Flying the flag – 20 Aussie footballers to watch across Europe in 2021/22

Awer Mabil is one of many Aussies flying the flag in Europe in the 2021/22 season. Picture: Socceroos.com.au

Gone are the days when Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill stole the show in the Premier League. Now, there is a new breed of Australian footballers overseas and they are taking Europe by storm. The Inner Sanctum has hand-picked 20 to keep your eye on in 2021/22.

England

Caleb Watts – 19 – Premier League – Southampton

Potentially Australia’s only hope for Premier League action in 2021/22, until January at least, is Southampton midfielder Caleb Watts. 

Just 19-years-old, Watts made three appearances for the Saints in 2021 after being a part of the club’s youth setup since 2018. 

One of those came in a blockbuster match against European giants Arsenal, though his side would go on to lose 3-1. 

Now, with his foot in the door, Watts will look to retain a place in the senior squad for season 2021/22 but, if unsuccessful, he is still very nicely poised for a prosperous career. 

Southampton is famed for its ability to produce talent with the likes of Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse all coming through the academy program in recent years. 

Watts will continue to plug away and whether it is in the Premier League or the Premier League 2, he will continue to improve as so many have done before him. 

Riley McGree – 22 – Championship – Birmingham City

The baller from Gawler is back in Birmingham after his parent club, Charlotte FC, allowed him to remain in the West Midlands, on loan until January 2022. 

McGree made 15 appearances in his first season with the blues, scoring just one goal which came in his first start against Preston North End. 

This year, he will certainly look to feature more prominently as he vies for a spot in Graham Arnold’s Socceroos starting 11. 

The attack-minded midfielder was part of the Olyroos side that knocked off heavily fancied Argentina in Tokyo but two yellows in two games saw him miss the important clash with Egypt. 

He has an eye for the spectacular and bags of talent, consistent performances are now the focus as McGree enters his mid-twenties. 

Harry Souttar – 22 – Championship – Stoke City

If you’ve been following recent Socceroos performances then you will already know what Harry Souttar brings to the table. 

Standing at six and a half feet tall, the towering centre back has a remarkable scoring record for the national team, netting six goals in five Socceroos appearances. 

Aussie fans love him, as do Stoke fans as he established himself as a permanent fixture in the starting 11 last season. 

He made over 40 appearances for the Potters in 2020/21, winning the Player of the Month award for October. 

His strong performances were rewarded with a long-term contract and he looks certain to feature heavily as Michael O’Neill’s side looks to push for a top-half finish. 

If only Rory Delap was still around to launch monster long-throws to Souttar on those infamous cold Wednesday nights.

Tyrese Francois – 21 – Championship – Fulham

He’s winning admirers as quick as anyone over in England’s Championship and the midfielder’s starting role in the first league game of the season will hopefully be the first of many. 

Tyrese Francois has gone from strength to strength in the last few years since his promotion to Fulham’s senior list in 2019. 

He made a Premier League appearance but his side was relegated convincingly after a disappointing campaign in 2020/21.

Now, with new manager Marco Silva at the helm, Francois has a chance to establish himself in a side that will be surely looking for a short stay in the second tier of English football. 

Germany

Ajdin Hrustic – 25 – Bundesliga – Eintracht Frankfurt

Another Australian footballer overseas is Ajdin Hrustic, who spent five years in the Eredivise with Gorningen before making the move to Eintracht Frankfurt in 2020. 

Hrustic was a perennial substitute in his first season in German senior football, coming off the bench 10 times and starting just once. 

In 2017, he had a choice between Australia, Romania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in terms of who he wanted to represent internationally. He chose the Socceroos. 

That year he made his international debut but had to wait until 2019 for his next appearance.

He has appeared in all of Australia’s World Cup Qualification matches, three times as a substitute and three times in the starting lineup. 

Attacking in nature, Hrustic has plenty of competition in the Australian midfield and will be looking to feature heavily in 2021/22 as Frankfurt looks to push on from last year’s fifth place finish. 

Brandon Borrello – 26 – 2. Bundesliga – Dynamo Dresden

Since moving to Germany midway through 2017, Brandon Borrello hasn’t enjoyed regular first team football the way he did during his time with Brisbane Roar. 

Fans will remember his four goal haul in the AFC Champions League game back in 2017 as a sign of what Borrello was capable of and in his new role at Dynamo Dresden, we may be close to seeing that talent flourish again. 

After spending the season on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf, Borrello made the move from Freiburg to Dresden where he has started the first two games of the 2021 Bundesliga 2 campaign. 

At 26-years-old, Borrello still has plenty of football ahead of him and the Adelaidean will no doubt be keen to get back to his best as soon as possible. 

More football news:

Francois’ fantastic pre-season earns him first league start

Postecoglou makes statement with six-star Celts performance

How the last three years made the Matildas’ Olympics

Jackson Irvine – 28 – 2. Bundesliga – St. Pauli

Another Aussie that is coming off of a change of location is midfield general Jackson Irvine. 

