5th), 2022 champions AC Milan (5th), and CL Quarter-Finalists Atalanta (7th), all of whom will still be playing in Europe’s second and third tier competition.

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The retirement of Lionel Messi did little to affect the fortunes of Paris Saint-Germain in the FRENCH LIGUE 1 as they captured their third straight title….This was also their sixth title in seven years, and their tenth title in the past twelve years….They finished 7 Points ahead of Lille (2nd) and 15 Points ahead of Monaco (3rd), the only two teams who have won a title other than PSG over those twelves year – Lille in 2021, and Monaco in 2017….Brazilian legend Neymar (32 Apps, 8 Goals, 4 Assists, 7 PoMs, 7.52 AR) won the Ligue 1 Best Player award for the third time, equaling the record set by both Kylian Mbappe and Zlatan Ibrahimovic….Since 2016, only PSG players have won the award.

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SUMMER 2024

 

FRANCE WINS THIRD EURO TITLE AT GERMANY 2024

Hosted in Germany for the first time since 1988, the Euro 2024 tournament was further validation towards the greatness of the French team in general and Kylian Mbappe (6 Apps, 2 Goals, 2 Assists, 2 PoMs, 7.63 AR) in particular….France defeated defending champions Italy 1-0 in Berlin, going a perfect seven wins in seven games, conceding only one goal the entire journey….They defeated Germany, Croatia, England, and finally Italy with Mbappe being their best player….The Germany 2024 Best Player award went to 34-year-old Italy and Lazio legend Ciro Immobile (7 Apps, 9 Goals, 7.89 AR), however – the Qatar 2022 Golden Boot winner had scored only one goal in Italy’s first four matches but then nailed a hat-trick against Austria in the Quarter-Finals and an incredible four goals against Germany in the Semi-Finals….France’s only goal they conceded was against England in the Semi-Finals, which went to penalties after the two teams drew 1-1….In the Group Stages, the Czech Republic, who were so close to making the Semi-Finals of Qatar 2022 just two years ago, crashed out of Group A without registering a single point, while dark-horses Belgium could not get out of a group featuring Serbia, Denmark, and Hungary, finishing in last place….22-year-old Portuguese LB Nuno Mendes (5 Apps, 7.52 AR) won the Best Young Player award as his nation were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals on penalties by England….This was France’s second Finals in the last three tournaments, having lost to Portugal in 2016 on home soil, but they are now tied with Spain and Germany for the most titles with three with their latest coming in 2000.

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BRAZIL GAINS REVENGE, WINS COPA AMERICA IN ECUADOR

Brazil waited three years to take their revenge on Argentina, destroying them 4-0 in the Finals in Quito, Ecuador, after having to bare the humiliation of the latter winning the tournament in Brazil in 2021….Venezuela was perhaps the surprise of the tournament, making it to the Semi-Finals before losing to Argentina….Brazil, meanwhile, also were dominant in their Semi-Finals matchup against the USA, running out 4-1 winners….Gabriel Jesus (6 Apps, 6 Goals, 4 Assists, 2 PoMs, 8.02 AR) won the 2024 Copa America Best Player award, but many felt it should have went to 32-year-old legend Neymar (7 Apps, 4 Goals, 4 Assists, 3 PoMs, 8.06 AR), who shone as bright as he ever has during this tournament….Ederson (8 Apps, 5 Clean Sheets, 7.46 AR) captured the Best GK award for the first time in his career, while the USA’s Yunus Musah (4 Apps, 2 Assists, 7.45 AR) won the tournament’s Best Young Player award….Brazil’s ten Copa America titles are second only to Argentina’s remarkable fifteen titles, but it was clear that Brazil are the best team in South America currently, and by a wide margin at that.

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ES TUNIS WIN AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

For the fifth time in their history, Tunisian side Es Tunis won the African Champions League, defeating Egyptian side Zamalek in the Finals in Kinshasa, DRC….The defeated Finalists had knocked out the former defending champions and the holder of most titles (11) of all-time Al-Ahly, who incidentally are also Egyptian and are Zamalek’s most bitter rivals….Cape Town City was the only team in the Semi-Finals that was not from a North African country, with the other Semi-Finalists being Moroccan side FAR Rabat….The 2024 ACL Player of the Season went to Zamalek’s 26-year-old striker Mostafa Mohamed (11 Apps, 11 Goals, 7.52), who was also the competition’s Top Goalscorer winner….After witnessing his exploits in the ACL, Qatari side Al-Gharafa paid Zamalek £6.5M for the 2023 African Striker of the Year winner.

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NOTABLE TRANSFERS

VINICIUS JUNIOR - £131M (£160M) from Real Madrid to Man City: Bought by Real Madird in 2019 when he was still a teenager from Flamengo (BRA) for £40M….He never really took off in Spain despite having a decent year last season, registering 30 Appearances, 9 Goals, and 7.27 AR, his finest season with Real Madrid since moving there….Despite being a global name and having already earned 24 Caps/5 Goals for Brazil, he did not develop into the spectacular player he was predicted to become….Still, Man City shelled out their new record transfer fee to get him to come to England, and he also becomes Real Madrid’s most expensive transfer sale of all-time.

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RONALD ARAUJO - £130M from Barcelona to Bayern Munich: How another Barcelona player who was sold in the same summer as Ansu Fati (below) ended up costing more than the star remains a mystery….In any case, Bayern Munich shelled out a club record £130M to bring the 25-year-old Uruguayan (28 Caps) defender to Germany….Bought from Boston River for just £1.5M in 2018, he has developed into one of the La Liga champions’ most important players over the past few years….In 27 Games last season, he registered 7.08 AR and was named to the La Liga Team of the Season for the second straight year.

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ANSU FATI - £127M from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain: This might not have been the largest transfer of the summer but it certainly was the most significant….The 21-year-old, over the past two years, led the Spanish national team to the World Cup title at Qatar 2022 and brought the La Liga title back to Catalonia this past year, playing in 35 Games and registering 22 Goals, 6 Assists, 8 PoMs, and 7.58 AR….He becomes the latest superstar to be poached by PSG from Barcelona – first it was Neymar, then it was Messi, and now it is Fati….The Spanish international (39 Caps/12 Goals) was the La Liga’s Young Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer last season, while also winning the Barcelona Player of the Year award for the first time….The move came as a shock to most as there was no signs of Fati being unhappy….He now becomes the most expensive Spanish player of all-time at £127M.

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ILAIX MORIBA - £90M from Leipzig to Liverpool: The former Barcelona youth academy product – he was sold to Leipzig in 2021 for £16M – has had quite the storied career even though he is still only 21-years-old….Thought to be one Spain’s new generation of talent alongside the likes of Ansu Fati and Pedri, Moriba instead declared his eligibility for Guinea and has since had 24 Caps/8 Goals for the African nation….Now he has become considered a ‘world-class midfielder’ and one of the most talented players in the world at his position….He had a good season for Leipzig, playing 33 Games and registering 8 Goals, 10 Assists, 3 PoMs, and 7.26 AR….He becomes both Liverpool’s record signing and Leipzig’s record sale at £90M.

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NICOLO BARELLA - £72M from Inter Milan to Chelsea: The 27-year-old Italian international (43 Caps/5 Goals) midfielder, fresh off his finest season with Inter Milan since joining from Cagliari for £33M five years ago, became the newly crowned English Premier League champions’ first signing of the summer….Barella broke Inter Milan’s record with 12 Assists this season, 10 of which came in the Serie A….In 35 Games, he also registered 3 Goals, 87% Passes Completed, and 7.16 AR….He joins a talented and crowded midfield at Chelsea that includes players like Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, and N’Golo Kante.

