1. Introduction

This report identifies 200 players – the top 10 in 20 different classification categories – who were born after the 1st January 2002 and have accumulated the highest experience capital in official matches played in adult competitions in 2022. The experience capital is a metric particularly useful to identify promising football players since it combines playing time, the competitive level of matches played and results. The classification categories (Figure 2) were determined based on the players’ primary position and their activity level in eight different game areas (Figure 1).

For every player listed in one of the top 10, the report presents the level of the experience capital accumulated, their age, the contract duration with their parent club, the team they were playing for in December 2022, the number of official minutes played between the 13th December 2021 and the same date in 2022, as well as the estimated transfer value. The latter was calculated based on a statistical model exclusively developed by researchers at the CIES Football Observatory, which henceforth acts as a reference.

Figure 1: game areas and associated variables

Figure 2: classification categories of players

The report focuses on players born in 2002 or later who were included in December 2022 in a squad amongst 73 leagues around the world. The technical performance data was collected by our partners InStat, with whom we have also developed an online platform which is now accessible with a subscription. Although information on contract durations has been collected as meticulously as possible, inaccuracies can influence either positively or negatively the associated transfer values.

Figure 3: study sample (13/12/2022)

2. Goalkeepers

Although foreseen, no technical classification has been developed for goalkeepers yet. For this reason, a single table is presented for this position. Maarten Vandevoordt tops the list with 3,570 minutes of playing time in 2022, an experience capital of 27.2 and an estimated transfer value of €18.1 million. Although the Belgian still plays for his boyhood club KRC Genk, Vandevoordt already signed a contract from 2024 for a club with an impressive track record in scouting, RB Leipzig.

Interestingly, the 10 goalkeepers presented in the table were all playing in a different league in December 2022. This is not the case anymore as Gabriel Slonina has left Chicago Fire in the MLS and will be joining Chelsea FC in the English Premier League. The Blues showed a strong interest in Slonina and ended spending more than the estimated transfer fee for him. The gap can be notably explained by the status of the London club. Indeed, all things being equal, the financial power of the buyer inflates the prices.

Figure 4: top 10 most promising goalkeepers (13/12/2022)

3. Centre backs

Centre backs are separated into two categories based on their involvement in the build-up play: defensive centre backs (activity in distribution below 1.2 compared to teammates) and ball-playing centre backs (> to 1.2).

3.1 Defensive centre backs

Castello Lukeba from Olympique Lyonnais is top of the defensive centre back category with an experience capital in 2022 well above that of any other player in the list. The estimated transfer value of the French U21 international is already close to €40 million. Conversely, the Bolivian Eduardo Álvarez, who was on loan in 2022 at Royal Pari from Bolívar, is potentially the cheapest signing in the top 10 (€0.9m), ahead of the Mexican from Club Tijuana Victor Guzmán (€1.6m).

Figure 5a: average performance of defensive centre backs

Figure 5b: top 10 most promising defensive centre backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 5c: technical profile of Castello Lukeba

Figure 5d: technical profile of Jesús Orozco

3.2 Ball-playing centre backs

Two defenders who have shone at the World Cup lead in the ball-playing centre backs category: the Croatian Joško Gvardiol from RB Leipzig and the Ecuadorian Piero Hincapié from Bayer Leverkusen. Joško Gvardiol’s transfer value, estimated at €122.4 million, would make him the most expensive defender in history. Nevertheless, according to the media, his release clause is significantly lower. By contrast, the Czech Martin Vitík, whose contract with Sparta Praha runs out in June 2024, is financially-speaking the most affordable player in the top 10: €4.9m.

Figure 6a: average performance of ball-playing centre backs

Figure 6b: top 10 most promising ball-playing centre backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 6c: technical profile of Joško Gvardiol

Figure 6d: technical profile of Piero Hincapié

4. Full backs

Full backs were divided into six categories based on their side preference (left or right) and their level of involvement in the eight different game areas identified (three defensive, four attacking and distribution).

4.1.1 Defensive left backs

Compared to his teammates, a defensive full back will be most active in defensive areas only or in a defensive area and distribution jointly. John Tolkin (New York RB) and Alejandro Balde (Barcelona) are top of the defensive left backs ranking. The Paraguayan Gastón Benítez, who can also play as a centre back, is the player in this list with the lowest expected transfer value (€1.0m), ahead of the Bolivian Jairo Velasco (€1.3m) and the Tanzanian Novatus Dismas (€1.5m).

