Vinícius, Pedri, Gavi, and Rodrygo are just some of the youngsters that are hotly talked about in La Liga. However, La Liga extends beyond the hot prospects of the big three, and this top 10 delves into the gems scattered around the top flight who perhaps don’t get the big headlines, but could well prove to be world superstars sometime soon.
Rodrigo Riquelme, Girona
Rodrigo Riquelme came through the youth system at Atlético Madrid and is currently on loan at Girona from Atlético. He is quick, can run at defences, and has an eye for goal as well as personality. Riquelme likes to find pockets of space in the half spaces, particularly on the left side of the pitch where he can cut in onto his right foot. As well as being technically excellent, he possesses quick feet, a low centre of gravity and is lethal in tight spaces, while also loving a nutmeg. The 22-year-old is not afraid to shoot from distance – scoring one of the goals of the season versus Real Sociedad from 25 yards out with a spectacular effort that flew into the top corner. He also scored against his parent club Atlético at the Cívitas Metropolitano, where the home fans gave him a standing ovation as he was substituted. Riquelme would be a great fit on the left of a 4-4-2 at Atlético. He could easily find himself in the team from the start of next season.
Luiz Henrique, Real Betis
The first of two Brazilian talents on the list plying their trade at the Benito Villamarín, winger Luiz Henrique took a while to adapt to Manuel Pellegrini’s system but is now an indispensable attacker for Betis. At 6’0″, Henrique combines brilliant close control with an ever-improving physical presence, as he’s proven with his headed goals and ability to outmuscle defenders. Undoubtedly Betis’ biggest shining light post the World Cup, Henrique was phenomenal against Barcelona in the Supercopa, and has garnered interest from the Premier League since.
Another Brazilian import into La Liga, the 19-year-old Santos graduate caught the eye of one and all in a spectacular defensive display against Real Madrid at the start of the season. Going toe-to-toe with Vinícius, Kaiky displayed impressive pace and defensive awareness that night. Kaiky possesses the raw skills of a complete centre-back, being very comfortable on the ball to go along with his brilliant physical attributes. Discipline is perhaps his only downside, as he’s picked up several yellow cards this season. While Kaiky isn’t a guaranteed starter for Almería, the signs are positive if he is given the time to develop.
Thierry Correia, Valencia
The Portuguese right-back has progressed leaps and bounds over the past calendar year and is arguably the league’s most exciting full-back talent. Only 23, Correia is a physical specimen. Gifted with blistering pace, he has transformed into a player with immense strength, making him one of the hardest defenders to take on in La Liga. Correia has excelled with driving runs forward, and seems to be living up to the promise that he arrived with at Mestalla in 2019. Correia is probably in line for a bigger move soon and could be knocking on the Portuguese national team’s door.
Abner Vinícius, Real Betis
An Olympic Gold Medalist in 2021, Betis’ most recent signing is a shrewd one at just over €7m, with the vision of replacing the marauding Álex Moreno who has joined Unai Emery at Aston Villa. Abner is quick and strong with a good tackle, and also tends to chip in with a few goals with late runs from the left flank. He’s likely to provide good competition to Juan Miranda, with both sharing somewhat similar profiles. At just 22, the left-back already made over 100 league appearances for Athletico Paranaense. Linked to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City not long back, Betis will be hoping they’ve struck a bang for their buck.
Álex Baena, Villarreal
The 21-year-old has been a revelation for the Yellow Submarine this season. After an impressive year on loan during Girona’s promotion campaign last season, this has been a breakout season for the youngster, having already notched up 10 goals in all competitions for Villarreal. Another successful product of the Cantera Grogueta, Baena ranks in the 99th percentile among midfielders in non-penalty goals, total shots, and progressive passes in the last year. Eyed by top Premier League clubs over the summer, Baena has penned a deal until 2028 with Villarreal and could be a mainstay for them in seasons to come.
Aimar Oroz, Osasuna
Real Madrid, as well as Barcelona, Villarreal, and Athletic Club, were all interested in signing Aimar Oroz when he was younger but he wanted to stay in Pamplona. His dream was to make his debut in the top flight with Osasuna at El Sadar and that is exactly what he has done. Oroz, still just 21, came through the Osasuna youth academy, where he arrived nearly 10 years ago and rose through the ranks, excelling at all levels. Head coach Jagoba Arrasate give him his debut with Osasuna in 2019, aged just 17 when Los Rojillos were still in the Second Division. His debut as a first-team starter in the top flight was in the first game of the current season against Sevilla. In the 72nd minute, the referee awarded a penalty. Chimy Ávila was going to take it but the youngster, only 20 years old, asked the Argentine to let him take it and he agreed. Aimar scored. It was his first goal in Primera, and he was wearing the Osasuna shirt. His dream came through.
Arnau Martínez, Girona
Despite his lack of experience, Girona head coach Míchel is a huge fan of Arnau, who has been terrific down Girona’s right flank this season. He has also demonstrated his great ability to compete, especially against the big teams in Spain. In the first half of the season, he put in a superb performance at the Bernabéu, where his side earned a valuable 1-1 draw, and he nullified Vinícius, who was unable to beat the young defender. He is heading in the direction of becoming the complete full-back, can operate as a RCB in a 3-man defence, and is fast and agile. He also possesses excellent technique and ball control and is strong in the tackle.
Pablo Barrios, Atlético Madrid
Atlético Madrid signed Pablo Barrios as a young teenager in 2017 from cross-city rivals Real Madrid. Atlético’s club legend and U19 coach Fernando Torres worked with Barrios and deployed him in a position to get into the box and make the most of his strong shooting ability. The midfielder scored several excellent goals for Torres’ side before being called into the first-team squad. He has always had personality, but he has grown physically and that has helped add to his all-round game. On 29 October 2022, Diego Simeone gave him his first-team debut when Atlético took on Cádiz in La Liga. In his games under Simeone, he has looked comfortable in the engine room and has recently signed a long-term deal with the club.
Gabri Veiga, Celta Vigo
One of the breakout players in La Liga this season, Gabri Veiga has been excellent for Celta in 2022-23. A hugely exciting prospect, in 21 league games, he has scored six times and provided two assists for the Galician outfit. Veiga joined Celta at the age of 11 and one of his former coaches, Jorge Cuesta tells El País: “At the start of his second year as a youth-team player, in 2019, he was just another player in the team, he didn’t stand out, and now he is one of the best players in Spain. Anyone who says they saw that Gabri was going to be what he is now is lying”. Gabri Veiga has arrived and we all believe it. Only Iago Aspas has better numbers at Celta this season. Veiga was the last Under-21 player Luis de la Fuente gave a debut to and he could be among the first to make his senior international debut under De la Fuente as he takes charge of La Roja.
By Kieran Quaile and Roddur Mookherjee