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CURTIS JONES - £68M (£81M) from Liverpool to Rennes: Having shelled out £90M for Moriba a couple of weeks prior, Liverpool cashed out on their youth academy graduate for a surprisingly high figure….Rennes were willing to pay a premium to bring the 23-year-old midfielder to France despite some relatively subdued seasons from Jones over the past few years….Last season, he played in 27 Games and registered 7 Assists and 6.90 AR….He becomes Rennes most expensive signing in club history with the hopes that he will be a central figure in the midfield for them….He is considered to have a lot of potential but it has to develop into the kind of world-class talent that the figure paid for him deserves.

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LUIS DIAZ - £56M from FC Porto to Newcastle: Since being bought by the Saudi royal family a couple of years ago, Newcastle have been relentless in qualifying for the Champions League….Luis Diaz, 27, was bought by Porto from Colombian club Junior in 2019 for £7.5M, and the Colombian (53 Caps/16 Goals) has had a great time in Portugal since….He has won the Portuguese Premier League title three times (2020, ’22, ’23) and was named the club’s Player of the Year twice (’22, ’23)….He was also named the 2022 Portuguese Premier League’s Player of the Year, becoming one of the best players in the country over the course of the last few years….He becomes both the most expensive Colombian player of all-time and FC Porto’s record transfer sale at £56M.

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PEDRO GONCALVES  - £55M from Sporting CP to Newcastle: Diaz was not the only player from the Portuguese league that Newcastle went after this summer as they also snapped up Pedro Goncalves from Sporting….The 26-year-old Portuguese (15 Caps/3 Goals) attacking midfielder actually spent two years in England with Wolves from 2017 to 2019 but failed to make an appearance before joining Famalicao (POR) on Free during the summer of 2019….Just one year later, Sporting acquired him for £5.75M, and he has been a star for them since….In the four years he has spent with the club, he has won the following: Portuguese Premier League title (2021, ’24), 2021 and 2022 Portuguese Premier League Young Player of the Year and 2021 Top Goalscorer, and Sporting’s 2024 Player of the Year….He becomes Sporting’s record sale at £55M.

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ALESSANDRO BASTONI  - £54M (£81M) from Inter Milan to Manchester United: The former English Premier League champion’s first signing of the summer, the 25-year-old Bastoni has been brought in to bolster the defense….The DC is an Italian international (34 Caps/1 Goal) and has been one of Inter Milan’s strongest players over the past few years….He won the Serie A title with him in 2021, and was named 2023 Inter Milan Player of the Year and the 2023 Serie A Defender of the Season….He is one of the most recognizable defenders in football today and is widely considered to be amongst the most talented players in the world at his position.

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GOAL 50 2024

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WINNER

ERLING HAALAND (Norway: 47 Caps/34 Goals) – Manchester City, 24-years-old, Forward (Previous: 3rd)

For the second time in his career, Erling Haaland captured the Goal 50 award – the first was in 2022 when he was still with Borussia Dortmund….In 50 Appearances, he registered 46 Goals and 7.72 AR this year….It was another year filled with accolades for the Norwegian megastar – he won the Champions League Golden Boot after equaling Ronaldo’s record with 17 Goals, leading Man City to their first ever CL title and was promptly named the 2024 Best Player in Europe after that….He was also named the 2024 European International League Best Player and came in second for the 2023 World Golden Ball and World Footballer of the Year awards….Haaland was pretty muted during Norway’s Euro 2024 campaign as they crashed out in the Second Round to Spain….Haaland scored two goals in Norway’s four games, both coming in their win against Bosnia….Despite not yet having a presence on the international stage, Haaland is without a doubt one of the top players – if not the top player – in the world.

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2ND PLACE

KYLIAN MBAPPE (France: 87 Caps/31 Goals) – Real Madrid, 25-years-old, Forward/Winger (Previous: Winner)

There are many who claim the award should have went to Mbappe for the second straight year and they do have quite a compelling argument….He was France’s best player as they won their third ever European Championship title at Germany 2024, where they won all seven of their matches….The current World Golden Ball and World Footballer of the Year, he was also named the 2024 La Liga Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer, having won both awards for the second consecutive year after scoring 33 Goals in his second season with Real Madrid….In 53 Appearances this year, he registered 37 Goals, 11 Assists, and 7.53 AR and also won the 2024 Olympic Games Best Player to boot….Generally considered the biggest star in world football today, he has become the natural successor to Ronaldo and Messi.

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3RD PLACE

ROMELU LUKAKU (Belgium: 129 Caps/97 Goals) – Chelsea, 31-years-old, Forward (Previous: 13th)

The powerful Belgian striker comes in 3rd – jumping ten spots – after leading Chelsea to their first title since 2017….He moved to the London club from Inter Milan in 2021 for £98M, and he has been a revelation for them so far….He also led them to the Europa League title, winning the 2024 Europa League Player of the Season and Golden Boot after scoring 9 Goals in his 10 Appearances….He announced his retirement from international football this summer after Belgium’s disappointing Euro 2024 campaign in hopes of staying as fit as possible for his club as he grows older….The legendary striker has been in top form this season, as well, registering 6 Goals and 7.55 AR in 11 Appearances thus far.

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OTHER NOTABLES

Bayern Munich were the only team to have three players in the top ten – Joshua Kimmich, Jamal Musiala, and Lautaro Martinez….All three of them were also in the top ten last year, as well….22-year-old Manchester United Josko Gvardiol was the highest ranked debutant this year, coming in at 11th Place….The Croatian was bought by Man United for £83M in January 2023 and has already earned 46 Caps for his nation.

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MID-SEASON UPDATE 2024/25

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WORLD GOLDEN BALL/PLAYER OF THE YEAR

ERLING HAALAND (Norway: 47 Caps/34 Goals) – Manchester City, 24-years-old, Forward

Please see report under GOAL 50 AWARDS above.

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WORLD GOLDEN GLOVE/GK OF THE YEAR

EDERSON (Brazil: 42 Caps) – Manchester City, 31-years-old

Now in the prime of his career, Ederson has solidified himself as the planet’s best GK….He won the Copa America with his nation this summer just a month or so after Manchester City took home its first Champions League title in its history, winning the competition’s GK of the Season for the first time….He was also named the Copa America’s Best GK and came in third in the running for its Best Player award….He was also named the 2024 Brazilian Best Europe-Based Player, the third time in his career he takes home that award….At this point in his career, Ederson is now considered one of the all-time greats at his position in the history of the sport….The Brazilian, who joined his current club eight years ago from Benfica, is a four-time English Premier League and two-time Portuguese Premier League champion, adding that to his two Copa America and Champions League title.

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WORLD U21 FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

JAMAL MUSIALA (Germany: 47 Caps/10 Goals) – Bayern Munich, 21-years-old, Midfielder/Winger

For the third year in a row, Musiala captured the World U21 Footballer of the Year….With an official value of £120M, Musiala has become one of the world’s most sought after players….The German international came second for the 2024 German Footballer of the Year award, winning his fourth Bundesliga title….He has also won two Champions League titles despite his young age….He has been a great form this season, as well, already scoring 8 Goals and registering 7.49 AR….Along with PSG’s Ansu Fati and Barcelona’s Pedri, Musiala is the highest profile player 21 and under in football today.

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AFRICAN NATIONS CUP – GUINEA 2025

For the second time in the past three tournaments, Nigeria lifted the African Nations Cup in Conakry, Guinea….They defeated Ivory Coast with former defending champions Senegal taking the bronze….Both Semi-Finals went to penalties before the victors were declared – Nigeria defeated surprising Congo and Ivory Coast defeated Senegal in what was probably the most entertaining match of the tournament….Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi, the 26-year-old Paris Saint-Germain defender, won the tournament’s Best Player after registering an incredible 8.22 AR over five games….Morocco were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by Senegal….Egypt were the most disappointing team, as the seven time champions (still a record) were knocked out of the Group Stages by Angola, The Gambia, and Cameroon.

