Nicky Beloko (Gent—Belgium)
The 19-year-old Swiss midfielder has yet to make a senior appearance for the Buffalos and it seems that he’s mostly training with the youth team. He probably has to beat out club captain Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, veteran Sven Kums, and young star Giorgi Chakvetadze for a serious role; it’s hard to imagine him earning a significant job this season without some serious injuries ahead of him, especially with Gent’s fantastic progress in the league this season.
Kevin Diks (Aarhus—Denmark)
The 22-year-old Dutch fullback has yet to earn an appearance at any level with De Hviie, which doesn’t augur particularly well. He was supposed to spend this year at Empoli on loan, but the Tuscan outfit terminated the deal, and a scrambling Daniele Pradè managed to secure a move to Denmark instead. It’s quite the fall from grace for a player who, as recently as 2017, was considered one of the best fullback prospects in Europe. It’s probably irresponsible to speculate on what’s happened to a once-promising career, but we hope first and foremost that Kevin gets back on the pitch and rediscovers the spark that made him such a coveted youngster.
The 26-year-old fullback missed a pretty good chunk of the summer with a knee injury, but he’s picked up where he left off for Fluzão, where he’s an ever-present for Marcão on the right side of defense. It’s been a bit of a disaster season for the team as a whole, though, as they sit just 3 points above the final relegation place, largely due to the second-worst defensive record in the league. Gilberto, who’s always seemed happier marauding forward than staying back, is certainly a part of the problem there, although he remains the best option for the club and it wouldn’t be a shock if Fluminense made an offer for him when his deal expires in December; after all, he’s a Rio de Janeiro native and should be available for a very low figure.
Martin Graiciar (Sparta Praha—Czechia)
The 20-year-old striker has carved out a bench role for himself, but hasn’t exactly set the world alight; he’s appeared in 6 of the club’s 12 matches thus far but has tallied just 53 minutes altogether and has yet to find the back of the net. In fairness to him, he’s been shunted out to the wing rather than deployed in his natural central role, and has quite a glut of attackers in front of him: veterans Libor Kozák and Guelor Kanga have the experience, while fellow youngsters Benjamin Tetteh and 17-year-old Adam Hložek add explosion. On the other hand, Graiciar may not be doing himself any favors with his choice of shirt number, as it’s just wrong to see 6 leading the line.
David Hancko (Sparta Praha—Czechia)
The 21-year-old Slovakian leftback scored on his debut for Rudi with a looping header from a corner kick; the only blemish on his night was the fact that Mladá Boleslav beat his side 4-3 on the night, with Hancko himself rather at fault on the defensive end.
While he played at leftback in that first game, he’s been deployed in the center ever since, and, following a string of slightly unsteady performances, has fallen all the way to the bench over the past two weeks. It’s the sort of early-season bumpy stretch that you expect from a young player finding his feet in a new league, and we’re fairly confident that Hancko will reverse course and take his starting berth back.
Alban Lafont (Nantes—France)
The 20-year-old goalkeeper has started every match since he joined le Maison Jaune, keeping 5 clean sheets in 8 outings, highlighted by a penalty save in the win over Stade Rennais. Of course, he’s still had his Alban moments, highlighted by a really poor tackle to concede that penalty against Stade Rennais.
While he’s still capable of making saves that look like they required the intervention of the Matrix, his decision-making when coming off his line remains a work in progress, he’s still learning how to track crosses through crowds in the box, and his penchant for punching the ball back into the area rather than out to touch or at least out wide is a cause for concern. That said, he’s 20. 20. He’s going to be such a good goalkeeper for another decade and a half, and Nantes will doubtless trigger his clause at the end of next year.
Maxi Olivera (Olimpia—Paraguay)
The 27-year-old Uruguayan leftback has been out for several months with a leg injury sustained in training. He’s rehabbing right now and may be ready to go again fairly soon, but we’ll hope that his health is right before he rushes back, especially since he hasn’t played a competitive match since the Copa Libertadores tie against LDU Quito in July.
Amidu Salifu (Al-Salmiya—Kuwait)
The 27-year-old Ghanaian (whose birthday was just a couple of weeks ago) is a bit of a mystery right now. Transfermarkt lists him as registered with Al-Salmiya, but doesn’t show any data for the club’s performances. Soccerway, meanwhile, shows Al-Salmiya’s most recent matches but doesn’t show Salifu as part of the club. Either way, it seems like the man who’s technically the longest-tenured Viola player has made his last appearance for the team, as his contract runs out at the end of the year. Although we’re not going to feature him in this segment again until we can sort out just what’s going on with his status, we wish him luck; if not for a series of major knee injuries, he might well have ended up as the mobile midfield destroyer we always thought he could be, and he deserves a few good breaks at this point.
Rafik Zekhnini (Twente—Netherlands)
The 21-year-old winger has appeared in all 8 Eredivisie matches for the Tukkers this year, although he’s made just one start. He did score this absolute peach of a goal off the bench back in August, though.
He seems to have dropped behind 19-year-old Keito Nakamura for minutes on his favored left wing; given that the Japanese starlet has scored 3 times and assisted another, he seems to have dug in pretty well. The Big Z, though, is obviously still a part of manager Gonzalo García’s plans, and surely knows that if Nakamura’s form declines, he’ll get the call. While it’s not too often that a player returns to his parent club after 2 long years away on loan and makes a big difference, we think that Zekhnini could buck that trend, as he offers pace, intelligent movement, and lethal instincts in the final third. He’s probably a step behind someone like Riccardo Sottil right now, but a good season could close that gap considerably. He’s a strong candidate for a contract extension now or early next year.