2021-22 Topps UEFA Champions League is set for release in March and provides collectors with a long list of rookies among its 200 base card checklist. The amount of talent among these up-and-coming players is nothing short of spectacular. But which of them are the most robust investments? We did the work for you, by rating the 2021-22 Topps UCL rookies.
I went into the depths of the checklist to separate the wheat from the chaff. Behold the Cardlines tiered list.
The players in this list are blue-chip prospects. Their chances of working out are pretty high. So, get those toploaders ready for these guys. You will need them.
While most strikers his age have potential, Brian already has receipts as an experienced goalscorer. In 35 appearances for the Oranje youth team, he scored no less than 25 goals and was spectacularly productive for the second-tier Jong Ajax team. Brobbey had a short-lived move to RB Leipzig, which did not work out. However, he recently returned to Ajax on loan, where he has recaptured form with 3 goals in his first two games. I believe Brian has an excellent chance of becoming the main striker for the high-profile Dutch national team.
I love watching David play, and he is the most talented Canadian player in years. His goal tally for the national team speaks for itself: 20 goals in a mere 27 games. He has also been scoring goals at the top level (first in Belgium and now in France) since 2018. Already a star, Canada is set to appear in the World Cup, and the forward may soon be an international sensation.
In the 2019-2020 season, forward sensation Liam Delap scored his debut senior goal to help City beat Bournemouth 2-1 in the FA Cup. Since then, his meteoric rise was thwarted by a niggling foot injury. Now that Liam has returned, his next challenge is securing playing time. But, of course, a serious concern with any City prospect is whether they will get playing time in Pep Guardiola’s well-oiled machine. But Delap is not being treated like a run-of-the-mill prospect and has been giving him some bench appearances.
Nonetheless, the Spanish manager noted that Liam is not ready for prime time, unlike a particular more advanced prospect: “The 19-year old Phil Foden is completely different to Liam, that’s why we need to be patient. He could have scored against Fulham. Liam has that feeling, but he is a player who needs to improve a lot.”
Any player with proven first-team receipts at age 18 deserves a close look. After 31 appearances in the top Austrian league, with 6 goals, Demir fit in that category. Barcelona certainly thought so and signed the Austrian winger from Rapid Wien on loan. Yusuf was given a chance with the reserves and impressed enough to earn a quick promotion to the first team. The player is a natural and is ready to contribute at the highest level despite Yusuf’s tender years.
This article comes at a good time for Elanga. With Mason Greenwood out for misbehavior and Marcus Rashford off his best form, the Swedish winger has been allowed to earn minutes at Old Trafford. So far, he has done remarkably well, scoring three goals and looking very impressive in the process. Most notably, he scored United’s only goal against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 first leg. Young players able to score when it counts are priceless.
In October 2021, Gavi won his debut cap for Spain at 17. He became the youngest player to represent Spain at the senior level; he drew the inevitable comparisons to brilliant countrymen central midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta. But is he in that class? Chelsea and Liverpool seem to think so, and both prestigious clubs have been sniffing around the precocious playmaker. Spanish national team manager Luis Enrique says, “he is playing on the pitch as if it’s the backyard of his house. He’s the present and future of the national team. He’s a player who can play between the lines, doesn’t lose the ball, has good technique, and is physical. We knew what he would bring; personality, willingness to play, courage. Nothing is too much for him.” Who am I to argue?
Although only 17 years old, Ismaël has already made the star-studded PSG senior squad. Technically gifted, Gharbi is a joy to watch both on the ball and passing into space. But particularly exciting is his unerring resoluteness when in scoring position. With a history of producing some of the most exciting midfielders, Ismaël is the latest French gem.
Jorge isn’t a starter for Juventus just yet. The player has also suffered a severe setback with a knee injury this year. However, we have reason to believe he will make it. His scoring abilities for Santos and the Brazil youth team were phenomenal, and several teams are waiting for his return to health to provide Kaio with the platform he needs to succeed.
McAtee is one of several promising youngsters trying to push into Pep Guardiola’s super team. The midfielder made his senior team debut in September 2021. So, how does he stack up? Well, Pep personally tracked him down at age 13. So, with that sort of faith from the manager, it is highly likely that James will get more opportunities with City. James has the versatility and talent to shine in the Premier League by all indications.
