A list of a few young attacking talents who may not be the first names you think of but could be doing a lot of damage in League One this season.
Louie Sibley (Derby County)
The Rams academy graduate burst onto the scene at the age of just 18 in 2020 with a goal on his first Championship start against Blackburn Rovers, followed by an impressive hat-trick at Millwall which made Derby fans stand up and take notice. Finishing his debut season with 5 goals and 2 assists in 11 appearances saw the attacking midfielder become one of Pride Park’s hottest assets.
Since then, the England under 20s international has only managed 2 League goals for The Rams but has remained an integral member of the side, showing great versatility to play in a number of positions to a decent standard through Derby’s tough recent years.
Ex-Leeds boss, Marcelo Bielsa, was thought to be a big admirer of the midfielder and now Mark Robins is the latest to join the fan-club as he tries to bring him to Coventry before the window shuts. If Derby can keep hold of the 20-year-old, I think he will be in for a very productive season having played second division football through his professional career, Sibley could be one of the top creative midfielders in League One this year.
David Ajiboye (Peterborough United)
8 goals and 5 assists helping Sutton United to an 8th place League Two finish last season won Ajiboye a big move to London Road.
The exciting winger comes in at the ripe age of 23 and will be ready to hit the third division by storm this year. With pace to burn, the wide-man who can play on either side started his career at Brighton & Hove Albion before a switch to Sutton where he has made over 100 appearances for the club. One of the top performers at Gander Green Lane last season, Ajiboye was part of the 2020/21 campaign which saw The Us promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history.
Speaking to The Posh website, manager Grant McCann described his new acquisition as ‘very direct’ saying “he will take people on and out teams on the back foot. He is a very hard-working wide forward and will put a huge shift in for the team out of possession with his counter press and reactions.”
In what is already an exciting Peterborough side, I see Ajiboye thriving in Grant McCann’s style especially playing surrounded by the likes of Sammie Szmodics, Jack Marriott and Jonson Clark-Harris.
Fisayo Dele-Bashiru (Sheffield Wednesday)
The Sheffield Wednesday starlet began the season in sparkling fashion with a brace from the midfielder in The Owls opening day 3 all draw with Portsmouth.
Until last Saturday, the former Manchester City youngster had netted just the once for Darren Moore’s side, yet his potential has always been clear. Bringing plenty of energy to the middle of the park ‘Fizz’ also has strength on his side and seemingly has the full package.
Speaking about his player before the Pompey clash, Moore said: “If you look at his game last season, there’s three-quarters of it from in between the penalty boxes where he’s exceptional. What he needs to do is get in those threatening positions and finish off.
“That’s the nitty-gritty part, the goals and the assists. We know he’s got the potential to do that but again he’s another year on and we feel that if he can add that to his game, he’ll be close to the finished article in terms of a midfield players.”
With two scorchers at Hillsborough this weekend, the 21-year-old seems to have added exactly what his boss asked of him, and if he can get a good run of games behind him to continue his form, Dele-Bashiru could be in for a very impressive season.
The Owls rejected a bid from Norwich City for the German-born midfielder with Blackpool also keen, whilst the player approaches the final 12 months of his current deal. But, Moore reiterated Dele-Bashiru’s importance and stated that discussions of a new contract are currently ongoing. If Wednesday can tie down their talent, Fizz could be a real force to be reckoned with.
Darragh Burns (MK Dons)
The Irish teenage sensation joined The Dons this summer on an undisclosed fee from St Patrick’s Athletic. With 59 senior appearances for his boyhood club at the age of just 19, the exciting winger certainly has a promising few years ahead. In his time in Ireland he has 11 goals to his name whilst providing 13 assists.
Making his first appearance for St Pats at the age of 16, Burns came off the bench in a friendly against Chelsea, nutmegging Tiemoue Bakayoko with his first few touches. From that moment there has always been a sense of excitement around the Republic of Ireland youth star, and Burns went on to justify that excitement helping St Pats win a FAI Cup in 2021 whilst claiming both the young player of the season and goal of the season awards that year.