Now 28-years-old, Irvine spent just one season back in Scotland with Hibs before making the move to St. Pauli, one of the most popular clubs in the German second tier. 

St. Pauli has spent a decade in the middle of the second division table, finishing 10th last year and will be looking to Irvine to sure up its midfield as it once again pushes for promotion.

Though defensive in nature, he has shown an ability to affect the game offensively as well with his versatility a huge part of why he will be so valuable for the German outfit this year.

Alou Kuol – 20 – Regionalliga – Stuttgart II

Alou Kuol took the A-League by storm at the beginning of the 2020/21 season. 

Having made just four appearances the year prior, he was thrust into the action as part of the Mariners’ revival under Alen Stajcic.

Immediately his impact was felt as he scored goal after goal, finishing the season with seven in just 19 appearances. 

His move to Stuttgart was the ultimate A-League success story with his clear talent securing him a mammoth five year contract.

In 2021/22 he will look to begin his European journey, but he will have to begin in the Stuttgart reserves side and earn his spot in the first team.

His positive energy is unmatched and the fans will no doubt love him before too long. 

Spain

Maty Ryan – 29 – La Liga – Real Sociedad

If you were making a list of things to do when joining a new club, injuring your knee and requiring surgery within weeks of signing would be somewhere near the bottom. 

It’s not the first obstacle Maty Ryan has had to overcome in his decorated career and the 29-year-old took to Twitter following surgery late last month, stating he’s keen to get back onto the pitch. 

Ryan has been Australia’s number one for years now and his move to Sociedad was met with excitement by football fans. 

Real Sociedad is a very strong team, finishing fifth in La Liga last year and Ryan will look to displace Alex Remiro in net for the coming season. 

With a speedy recovery and some fine training form, Ryan will get his chance to impress, as he has done for his entire career. 

Italy

Fran Karacic – 25 – Serie B – Brescia

In the recent World Cup Qualifiers prior to the Olympics, Fran Karacic caught the eye of Aussie fans.

Having never played for Australia or even in Australia before, he was relatively unknown to the Australian public.

He was deployed on the right side of defence, as he has been since joining Brescia in Serie B, and his talent was on full display.

He showed a willingness to run both forward and back, finding the net on one occasion in three games and his composure on the ball was obvious.

Karacic represented Croatia at Under 21 level as he was born in Zagreb but now, he wears the green and gold and Graham Arnold couldn’t be happier about it.

Brescia will again contest the Serie B and if they are to be with a chance of going up, Fran will need to continue on this upward trajectory as he continues to gain admirers.

France

Denis Genreau – 22 – Ligue 2 – Toulouse

With a name like Denis Genreau it is no wonder that this attacking midfielder’s move to the French second tier felt like the perfect fit. 

Born in Paris, Genreau has represented Australia at under 20, under 23 and now, senior level, as he made his Socceroos debut in the recent World Cup Qualifiers. 

Genreau is very much in the mould of a traditional attacking midfielder with his playmaking ability and set-piece specialties at the forefront of his skillset. 

Genreau spent four years with Melbourne City, floating between the NPL and A-League sides before finally getting a proper run at it with Macarthur.

He took the opportunity with both hands and now find himself at Toulouse, a massive lcub with great history.

With a strong squad, Genreau is a genuine chance of playing an integral part in steering the club back up towards the country’s top division. 

Scotland

Martin Boyle – 28 – Scottish Premiership – Hibernian

While many Aussies are in unfamiliar territory to begin the new season, one man is right where he belongs. 

Martin Boyle has become a fan favourite at Hibernian since joining the club seven years ago and for good reason.

Boyle is fast and hard-working, a player that can be deployed anywhere across the front half of the pitch.

He has become a walk-up starter for Hibs, scoring 12 goals in his 36 appearances last season and helping the Scottish side to a third placed finish behind giants Celtic and Rangers. 

Loyal Boyle is set to play a massive role again this season for Hibs as Rangers go from strength to strength and Celtic look to up its game with the signing of Aussie coach Ange Postecoglou. 

Tom Rogic – 28 – Scottish Premiership – Celtic

Speaking of Ange, a player very familiar with the former Socceroos boss is midfield maestro Tommy Rogic. 

Much like Boyle, Rogic has been a part of the Celtic furniture for a while now, signing for the Scottish superclub back in 2012. 

With Celtic he has won countless titles but across the journey has failed to hold down a spot in the starting 11. 

Rogic has always had superb quality on the ball and is quite tall for a central midfielder. 

He has all the makings of a mercurial player but has never been able to hit the heights that his breakout years in the A-League promised. 

What better opportunity could he wish for than to star in 2021/22 and help his old gaffer bring Celtic back to the top of the Scottish Premiership?

