Football is something of a business. Managers and Owners are continuously looking for the ‘Next Big Thing’ or the ‘Wonderkid’ of this generation. The young talents of today are thriving, and clubs aim to capitalise on their talent by buying them for a reasonable price, then allowing them to nurture and mature under their management. This results in monitoring the progression from adolescence to superstardom. A lot of young players reach their potential at the age of 26-27, seeing their value increase. Below, you will see 10 players of the ages 17-21, whom I consider to be the World’s Top Young Footballers. Incorporated within are players of different positions. Some may not have hit the international stage yet; some already have. Regardless, the players you will see are ought to be kept in mind for the coming years when they’ll grow into marvelous footballers.
Impressing at the ‘NextGen’ series, the 18 year-old Ajax man has puts some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs on high alert with his dazzling performances. Scoring 20 goals in 30 appearances with the Danish U17 National Team, Viktor shrugged off interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea opting to sign for Ajax, in which he has scored 6 league goals in 13 appearances. AFC Ajax are commonly known for unearthing gems, with Fischer already earning comparisons to Michael Laudrup. His technical ability combined with his mental ability is a threat to any defender. Understandably, he’s a few years off reaching his potential but he has many years to do fulfill that. I can’t help but think Ajax is the best club for him to do so; they’re recognised for developing young talent.
At the tender age of 20, David Alaba has already achieved so much in a short space of time. In 2011, he was awarded Austrian Player of the Year for some great performances. Bayern Munich’s academy is one of the best around, producing a vast amount of talent, and Alaba is one of the best to come out of that. Despite playing in a variety of roles, David has blossomed as a left back. He continues to surprise fans with his immense versatility and could go on to be one of the best left backs in the world. He’s quick, pacey, and has bags of potential. A bright future is ahead for the young Austrian, who will play a vital part for Bayern in their quest to win the Bundesliga and Champions League.
Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t a man of many mistakes, but letting Paul Pogba go to Champions League rivals Juventus may just be up there with the Manchester United Manager’s worst. Pogba, 19, has been a revelation since joining the Serie ‘A’ Champions in the summer. Scoring 2 wonderful goals v Udinese and a sublime finish v Napoli, it’s safe to say he has taken the Italian League by storm. Primarily a Centre Defensive Midfielder, it’s not his priority to get the goals. However, possessing tremendous ball control and supreme confidence in his ability, Pogba is a dominant midfield man. He has an apt for picking out the correct passes at the right times, and has fearsome drive (as seen in the goals v Udinese and Napoli). He’s comfortable as a defensive midfielder or as an Attacking Midfielder, so his versatility is also a strong point of his. He has covered at time for the injured Marchisio or Andrea Pirlo effectively. Pogba adds to what is, an already powerful midfield. At 19, the Frenchman hasn’t reached his full potential yet either, so he has a few years to mature as a footballer. On a personal note, I believe he can go far in European Football – wherever he ends up.
With Valdés’ reported move away from Barcelona imminent, it’s clear they’ll be in need of a first choice Goalkeeper. Marc – Andre ter Stegen has been speculated as the Catalonian giants Number 1 target. However, who exactly is he? He has been rewarded numerous amounts of praise with claims the German international, currently at Borussia Mönchengladbach, is already ‘on par’ with Manuel Neuer. Neuer is considered by many as the World’s best Goalkeeper so to be rated as ‘on par’ with the fellow German, is an achievement in itself. That’s not just the idea of the average man on the street, it is the opinion of the 1972 European Championship and 1974 World Cup hero, Sepp Maier. Marc’s controlling presence in and around his 18 yard box and his superb shot stopping abilities have been noticed by many, and he was even labelled Bundesliga’s best Goalkeeper last season. Neuer has already distinguished himself as the German No.1, but how long will it be before it’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen? Marc is only 20, which is incredibly young for a Goalkeeper, meaning he has the time to develop and establish himself as one of the best. A move to Barcelona, featuring regularly at one of the biggest clubs in the world, will be a big step in his Career. Perhaps Neuer being first choice at Bayern has helped him distinguish himself, so it’s time for ter Stegen to do the same.
