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10 Young Talents to Watch in the 2023/24 2. Bundesliga
The historic fixtures are the biggest attraction in the 2. Bundesliga, but following closely behind is the opportunity to see some of the most promising young talents in Europe ply their trade.
The historic fixtures, electric atmospheres, and competitive fixture list are the biggest attractions of the 2023/24 Zweite Bundesliga season, but following closely behind is the opportunity to see some of the most promising young talents in Europe ply their trade in Germany’s second tier.
From a teenage Neven Subotic in 2008, to now Chelsea-target Amadou Onana over a decade later, the Zweite Bundesliga has been renowned for its ability to provide young talent with a competitive platform to make the initial step in senior football.
Today, we look at the next cast of rising stars. These are 10 U23 talents you need to watch in the upcoming campaign.
Not only have Hamburger SV been able to retain the core of their squad after another failed promotion attempt, but Die Rothosen have also completed arguably the most exciting transfer in the entire division to bolster their chances of returning to the Bundesliga.
22-year-old Immanuel Pherai was a stand-out performer for Eintracht Braunschweig last season, routinely displaying his elite ability in the final third. In 27 matches, the Dutch midfielder registered an impressive 9 goals and 5 assists to help keep Die Löwen outside of the relegation zone. One can only imagine what he can produce at HSV this season with better teammates around him, and a more progressive tactical framework to work within.
Simply measuring Pherai on his goal output does, however, do a disservice to his incredible creative qualities which were left unexploited last season. He has an elite ability to drag possession up-field with tight control and nimble movements, is a constant source of danger through his direct and indirect set-piece qualities, and is even an aggressive presser who can routinely force turnovers in the final third.
As a creative axis in the playmaking midfield role, or as an inverting wide playmaker, Pherai is set to be a constant source of excitement in the upcoming Zweite Liga campaign.
Forzan Assan Ouédraogo
For those who read last week’s newsletter, 17-year-old Forzan Assan Ouédraogo will already be a name on their radar as one to watch this season. The 2006-born midfielder is a sensational talent in a golden generation of German football. After winning the U17 European Championships in May, the Schalke academy graduate broke another barrier after dazzling in his competitive debut against HSV last Friday.
Across roughly 60 minutes of football, Ouédraogo showed his world-class attacking talent with a well-taken goal and various moments of clever ingenuity. Beyond making a bursting claim for more minutes, Ouédraogo’s golden debut makes him the youngest player and youngest goalscorer in Schalke’s professional history.
His status as a local academy graduate will immediately have the fiercely loyal Schalke fanbase on his side, but what should make Ouédraogo particularly exciting for fans of the 2. Bundesliga is the versatile skillset that he delivers on the pitch. His two-footed control, dynamic change of pace, intelligent movement, and impressive 1,92m physical frame make him a viable candidate in almost every position in midfield and attack. While Ouédraogo must still mature and develop into senior footballer, it is not outlandish to draw comparisons to Jamal Musiala given the similar physical make-up and technical elegance.
With the smallest roster in the 2. Liga (22 players) and many notable departures, Fortuna Düsseldorf are bracing for a difficult campaign under the weight of a fanbase expecting a considerable shot at promotion.
However, for those still in the squad, the club’s passivity on the transfer market provides a considerable opportunity. One of those who could profit is 21-year-old centerback, Jamil Siebert.
The 2002-born academy graduate was loaned out to 3rd. tier Viktoria Köln for the last 18 months, and now returns to a Düssledorf squad in need of a prominent right-footed centerback following Christoph Klarer’s departure to SV Darmstadt. Though few expect Siebert to immediately play a starring role, for a 21-year-old, he already commands extensive experience to make him a considerable option in manager Daniel Thioune’s plans.