Edouard has a solid pedigree and has been rated as one of the top global soccer prospects for years, though he is only 18. The midfielder made his debut for PSG at age 17 and seems likely to become a starter in a year or two. His former coach Jordy Cabarrecq says, “he always had a good first touch, moved in areas where he could touch the ball but also an ability to eliminate and break lines.” I believe those abilities will come to the fore at the top level.
Moriba has long been considered one of the top talents of his generation And considering the depth of talent available among his cohorts, that is saying a lot. Signed by Barcelona, Ilaix was seen as the next Nou Camp superstar. However, Barcelona has been in a lot of trouble recently and prefers to rely on veterans. The Guinean youngster moved to Leipzig but could not break in there either. He has now been loaned to Valencia. None of this is particularly auspicious. However, Moriba is a unique talent and is still young.
Cole is a lifelong supporter of City and rose through the ranks of their vaunted academy from the under-8 level and onward. Palmer rewarded his beloved team with impressive performances. He scored 15 times and passed for five assists as City won the under-18 national championship and scored a brace in the Under-18 Premier League Cup final. Palmer broke into the senior squad last season. Though Cole has yet to make an impact there, he is still young and has shined for the England youth teams. I believe he is a future star.
There is a massive buzz around this youngster in Germany. Sidney was the youngest player to debut for Leipzig when he was barely 16 years old. That also made him the third-youngest debutant in Bundesliga history. Watching videos of him in action, it is easy to see what all the fuss is about. Raebiger has the sort of dribbling skills we associate with Latin American players, along with intuitive tactical understanding. Sure, Sidney is incredibly young, but his promise is undeniable.
Martin was a bright light for Uruguayan side Nacional when he caught the eye of Italian champions Inter Milan. Unfortunately, he was unable to break into the team, which is understandable considering the level of competition. However, a loan move to Ligue 1 side Brest allowed him to shine. With 3 goals in his first 4 games, the Uruguayan national team noticed and placed him in the preliminary squad for the world cup. Satriano may be read to make that big break this year.
Sesko has already earned enough comparisons to Erling Haaland to clinch the nickname “mini-Haaland.” Part of that is, of course, that both played for Red Bull Salzburg. But Benjamin has excellent speed and improving finishing skills. He is also not intimidated by the comparison and recently said, “Such comparisons motivate me and give me energy,” Sesko told reporters in his homeland when asked about being likened to Haaland. “They do not represent pressure. On the contrary, I will listen and learn so I can be even better than he is. I can easily imagine him becoming a star forward for a big team in a couple of years.
Shola has long been considered one of the premier talents in England. For how long? Well, Manchester City invited him for a trial at age 7. But after a spell with City, Shoretire moved to Manchester United, fending off interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid. What sets the young forward apart is his technique. He has the kind of the first touch which allows him to weave through tight spaces. Furthering his prospect is the belief the United system harbors in the youngsters’ capabilities. To me, what remains to be seen is whether he can reliably score goals at the top level. Despite always impressing, Shola has yet to score goals in his few senior appearances for United or England at the youth level.
There is little doubt: Tiago is the real thing. Since making his debut for Sporting at age 18, he has shown excellent form and made his debut for Portugal recently. Several major teams are chasing the player, and his price tag is reportedly over $70 million. It is easy to see why. Tomás is equally comfortable storming up the wing and receiving the ball close to goal. A complete attacker, he is ideally suited to the modern game.
The players in this tier have the talent to be big stars. But they have either not completely developed their skills or are in a team or position that makes me question their chances. But all of them have a shot at reaching a solid hobby status.
Like all talented short-statured attackers, Conceição has often been compared to Messi. He also has the pedigree, as the son of legendary midfielder and current Portugal manager Sérgio Conceição. Francisco’s dribbling skills are ridiculously good. But Messi also specializes in putting the ball in the net. Unfortunately, Conceição’s finishing skills are not there yet. Will he develop them? Hard to say.
All the top teams in Denmark chased Mohamed at an early age. FC Copenhagen was lucky enough to nab him, and he repaid them with an excellent scoring form at the youth level. At age 16, he became the youngest player to score for the senior side. In August, Dutch powerhouse Ajax bought the youngster for $13.5 million. In recent months, Daramy has also figured in the senior international side. His skill is undeniable. However, like many young forward prospects, he has yet to find the goal-scoring form to convince me he is headed to superstardom.