Denmark

Awer Mabil – 25 – Superliga – FC Midtjylland

It seems like only yesterday that Awer Mabil burst onto the scene in the A-League, tearing down the right wing as a teenager for Adelaide United. The kid has come a long way. 

He joined Midtjylland in 2015 and since then has become a vital squad member in a team that is competing both domestically and in European competitions. 

Last year, he started only 10 games and came on off the bench 19 times, compared to the season prior when he started in 30 of his 34 appearances. 

Mabil continues to improve and has always shown a willingness to learn and get better, but now he will have to truly fight for his spot. 

At his best he is a dangerous player with blistering pace and the ability to run and petrify defenders. Always worth watching, Mabil will be looking to step it up in 2021/22.

Lawrence Thomas – 29 – Superliga – SonderjyskE

Lawrie Thomas had to do it the hard way, playing the much maligned role of backup keeper for Melbourne Victory for a number of years. 

He was the classic Pepe Reina, good enough to do the job in a pinch but not good enough to push out the starter in Nathan Coe and then Danny Vukovic.

In 2016/17 he got his big break and never looked back, making the spot between the sticks his own in Melbourne before leaving for SonderjyskE in 2020. 

In 2020/21, he started 32 out of his 32 appearances, was not once named on the bench and enjoyed such a successful campaign that he landed a spot in the Socceroos squad. 

29 is not young but it is nowhere near old for a keeper and with Maty Ryan’s injury woes and Vukovic in a new situation, this is Thomas’ time to stake his claim for Australia’s number one shirt. 

Netherlands

Danny Vukovic – 36 – Eredivisie – NEC

At 36-years-old, Danny Vukovic isn’t exactly one of Australia’s ‘up-and-comers’, but he does find himself in an extraordinarily favourable position after his recent move to the Netherlands. 

His five year spell at Belgian giants Genk was successful but after a disappointing 2020/21 season for the team, club and player parted ways. 

Vukovic has found himself at NEC, a club recently promoted to the Eredivisie via the play-off system.

It’s the perfect fit, with NEC going through a host of goalkeeping issues last year, even swapping keepers out mid-game due to errors. 

Vukovic will likely get first crack at a spot in the starting team for NEC and if he is to take it, expect Vukovic to be in and around Socceroos squads for years to come. 

Belgium

Trent Sainsbury – 29 – Belgian First Division – Kortrijk

With the impressive performances of Thomas Deng at the Olympics and the emergence of Harry Souttar, Trent Sainsbury now finds himself fighting for a Socceroos position he has made his own in recent times. 

Last season was his first with current club Kortrijk, playing in the Belgian first division and he started more games than not, amassing 17 total appearances and scoring two goals. 

Though not the tallest central defender going around, Sainsbury has always had an innate composure on the ball and the ability to play taller than his height. 

To continue to represent his country, he must perform at club level. Kortrijk has started the season well and has gone into each game with different defensive lineups, showing that the spot is there for the taking. 

At 29-years-old, it is now make or break for Sainsbury for both club and country. 

Greece

Bruce Kamau – 26 – Super League 1 – OFI

Another Adelaide United product, Bruce Kamau’s path to a European move differed greatly to Mabil’s.

When Mabil left, Kamau stayed an extra year, winning the A-League trophy before signing with rival club Melbourne City the following year. 

He spent two years at City before making the move west to the Wanderers. 

In 2020/21, he played some of his best football, deployed in a number of different positions with his pace a constant factor and a worry for opposition sides. 

Now, he finds himself outside of the A-League for the first time with Greek side OFI FC. 

It’s Kamau’s first chance to perform outside of Australia and is certainly one he will look to take with both hands. 

Serbia

Milos Degenek – 27 – Super Liga – Red Star Belgrade

The only Australian on this list that is aiming for a three-peat, Milos Degenek will once again be suiting up for Serbian giants, Red Star Belgrade. 

The side has had a monopoly on the Serbian First Division for years now and Degenek has featured prominently in recent seasons. 

A right-sided defender, Degenek has been a constant for Graham Arnold in his reign as Socceroos manager and for good reason. 

At 27, Degenek has the experience needed at international level and it shows in his performances for both club and country. 

As Red Star competes on domestic and European fronts in 2021/22, expect to see Degenek get plenty of action.

Croatia

Deni Juric – 23 – 1.HNL – Sibenik

While his brother is once again scoring goals in the A-League, Deni Juric remains in Croatia and has earned himself a move to giants Dinamo Zagreb. 

He will, however, remain at the same club that he performed so well at last season after Zagreb loaned him back to Sibenik for 2021/22.

At just 23-years-old, Deni has his entire career ahead of him and after banging in 11 goals last year, it is easy to see why he is rated so highly. 

He has started every game (4) for Sibenik so far this season and though he is yet to score, he will no doubt improve as the Croatian season rolls on. 

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