Over 40 matches in the 3. Liga, and 90 minutes against FC Bayern in the DFB Pokal, have helped craft a physically robust talent into a fully-formed centerback who is now also mentally and tactically ready for high-level senior football. His speed, dynamism, and ball-carrying ability will be excellent traits in Düsseldorf’s high-possession tactical outlook, and alongside the experienced club-captain Andre Hoffmann, “Die Fortuna” could potentially have one of the most formidable centerback pairings in the division.
It is not often that a goalkeeper relegated with one of the worst defenses in the second division stands out at the end of the season, but that is precisely the case with Jonas Urbig. Following a loan spell with Jahn Regensburg, FC Köln’s goalkeeping talent returns to the Zweite Bundesliga for another year with Greuther Fürth.
His boyish frame and mere 1,89m height are what initially stand out when watching the U20 German international, but on closer inspection, there is a fascinating talent with extraordinary, cat-like, reflexes. A natural explosiveness and flexibility allow him to effectively spread across the goal to make sprawling saves and smother the shooting angles for an on-rushing attacker. This innate ability is highlighted in his incredible 68.83% reflex save percentage from close-distance shots (wyscout). No other goalkeeper in the 2022/23 2. Bundesliga had a better average.
In what looks to be a more stable defensive unit at Greuther Fürth, Jonas Urbig should continue his ascent as one of the biggest goalkeeping talents in German football.
It’s almost impossible to separate the name Dárdai from Hertha BSC. 47-year-old Pál Dárdai is now in his 3rd stint managing the capital club, while his sons - Palko, Márton, and Bence - are all part of the first-team squad this season.
Aged 24, 21, and 17, all three Dárdai brothers count amongst the biggest talents in Hertha’s second-tier rebuild. However, it is the middle child, Márton, who has arguably the biggest reputation in Berlin.
At only 18 years of age Martón made his Bundesliga debut, and over the subsequent 3 seasons, he has slowly established himself as one of the most important players for “Die Alte Dame”. 40+ Bundesliga appearances, and a further 6 for the German U21 National team, speak volumes of a player with great talent and maturity.
At home at either centerback or defensive midfield, Martón convinces with his passing range, robust physical frame, and tackling ability. He’s not the player to get up and down the pitch and create danger in the final third, but his solid tactical discipline could be imperative for a Hertha squad that will continue to experience massive turnover in the final month of the transfer window.
18-year-old Nicolò Tresoldi was one of the stand-out performers from the opening matchday in the 2. Bundesliga. On Saturday afternoon, the still teenage striker came off the bench to score a goal and win a penalty as Hannover rescued a point from a 0:2 deficit. That an 18-year-old ultimately saved Hannover’s blushes will surprise some, but those who have been following the German youth international’s progress for some time shouldn’t be too surprised.
The son of former Atalanta Bergamo defender Emanuele Tresoldi, Nicolò has football in his blood. However, unlike his father, it is the appetite for goal, rather than old-school catenaccio defending, which has seen him quickly develop into one of the most exciting talents in the second division. Despite still being able to play U19 football last season, Tresoldi featured in 13 league matches for Hannover’s senior side, and he even scored 3 times for the U23 outfit in the Regionnaliga Nord (Germany’s Regional 4th-tier). While his composure in front of the goal could still improve, the timing of his vertical runs, and his technical quality in tight spaces, make him a frightening prospect at the Bundesliga 2 level.
With a contract at Hannover until 2026, and a growing presence in Stefan Leitl’s first team roster, it is unlikely Tresoldi will be leaving Lower Saxony any time soon. However, at the international level, Tresoldi’s future is far more open. Raised in Germany by an Argentinian mother and Italian father, Tresoldi has a fine selection of national sides privy to his talents. It is up to Nicolò to decide where his future lies!
It’s pretty difficult to miss Jamie Lawrence on the football pitch. Standing at a colossal 2,01m, the Magdeburg defender offers an imposing figure as the joint tallest player in the 2023/24 2nd Bundesliga. Yet, anyone who thinks that the 20-year-old is simply a defensive battering ram and an aerial giant would be mistaken. There is a good reason FC Bayern extended Lawrence’s contract until 2026, before sending the youngster on a 2-year loan to East Germany last summer. His technical, on-ball, ability and his fearlessness when defending high up the pitch have made him an invaluable asset for Christian Titz’s aggressive and innovative tactical setup.