Nobody knew the name ‘Raphael Varane’ until Real Madrid, perhaps too casually, bought the Frenchman for €11m from Lens. Many questioned the thought process behind bidding for an unheard of central defender, until he began to show exactly why Real Madrid paid €11m for him. His style of play is composed and assured,he is like Nemanja Vidic in the way he can occupy the heart of defence in a manner which exudes composure and confidence, while still communicating effectively with evident leadership qualities that are often seen in later stages of development in a footballer. On the 30th January 2013, Varane made his ‘El Clásico’ debut with a sublime performance. Not only did he equalise after Madrid went down 0-1, but his defensive performance was outstandingly good. Clearing a Xavi shot off the line whilst breaking down a number of dangerous attacks by Barcelona. This performance was capped with a Man of the Match award, and deservedly so. I was deliberating between Matija Nastasic and Varane, as to who to include in this list, but I chose Varane because I believe he’s already a better player and can go further with his career. At 19 years of age, he can still drive forward and achieve whatever he wants. I expect him to stay at Madrid for many years, at least fulfilling what was a 6 year contract.
As an attacking midfielder, Eriksen has shown a wide variety of ability making him one of the most sought after players across Europe. Some of the continent’s top clubs are interested in the Danish international, such as Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, AC Milan, and it’s believed he is Liverpool’s main target for the summer of 2013. His versatility has been on show for the majority of the season, playing as a pivot and a false-nine at domestic and continental levels. Like most No.10’s, he likes to play in between the midfield and defensive lines forcing opponents to make sure a man occupies the space to defend against him. A lot of playmakers similar to Eriksen are coming onto the footballing scene, but it’s safe to say Eriksen compares to them all. For those of you whom watched Eriksen v Manchester City in the group stages of the Champions League 2012/2013, you’ll have noticed him dropping into the spaces, dictating the run of play whilst distributing the ball. With Eriksen’s style of play, it’s likely forward wingers are needed to make the runs in behind the defence. His vision is excellent – he can create a chance from nothing. One pass of his could take a whole defence out of the equation. It’s been speculated the player has rejected a contract offer from Ajax amid interest from other clubs, though I can’t see Ajax allowing him to leave cheaply. He’s a prize asset, so I’d imagine £23-£25m would be the desired fee.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure from AC Milan to Paris-Saint-Germain in the summer of 2012 resulted in young Stephan having to fill a big void in the Milan attacking line-up. Zlatan’s intimidating, and somewhat suffocating, presence meant Milan were in need of a striker who can single-handedly win games, to keep them in with a shout for Champions League football for the following season. Ibrahimovic is one of the best players in world football, so the pressure was bound to be high on El Shaarawy. However, the young Italian, 20, has produced some magnificent displays thus far in the Serie ‘A’, scoring 15 goals with only Edison Cavani ahead of him in the leaderboards. Furthermore, he is the youngest Milan player to ever score in the Champions League with his goal against Zenit St Petersburg earlier this season. Stephan possesses an extravagant amount of pace, allowing ‘The Pharaoh” to accelerate past opposing defenders leaving them stranded, and begging other players not to give him any space. A common problem with young players is their inability to put the ball into the back of the net; usually due to a lack of composure and experience. As the earlier statistic implies, El Shaarawy’s goal-scoring capabilities are certainly dangerous, and as he grows older, they will only improve. Versatility has been mentioned a lot in this article, but El Shaarawy is profoundly going to be played centrally throughout his upcoming Career. That doesn’t stop him being able to play out wide if need be, which is brilliant for Milan as Stephan can adapt to any system. Whether that’s as a lone Striker, or as an attacking Left Winger. Pace and skill are seen as a deadly combination, both of which, El Shaarawy has, again making him an intimidating attacker for any defender. For any young player, national recognition is vitally important for the progression of his Career. El Shaarawy, at only the age of 19, has been called up to the Azzurri. A strike force consisting of Ballotelli and El Shaarawy will threaten any national side for the years ahead.
