In a football world filled with countless stars of today, so many of us are curious about who is waiting in the wings. That search for that next wunderkind; a youngster who has the potential to make us stand up and marvel at how they are masters of their craft despite their tender age, is always on the minds of millions of fans around the world.
With this in mind, we at 101 Great Goals continue our weekly series that takes a look at U21 players across the world during the 2022-23 season. Some of them you will have no doubt heard of, while we hope to bring you a few new names to spark your curiosities every now and then.
Name: Emanuel Aiwu
Place of Birth: Linz, Austria
National team caps: 13 (Austria U21)
Current club: Unione Sportiva Cremonese
Current Market Value (per Transfermarkt): €3m (£2.6m)
Potential suitor(s): N/A (summer arrival from SK Rapid Wien for €3.5m)
Austria is one of the interesting enigmas in the football world; one of only a few nations in Europe that played a prominent role both politically and militarily across the lion’s share of its existence as an empire and a nation but has failed to have the same impact on the beautiful game the likes of France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and England.
Despite taking part in the second-ever World Cup in 1934 during a period when Austrian’s national side was referred to as Das Wunderteam, and then finishing third 20 years later in Switzerland in the wake of the Second World War, Unsere Burschen failed to make good on its initial influence on the sport from its humble competitive beginnings.
The central European nation contributed impressive figures during the first half of the 20th century, including names like Gerhard Hanappi, Johann Horvath, Anton Schall, Matthias Sindelar, Karl Zischek before a brief footballing renaissance during the 70′s and 80′s saw the rise of a memorable trio comprised of Andreas Herzog (all-time caps leader), Toni Polster (all-time leading goalscorer), and Johann Krankl (second all-time in goals). But despite a small cache of footballing footnotes, Austria has never reached footballing heights commensurate with its national history.
Its best-ever product is none other than - you guessed it - David Alaba. The Vienna native and former Austria Wien academy attendee caught national attention when German giants Bayern Munich brought him north over the border to Bavaria in 2008. One year later, he would make his competitive debut for the Bundesliga juggernaut before going on to make 431 appearances while scoring 33 goals as both one of the best left-backs in Europe as well as a deputizing center-back.
Twelve years later, Alaba would depart Bayern for the Spanish capital in a move to global behemoth Real Madrid on the back of twenty-seven major honors including ten Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokal triumphs, and two Champions League winners medals. By the time his career is over, it is likely that Alaba could well go down in history as the greatest player in Austria’s history, but another defensive export from Germany’s southern neighbor could be on course for big things in the heart of the defense outside of the nation’s borders; Emanuel Aiwu.
Born in Linz to a Nigerian background, Aiwu spent the entirety of his youth career at Austrian Bundesliga outfit Admira Wacker Mödling before finally breaking into the first-team setup at the Motion_invest Arena in the second half of the 2017-2018 as a bright-eyed eighteen-year-old.
It did not take long for the speedy ball-playing center-back to endear himself to the Südstädter faithful after making 21 appearances across all competitions the following season and aligned himself with the perfect opportunity to become a first-choice option just a year later.
For the next two seasons, Aiwu appeared a combined 57 times and was beginning to draw attention to himself from outside forces as far away as Scotland from Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers, as well as being able to site admirers in England, Italy, and Germany while Aiwu was a self-proclaimed Manchester City fan who was a great admirer of Yaya Touré who harbored dreams of plying his trade in the Premier League moving forward.
But his rise to starlet attention was not without frustration and, as so many Black players have endured over the years, racist abuse at the hands of supporters on social media in the wake of his move to Austrian giants SK Rapid Wien in the summer of 2021.
And it did not take long for Aiwu to make an even greater impression on the national landscape amid rave reviews for his performances for Die Grün-Weißen in the subsequent 2021-22 campaign both on the domestic front as well as the Europa League and Europa Conference League.
Profiling as a modern center-back, Aiwu’s ability to build play out from the back in the defensive third of the pitch while boasting impressive recovery pace as well as tactical flexibility and keen defensive instincts (data profile here) that would be one of the key reasons for increased interest last season and into the summer after being billed as one of the brightest talents to come through the ranks in Austria in a generation.
Though Celtic was heavily interested in securing a move for the Austrian U21 international, it would be promoted Serie A outfit Unione Sportiva Cremonese that secured his services for a reported €3.5m and Aiwu has already shone for his new employers just five matches into the new Serie A season.
The Austrian center-back was one of a cadre of key I Grigiorossi performers that helped the club to their first points in the Serie A in over two decades when they drew nil-nil with neutral fan-favorite Unione Sportiva Sassuolo Calcio at home in an impressive outing that saw Aiwu complete 85% of his passes while winning all four of his attempted tackles as well as 4 of his 7 duels on the ground and adding two interceptions to cap off a fantastic 90-minutes.
If his early performances in Serie A are anything to go by, then Emanuel Aiwu will certainly have a brighter future ahead of him that will take him to even bigger locations on the European continent than Cremona.