I recently wrote a post about a few defensive midfielders I expected to stand out in Football Manager 2016 — you can check it out here; I’ve written about the attributes, preferred positions, and potential of Matias Kranevitter, Lucas Romero, Victor Wanyama, Sven Bender and more excellent ball-winners and deep-lying playmakers. The article quickly became by far the most popular one on my blog, and gave me the idea of writing more player profiles, since fellow FM-ers seem incredibly keen on using the existing FM community to assist their due diligence and scouting process.
I’m currently seven — or eight, depending on when you’re reading this — seasons into my primary save on FM16, and am in charge of Manchester United; During this time, I’ve come across some spectacular young talents who are guaranteed to achieved stardom in the game and in real life over the next decade. In this article, I’ll briefly discuss over 40 of the best teenagers, categorized by playing position — I’ll look at their attributes as of June 2022, when they’ve had a good few years to develop and reach their full potential, given they’ll be between 24 and 27 years old. Looking at their careers in my save will hopefully give you a good idea of their expected career paths and how you can get the best out of them.
Given there are over 40 teenagers on this shortlist, I’ll divide it into four — potentially even five — parts; in this second article, I’ll deal with some of the most talented wonderkid defenders in the game. I hope this helps you choose the man to marshal your defense for the next decade!
I should mention here that the star ratings for potential are deceptively low; these defenders are being evaluated based on my Manchester United side that has won six Premier League titles and four Capital One Cups in a row, reached three European Champions Cup finals in a row, winning two, and won two FA Cups. Some high standards, in short.
For the first article in the series, where I profile six outstanding teenage goalkeepers, click here!
The defenders covered in this post are: Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Easah Suliman, Niklas Sule, Riechedly Bazoer, Jesus Vallejo, Tin Jedvaj, Jonathan Tah, Felix Passlack, and Jorge.
Club: Manchester United | Nationality: Dutch | Position: D(C), DM | Age: 18
The Ghanaian-Dutch center-back who joined Man United in the summer of 2014 is a man of contradictions; a physically imposing specimen who is very difficult to outmuscle, he is also technically gifted, and is competent at playing the ball out from the back. While he is most comfortable with marshaling the defence, and rarely ventures forward, he is a threatening presence in attacking set-pieces. It is precisely this combination of qualities that makes him such an invaluable member of my Man United squad, and a brilliant addition for most sides in Europe.
At 19, Fosu-Mensah is not quite ready to make the jump to a top-level side’s starting XI, but given a couple of years at a medium-sized Premier League club or a side of lower quality, he develops into a superb, well-rounded and rock-solid figure at the back. His core Central Defender attributes — Heading (13), Marking (17), Passing (14), Tackling (15), and Positioning (16) — are either very good or excellent, and his versatility — he is fully capable of playing as a ball-winning defensive midfielder — is an added bonus.
Fosu-Mensah has been one of the most consistent performers for my Manchester United sides, scoring 7 goals in 135 appearances in all competitions, making between 4 and 5 tackles a game, and achieving 75-80% pass completion figures.
At 24, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has 7 or 8 more seasons of top-level football ahead of him, and cannot recommend him highly enough as a backup center-back, given he has filled in for the likes of John Stones, Chris Smalling and Jesus Vallejo (more on him later) brilliantly.
Club: Aston Villa | Nationality: English | Position: D(LC) | Age: 17
If there is one thing Aston Villa can be slightly hopeful about, it is the presence of this fantastic center-back in the club’s youth ranks. Should the club go down to the Championship in real life, a highly likely prospect given their Premier League woes, one can expect to see Suliman feature in the first team in the near future. They should consider themselves lucky to have him on their books, given Arsenal and Bayern Munich were interested in the player when he signed for Villa in January 2015.
The youngster first came to my attention in the 2018-19 season after making 98 senior appearances in three seasons for the Villains in my save, and his core defensive attributes have gone on to exceed all expectations since then; Heading (15), Marking (16), Tackling (15), Positioning (16), and Determination (18) make him a highly reliable, no-nonsense figure at the back, and his Preferred Moves indicate a cool head on an extremely athletic body. An astounding stat from his career in my save is that he has received only 18 yellow cards in 237 career club appearances, and has not been sent off even once. As of November 2022, he has made only six fouls in 18 appearances in the 2022/23 season, despite making 72 tackles.