Figure 7a: average performance of defensive left backs

Figure 7b: top 10 most promising defensive left backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 7c: technical profile of John Tolkin

Figure 7d: technical profile of Alejandro Balde

4.1.2 Defensive right backs

Killian Sildillia from SC Freiburg is the defensive right back who has accumulated the most experience in 2022. Although his club does not communicate the contract duration of its players, if the information that Sildillia’s contract runs out in June 2024 is correct, the Frenchman could be signed for just over €5 million. Ranked in fourth position, Rufino Lucero from Aldosivi in Argentina has a contract that expires at the end of 2023, which makes him an even more accessible target (€1.4m), similarly to the Japanese Riku Handa (€0.7m).

Figure 8a: average performance of defensive right backs

Figure 8b: top 10 most promising defensive right backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 8c: technical profile of Kiliann Sildillia

Figure 8d: technical profile of Devyne Rensch

4.2.1 Two-way left backs

The Portuguese international from PSG Nuno Mendes tops the list of two-way left backs, i.e. primarily active in a defensive area and in an attacking one. Udinese’s Destiny Udogie is ranked second. Last summer, Tottenham Hotspur already signed him for a transfer fee similar to to his current transfer value (€26.6 m). The Colombian Jimer Fory (€1.5 m), who belongs to Atlético Nacional, is potentially the cheapest asset of the top 10.

Figure 9a: average performance of two-way left backs

Figure 9b: top 10 most promising two-way left backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 9c: technical profile of Nuno Mendes

Figure 9d: technical profile of Destiny Udogie

4.2.2 Two-way right backs

The most promising two-way right back is Amar Dedić, who plays for RB Salzburg, a club used providing some of the best talents to the big-5 European leagues. If the player’s contract, which expires in June 2024, is not extended, €6.6 million could be enough to convince the Austrian club to release Dedić. The cheapest potential asset for this players’ category is Daniel Medina from Bolivia, who ranks fifth with an accumulated experience capital in 2022 of 16.9 and an estimated transfer value of €0.9 m.

Figure 10a: average performance of two-way right backs

Figure 10b: top 10 most promising two-way right backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 10c: technical profile of Amar Dedić

Figure 10d: technical profile of Joe Scally

4.3.1 Attacking left backs

Compared to their teammates, attacking left backs are particularly active in two offensive areas or in an attacking area and distribution jointly. Quentin Merlin from FC Nantes stands out in this category. The estimated transfer value of the U21 French international is close to €20m. Other players in this top 10 are more affordable targets, such as the Georgian Irakli Azarovi (€1.6m) from Crvena Zvezda, the Frenchman Matthéo Xantippe (€1.9m) from Amiens and the Turkish Kazimcan Karataş (€2.0m) from Galatasaray.

Figure 11a: average performance of attacking left backs

Figure 11b: top 10 most promising attacking left backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 11c: technical profile of Quentin Merlin

Figure 11d: technical profile of Bjorn Meijer

4.3.2 Attacking right backs

Another French Ligue 1 player takes first place for the most promising attacking right backs: Malo Gusto. With a contract ending in June 2024 and despite being worth more than €15m on the transfer market, the Olympique Lyonnais player is good value for the clubs who can afford it. For teams with a more restricted budget, the player in the top 10 list with the lowest transfer value is the Korean from Daegu Jae-Won Hwang (€1.8m), followed by the Chilean from Huachipato Joaquín Gutíerrez (€2.3m).

Figure 12a: average performance of attacking right backs

Figure 12b: top 10 most promising attacking right backs (13/12/2022)

Figure 12c: technical profile of Malo Gusto

Figure 12d: technical profile of Arnau Martínez

5. Midfielders

Midfielders are separated into five classification categories according to players’ involvement in the three defensive or four attacking game areas identified, as well as in distribution.

5.1 Defensive midfielders

Firstly, amongst the defensive midfielders, namely those who are primarily active in two defensive domains, two players have accumulated in 2022 an experience capital that exceeds 30: the Brazilian Pablo Maia (São Paulo) and the French Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid). Lesser known and with a contract running out at the end of 2024, the former has a more affordable transfer value (€10.3m), which makes him an excellent opportunity. The Japanese from Kortrijk Satoshi Tanaka is potentially the cheapest player in this category’s top 10: €3.0m.

