Well, it’s finally here – Breaking The Lines’ Top 50 Ones To Watch for the 2017/18 season. The last installment of three lists, which, after eight weeks of ceaseless self-contemplation, raucous debates, and sleepless nights spent debating who should be where, has finally come to fruition.
Of the three lists, the top 50 footballers is the most mainstream, with most of the players being household names. The breakout star list is for the more-than-casual football fan, who often checks out the hottest talents emerging themselves onto the headlines and the European scene. The ones to watch list is where the inner football hipster that lives inside all of us comes to the fore, basking in the pig sty that is the modern scouting environment.
We watch too much football for our own good but personally, I’ve never been a betting man. My father always told me, “The thing about gambling is – the house always wins.”
And yet, this list is, above anything else, a list of bets. Based on numerous factors–from coaches, recent form, injury records, to weather – we’ve effectively bet on the 50 players who we think will be in next July’s top 50 breakout stars of the 2017/18 season.
Now, we know what you’re thinking. The Ones to Watch list is 21 and younger, the Breakout Stars list is 23 and younger (for now), surely there will be some 22-year-olds and 23-year-olds who will impress this season and merit a spot on next year’s breakout list? And to those of you, we say, you’re asking all the wrong questions, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, yada yada yada. Maybe one day, when we’re not living in such an ageist society, we’ll revise the laws, but for now, you can only make this list if you weren’t in the past two lists AND if you are 21 or under, a kind of Benjamin Button law for the legal drinking age.
There are some things I regret. For example, a few (in my eyes) ill-advised deadline day moves saw certain players go from having surefire breakout seasons to potential obstacle courses, having to wait in line behind several more experienced players in order to get playing time. I can only hope that more teams follow the Premier League in moving deadline day back; there is absolutely no reason that the transfer window should extend a minute past the start of the season, let alone three to four weeks.
In a way, we cheated a little. There were several players who, while having the quality to merit an inclusion, would’ve been nowhere near where they are now had we not seen their talent on display for the first month and a half of the season. And there are other cases that can only be understood in this particular context. These players were born on, at the earliest, September 24, 1995. On September 24, 1995, Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” was #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles, Hristo Stoichkov was the reigning Ballon D’Or winner, and the world would have to wait 10 years and 10 months before the launch of twitter.com.
Fast forward 21 years. We’re trying to capture the 50 best U21 talents to keep an eye on this season, a generation born on the borderline of Millennials and Generation Z. As such, they act like, well, we do. One of the players on this list, yesterday, found himself locked in the doghouse after ‘liking’ an Instagram pic of an international teammate, just hours after losing to them. It’s a commonality amongst today’s athletes to be active on social media, just ask Kevin Durant, but seriously, can you believe that? Imagine if Demosthenes had live-tweeted “Third Philippic,” and after a few minutes, Philip II of Macedon retweets it. Can you imagine the leader of the free world tweeting his enemies, posting hateful rhetoric, and lying to the popula–you know what, let’s get back to the list.
This list is, above all, the most subjective; it’s very definition is subjective. How do you define a “one to watch”–a player who is set to have the best season of his career? There are many players on this who have already broke through into their respective first teams, and there are many players on here who have been one of the best players in their respective leagues. What is a “one to watch,” aside from being a player younger than 22 at time of publication?
My view is this. There are certain levels to the phrase “football hipster.” Tier 1 is when you choose Dortmund instead of Real Madrid on FIFA. Tier 2 is when you spend an unhealthy amount of time on Football Manager, WhoScored, Transfermarkt, and all of the other websites and apps that social media has blessed us with this. Tier 3? When you find yourself scrolling the internet at 2 AM for streams of the Colombian second division game between Barranquilla Fútbol Club and Unión Magdalena, because football is your medication.
I don’t endorse football hipster-ism or claim any superiority, I just live it.
Our prerogative is to take some Tier 2 players and maybe some Tier 3 players and put them in the list, in the hopes that they will wind up on Tier 1 one day. Or, in other words, “Hey, Kylian Mbappé! Didn’t we read about him from that list last September?”
Last December, we put Wilfred Ndidi on the ones to watch list, despite him not playing a minute in a top 5 league. Last month, Ndidi was higher in the breakout stars list than he was in the ones to watch list, and today, he is recognized as one of the best young midfielders in England. That’s what we’re aiming for with this.
I’m not going to lie, we kind of went all out on this one. We assembled a team that spanned six different languages, some old friends, some new, and the biggest football commentator in Switzerland (based on the little knowledge I have of Swiss Nielsen ratings). We always aim to write the best article of the bunch, but this time, well, let’s just say that would be like Dennis Geiger challenging Allan Saint-Maximin to a 40 meter dash.
We owe everything to our writers and artists who consistently rocked my world, as well as my own flawless scouting and judgment when it comes to selecting writers and artists. Call them “Buzz Lightyear,” because they went to infinity and beyond in defying my expectations. A special thanks goes to our good friend Rahul Warrier (@rahulw_). After I became both physically and mentally incapable of editing any more articles, he edited countless articles for me–like an Army Private carrying his wounded colonel to safety amid a barrage of enemy gunfire. (P.S., if there are any spelling or grammatical errors on here, they were edited by Rahul).
Many of our writers wrote articles on short notice after others cancelled, and they never once gave us substandard work. We owe a huge thanks to our translators as well. We created Breaking The Lines with the vision of uniting people from all across the world, from different languages and cultures, and they’ve made this dream come true.
Whether you’ve been here since the start, or are just joining us today, thank you. we bust our asses every day to deliver quality content for you–and you make it all worth it. Sit back and enjoy, you’ve earned it.