According to the game, Suliman is a future England international; his 36 caps at age 24 compare favourable to Rio Ferdinand’s 28 and John Terry’s 15 at the same age in real life.
His positional flexibility adds to his value, and he was signed by Tottenham for a cool £57,000,000 at age 21; averaging 5.70-6.00 tackles per game and pass completion of above 70%, Suliman is a man for all seasons, and is a must-sign, even for top clubs.
Club: 1899 Hoffenheim | Nationality: German | Position: D(C) | Age: 20
The Hoffenheim central defender just about sneaks onto this list given his date of birth, but would probably have been mentioned even if he wasn’t eligible, since he is a monster of a player. Don’t be fooled by the lack of senior German caps; Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng might be to blame.
A Goliath of a defender, standing at 6’4″ with Heading (17), Jumping Reach (17), and Strength (20), Sule renders all aerial crosses completely ineffective, and can mark opponents out of the game with ease. This would potentially allow a team with Sule at the back to encourage their full-backs to push up the pitch when attacking, given crosses will pose much less of a threat to your side.
A rather incredible statistic I have been monitoring over the last four seasons of Bundesliga football in my save is that, despite playing only 63 league games out of a possible 136 following a £19,000,000 move to Bayern Munich in 2018, Sule has still ranked in the top five for Key Headers Won and ratio of headers won EVERY season; remarkable, given he has never really been able to force his way past Boateng and Stefan de Vrij into the Bayern first-XI. Focusing on his 14 appearances in all competitions as of November 2022, his stats are off the charts: 93 headers won, at a 96% success rate, and an 89% tackle success rate. In 8 Bundesliga appearances, he has made 16 key headers, 61 overall headers, with a 100% header success ratio. One might need to re-think the long-ball tactic when playing against this monster.
One possible weakness could be his propensity to be booked; in 236 senior club appearances in the save, he has received 73 yellow cards and 3 red cards, committing 438 fouls. However, with pass completion percentages in the high 70s and average ratings not dropping below 7.15, that is probably a small price to pay.
Club: Ajax Amsterdam | Nationality: Dutch | Position: D(C), DM, M(C) | Age: 19
When Arsenal and Barcelona are said to be sniffing around for a teenager, you can safely assume he’s meant for big things; when that teenager is a highly versatile, technically-gifted product of PSV Eindhoven’s youth setup with further training at Ajax, you know he’s a guaranteed superstar.
Bazoer is a Rolls-Royce of a player, with super attributes across the board, even for qualities that aren’t necessitated by his position; in addition to excellent Physicals, his core Mentals — Off the Ball (16), Positioning (16), Vision (16), Composure (16), Decisions (13) — and Technicals — First Touch (16) , Passing (15), Marking (15) , Technique (15) — at age 25 make him a highly creative yet defensively solid player capable of playing at a high level in multiple positions and roles, such as a ball-playing central defender, a regista, deep-lying playmaker, and even a roaming playmaker. He is best used as a Regista, where his superb technical and passing ability helps control possession and create chances in an attacking system with a high defensive line enabled by his positional sense and defensive reliability.
In 216 appearances in six seasons for perennial French Champions Paris Saint-Germain, Bazoer has displayed both the defensive and offensive aspects of his game, consistently averaging above 80% pass completion and making between 4.40 and 4.90 tackles per game, and making less than a foul a game; a truly admirable record for a center back/defensive midfielder.
In a game with AI intelligence higher than ever before, tactical flexibility is the name of the game, even for top European sides, and having players with positional versatility at such high levels is an absolute must; few players offer such a mix of technique, creativity, and reliability, making Bazoer a great shout at any level.
Club: Real Madrid | Nationality: Spanish | Position: D(C) | Age: 18
Still only 18 at the start of the 2015-16, Vallejo is already an FM veteran; even though I’d never managed him in FM15, you’d be hard pressed to find too many FM-ers who aren’t fans of the young Spaniard currently on Real Madrid’s books; hell, even they took note. Having signed Vallejo for £30,000,000 in January 2019, I’ve witnessed his fantastic growth and technical abilities first-hand.