Figure 13a: average performance of defensive midfielders

Figure 13b: top 10 most promising defensive midfielders (13/12/2022)

Figure 13c: technical profile of Pablo Maia

Figure 13d: technical profile of Eduardo Camavinga

5.2 Defensive playmakers

The Spanish international Pedri González from Barcelona is top amongst defensive playmakers, i.e. midfielders who are mainly active in a defensive area and in distribution. Also in the top three, and with relatively short contracts, the Argentinians Ezequiel Fernández (€3.5m, owned by Boca Juniors) and Juan Sforza (€3.9m, from Newell’s Old Boys) represent great opportunities for potential buyers. The Cypriot Charalampos Charalampous (€2.7m) has the lowest transfer value among players in the top 10.

Figure 14a: average performance of defensive playmakers

Figure 14b: top 10 most promising defensive playmakers (13/12/2022)

Figure 14c: technical profile of Pedri González

Figure 14d: technical profile of Ezequiel Fernández

5.3 Two-way midfielders

Born in Italy, the Polish international Nicola Zalewski has amassed the highest experience capital in 2022 amongst two-way midfielders, specifically those mainly active in both a defensive and an attacking domain. The transfer value of the AS Roma player is already close to €20m, which is well above that of the player ranked second, the Argentinian from CA Unión Juan Ignacio Nardoni (€5.2m). The Japanese Kuryu Matsuki from FC Tokyo is potentially the cheapest player in this category’s top 10 with an estimated transfer value of €3.0m.

Figure 15a: average performance of two-way midfielders

Figure 15b: top 10 most promising two-way midfielders (13/12/2022)

Figure 15c: technical profile of Nicola Zalewski

Figure 15d: technical profile of Juan Ignacio Nardoni

5.4 Attacking playmakers

The attacking playmakers category includes footballers whose main activity sectors compared to teammates are distribution and an attacking area, in most cases take on or chance creation, but also shooting. Not only has the Dutch player Kenneth Taylor accumulated the most experience in 2022 amongst the players in this category, but he also has the highest transfer value: €32.6m. By contrast, the Belarusian Andrey Rylach and the Bolivian Yesit Martínez have the lowest estimated value: € 0.8m for both.

Figure 16a: average performance of attacking playmakers

Figure 16b: top 10 most promising attacking playmakers (13/12/2022)

Figure 16c: technical profile of Kenneth Taylor

Figure 16d: technical profile of David Pech

5.5 Attacking midfielders

Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) tops the ranking for attacking midfielders, i.e. midfielders mainly active in two attacking areas. The Englishman is ahead of two other players who were involved in the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Pablo Gavi (Barcelona and Spain) and Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich and Germany). The transfer value of each player in this trio exceeds €150 million. Conversely, financially speaking, the Argentinian Facundo Farías (€11.7 m) is the most affordable option in the top 10.

Figure 17a: average performance of attacking midfielders

Figure 17b: top 10 most promising attacking midfielders (13/12/2022)

Figure 17c: technical profile of Jude Bellingham

Figure 17d: technical profile of Pablo Gavi

6. Wingers

The wingers have been divided into four categories based on their preferred side (left or right) and their shooting appetency (whether shooting is amongst their two main activity sectors or not).

6.1.1 Shot-oriented left wingers

In first place for shot-oriented left wingers is Facundo Kruspzky. Out of contract with Arsenal de Sarandí, the Argentinian represents a great opportunity for potential buyers. Two other players in the top five have relatively short contracts left with their parent club and could therefore be appealing deals: Gino Infantino from Rosario Central (€3.0 m) and Miloš Pantović from FK Voždovac (€2.4m). The Peruvian Jostin Alarcón from Sport Boys is the most affordable player in the top 10 (€1.1m).

Figure 18a: average performance of shot-oriented left wingers

Figure 18b: top 10 most promising shot-oriented left wingers (13/12/2022)

Figure 18c: technical profile of Facundo Kruspzky

Figure 18d: technical profile of Matheus Martins

6.1.2 Shot-oriented right wingers

With almost 3,500 official minutes played, the Colombian right winger Andrés Gómez has accumulated the most experience in 2022 amongst shot-oriented players in his position. Just over €8 million, add-ons included, could be enough to acquire the full transfer rights from Millonarios FC. Several other players in the top 10 of this category represent affordable options, such as the Korean Hyun-Jun Yang (€3.7m), the Chilean Gonzalo Tapia (€2.4m) and the Russian Irakli Manelov (€1.6m).

