Switzerland has long been known for producing some exciting young talents. Since their under-17 World Cup win in 2009, youngsters have been working their way up the ranks in Swiss football, eventually making it into Europe’s finest leagues.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Yann Sommer are perfect examples: the trio all started at FC Basel, before leaving for pastures new and becoming key players for the Swiss national team. They were the stars of their time, but what about the next generation?
Young Swiss players are continuing to make a name in Switzerland, soon ready for the next stage of their career. With so many promising players on the scene, here are four of the best Schweizer Nati starlets – all aged 23 and under – to look out for.
Noah Okafor is the youngest of the featured quartet, having just turned 20 at the end of May. He made his breakthrough for FC Basel in 2018, after nine years rising through the club’s academy system. Half a century of first team appearances made him a wanted man in Europe, eventually signing for Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg in January.
Okafor opened his Salzburg career in style, scoring their third goal in the ÖFB Cup Final en route to a 5-0 drubbing over Austria Lustenau. His time in Austria has just begun, but he has looked promising so far under Jesse Marsch. Capable of playing on either wing, his quick feet and impressive pace mean he is a deadly player going forward.
He earned his Switzerland debut last June, coming on as a late substitute in the Nations League Finals defeat to England. If he continues to impress in Austria and consistently hit his stride, he could find himself in Vladimir Petković’s final squad for EURO 2020 next summer.
The heir to Haris Seferović’s throne may have arrived, in the form of a fresh-faced 23-year-old from Basel. Cedric Itten has proven his goalscoring prowess for St. Gallen, with 26 goals in 51 appearances since joining in 2018. He has been a key part of the Espen’s title charge this season, as they aim to win their first league title in 20 years.
Itten’s goalscoring instinct was on display when he made his Switzerland debut last November, scoring the winner six minutes after coming off the bench against Georgia. His brace against Gibraltar days later meant he concluded his first callup with three goals in two Nati caps, as well as Switzerland’s top scorer for 2019.
The stats alone prove he is clinical in front of goal, with an eye for goal and a cutting edge up front. There’s no doubt that Itten can become one of the most prolific strikers in the country: the question is where it will take him, in his club career and on the international stage for Switzerland.
Eray Cömert is the only defender to feature here, but for very good reason. He already has two Swiss league titles to his name for FC Basel, the club he has been with since childhood. The 22-year-old has been a key defender for the RotBlau, who have the second-best defence in the league while sitting five points off the top.
Cömert is a solid, ball-playing centre-back, playing with such maturity and composure for his age. He is also capable of scoring some incredible goals, like the long-range strike that flew into the top corner against FC Sion in December. It won’t be long before he is poached by a top club in Europe, continuing his form with FCB in the meantime.
It was also a matter of time before he got his chance for the Schweizer Nati, coming on for his debut in the 6-1 win against Gibraltar last November. The centre-back competition is strong, with the likes of Fabian Schär, Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi. Nevertheless, Cömert’s chance will come, and he will be a player for the future.
The prospect of Okafor running down the wing for Switzerland is exciting, but with Ruben Vargas on the other flank, the Nati’s attack would be deadly. Vargas broke through at FC Luzern and made 25 goal contributions in 58 games, attracting interest from Augsburg and departing for the Bundesliga in July 2019.
Augsburg paid just £2.4 million for Vargas, an absolute bargain for the 21-year-old. He scored three goals in his first three games, earning a Swiss callup for the impending international break and making his debut against Gibraltar in September. Vargas got a goal and an assist in the reverse fixture, capping off a brilliant start to life with the Nati.
Vargas is quick on his feet, a talented dribbler and dangerous with going forward the ball. He has an extremely bright future alongside Okafor, Itten and Cömert, with all four surely stars for Switzerland in the coming years.
This is the Swiss quartet to watch out for.