While his Heading (15), Marking (18), Tackling (16), Positioning (17), Determination (19), and Strength (16) in 2022 make him a better center-back than most to begin with, what really elevates him from the crowd are the technical attributes that make him an astute passer of the ball from the back; First Touch (13), Passing (13), Technique (12), Concentration (17), and Vision (13) enable his team to adopt a highly effective short-passing game, with build-up play from the back. His preferred moves indicate a highly reliable decision-maker, and scouting reports will tell you he can mark players out of the game.
Vallejo has achieved average ratings of between 7.22 and 7.65 in his three-and-a-half seasons with my Manchester United side, making 146 appearances in all competitions, scoring 8 goals and averaging between 72% and 76% pass completion. Statistics for the 2021-22 season, when Vallejo was 24 and entering his prime, show he won an incredible 80% of his headers across 10 appearances in the European Champions Cup, making 46 key headers, comparing favourably against the likes of John Stones (his team-mate at the heart of my Man United defense), Stefan de Vrij, and Raphael Varane. He also made 145 interceptions (almost 15 interceptions per game!), a core aspect of my high pressing ball retention style, and 3.80 tackles per game, indicating high levels of comfort with the different aspects of defending. Having made 16 appearances in all competitions as of November 19 in the 2022/23 season, Vallejo boasts 121 successful headers won, a 71% success rate, with an outstanding 90% tackle success rate.
A caveat for those looking to snap Vallejo up early is that he will be on loan at Real Zaragoza for the 2015/16 season; a sensible approach would be to wait a couple of seasons as he is starved of first-team opportunities at Real Madrid before making a move; I seem to remember signing him in the January window only because he’d put in a transfer request. And he is well worth every penny, without a shadow of a doubt.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen | Nationality: Croatian | Position: D(RC) | Age: 20
For a player who turns 20 a few months into the 2015/16 campaign, Tin Jedvaj has been around for a long time; officially registered with Dinamo Zagreb in the 2010/11 season, I seem to remember the Croatian defender going on to become world-class even in FM12.
Jedvaj boasts reasonably well-developed core defensive Technical attributes at age 26 — Heading (12), Marking (16), Passing (13), and Tackling (15); his Mental attributes are more consistent, with Aggression, Anticipation, Composure, Determination, and Positioning (all 16). His biggest strengths, however, are his positional versatility; he can play as a limited right back, with minimal offensive output thanks to poor Crossing and Dribbling (both 10), despite excellent overall Physicals in the 13 to 17 range. In addition to the Preferred Moves shown in the screenshot, he stands out for his long throws, providing an added dimension to his team’s attacks.
Jedvaj’s career in the save has been excellent, with 260 appearances in all competitions as of the end of the 2021/22 season delivering 78 yellow cards, 6 red cards, 4.0+ tackles per game, and pass completion percentages between 75% and 90%. His 18 appearances in the 2022/23 season (as of November 19) have seen him win 87 headers at an 86% success rate.
Jedvaj is actually more suited to his right back slot than in central defense, although a team employing attacking full-backs would likely be better served with him in the latter slot.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen | Nationality: German | Position: D(C) | Age: 19
In case you can’t get your hands on Niklas Sule, but still want a physically imposing yet technically gifted center-back from the Bundesliga, look no further than fellow German, Jonathan Tah, a similarly impressive figure.
Having already described Sule’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of attributes, it makes sense to compare the two:
While there is very little to separate them from the Physical point of view, Tah is clearly a more developed player according to the Mental attributes; this perhaps explains his better disciplinary record in my save; between the 2015/16 and 2021/22 campaigns, he received only 37 yellow cards and 3 red cards in 324 club appearances, making 21 fouls and 3 mistakes in 25 games as of November in the 2022/23 season; the latter stat compares favourably to Sule’s 23 fouls and 5 mistakes in just 14 appearances.