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TRANSFERS

In what was a quiet and calm window, the biggest transfer belonged to 21-year-old Slovenian striker Benjamin Sesko (31 Caps/16 Goals), who made from Hoffenheim to Leipzig for £69M. Bought during the summer of ’23 by the German club from Salzburg for £28.5M, he scored 22 Goals in 50 Appearances before moving to Leipzig….The German club also acquired 25-year-old Spanish winger Alex Collado from Barcelona. Collado came up through the Barcelona youth academy and has spent his entire career with the club, establishing himself as part of the rotation over the last few years. The Catalonian club were paid £40M by Leipzig….The only other notable transfer was also completed by a German club – this time Bayern Munich as they acquired 25-year-old French winger Moussa Diaby (2 Caps) for £42.5M from Bayer Leverkusen. Part of the French squad that lifted the Euro 2024 trophy in Germany, Diaby has been an important player for Leverkusen since being bought from Paris Saint-Germain for £13.25M in 2019.

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NxGN 50 2024

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WINNER

FABIAN VARELA, (Colombia: 14 Caps), DL (DR) – Manchester City, 18-years-old (Previous: 32nd)

Making a huge leap for 32nd Place to Winner of the award, Varela – whom was first highlighted last year – has positioned himself as the best young left-back on the planet….He was bought by Man City during this past summer for a measly £650K from his boyhood club of Junior in Colombia….He has made 19 Appearances (13 Starts) for the Champions League title holders, registering 2.14 TpG, 94% Passes Completed, and 6.96 AR….There remains criticism about his volatility and temperament, but his manager Jurgen Klopp, who joined the club two years ago, has stated himself as huge fan of the youngster….He has backed up that claim by naming the wonderkid the default starter at LB for the squad….He is now worth an estimated £65M, an incredible acquisition for the club.

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2ND PLACE

PATRICIO MARTI (Argentina: 3 U20 Caps), MC (AMC) – Hoffenheim, 20-years-old (Previous: 13th)

The Argentine midfielder stormed into the spotlight after making a £17.25M move to Hoffenheim from Nacional de Madiera (POR) this past summer….He came up through the San Lorenzo (ARG) youth system, but he only made one professional appearance for them before moving to Portugal on a Free Transfer in 2023….It was in the Portuguese Premier League that he first appeared on to the scene, playing in 28 Games and registering 6 Goals, 7 Assists, and 6.95 AR….Now a starter for Hoffenheim, Madiera’s largest transfer sale of all-time has played in 20 Games, registering 3 Goals, 3 Assists, and 6.85 AR in the Bundesliga….The wonderkid’s value has also gone up, now sitting at an estimated £25M, as he has become one of the most sought after youngsters in the world.

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3RD PLACE

DAVID MEZA (Mexico: 2 Caps), SC – Chivas, 19-years-old (Previous: Unranked)

A newcomer to the NxGn list, Meza is the second straight Mexican youngster based in Mexico to take 3rd Place in the award….Having come up through the Chivas youth academy, this is the first season where he features in an expanded role for the club, playing in 26 Games and registering 8 Goals and 6.80 AR….He is currently valued at around £7.5M and is wanted by some of the world’s biggest clubs such Liverpool, Man City, Man United, Chelsea, and PSG….Born in a town just north of Mexico City, he joined Chivas in Guadalajara at a young age and has impressed for the club at every level….

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OTHER NOTABLES

Barcelona product Santi Carrascosa (Spain: 2 U20 Caps) makes his debut on the list at 4th Place even though he is yet to feature for the main team. He is valued at over £75M and the expectation for the 17-year-old DC is sky high since he was bought from Toledo last season for £475K. He was part of the Spanish side that won the 2024 French Youth Invitational, and he has been in impressive form for the Barcelona U19 side this season. Many believe his opportunity with the main squad is near and he certainly has the talent to shine….Juan Esteban Goitea (Argentina: 3 U20 Caps) remains in 6th Place after being bought by English Premier League champions Chelsea for £4.9M this summer from Banfied (ARG). He has spent the season on loan with Sheffield United learning the ropes – in 11 Games, he has registered 95% Passes Completed and 6.97 AR. The 18-year-old midfielder was named the 2024 Banfield Player of the Year in his rookie year, which speaks volumes about his potential and talent….Sophara United has a representative on the NxGn Top 50 list for the first time ever with Akim Lawrence, who comes in at 14th Place. The 17-year-old DC has been in good form for his club this season, playing 32 Games (25 Starts) and registering 97% Passes Completed and 7.06 AR. Sophara have field offer of almost £10M throughout the season from several of Europe’s biggest clubs – including the likes of Man City, Man United, and PSG – but his manager has been steadfast in his refusal to entertain them. Despite featuring for Dominica at the international level, the Warner, Dominica born player has now switched his allegiances to England.

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THE SOPHARA JOURNAL

SEASON REVIEW 2024/2025

 

TEAM REVIEW

One win away from Premier League football – that is how close Sophara United came from creating history that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. The club, which was formed in 2021 and began its first professional season only four years ago, already turned heads throughout the football world when they won back-to-back League Two and One titles before almost qualifying for a playoff spot during their first season in the Championship. They took it one step closer this year and finished in 3rd Place after threatening the more established teams to knock them out of the automatic promotion spots, even claiming 1st Place for a few weeks. Inevitably, they finished just outside the top two and were drawn against Norwich in the playoff semi-finals, whom they defeated to set up a Finals showdown against Bournemouth. That is where the dream ended as their opponents were clearly the superior team on the day at Wembley, leaving Sophara United to battle for another season in the Championship after running out 4-2 winners.

The end of the season was heartbreaking, but it did nothing to take away from its success – this team of youngsters challenged, pushed, and shoved their way to the top all year long, dealing with tough losses and also recording big wins. The offense was again the best in the Championship with 98 Goals Scored, of which newly crowned EFL Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer Joe Reardon and his partner up front Andy Holland scored 32 and 26, respectively. Reardon also broke the Championship record by registering 7.58 AR as he captured the Sophara United Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. The defense improved from 16th last season to 12th best, from 69 to 67 Goals Conceded. The strong start gave way to an early mid-season dip before the club managed to pick itself up again, pushing all the way to 1st Place before settling for 3rd Place, missing 2nd and an automatic promotion to the Premier League by just one point. It was not a successful season in the domestic cups, however – the FA Cup was particularly disappointing as the team got dropped by Luton 5-2 in the Fourth Round, while in the Carabao Cup they exited from their first match, which was a First Round 4-0 loss to Bournemouth. Yes, Bournemouth were the cause for many broken hearts this season for the Sophara United faithful.

Internally, the team continued to be great. Team cohesion remained excellent, the atmosphere was very positive and encouraging, the fans’ have been passionately behind their new favorite team. The team is no longer made up of teenagers – in fact, the majority of the starting eleven turned 21 this year, as only Akim Lawrence and Lyndon Dsane have been named starters outside of the original cast. There has been grumbles and mumbles about rejected transfers to higher profile clubs – especially from Sheppard, Lawrence, and Kozic – but by and wide the club has been and remains a very positive, happy place. Financially stable with great training and youth facilities, Sophara United continue to prove the doubters wrong and have been incredible to follow over the past four years.