Edozie featured heavily in the pre-season friendlies for City and netted often. So what are his prospects for success? The winger is in an excellent position to impact modern soccer. And, of course, Manchester City is arguably the best team in the world. But does he have the quality to break into that side? Probably not. My guess is that Edozie will be loaned out elsewhere soon.
Isaac is one of many young French players with excellent technique. His speed and dribbling are unquestionably first-rate. My main concern is that he does not have top-level finishing skills. He may develop them later, but they will likely remain in the average range.
Christopher is one of the premium products of the Bayer Leverkusen system. However, it looks like their rivals Bayern will enjoy the fruits of that labor. Scott is a promising player, combining height with pace and technique. As such, he has drawn comparisons to Kai Havertz. However, he seems more tactically advantageous than a genuine future star.
Yet another example of Croatia’s enviable ability to produce reliably produce top-level prospects. This left-footed midfielder can create and finish with remarkable aplomb, belying his tender age. Though he has only scored 1 goal in 33 appearances for Salzburg, his devastating potential was revealed with three goals in three games for Croatia during the UEFA Under-21 Euro 2023 qualifiers. So no one was surprised when Sucic was called up to the senior squad and made his senior international debut against Slovakia in October 2021.
Another precocious midfield talent, albeit with spectacular hair and an awesome name. There is no doubt that Mejbri has immense talent. He wouldn’t have been promoted to the senior team of a club of United’s stature otherwise. Hannibal has also become a fixture for the Tunisian national team and played well in their successful African Nations Cup campaign. But a central midfielder needs to be absolutely world-class to have hobby value, and I have not seen that level of ability from Hannibal yet.
Phenomenal player. At age 19, he is already a regular for the Portuguese national side and playing for the prestigious Paris Saint-Germain team. Nonetheless, he is a left-back. Is he good enough to become an iconic player in that position like Paolo Maldini or Roberto Carlos? Possibly.
The Japanese player was spotted by Real Madrid way back in 2014 when he was just ten years old. How? A viral video of his impressive dribbling skills caught the attention of their scouts. The Madrid giants rate Takuhiro as one of their best prospects. They see him as a future midfield lynchpin. However, we have not seen anywhere near enough of him to rate Nakai’s ability to perform at the highest level. He is also likely to play too far back to make a significant offensive impact.
Ugarte has the right mix of offensive and defensive skills for a modern central midfielder. Most importantly, he knows how to win the ball and distribute it efficiently to his teammates. Manuel also does not seem to have any notable weaknesses. However, he is not a big goal scorer. In 87 senior appearances in Uruguay and Portugal, the youngster has only scored 3 times. I believe this is an indicator of how his career will go. Ugarte will progress and play a significant role for club and country, but without the flashy achievements that make for a solid hobby investment.
Most of the players in this tier will be solid starting players for good teams. However, their talent, age, or position make it unlikely they will become big stars. However, they could surprise me.
Country: Germany; Club: Bayern Munich; Position: Center back or left back; Age: 18
Excellent left-back prospect, on the verge of breaking into the first Bayern team at an exceptionally young age. Hard to imagine he will be good enough to have valuable cards, but it is not impossible.
When an 18-year-old is already the backup left-back at a prestigious club like Barcelona FC, they have a great future ahead of them. Unfortunately for collectors, that future is at left-back.
Blanco is a bit small for a defensive midfielder, but he makes up for it with his tireless hard work. Last season he appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a regular at Santiago Bernabéu. However, current manager Carlo Ancelotti does not appreciate him as much as previous skipper Zinedine Zidane did. So, most likely, Blanco will head out on loan elsewhere. The delay in his development, plus the defensive nature of his position, mean Antonio is not a wise investment.
Daniel is an excellent Portuguese league player. But is he going to become a lot more than that? Probably not.
Another talented Barcelona central midfielder. He has already made 21 appearances for the senior squad and will likely continue to feature in the team. However, that speaks more to the current woes of Barcelona than to the extraordinary potential of González.
A strong and physically solid center-back who is already a starter for Sporting and likely to get a big move in a few years. Still, a defensive player who has yet to break into the senior national team.
