LaLiga’s Best Young Players Series: Ivan Šaponjić at Cádiz
Written by Andrew Miller
As part of our new collaboration with scouting platform FIVEYARDS (@FIVE__YARDS on Twitter), we at La Liga Lowdown are delighted to bring you a new regular feature. Each week, we will introduce a public vote for followers to select their favourite young player for each LaLiga club. The winner of the Twitter poll will then be profiled on our site using FIVEYARDS data.
This week’s young LaLiga up-and-comer is Cádiz striker Ivan Šaponjić.
On-loan at the newly-promoted Andalusian club from Atlético Madrid, the 23-year-old Serbian Eagle is widely regarded, alongside Real Madrid striker Luka Jović, to be the attacking future of the national team, having already impressed at multiple youth levels. A physical No.9 with intelligent decision-making, Šaponjić has all the makings of a dominant centre-forward. His great finishing ability and intelligent off-the-ball movement make him the prototypical modern-day forward, built in a similar mould stylistically to Bayern Munich’s Polish cannon Robert Lewandowski.
The Lowdown: Story and Stats
After impressing in his maiden season as a youngster for FK Partizan and becoming the youngest ever debutant in the club’s history, Šaponjić initially made a move to Portuguese giants Benfica, where he was immediately assigned to the club’s reserve team to continue his development under close tutelage at their state-of-the-art training academy in Lisbon.
After scoring 14 goals in 68 games for Benfica B and a successful year-long loan spell at Belgian club S.V. Zulte Waregem, the Serbian caught the eye of Atlético Madrid and later joined Los Colchoneros on a 5-year contract in the summer of 2019.
Despite not featuring regularly at the Wanda Metropolitano so far, Šaponjić remains one of the most highly-rated forwards within the ranks.
Already possessing an intrinsic finishing ability in front of goal, Šaponjić has continued to mature as a professional. This season’s 85% pass completion rate is a testament to the continued development of the young Serbian, as this wasn’t a strength earlier in his career.
Despite still being only 23, he thinks and reacts like an established veteran. His patience and decision-making in the final third is impressive, and his dual-dexterity means the opposition needs to always keep defensive cover on him around the box – which naturally opens up space for the supporting players.
Although not naturally gifted in terms of exceptional pace, Šaponjić is comfortable straddling the offside line to cut in behind the defence for a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper (a particular speciality of his), or dropping deep to initialise a forward-run for his strike partner, providing he plays in his favoured two-upfront formation, meaning his versatile play-style is adaptable enough to fit a variety of line-ups.
What the Future Holds
It’s hard to predict where Ivan Šaponjić will be in a couple of years.
His development hasn’t been on a steady course with the predicted trajectory from his teenage years, but the young Serbian still has the talent and natural ability to compete at a very high level for a long time.
With the forward options and financial muscle available at a club like Atlético Madrid, his future may lie elsewhere, either on another loan deal or permanently as a key player in a club across one of Europe’s less high-profile leagues.