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GOALKEEPERS

ELVIS KOZIC (Sweden: 3 U21 Caps) – Age: 21 – Position: GK

Finally earning enough recognition to be called up to the Swedish U21 team, Kozic improved noticeably this year over his first season in the Championship. He again played in all 46 Games – he has missed just one in the past four years – improving his 1.50 Con/90 to 1.24 and registering 12 Clean Sheets and 7.15 AR, up from 6.99 AR last season. He was recognized as the best GK in the Championship, getting named to the 2025 Championship Select Team of the Year – the third time he has had the distinction of being named in a Team of the Year with his first two being during the club’s League Two and League One campaigns. It goes without saying his importance to the club, with many considering him the most indispensable if not the most talented player Sophara has due to the fact there is no one behind him that has anywhere near his ability. In fact, only Cardiff’s Dillon Phillips had similar metrics, with a very wide and clear gap between those two and the rest of the league’s goalkeepers – even then, Phillips had 7.04 AR, a significant drop from Kozic’s 7.15 AR. His value is now estimated to be close to £6M and he has garnered attention from clubs all over Europe.

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FULLBACKS

DREW DOWELL (England) – Age: 21 – Position: DL (DC, DR)

The club captain will be a bit disappointed with the season he had – in 40 Appearances, he registered 4 Assists, 1.79 TpG, 105 Interceptions, and 6.83 AR that was a career-low. His lack of pace exposed him at times this season, and there are questions around the league as to whether he would be a better fit in the middle of the defensive line as opposed to being its starting LB. He is a hard-working and brave player, but his physical limitations at this level were noticeable. Still, he did a decent job and has proven himself more than capable of holding his own on the pitch thanks to his football IQ and defensive skills. His main strength, however, is in the locker-room, as his manager Abul Ezz relies on his significantly for leadership in the ranks. With a few prospects coming out of the Sophara Youth Academy that have shown potential at LB, it will be worth observing how they cut into his playing time over the next few seasons, if it does at all. For now, he is the undisputed starter for the club at the position.  

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GER LENNON (Ireland: 5 Caps) – Age: 20 – Position: DR (DL)

The first player in the history of the club to represent Ireland – or any nation in the Great Isles – at an international level, he is also the club’s second player to receive an international Cap, with the first being Akim Lawrence from Dominica. Injuries continue to be a problem, however – this season, he played in only 36 Games, having dealt with three different injuries that ruled him out for about a month in total. He did improve over last season, however, registering 6.91 AR after recording a 6.86 AR previously. In fact, it was a career-high as he also registered 2 Assists, 92% Passes Completed, 1.87 TpG (the highest of any defender on the team), and 112 Interceptions. He is valued at around £8M, the third highest on the squad, and is one of only three defenders that carries a 5/5 PA rating.

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CENTRAL DEFENDERS

TOM HORGAN (Ireland: 19 U21 Caps/2 U21 Goals) – Age: 21 – Position: DC

The Irish U21 team’s vice-captain, Horgan continued to add on to his impressive career thus far as he was again amongst the top players at the DC position in the league this year. He led the Championship with 585 Clearances, 34 Shots Blocked, 616 Headers Won, and 60 Key Headers, and was amongst the leaders with 158 Interceptions (4th) and 7.28 AR (13th), doing so in 41 Appearances. His 7.28 AR was the third highest on the team, but both his 3/5 CA and 4/5 PA are the third lowest of any starter, speaking volumes of how much of an overachiever and hard-worker Horgan is. He is one of Ezz’s favorite players on the team and he is a clear leader both on the pitch and off it, publicly expressing his desire to one day be named captain of the squad.

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JAMES BURGESS (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 21 – Position: DC (DR)

For the first time in his four-year career, Burgess failed to play in at least 40 Games as a number of injuries – including a broken arm in early March – ruled him out of action a total of two months. When he did play, he was his usual reliable, consistent self – he had 35 Appearances, registering 94% Passes Completed, 125 Interceptions, and 7.05 AR, putting his career average at 7.21 AR now. He has a strong bond and partnership with Horgan having played side-by-side with him for the past four years, but he will have to deal with the emergence for Akim Lawrence, who is considered one of the game’s top prospects under the age of 21. Still, Burgess’ versatility – he can play at DR, as well – will keep him vital for his manager’s plans going forward, especially as the depth at the defensive positions remains void of depth.

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AKIM LAWRENCE (Dominica: 8 Caps) – Age: 17 (’23 Youth Class) – Position: DC

The Sophara United Youth Academy product became the first player in club history to make the NxGn Top 50 list, coming in at 14th Place in his debut on it. Ezz has had to field offers from a lot of the major European clubs such as the Manchester duo and Paris Saint-Germain that have gone up to £10M but has turned everyone of them away. Lawrence has stated he is ready to sign a new contract with the club, but the sticky point of a £9.5M Minimum Fee Release Clause has blocked the resigning from happening. Ezz is most likely not worried, however – Lawrence still has two years on his contract with an additional three-year club option, so he will remain at Sophara Park for the next five years if his manager wishes it. This was his second full season with the first team, playing in 39 Games (32 Starts) and registering 97% Passes Completed, 122 Interceptions, and 7.08 AR. He looks ready to take his game to the next level despite his young age – he works hard, his defensive skills are already developed, and he approaches the game in a professional manner. He has already proven himself to be the gem of the ’23 Youth Class.

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CENTRAL/ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

JOE SHEPPARD (England: 7 U21 Caps) – Age: 21 – Position: MC

The highest valued and highest rated player on the squad, Sheppard is the only one to carry a 4.5/5 CA along with his 5/5 PA. At £15M, he is the only player whose official value eclipses £10M, and with good reason. He plays a notoriously difficult role in Ezz’s formation and system, but he has managed to improve and is now at a point where his importance in the formation cannot be overstated. He always seems to be looking at potentially moving to a bigger club, but it was the same case last summer and his manager has already opened negotiations to make him potentially the highest paid player in the history of the club at £19k per week. He deserves it, too – in 43 Games, he registered 6 Goals, 14 Assists (not including the playoffs), 2 PoMs, and 7.18 AR. Looking deeper into his metrics, one would see he led the league with 50 Clear-Cut Chances and 644.90km Distance Covered, while also being amongst the leaders with 167 Key Passes (3rd). He was a workhorse in the middle of the pitch and his 8.31 xG was the highest on the team outside of the two strikers. The more creative and attacking-minded of the two CMs, the Fleetwood-born CM is sure to continue attracting the attention of Premier League clubs next season, as well.

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RONNIE FLOOD (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 21 – Position: MC

His manager Abul Ezz calls him the most underappreciated member of the squad, which is ironic because he has also said he is the motor that makes the team run. The prove that point, Flood led the league with 2,405 Passes Completed, registering 59.60 PC/90 as 82% to go along with 14 Assists (career-high), 21 Clear-Cut Chances, and 83 Key Passes. He did so in 43 Games, also registering 1.29 DpG and 7.05 AR while playing a more defensive role as opposed to Sheppard’s more attacking mindset. It worked well in the past and continued to work well this season, as Flood’s value is now over £8M. He is considered a Championship-level midfielder who – with improvements in his technical game – can become a Premier League MC and do well at that tier of football.

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MITCH LEWIS (England) – Age: 18 (’23 Youth Class) – Position: MC (SC)

Lewis made his debut this season and played in 17 Games (4 Starts) but he failed to impress. Of course, he is still very young and will obviously show improvement, but his PA rating has already been downgraded to 4/5 PA. He’s got good technical ability and his passing skills are impressive, which is why his manager has been training him to play as a midfielder instead of his natural position at striker – his finishing is simply not good enough. He is considered the third best player out of the ’23 Youth Class behind Akim Lawrence and Ben Smith.

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WINGERS

STAN DRUMMOND (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 21 – Position: AMR (AML)

The Assists king, Drummond has now recorded 74 Assists over his four-year career. His form took a slight dip this season, however, with a nagging ankle injury being the main reason he dropped from 7.20 to 7.07 AR. He still played in 44 Games, registering 6 Goals, 3.47 DpG, 1.45 TpG, and 38 Clear-Cut Chances. He probably is not going to get much better than what he is now, but that is totally fine as he is one of the fastest players in the Championship and remains a crucial part of the first team. There have been some prospects who have come up through the SYA who fancy a chance at some of his playing time, but Ezz is reluctant to give any of it up as he feels he needs the consistency and threat down the right wing that Drummond provides nearly every game. He has been offered a new contract that will pay him £9k per week, and he has already signaled his intention to sign and stay at the club for a further five years.

