A look at up-and-coming players and coaches who had breakout seasons in 2020/21 and look set for a bright future.
The quality of football on show over the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander season was of the highest level, with the title race, relegation battle and tussle for European positions going right down to the final seconds of the campaign. Lots of young players stood out this term, showing that they have what it takes to be the future stars of the league. Here’s a look at the pick of the bunch, plus some young coaches who look to be going on to great things.
Bryan Gil (SD Eibar/Sevilla FC)
One of the sensations of this LaLiga Santander season was 20-year-old Bryan Gil. The winger spent the campaign on loan at Eibar from Sevilla and was the Basque side’s most creative player. Gil finished the year with four goals and three assists, but his impact was even greater than that as he took responsibility in every match – earning a first Spain call-up in the process. Under the coaching of José Luis Mendilibar, Gil learned a lot this term and will put that to use over the coming seasons after he returns to Sevilla.
Pedri (FC Barcelona)
Pedri arrived in Barcelona last summer from LaLiga SmartBank side UD Las Palmas and hit the ground running. Touted as a prodigious talent but still perhaps a little young to be a breakout star on arrival, nobody in the Catalan club’s squad played in more LaLiga Santander matches than the 18-year-old Canary Islander, which shows just how much Ronald Koeman trusted him. Lionel Messi placed a lot of confidence in Pedri too, with the Argentine giving the teenager his seal of approval by consistently feeding him the ball. There’s no doubt that Pedri can lead Barça’s midfield for years to come.
Pau Torres (Villarreal CF)
This was just Pau Torres’ second full season in LaLiga Santander and he was excellent in Villarreal’s central defence. Still only 24, Torres was so good that he has become a regular Spain international and could well start for La Roja at Euro 2020. Before that, though, the centre-back has the Europa League final with his hometown club, a special occasion to cap off a special season.
Emerson (Real Betis)
Real Betis are back in European football, having qualified for the Europa League, and right-back Emerson is a major reason behind this success. The pacey and tricky Brazilian made Real Betis’ right flank his own, contributing in attack with four assists and a goal and performing his defensive duties diligently. The 22-year-old’s rights are shared between Real Betis and Barcelona and he is set to be a star of LaLiga Santander for years to come, whether wearing green and white or blue and red.
Jules Koundé (Sevilla FC)
Jules Koundé was one of the best defenders in LaLiga Santander in 2020/21, performing excellently in Sevilla’s back line. The French centre-back is still only 22, but excelled in his second season in Spain as Sevilla finished fourth and even threatened to shake up the title race. Monchi, the Andalusian club’s renowned sporting director, has once again unearthed a world-class talent.
Unai Simón (Athletic Club)
Athletic Club goalkeeper Unai Simón is considered by many as the favourite to wear the gloves for Spain at this summer’s European Championship. Even though he’s only 23, the Basque already has 78 LaLiga Santander matches under his belt, including the 37 he played in this year as he helped his team secure the sixth-best defensive record in the league.
Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)
Alexander Isak almost doubled his LaLiga Santander goals tally this year, improving on the nine goals he netted last season by scoring 17 this time around. That made the 21-year-old Swede the sixth-top scorer in the country. With each passing season, Isak is adding experience and centre-forward know-how to his innate technical ability, demonstrating that he has what it takes to move even higher up the scoring charts in years to come.
Jorge de Frutos (Levante UD)
Jorge de Frutos didn’t start playing football until he was 16, but the Levante midfielder, who is now 24, has very quickly made a name for himself. His teammates at Levante love him because of the nine assists he served up over the course of this campaign. Only Iago Aspas, Marcos Llorente, Toni Kroos and Yannick Carrasco had more assists this term, so De Frutos is certainly in good company.
Diego Martínez (Granada CF)
Undoubtedly one of Europe’s brightest up-and-coming coaches. The 40-year-old has worked wonders at Granada over the past few seasons, earning them promotion, securing Europa League qualification and then leading the Andalusian outfit to the quarter-finals of that competition this season, where they eventually fell to finalists Manchester United. It’s no surprise that Martínez is in demand.
Eduardo Coudet (RC Celta)
Eduardo Coudet did a great job after being hired by RC Celta – then languishing in the relegation zone – back in November. The Galician club finished eighth, but they actually had the sixth-best record if only looking at the matchdays since the 46-year-old’s appointment. In 2021/22, when he has a pre-season and the chance to lead Celta from Matchday 1, Coudet will hope to take the club back to Europe.