Borussia Dortmund, under the management of Jurgen Klopp, have established themselves as one of the top teams in German football, winning back to back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012. Amongst the star players, is Mario Gotze. Teammates with players such as Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Marco Reus, Gotze is one of the up and coming stars from the Bundesliga. Over the past couple of years, Mario has illustrated his immense potential. The tremendous pairing of creativity and speed make him a defenders nightmare. The young boy has an exciting eye for a pass, assisting many of his surrounding attackers. Gotze has all the technical attributes an attacking midfielder should have, but what makes him unique is his expansive intelligence and humility by not being content to wait for the ball, but running into the appropriate spaces and trying to go and win possession. He does the ‘knit and grit’ aspect of the game,and he won’t shy away from a tackle like most technicians. Dubbed as the ‘German Lionel Messi’, Gotze has many years to reach his full potential. Whether that’s with Dortmund, with Real Madrid, Arsenal or the whole host of clubs interested in his signature is a mystery. Gotze is widely touted as one of the greatest talents Germany has ever produced. At 19 years of age, he can become one of the best in the game. Read a detailed report on him here.
When it comes to young Brazilians, a lot of focus is directed towards the Brazilian sensation that is Neymar, with others not grabbing the headlines as much. Perhaps his €45m move to Paris-Saint-Germain from Sao Paulo last month may have earned Lucas Moura some form of attention. The attacking midfielder, who can also play out wide, is another young revelation who is destined for a big career. Moura is wonderfully skillful with explosive bursts of pace. His adapted technique is to pull defenders out of their position, and use this explosive pace to spark past them into an open space in which he can do whatever he likes, leaving the defenders mesmerized and confused as to how they can control him for 90 minutes. In addition, Lucas has superb balance whilst remaining strong enough to shrug off the opposition,meaning the physical aspect of his game has to be commended too. Not many heard of him while he played in Brazil, like Neymar, but his move to PSG has grabbed the attention of many. He impressed during the Friendly v England on the 7th February, leaving many wondering why Scolari didn’t start him in the first place. Manchester United were unable to afford Moura, but were firmly interested. He’s definitely one to look out for over the next few years.
Neymar is now 21 years of age. Already, he has earned comparisons to the two best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s slightly unfair, given he is so young and has only experienced football in 1 league, with Santos. The majority of football fans have only heard of the name Neymar, without seeing what this wonderful footballer can do. He’s been coveted by Europe’s top clubs, with the likes of Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea all being linked to the Brazilian centre forward. According to Guillem Balague, Barcelona have already agreed a deal with Santos for Neymar. Neymar claims he will not move before the 2014 World Cup (In Brazil). This concerns me because he is undoubtedly the world’s hottest prospect and he is repeating the same things. The incredible football he played last season, has been repeated this season. I feel he needs a new challenge, to play for a top club in the best Leagues in the World. But what makes Neymar so good? His agility and quickness is remarkable, due to his slight build. He’s able to break down the defenders on the counter attack or by a slipped in through ball, both of which are made easy by his pace. He has an excellent first touch, which is very handy when receiving lifted through balls from Santos teammates Ganso and Elano. The technical aspect of his game is a pleasure to watch, whether that’s passing or shooting. Skillful players like Neymar are stereotyped under the label ‘greedy’; but not in his case given his impressive assist record. His exquisite dribbling and magnificent flair makes it so difficult to retrieve the ball from his possession, that Neymar capitalizes by moving into spaces where he can shoot or lay off the appropriate pass. Scoring 129 goals in 209 appearances for Santos is somewhat staggering, and scoring 17 goals in 27 appearances for the Brazilian National Team is even better. These statistics highlight his deadly finishing. Neymar could become one of the best – providing he proves himself amongst Football’s elite.
Julian Draxler – 19 year old attacking Midfielder, currently at FC Schalke 04. German.
Isco – 20 year old attacking Midfielder, currently at Malaga CF. Just signed a new contract with a release clause of €30m. Spanish. Read a detailed report on him here.
Iker Munain – 20 year old left Winger, currently at Athletic Bilbao. Spanish.
Romelu Lukaku – 19 year old Striker, currently on loan at West Brom from Chelsea. Belgian.
Adam Maher – 19 year old attacking Midfielder, currently at AZ. Dutch.
Max Clayton – Striker at Crewe Alexandra (League 1). Demonstrated his goalscoring pedigree already at the young age of 18.
Do you agree with the list? Have any other suggestions to pass on through? Any particular player who you want to read a detailed report on? Let us know by joining the discussion below!