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LYNDON DSANE (England: Capped at U18) – Age: 18 (’22 Youth Class) – Position: AML (AMR, SC)

Considered the weakest link of the starting eleven, Dsane might not remain starter for too long despite doing a decent job of it this season. In 42 Games, he registered 4 Goals, 3 Assists, 3.02 DpG, 83% Passes Completed, and 6.82 AR. He also showed a surprising talent for winning the ball back, registering 3.05 TpG, leading the team with 101 Tackles Won and recording 72 Interceptions. He is considered the best player of the ’22 Youth Class but he was not thought to be the one with the most potential coming out of the SYA. In any case, he might have some competitions from new prospects entering the first eleven and he might see a more rotational role next season.

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FORWARDS

JOE REARDON (England: Capped at U19) – Age: 21 – Position: SC (MC)

The first player in club history to win the Sophara United Player of the Year award twice, he was without a doubt the best player in the Championship this season. He won the league’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, and Top Goalscorer awards while also being named to his second straight Championship Select Team of the Year. In the club’s short existence, he has taken the most accolades and is easily the most accomplished player so far in its history. This was actually the second straight season he wins the Championship Top Goalscorer award – he has scored 32 Goals in each of his two seasons in the league. This year, however, he broke the league’s record with 7.58 AR, up from the 7.43 AR he recorded last season. In addition, he registered 9 Assists, 9 PoMs, 54% Shot Target, and a league-leading 24.69 xG. He is the team’s star – along with Sheppard – but he is still second to the man below when it comes to the record of Goals Scored for the club.

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ANDY HOLLAND (England: Capped at U20) – Age: 21 – Position: SC (AML)

Many wrote him off last season and predicted he could not bring the level of play he had at the League One and Two level to the Championship. Even his manager seemed reluctant to commit to saying that Holland would continue to be a primary starter past the next couple of years. The vice-captain, however, showed the league, his manager, the experts, and the fans exactly what he was made off and delivered a fantastic season that was bested only by Reardon’s record-breaking one. In 43 Games, he registered 26 Goals, 10 Assists, 7 PoMs, 50% Shot Target, and 7.31 AR, up from 13 Goals and 6.95 AR last season. Not only that, but he has some Sophara coaching staff members believing his ceiling might actually be higher than that of Reardon, essentially saying they think Holland can still be better player than the team’s star. Part of the English team that captured the European U20 Elite League last year, he was second only to Reardon in the Championship’s Top Goalscorer award this year. He holds the record for most goals of all-time for the club with 99 Goals, something he achieved in just 174 Games. Holland and Reardon are now the most feared attacking tandem in the Championship today, and with good reason.

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BEN SMITH (England) – Age: 18 (’23 Youth Class) – Position: SC (AMR)

Akim Lawrence might be the gem of the ’23 Youth Class, but Ben Smith has proven to be capable now with the potential to be something great for the club. In 35 Games (10 Starts), he registered 7 Goals, 3 Assists, and 7.00 AR in his second full season, becoming a solid part of the rotation and a strong member of the core. He has shown all the right tendencies – hardworking, resolute in his training, and approaches the sport with a determination to succeed. Ezz has become a fan of the youngster and the feeling is mutual. He will continue to get opportunities even as new blood emerges at the position from the SYA.

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HUW SAGOE (England) – Age: 16 (’24 Youth Class) – Position: SC

The boy wonder who scored a hat-trick on his debut and etched himself in club folklore, he found keeping it up for a whole season was a whole different world. The rookie did well, though – he played in 14 Games (9 Starts), scoring 4 Goals and registering 2 Assists and 6.80 AR. What immediately jumps out about the 16-year-old is his speed – he is already quick by any standard and that will only improve as he matures physically and gets stronger. He is another one of the players that has been sought out by nearly every Premier League and Championship club, but Ezz has already stated he has no interest in selling the striker.

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END OF SEASON REVIEW

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MAJOR LEAGUES REVIEW 2024/25 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Winner: Chelsea

Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich – who participating in their fourth consecutive Finals and fifth in the past six year – made it so the English Premier League was responsible for the last two victors in the competition, with Man City claiming the title last season….This was Chelsea’s third title, having previously won in 2012 against Bayern Munich and 2021 against Manchester City….Romelu Lukaku (13 Apps, 16 Goals, 7.75) and Nicolo Barella (11 Apps, 6 Goals, 3 Assists, 7.83 AR) led the way for Chelsea, with the former winning the 2025 CL Golden Boot and Forward of the Season awards while the latter took home the 2025 CL Midfielder of the Season award….This was Bayern Munich’s second consecutive loss in the Finals – last year it was Wembley against Man City and this year it was in Amsterdam, Holland….Bayern Munich and Liverpool were both repeat Semi-Finalists – the Germans defeated Roma while the English club lost to rivals and eventual champions Chelsea….The former defending champions Man City fell victims to the new ones in the Quarter-Finals, with Chelsea also defeating Real Madrid in the Second Round.

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ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Winner: Chelsea

Three years after their last title, Manchester City took home their ninth championship….The former defending champions Chelsea (3rd) were compensated with a Champions League trophy, while Liverpool (2nd) finished in their highest position since 2020….Erling Haaland (38 Apps, 23 Goals, 7 PoMs, 7.58 AR), the current World Golden Ball and World Player of the Year, led the way with 23 Goals, winning the EPL’s Top Goalscorer award….Arsenal (6th) again missed out on Champions League football but their 23-year-old winger Bukayo Saka (29 Apps, 12 Goals, 9 Assists, 7 PoMs, 7.70 AR) was outstanding, winning the 2025 EPL Footballer of the Year award….The last Champions League spot went to Tottenham (4th), who last qualified for the competition five years ago….Ederson (38 Apps, 21 Clean Sheets, 7.47 AR) won the EPL Golden Glove award for the fourth time in his career, equaling Joe Hart’s record, while Liverpool’s Ilaix Moriba (26 Apps, 8 Goals, 4 Assists, 7.30 AR) captured the 2025 EPL Young Player of the Year award….Jurgen Klopp was named Manager of the Year for the second time in his career but his first as Man City’s manager.

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SPANISH LA LIGA

Winner: Barcelona

They have been threatening to disrupt the order of things in the league for the past few years, and Real Sociedad finally succeeded this season, claiming their third ever Spanish La Liga title and their first in forty-three years….They won the league with a single point advantage on Real Madrid (2nd), who were again led by arguably football’s biggest star in Kylian Mbappe (35 Apps, 24 Goals, 10 Assists, 11 PoMs, 7.75 AR), who the La Liga’s Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer awards for the third consecutive season….As for Real Sociedad, they had three main players in their title-winning campaign – 24-year-old Brazil and former Real Madrid winger Rodrygo (36 Apps, 15 Goals, 4 PoMs, 7.44 AR), 28-year-old Spanish midfielder Mikel Oyarzabal (36 Apps, 18 Goals, 7 Assists, 6 PoMs, 7.35 AR), and 28-year-old Spanish defender/midfielder Mikel Merino (37 Apps, 5 Goals, 15 Assists, 7.25 AR)….Barcelona (3rd) and Atletico Madrid (4th) took the last two Champions League spots.