Tah is simply incredible in the air, thanks to his Heading (14), Jumping Reach (17), and Strength (19); he has made 163 successful headers so far in the 2022/23 campaign, at a 99% success rate. His scouting report suggests his game is shaped by his speed, strength, and positional versatility; with a little training, he could easily develop into a high-level defensive midfielder.
It is important to note that Tah joined Bayer Leverkusen on a five-year deal in the summer of 2015, so you will probably have to bide your time before making a move for him. Given his consistently excellent average ratings — between 7.16 and 7.52 — this should by no means dissuade you.
Club: Borussia Dortmund| Nationality: German | Position: D/WB/M/AM(R/L) | Age: 17
Given versatility in one’s tactical approach has become more important than ever before, and full-backs continue to offer attacking impetus, an ideal player would be a full-back who can contribute going forward; Germany’s Felix Passlack offers exactly this, and has earned rave reviews in FM15 and FM16 for his ability to perform in any position on the right flank at an extremely high level, while also being competent as a stop-gap replacement for your left-sided players.
Given his positional versatility, he doesn’t stand out for any particular attributes, and consistency is the key word, with Technical attributes in the 12-13 range, Mentals in the 12-14 range, and 14-16s in Physical attributes allowing him to bomb up and down the flank; indeed, it is as a function of this consistency that Passlack is so versatile. Regardless of his position in one’s tactical setup, his Crossing (12), Anticipation (14), Teamwork (12), Work Rate (15), Acceleration (16), Natural Fitness (17), and Stamina (16) can be expected to come into play.
Passlack has made 333 club appearances in all competitions as of the end of the 2022/23 season, scoring 18 goals and making 34 assists, with tackles per game in the 2.35-3.25 range, and average ratings in the 6.45-7.15 range. Scouting reports indicate his key strengths are on the Physical side, backing up his attributes, whereas his 28 mistakes, 11 yellow cards and 80 fouls in 50 appearances (43 from right-back) in the 2022/23 season indicate a player slightly prone to errors and poor discipline. On a positive note, Passlack very rarely suffers from injuries, having missed just 7 weeks of football in 8 seasons.
There is no question that players develop different when managed by AI and a human manager, and a vast majority of the football community will jump at the chance to sign one of Germany’s many bright prospects, despite his fairly unimpressive performances in my save.
Club: Flamengo | Nationality: Brazilian | Position: D/WB(L) | Age: 19
From one faltering right-sided German full-back in Passlack to a thriving left-sided Brazilian prospect. Jorge has emerged as one of the best in his position in my save, putting in incredibly impressive performances for Flamengo and, since 2016, AC Milan.
Capable of playing as either a full-back or a wing-back on the left-flank, Jorge excels across the board in terms of attributes; with Crossing (15), Dribbling (14), Passing (15), Technique (16), Positioning (15), Teamwork (13), and Stamina (16) in the year 2023, in addition to the standard defensive attributes of Marking (15), Tackling (14), Anticipation (17), and Concentration (16), he stands out for his ability to contribute going forward. This is all the more apparent from his performances in my save; in 358 appearances, he has scored 15 goals and made 43 assists, or around one goal contribution every 7 games, which is respectable given the defensive nature of Serie A and Milan’s recent woes in the competition (they have finished as low as 13th in my save, with their most recent seasons seeing them finish in 8th, 8th, and 10th).
Jorge appears a model full-back for more than a few reasons; he is incredibly reliable and highly disciplined, collecting an astounding total of just 20 yellow cards in his career so far, a significantly better ratio than Easah Suliman’s (see above), with no sending-offs. He has made 2.2-3.4 tackles per game, with average ratings in the 7.15-7.65 range; in the 2022/23 season, he made just 5 mistakes and 21 fouls in 38 appearances. His scout reports indicate a highly speedy player who relies on his acceleration, and one not prone to injuries — this despite his having suffered 13 separate injuries in 8 full seasons (most of these were minor scrapes suffered in training, and the longest he has been out is 6 weeks; after that, the longest is 3 weeks).
In summary, Jorge develops into an incredibly well-rounded, reliable defender who is effective in both the defensive and attacking phases of the game, and would fit into even the best sides.
If you found this article useful, check back in a few days to read about some of the best teenage midfielders, wingers and strikers in the game!