Following a difficult bedding-in period that included two red cards within the first 10 matchdays, the Munich-born defender found his groove after the World Cup break. 8 impressive starts in the final 9 fixtures of the season saw Lawrence play a consequential role as Magdeburg went on a sparkling run of form to end the season well outside of any relegation trouble.
Having adjusted to the unique demands required of a defender in Titz’s system, Lawrence looks capable of kicking on this season by maintaining the standard of consistency he showed in the final stretch last year. Whether his future is at FC Bayern or in the MDCC-Arena in Magdeburg, there is no doubt that Lawrence will remain an incredibly exciting young defender to watch develop in the coming years.
Holstein Kiel have arguably had the most exciting transfer window amongst the 18 clubs in the 23/24 2. Bundesliga. €1.00m was spent on acquiring the Japanese international Shuto Machino, the 3. Liga’s creative highlight - Bo-Muaka Simakala - arrived for free, and Borussia Dortmund’s talented left-back Tom Rothe also joins the North German outfit on a 1-year loan.
Particularly the 18-year-old BVB academy star looks an enticing acquisition to bolster Kiel’s attacking game. At just 17 years and 169 days, Rothe became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score on his debut, yet, it is the fullback’s creative qualities, rather than goalscoring prowess, which make him such an exciting prospect.
The left-back has an excellent passing game, and a superb ability to deliver whipped crosses from deep positions that land perfectly for an on-rushing attacker. His defensive game and general physicality could still improve, but under a progressive manager like 44-year-old Marcel Rapp, he should get ample opportunities to adapt to the rigors of senior football with significant gameday experience.
A U23 talent watch would not be complete without mentioning one of the league’s biggest stars - Ludovit Reis. A La Masia graduate, 14-time Dutch U21 international, and, according to Transfermarkt, the most valuable player under the age of 23 in the division (€6.00m est. market value); it is no secret that HSV’s promotion hopes rest on the form and fitness of their 23-year old Dutch midfielder.
With silky footwork, a metronomic presence in midfield, and the swagger and maturity of a player raised in the school of Dutch football, Ludovit Reis has been an excellent addition to HSV’s courageous short-passing game. The fluid positional rotations, ingrained value for possession, and belief in young players have made Hamburg the perfect environment for Reis to develop as a young talent and show his unique on-ball qualities.
Though potential suitors may be deterred by Reis’ diminutive height and poor showing in the promotion playoff, this is clearly a player prepared for top-flight football. Whether he will enter that stage with HSV next season is the bigger question that still remains open for debate!
With 1. FC Nuremberg reporting a negative equity of €5.9 million, it will come as no surprise that the cost-cutting measures from the Franconian club have included a drastic decrease in squad investment.
It is hard to imagine the 9-time German champions returning to the topflight anytime soon, but the cost-cutting measures do provide an opportunity for young talent to rise into the first team. One of those who has already taken the step is the highly talented academy graduate Nathaniel Brown.
The 20-year-old German-American has started the last 7 league matches for “Der Club”, firmly establishing himself as one of the many dynamic young talents tasked with keeping 1. FC Nuremberg outside of the relegation zone this season. Though his slight frame and unassuming features don’t immediately catch the eye, Brown’s intelligence and maturity on the football pitch have made him a huge hit since getting his first opportunity last March.
He can be adequately deployed as either an inverting left-back or central midfielder, even switching between the two roles throughout a match in the style of an Oleksandr Zinchenko or João Cancelo. While he must still develop his defensive positioning and creativity in attacking 1v1s, the emergence of Brown’s versatile skill set, and his excellent ability to navigate tight spaces, was one of the few bright spots to have arisen from the otherwise dreary bygone Nuremberg season.
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