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GERMAN BUNDESLIGA

Thirteen straight Bundesliga titles for Bayern Munich and it was not even close….Widely considered the most talented team in the world and most definitely a dynasty at this point, their best player this season was the emerging 22-year-old German superstar Jamal Musiala (34 Apps, 16 Goals, 9 Assists, 7.53 AR), but the 2025 German Bundesliga Player of the Year was 22-year-old Germany and Bayer Leverkusen (5th) midfielder Florian Wirtz (33 Apps, 5 Goals, 8 Assists, 8 PoMs, 7.62 AR)….In other words, the German national team is currently harboring some of the best young talent in the world….Leipzig (2nd) finished as Runners-Up for the third consecutive season, an incredible 23 Points behind the leaders, while Borussia Dortmund (3rd) finished ahead of Stuttgart (4th), who will be participating in their first Champions League competition since 2009.

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ITALIAN SERIE A

Juventus took home Serie A title for the third straight season and it was not close, finishing 13 Points ahead of AC Milan (2nd)….25-year-old Swedish midfielder Dejan Kulusevski (34 Apps, 9 Goals, 15 Assists, 8 PoMs, 7.73 AR) was named the 2025 Serie A Player of the Year for the second time in a row, one year after setting a new Serie A record with 23 Assists and 7.80 AR….The Swede has become one of the world’s most valuable players, playing alongside Juventus and Italy legend, 27-year-old winger Frederico Chiesa (31 Apps, 4 Goals, 10 Assists, 7.58 AR)….Lazio (3rd) and Atalanta (4th) took the last two Champions League spot, beating out this year’s Semi-Finalists Roma (5th) and slumbering giants Inter Milan (6th).

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FRENCH LIGUE 1

In his first year since making the £127M move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 22-year-old striker Ansu Fati (30 Apps, 14 Goals, 7.51 AR) won the 2025 Ligue 1 Best Player award, capping off what was a very successful debut season for the Spanish striker….Lyon (2nd) finished ahead of Lille (3rd) as all three teams qualified to the Champions League….Monaco (4th) will be disappointed to have missed out, finishing ahead of Rennes (5th) on goal difference….PSG took home their fourth consecutive title and their seventh in the past eight years as they continue to dominate the French Ligue 1 under Manager of the Year Mauricio Pochettino.

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SUMMER 2025

U20 WORLD CUP: USA WINS FIRST EVER TITLE

On warm early summer’s day in Glasgow, Scotland, the United States lifted their first ever U20 World Cup title after defeating heavily favored Brazil 3-2 in extra-time….The Americans also defeated Spain, who were also one of the favorites to win the whole thing, 2-0 in the Semi-Finals, while the Brazilians needed penalties to finally move past England in the other match….Juan Rendon (7 Apps, 7 Goals), the US and Lyon 19-year-old striker, led the way for the new champions, winning the competition’s 2025 Golden Shoe award with 7 Goals….The 2025 Golden Ball was awarded to Brazil and Juventude (BRA) 18-year-old winger Wilton Batista (7 Apps, 2 Goals, 3 Assists, 7.59 AR), who led the Brazilians to within a match from the title….The Golden Glove went to 17-year-old Spain and Granada GK Gabi Garrido (7 Apps, 1 Conceded, 6 Clean Sheets, 7.39 AR), but unfortunately for Spain, it was not him who played at GK in their Semi-Finals loss against the USA….The Finals this year were a repeat of 2023 in Jakarta, Indonesia, with the only – and big – difference being the USA defeating Brazil instead of the other way around.

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EURO U21 CHAMPIONSHIP: ENGLAND WINS FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1984

Hosted in Greece for the first time, England defeated France in Athens to lift their first Euro U21 trophy in 41 years….Led by 23-year-old Roma DC Taylor Harwood-Bellis (5 Apps, 7.40 AR), who won the tournament’s 2025 Best Player award, England also defeated Spain and 2023 beaten Finalists Holland on their way to the Finals….France had an easier time, taking care of Austria and then Scotland before falling to England….Their best player was Rennes GK Yann Batola (4 Apps, 7.50 AR) – the 21-year-old saved a struggling French defense on numerous occasions before turning up it one more level in the knockout stages….Former defending champions Italy were knocked out in the Quarter-Finals by Scotland, who were the tournament’s most surprising team.

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EURO U19 CHAMPIONSHIP: JONAS LANGE LIFTS DENMARK TO TITLE

Led by Brondby 16-year-old attacking midfielder Jonas Lange (5 Apps, 3 Goals, 2 Assists, 7.84 AR) played in their first Euro U19 Finals ever and won 2-0 against the hosts Italy….The star of the tournament was Lange, and after his showing he is sure to have suitors lined up for him….Denmark defeated favorites England in the Semi-Finals while Italy defeated Portugal….Lange also led the tournament with 3 Goals, including Denmark’s second goal in the Finals….Denmark’s rise to the top of U19 football in Europe has been one of the biggest stories of the summer thus far as it came out of nowhere and was on the backs on a single 16-year-old player.

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 NOTABLE TRANSFERS

NICO WILLIAMS (Spain: 1 Cap) - £109M from Atletico Bilbao to Paris Saint-Germain: Emerging Spanish star Williams – who also holds the Ghanaian nationality – makes the move to France from his childhood club Bilbao, becoming the most expensive sale by his former club in its history….He was named Bilbao’s 2025 Player of the Year after leading them to a 5th Place finish that was their highest in ten years….In 37 Appearances, the 22-year-old winger registered 9 Goals, 6 Assists, 4 PoMs, and 7.18 AR….He earned his first cap for Spain this summer and is now labeled an Elite Winger by experts….He joins a PSG team that has a number of superstars that can play down the wing, including Neymar, Ansu Fati, Paulo Dybala, and Martin Odegaard, so he will have to fight for his playing time….Still, it is doubtful PSG invested so much money in bringing him in just to leave him on the sidelines….His speed and attacking abilities are of a world-class level and he has the potential to be one of Spain’s brightest stars over the next decade.

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SANDRO TONALI (Italy: 30 Caps/2 Goals) - £91M (£110M) from AC Milan to Man City: Bought by AC Milan in 2021 from Brescia after spending a year on loan with them for £8.5M, Tonali becomes AC Milan’s most expensive transfer sale of all-time as he moves to England….He joins a midfield that already features the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Rodri, although none of them have the defensive skills that Tonali does….A central figure for AC Milan over the last four years, the 25-year-old has also become one of his national team’s most important players and is considered a world-class midfielder….In 35 Appearances last season, he registered 4 Goals, 8 Assists (his career-high is 10), 88% Passes Completed, and 7.06 AR (his career-high is 7.29)….His new contract is rumored to be worth £300k per week.

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MANUEL UGARTE (Uruguay: 11 Caps) - £64M  (£87M) from Burnley to Manchester United: The 24-year-old Uruguayan midfielder was bought for £39.5M by Burnley last year from Sporting (POR) but only lasted a season with the club….After an impressive season, Man United swooped in with an offer Burnley could not refuse….He becomes Burnley’s record sale after playing in 37 Games and registering 8 Goals, 7 Assists, 4 PoMs, and 7.13 AR….He came up through the Fenix (URU) youth system before moving to Portugal with Famalicao in 2020….A player with no real weakness, he fills a void for Man United as they are lacking a strong, defensive-minded midfielder to place in the center of the pitch.

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CRISTIAN ROMERO (Argentina: 47 Caps/2 Goals) - £64M from Atalanta to Newcastle: Despite putting in over £650M since the club was bought in 2021, Newcastle have yet to make it to the Champions League….The hope is the acquisition of 27-year-old Argentine DC Romero will strengthen the back, who in turn becomes Atalanta’s most expensive sale of all-time….He has been efficient and consistent in Italy and has proven himself to be good DC with strong defensive and aerial abilities….In the latest review, he was labeled an elite defender who is amongst the most talented at his position in the world….He spent a year in the English Premier League with Tottenham during the 2021/22 season, playing well and registering 7.04 AR.