Figure 19a: average performance of shot-oriented right wingers

Figure 19b: top 10 most promising shot-oriented right wingers (13/12/2022)

Figure 19c: technical profile of Andrés Gómez

Figure 19d: technical profile of Yerémi Pino

6.2.1 Allrounder left wingers

The Czech Adam Hložek, who can also play as a centre forward, leads the allrounder left wingers category, which includes players who do not have shooting among their two main activity domains. Anthony Elanga (Manchester United), Octavian Popescu (FCSB) and Talles Magno (New York City) have also all accumulated in 2022 an experience capital above the threshold of 20. Playing at a higher competitive level, the former has a transfer value significantly greater than the two others: €37.2m compared to €9.0 m and €12.0 m respectively.

Figure 20a: average performance of allrounder left wingers

Figure 20b: top 10 most promising allrounder left wingers (13/12/2022)

Figure 20c: technical profile of Adam Hložek

Figure 20d: technical profile of Anthony Elanga

6.2.2 Allrounder right wingers

Two players from the big-5 head the allrounder right wingers’ category, namely the U21 German international Ansgar Knauff (Eintracht Francfort) and the Spanish senior international Nico Williams (Athletic Club). Dango Ouattara from Lorient, who also played regularly on the left wing, is another interesting big-5 league prospect in this list. The Argentinian Santiago Simón from River Plate is the best-ranked player outside of the five major European championships, whereas Loizos Loizou from Omonia Nicosia (€3.6 m) is potentially the cheapest.

Figure 21a: average performance of allrounder left wingers

Figure 21b: top 10 most promising allrounder left wingers (13/12/2022)

Figure 21c: technical profile of Ansgar Knauff

Figure 21d: technical profile of Nico Williams

7. Centre forwards

Centre forwards have been separated into two categories depending on their shooting appetency. Predominant, the shot-oriented forwards have shooting amongst their two main activity areas, which is not the case for the allrounders.

7.1 Shot-oriented centre forwards

Born in 2003, the Brazilian from Santos Marcos Leonardo has gained the most experience in 2022, which ranks him ahead of the Hoffenheim French centre forward Georginio Rutter. With a transfer value of €5.9 million, the Argentinian from Rosario Central Alejo Véliz is the most affordable option in the top 10 list, ahead of Athletico Paranaense’s Vitor Roque (€13.7m), VfB Stuttgart’s Tiago Tomás (on loan from Sporting CP with a buying option close to his current estimated transfer value) and HSC Montpellier’s Elye Wahi (€14.5m).

Figure 22a: average performance of shot-oriented centre forwards

Figure 22b: top 10 most promising shot-oriented centre forwards (13/12/2022)

Figure 22c: technical profile of Marcos Leonardo

Figure 22d: technical profile of Georginio Rutter

7.2 Allrounder centre forwards

Rômulo Cardoso from Athletico Paranaense leads the ranking of the allrounder centre forwards born in 2002 or later having accumulated the most experience in 2022. Like many players in this category, Rômulo has demonstrated great versatility and can play in different attacking positions, which makes his profile particularly interesting. The Danish player William Böving from Sturm Graz is second, just ahead of the Chinese from Guangzhou Jie Ling. Christian Saydee is the player in the top 10 that could be potentially be recruited at the lowest price (€1.1 m).

Figure 23a: average performance of allrounder centre forwards

Figure 23b: top 10 most promising allrounder centre forwards (13/12/2022)

Figure 23c: technical profile of Rômulo Cardoso

Figure 23d: technical profile of William Böving

8. Conclusion

Player scouting is a complex domain without any guarantee of success. There are numerous examples of talented players who have not been able to adapt to a new work environment. The main merit of the approach presented in this report is to gather in a coherent framework different and complementary information: playing time, competitive level, positions, technical domains of activity, age, contract duration, transfer value.

The use of a metric like the experience capital enables to highlight players who are particularly solid and reliable despite their young age. Indeed, any game played provides footballers the building blocks to fulfill their potential. Game experience at adult level is like a foundation giving players the necessary confidence to perform at the best of their abilities and reaching, more or less quickly depending on the case, the best clubs. The career path of most of the greatest athletes is a living testimony of this process.

The twenty classification categories that combine position and game areas of activity enable the targeting of potential future acquisitions with a high degree of accuracy. By considering the players’ role in their current team, these categories allow interested clubs not only the scouting of players with similar attributes to squad members, but also the identification of footballers with different and complementary characteristics to those available.

Information regarding contract duration and estimated transfer values are also essential in order to better target players of interest from both a sporting and economic perspective. In the current context, whereby financial inequalities between clubs are on the rise, the capacity to generate revenues in the transfer market is becoming crucial for a growing number of clubs around the world. From this standpoint, engaging in negotiations with a solid knowledge on fair prices is definitively a plus.