Mingueza is breaking into the big time. He is the starting right-back for Barcelona. Sure, that club ain’t what it used to be, but that is still a sign of quality. Óscar is also a possible candidate for the Spanish squad in the World Cup. However, there is no getting past the fact that Mingueza is a 22-year-old defender. Not the ideal profile for a rookie investment.
Though born and playing in Germany, Felix has chosen to represent England, where he grew up. He could not break into the first team after coming up with Manchester City despite making a few appearances. He moved to Wolfsburg in 2021 and has since made numerous appearances as a starter and substitute. There is plenty of talent there, but unclear if it will all come together.
Josip is a defender, which immediately puts a ceiling on his hobby value. But there is an excellent chance Stanišić will become a regular for both Croatia and Bayern. Indeed, he debuted for the senior Croatian team in September 2021. His secret is versatility. With his keen intelligence, size, and speed, Stanišić can potentially excel at any defensive position. This quality makes him a long-term asset to any team lucky enough to have the Croatian youngster.
This big and robust left-footed midfielder has been on Manchester United’s radar for quite some time. I can see why. He is a forceful presence in midfield, can distribute the ball well, and get forward to score occasionally. However, I would imagine a move to a big club would come with a more defensive role for Maurits, relegating him to relative hobby obscurity.
Pedro is coming into his own for club and country. He has scored a remarkable 30 goals in 50 for Sporting over the last two years. While he has yet to make waves for the Portuguese national team, he will feature in the World Cup squad. From a hobby perspective, Gonçalves is a late bloomer. He had his chance when Wolves brought him to England in 2018 but failed to make an impact. By the time he gets a chance at a big club (which he definitely will), Pedro will be a bit over the hill for our picky hobby.
Joško will likely be a crucial link in the Croatian national team for at least a decade. I also believe a move to a bigger team will happen sooner than later. Still, a Croatian defender is unlikely to be a big hobby play.
Hard to argue with Pierre’s pedigree. He comes from an impressive football family and is fast and talented. At age 21, he is already a starter for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Kalulu also seems on the verge of breaking into the senior French side. However, Pierre is a defender, with a pretty low ceiling in the hobby.
The talented midfielder came up through the Bruges system and was signed by Inter Milan at the tender age of 16. However, he never quite made it at the Italian outfit, and he returned to the Belgian league this season. Some blame COVID-19 for his inability to break into the Inter first team. However, it remains to be seen if Persyn has star quality.
Giorgio is the latest in a long line of highly competent Italian defenders. He has fabulous technique on the ground and in the air. He has even trained with the senior national team at 18. The kid is a prodigy, without a doubt. But he is a defender.
This tier includes players whose cards will be worth almost nothing in the long run. Could I be wrong? Well, I am more often than I’d like to admit. But probably not this time.
Good player. Good enough to be a strong investment at 25 from the left-back position? No.
Sven is a strong central defender in the Dutch tradition of Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer. That is excellent news for Lille. But since we are talking about a 22-year-old defender who plays for a relatively small team, you are better off investing elsewhere.
Miguel may be the left-back of the future for Spain. However, his talent is not exceptional enough to justify an investment in a defensive player.
As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I am thrilled we have this gifted and physically imposing (at 6″ 4) central defender. However, as a 22-year-old defensive player, he is not much of an investment prospect.
Steffen has become an inseparable part of the Dortmund offense, alongside the great Erling Haaland. But this is all a bit late in his career. Steffen has yet to become a star or play for the national team, and he is already 23.
Not to be confused with the veteran Portuguese defender of the same name who, quite confusingly, also plays for Porto. Pepe was good enough to be worth a $17 million transfer from Gremio to Porto. However, he has yet to debut for the Brazil senior team and falls into that too little too late category for the hobby.
Omar is coming into his own, playing increasing minutes for the best side in Germany after years of low-profile play for Reading. However, it is too little too late for the hobby. Being a left-back isn’t doing Richards any favors either.
Another promising young defender with few prospects in the hobby.
I did not go into making this list with exceptionally high expectations. However, truth be told, the rookie list here is spectacular. The future of soccer is in excellent hands, and Topps did a commendable job in picking the right players for this list. It measures up remarkably well compared to the most recent Donruss Soccer rated rookie list. If you are at all interested in soccer rookies, buying into this product is an absolute must. Hopefully, this list was helpful!
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