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GONCALO GUEDES (Portugal: 46 Caps/9 Goals) - £64M from Valencia to Chelsea: The 28-year-old Portuguese winger became Valencia’s most expensive transfer of all-time with his £64M switch to the for English Premier League champions….He had been at the Spanish club for seven years and won the 2018 La Liga Young Player of the Year award, which was his first year with the club….Labeled as an Elite Winger, Guedes’ best position is considered down the left wing, but he can play literally anywhere on the front-line and be comfortable, including the striker position….He had 252 League Appearances and 49 Goals for Valencia and never registered under 7.00 AR in any season with them….Chelsea will have expectations that he will take care of their problem on the left wing, which was considered their weakest position prior to their acquisition of Guedes.

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FLORIAN WIRTZ (Germany: 44 Caps/9 Goals) - £55M (£82M) from Bayer Leverkusen to Man United: Already so accomplished at just 22, Wirtz has made his big-money move to one of Europe’s elite clubs as predicted….He has been one of the most popular and well-known youngsters in the world, with good reason….The midfielder has a number of accolades to his name, most recently being the 2025 Bundesliga Player of the Year after a sensational season with his old club in which he registered 5 Goals, 8 Assists, 8 PoMs, and 7.62 AR in 33 Appearances….He was also named in the Bundesliga Team of the Year for the first time and won the 2025 Bayer Leverkusen Player of the Year….Previously, he had won the 2023 European Golden Boy award….Bought from childhood club FC Koln in 2020 for just £180K, he has become an international star at Leverkusen….He arrives to England with much fanfare about him, and some have said that Man United have gotten a steal at just £55M.

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KELECHI IHEANACHO (Nigeria: 84 Caps/40 Goals) - £62M from Leicester to Salzburg: One of the greatest Nigerian strikers of all-time, the 28-year-old Iheanacho came to Leicester in 2017….He made 192 League Appearances and scored 55 Goals during his time with Leicester, winning the FA Cup with the squad in 2021….He has lifted the African Nations Cup twice (2022, ’25) with Nigeria and was named in the 2025 ANC Dream Team….He became Nigeria’s all-time leading goalscorer when he scored his 39th goal against Burundi this year….He also becomes Salzburg’s most expensive signing of all-time.

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LUIS DIAZ (Colombia: 60 Caps/18 Goals) - £58M from Newcastle to AC Milan: Despite coming to Newcastle only a year ago from Porto, the 28-year-old Colombian has now moved on to Italy in a deal worth £2M more than the on that brought him to England….It is a surprising move as he did well for Newcastle (21 Apps, 6 Goals, 7.21 AR) before spending the second part of the season on loan with AC Milan….The Italian giants then proceeded to make the move permanent and the Colombia midfielder, who won the Europa League with AC Milan this past season, will look to bring his flamboyant brand of football to northern Italy on a permanent basis….He announced that he was pleased to have joined AC Milan, further fueling the rumors that he was unhappy in northeast England.

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PAULO DYBALA (Argentina: 72 Caps/12 Goals) - £56M from Paris Saint-Germain to AC Milan: Three years after joining the French Ligue 1 champions on Free Transfer from Juventus, Dybala is back in Italy, this time with rivals AC Milan….Despite being 31, Milan paid a handsome figure to secure the services of the forward, who was starting to find playing time hard to come by in the French capital….In 66 League Games, he scored 30 Goals – not a bad return for a player who cost them nothing….The Elite Striker still has a lot to offer and while the speed has not started failing, he is still top tier talent especially when it comes to his technical and passing abilities….He is not such a bad goalscorer, either….AC Milan also invested in Colombian Luis Diaz this summer, who plays a similar position to Dybala….It is only a two-year contract that will pay him £135k per week, so he does have something to prove if he wants to remain in the top leagues after that.

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VICTOR TSYGANKOV (Ukraine: 53 Caps/15 Goals) - £55M (£69M) from Dynamo Kiev to Manchester City: The English Premier League champions found the right number to get the 27-year-old former Ukrainian Premier League Player of the Year and it was certainly not cheap….He has actually won the award twice before (2019, ’22) and is a three-time Ukrainian Premier League champion with Dynamo Kiev (2021, ’22, ’23)….He was exceptional last season, as well, registering 6 Goals, 7 Assists, 7 PoMs, and a career-high 7.63 AR in 24 Appearances, earning a selection to the league’s Team of the Year….Most comfortable down the right wing, he has the ability to play down the center or the left, bringing an extra layer of versatility to his new club. 

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GABRIEL JESUS (Brazil: 81 Caps/40 Goals) - £53M (£91M) from Manchester City to Juventus: Any striker that plays on the same team as Erling Haaland is going to find playing time difficult, which has been the situation the 28-year-old has found himself in over the past few seasons with Man City….The 2024 Copa America Best Player and Top Goalscorer, Jesus is a five-time EPL champion and won the Champions League title with his now former club in 2024….In all, he made a total of 218 League Appearances and registered 78 Goals during his time in Manchester since moving there in 2017 for £28M from Palmeiras (BRA)….He moves to Italy at the prime of his career to a squad where he will face little competition for a starting spot as forward.

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MATHEUS NUNES (Portugal: 41 Caps/3 Goals) - £53M from Sporting to Newcastle: Replacing Diaz in the midfield will be another acquisition from Portugal, this time in the form of 26-year-old Sporting star Nunes….He broke Sporting’s record two years ago after registering 15 Assists in a season, and then broke it against last season when he recorded 16 Assists….Sporting won the 2024 Portuguese Premier League title and Nunes was named to the league’s 2024 Team of the Year after leading it with 14 Assists….He did well this past season, as well, registering 8 Goals, 3 Assists (career-low), 3 PoMs, and 7.24 AR in 34 Appearances….His assists dropped significantly because he played a more central role as opposed to the right wing….His designation is that of a World-Class Midfielder, and he will be relied upon to lead the center of the pitch for Newcastle this coming season.

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GOAL 50 2025

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WINNER

KYLIAN MBAPPE (France: 98 Caps/34 Goals) – Real Madrid, 26-years-old, SC/AMR (Previous: 2nd)

The my turn-your turn game Mbappe has going with Haaland regarding Goal 50 award went to the Frenchman this season….He has now won two of the last four, with the other two going to the Norwegian striker….In the midst of his fourth season with Real Madrid, last year was his finest in the Spanish capital yet, registering 24 Goals, 10 Assists (career-high), 11 PoMs (career-high), and 7.75 AR (career-high) in 35 Appearances….He won his first European Championship title last year at Germany 2024 and despite not winning the Spanish La Liga title, he was crowned the league’s Player of the Year and Top Goalscorer awards for the third consecutive year….He also won the 2025 Best Player in Europe and European Golden Shoe awards, having won both awards twice in his career now….The highest valued (£200M+) and highest paid player in the world at £475k per week, Mbappe has won at every level and continues to grab individual accolades at a historic level….When his career is done, if he continues playing and winning the same way, he will go down as one of the greatest of all-time.

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2ND PLACE

ERLING HAALAND (Norway: 56 Caps/44 Goals) – Manchester City, 25-years-old, SC (Previous: Winner)

While Mbappe might have taken the lead as to who is the bigger and better star between himself and Haaland, the Norwegian striker is never too far behind….He finally won the English Premier League title last season, three years after joining Man City for £132M from Dortmund….He has a Champions League title, as well, as he equaled Ronaldo’s 17 Goals during their championship campaign in 2023/24….While he has been quite as prolific as many thought he would be when he joined Man City, he did win the 2025 PL Top Goalscorer award last season for the first time….What no one can argue with is just how complete of a player he has become, and this year he is on track to record his finest season for his club yet….In 11 Appearances thus far, he has registered 5 Goals and 7.67 AR….The major thing that separates him from Mbappe has been their performances on the international stage – while it is true that Mbappe plays for France (who are much stronger than Norway), Haaland has yet to truly impress in any of the world’s top international tournaments.