Previously subject to interest from Celtic, the left-footed Burns plays predominantly on the right wing and likes to get at defenders with the ball at his feet. With an impressive tally at a young age in the Irish Premier Division, Burns is definitely one who could do some damage to League One defences this season. However, the youngster may well need some time to adapt to a new location as well as a higher standard of football. Although he shouldn’t take too long to adjust on the pitch, with Liam Manning telling his new signing to keep playing exactly how he does, seemingly confident that the MK system will suit his young talent.
Finn Azaz (Plymouth Argyle)
The new Plymouth loanee kickstarted his Pilgrims career in style with an absolute cracker to win the opener against Barnsley at Home Park last Saturday. The 21-year-old Aston Villa midfielder had a successful year with 7 goals and 7 assists in 42 League Two games for Newport County.
Now hoping to step up a division and show what he’s got, the former West Brom youngster has already become a fans favourite after impressive performances in the two concluding preseason friendlies as well as his winner at the weekend. Linking up well with Danny Mayor in the two attacking positions behind the striker, Azaz also bagged in both friendly games he played in, Torquay United and Yeovil Town the victims.
The Argyle boss Steven Schumacher showed his excitement for his new recruit saying “We knew what type of quality he was going to bring. We had to work really hard to get him here, which we did thankfully.
"He has shown in such a short space of time the quality that he has got. The more he works with us, the better he's going to get, the fitter he's going to get, and we have got some good attacking options in there now so really pleased."
Azaz is clearly a player capable of getting in and amongst the goals, whilst playing in one of the spots behind the striker in Plymouth’s system could make the Villa youngster a real handful for League One defenders this season.
Anis Mehmeti (Wycombe Wanderers)
Another player who made a goal scoring start to the new season was Anis Mehmeti, who netted in Wycombe’s 3-0 victory over Burton Albion.
The 21-year-old hit a rich vein of form towards the end of last season, helping his side reach the League One playoffs and finishing the campaign with 7 goals and 4 assists.
Praised at that time for his growth in maturity by manager, Gareth Ainsworth, the creative midfielder will be in for a delightful season if he can maintain his fine form.
Starting off at Norwich City, the Albanian under 21s international usually plays in an advanced role down the middle but can operate on the left and likes to get at defenders and doesn’t mind a strike from distance. Making his Chairboys debut in the Championship in 2020, after a decent season in the third tier, Mehmeti has the ability to be one of the top attacking talents in the league this season and is certainly bound to tear a defence or two apart after marking Burton as victim number one last Saturday.
Daniel Mandroiu (Lincoln City)
The Imps activated a £30K release clause to bring in one of Ireland’s most creative talents, Daniel Mandroiu, this summer. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has incredible numbers in the Irish top flight, with 35 goals and 15 assists in spells at Bohemian and Shamrock Rovers. More recently the player has 11 goal contributions to his name in his 18 league appearances in Ireland this year.
The Republic of Ireland under 21s international has an Irish Premier Division title to his name with Shamrock whilst also boasting a PFAI young player of the year and a place in the team of the year in 2019.
Unfortunately, Lincoln’s new arrival will have to wait his chance to impress due to injury and may take time to adjust to the higher level of football, but the Irish division has produced some real gems over the year and Mandroiu has got everything it takes to be another one of those.
Yet to make an appearance for the senior national team despite receiving a call-up, the Brighton & Hove Albion academy product has aspirations of national team football and will be hungry to show Ireland boss, Stephen Kelly, that he’s capable. After smashing it in Ireland, disregard this man at your peril.
Ben Garrity (Port Vale)
Voted Port Vale’s player of the year last season as the club were promoted to League One via the playoffs, Ben Garrity earned plenty of plaudits through the course of the campaign.
With 12 goals from the centre of midfield last term, it’s clear to see why Garrity has become such a popular figure at Vale Park. The next task for the former Blackpool man is to do it in a division higher and you’d be a fool to write him off.
The 25-year-old is just coming into his prime and has found a club and a manager in Darrell Clarke who knows exactly how to get the best out of him. The box-to-box midfielder is renown for his energy in the middle as well as his aerial ability with many of his goals coming from headers.
Garrity clearly has a good mentality to go with his skill set, once claiming that he is not as good as other players so he works harder to compete. Following a stellar goal-scoring season, with the club still on a high and momentum on their side I would back Garrity to continue his form and have another standout year for The Valiants