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3RD PLACE

NICOLO BARELLA (Italy: 55 Caps/11 Goals) – Chelsea, 28-years-old, MC (Previous: 19th)

Placing in 3rd despite not yet playing this season due to broken leg injury, Barella’s £72M to the newly crowned Champions League champions last season was a huge success….In 35 Games, he registered 6 Goals, 14 Assists, and 7.32 AR as he won his first ever CL title and was named the competition’s 2025 Midfielder of the Season….He also won the FA Cup with his club and the European International League with his nation….Part of the squad that captured the Euro 2020 title in 2021, Barella took his game up a notch from his time at Inter Milan, where he was already considered a World-Class Midfielder….A strong, driven player, Barella now has a value of over £120M despite the unclarity surrounding his injury and what kind of effect it will have on his career, if any.

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OTHER NOTABLES

Joshua Kimmich, now 30, remains in the Top Ten as he remains Bayern Munich’s most influential players and one of the best on the planet still. He made his 4th straight Bundesliga Team of the Year and won his 10th straight Bundesliga title last season. He has also lifted the Champions League trophy three times in his career (2020, ’22, ’23). Kimmich had another terrific season last year, playing in 32 Games and registering 11 Assists, 3 PoMs, and 7.34 AR….After Fati left to Paris Saint-Germain, the clear leader of Barcelona has become 22-year-old midfielder Pedri, who went from 27th last year to 15th Place in the Goal 50 list. The ‘Elite Attacking Midfielder’ registered 16 Goals, 12 Assists, 9 PoMs, and 7.45 AR as he was named the 2025 Barcelona Player of the Year with the club finishing in 3rd Place in the La Liga. He has been even better this year – in 12 Games, he has registered 4 Assists, 6 PoMs, and 7.88 AR to lead the league….Jumping into the global limelight after leading Real Sociedad to an improbable La Liga title last season (the club’s first in 43 years), Mikel Oyarzabal (19th) has become considered one of the world’s elite wingers. The 28-year-old was named his club’s 2025 Player of the Year and was named to his second La Liga Team of the Year and has become a living legend for the club’s faithful.  

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MID-SEASON UPDATE 2025/26

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WORLD GOLDEN BALL/PLAYER OF THE YEAR

KYLIAN MBAPPE (France: 98 Caps/34 Goals) – Real Madrid, 26-years-old

Please see report under GOAL 50 AWARDS above.

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WORLD GOLDEN GLOVE/GK OF THE YEAR

EDERSON (Brazil: 48 Caps) – Manchester City, 32-years-old

It is two in a row for the Brazilian GK as he continues to be the best at his position in the world….He also captured the Brazilian Best Europe-Based Player award for the second time in a row and the fourth time in his career….A five-time English Premier League champion, he is also the current winner of the league’s Golden Glove award, having won it four times in his career thus far….He is the highest-ranked and highest valued GK in the world today, having registered a career-high 21 Clean Sheets and 7.47 AR last season….He is in his 9th season with Man City, having also won the Copa America and the Champions League in 2024.

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WORLD U21 FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR

ILIAS AKHOMACH (Spain: 28 U21 Caps/4 U21 Goals) – Monaco, 21-years-old

The young Spanish/Moroccan midfielder came up through the Barcelona youth system and even played for the club’s first team before being bought by Monaco in 2024 for £4M….He immediately turned heads, and his first year with Monaco was a resounding success….During the 2024/25 season, he played in 29 Games and registered 9 Goals, 7 Assists, 5 PoMs, and 7.34 AR….Voted the Ligue 1’s 2025 Most Promising Player, and he has been even better this season….In 16 Games so far, he has registered 8 Assists (already a career-high) and 7.57 AR, ranking as the third-best player in the French Ligue 1 this season.

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TRANSFERS

No notable transfers took place during the January 2026 window. 

Edited by abulezz
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NxGN 50 2026

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WINNER

JUAN JUAREZ, (Costa Rica: 28 Caps/8 Goals), SC – Santos Laguna, 19-years-old (Previous: 32nd)

Last year’s winner – Fabian Verela – made the exact same leap from 32nd to Winner as Juan Juarez, Costa Rica’s new great hope….Following in the footsteps of national legend Paolo Wanchope, Juarez has shown all the skills needed to be a great striker….Not only is he already a veteran of the Costa Rican national team despite not turning 20 yet, he was recently named the squad’s vice-captain, a testament to his maturity and positive attitude….He was named the 2025 North American Gold Cup Young MVP after Costa Rica advanced to the Quarter-Finals….Prior to being bought by Santos Laguna for £775k in 2024, he was named in the North American Champions League Dream Team and the competition’s 2024 Top Goalscorer with 8 Goals while still with his boyhood club of Alajuelense despite only advancing to the Second Round….Born in San Jose, he came through his neighborhood (Alajuela) club before making the move to Mexico.

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2ND PLACE

JOSE CARLOS GONZALEZ (Mexico: 7 Caps), DR – Cruz Azul, 19-years-old (Previous: 33rd)

Both the winner and the 2nd Place in this year’s NxGn list play in the Mexican Premier League….The DR has been the starter for the club the past two years and has been in good form this season….In 30 Appearances, he has registered 6 Assists, 2.46 TpG, 90% Passes Completed, and 7.03 AR….Already an international for his nation, he is wanted by Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, with his move to Europe seemingly inevitable and getting closer….His temperament has landed him in trouble and he will need to work on that, but his skill and natural talent is undeniable.

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3RD PLACE

ALMIR BUDIMIR (Bosnia: 12 Caps), DC – Valencia, 19-years-old (Previous: 26th)

Bought from FC Kobnhavn for £10.25M this past summer, the Valencia and Bosnia defender now has a value of over £100M as he becomes one Europe’s biggest emerging stars….He has played in 19 Games thus far for his new club, registering 6.73 AR….He is a three-time Danish 3F Superliga champion, and also won the Europa League II with his former club in 2024….The squad was also the U19 Champions League Finalists in 2024, losing to Borussia Dortmund….He is classified as a ‘Wonderkid’ and has the potential to be one of the world’s best defenders if he keeps on improving.

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OTHER NOTABLES

The first and only Sophara United player to make the list, Akim Lawrence jumped eight spots from 14th to 6th Place this year. The 18-year-old is the highest ranked English and England-based player on the list, as he has now become a full-time starter for his club in the Championship. In 38 Appearances this year, he has registered 2 PoMs, 96% Passes Completed, and 7.09 AR. His contract talks broke down as he wanted a Minimum Release Clause which his manager refused, and as of right now there has been no progress. There is a club option that will keep him at Sophara for an additional three years, however….The ‘Next Gabriel Batistuta’ is a big moniker to live up, but that is exactly what the Argentine media have been called 17-year-old Huracan (ARG) striker Andres Ravizolli. All of this is based on potential – the rookie has been a starter for his club but has only scored 3 Goals in 32 Appearances, registering 6.71 AR. He will be joining Toronto FC in the MLS in January 2027, and he is sure to be tracked by European clubs with heavy interest….Debuting on the list in 16th Place is 16-year-old German midfielder Patrick Weissmann. The rookie played his first game for his childhood club Stuttgart this season, and has so far made 6 Appearances, registering 3 Assists, 90% Passes Completed, and 6.93 AR. His passing skills are already being spoken about nationally and his value is already north of £50M, so it looks like both his club and country have a real gem on their hands.

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Four more games to go, a six point lead, and our next match is against the only team that can take away our automatic promotion the Premier League - AND we play at home. I can only imagine being a Sophara United fan in those stands in a (game-time) week's time!

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