Many teenagers had a breakthrough season in 2017 with Kylian Mbappe making a dream move from Monaco to PSG but who will take top spot this year? Below is a list of football’s top talents born or after January 1, 1999.
1. Justin Kluivert
“Justin Kluivert is like Neymar!” Ronald de Boer is not the only famous figure getting excited by the potential of Patrick Kluivert’s son Justin, the Ajax winger on a seemingly pre-ordained path to superstardom. Indeed, agent Mino Raiola is rubbing his hands with glee having signed up a prodigious talent who has already forced his way into the Netherlands squad. Kluivert remains under contract to Ajax until 2019 but a player of such super-sonic speed and wonderful skills looks destined to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining one of Europe’s elite.
2. Matthijs De Ligt
Matthijs De Ligt’s Netherlands debut, against Bulgaria, may not have gone according to plan but the Ajax ace will be an Oranje regular for the next decade. A born leader with a wonderful range of passing, De Ligt is considered one of the most exciting centre-halves to emerge in Europe in years. It hardly surprising, then, that an 18-year-old defender of such impressive physique and technique is already being tracked by Barcelona, who are considering making a move for De Ligt this summer.
3. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Gianluigi Donnarumma has endured a difficult year off the field but, on it, he has remained as unruffled as ever before, becoming an AC Milan centurion, as well as breaking into the Italy squad. The goalkeeper had wowed seasoned campaigners with his composure and maturity from the moment he made his senior debut as a 16-year-old. But the way in which he dealt with the backlash over the Mino Raiola-related wrangling over a new contract last summer has only strengthened the belief that we are watching ‘the new Gigi Buffon’.
4. Vinicius Junior
After starring for Brazil at the Under-17 South American Championship, Vinicius Junior became the most expensive 16-year-old in football history when Real Madrid agreed to pay Flamengo €45 million for the striker’s services last May. He had only made his professional debut 10 days previously but Vinicius is already looking like a bargain. Indeed, having been loaned back to Flamengo until 2019, the attacker already boasts better numbers than Neymar at the same age. As a result, Madrid are now set to bring forward his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu to this summer.
5. Phil Foden
There are few better judges of talent than Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and the former Barcelona playmaker has described Phil Foden as “a gift” from the club’s academy to his senior squad. After wowing the Catalan with his performance in a pre-season friendly against Manchester United last summer, the versatile Foden, who can play in midfield, as a trequartista or out wide, has since showcased his wonderful skills in both the Premier League and the Champions League, as well as inspiring the England Under-17s to World Cup glory in India last November.
It feels like only a matter of time before a top European club activates the €50m buy-out clause in Brenner’s contract with Sao Paulo. Despite only turning 18 in January, the skilful, pacy and elegant support-striker has already netted in the Brasileirao, the Paulistao and the Copa do Brasil, as well as having struck three times for Brazil at last year’s Under-17 World Cup.
7. Facundo Colidio
Inter had to pay €7m to beat off stiff competition from Juventus and Manchester City for Facundo Colidio but the Nerazzurri are supremely confident that it will prove a shrewd investment, with the Argentine striker having made a good start to repaying his transfer fee with a double in the Supercoppa Primavera win over Roma in January. Given his nationality and club, comparisons are being made to Nerazzurri captain Mauro Icardi but, in truth, Colidio’s style is more akin to that of Gonzalo Higuain, given his movement and greater involvement in build-up play.
8. Jann-Fiete Arp
After several lean years, Germany is once again producing classic No.9s – the atypical Timo Werner aside – and now, fresh off the conveyor belt, comes Jann-Fiete Arp, another natural-born goalscorer. The Hamburg starlet is not just a pure six-yard box predator, though, as he also possesses the technical skills required of a mobile modern forward, making the 18-year-old a nightmare for defenders.
9. Umaro Embalo
Still only 16 years of age yet Umaro Embalo is one of the most coveted players in Europe. Indeed, RB Leipzig were willing to pay Benfica €20m for the winger during the January transfer window. It’s easy to understand why Embalo is attracting such attention, given he is a lightning-quick attacker with a wonderful left foot who looks more than capable of vindicating the current comparisons with Angel di Maria.
10. Brahim Diaz
The appointment of Pep Guardiola as Manchester City boss was always going to mean good things for Brahim Diaz, given the Catalan had tried to sign the former Malaga attacker when he was in charge at Barcelona. Guardiola’s only concern now is protecting the Spain Under-21 international from the Premier League’s most brutal defenders, not to mention keeping him out of the clutches of Real Madrid, who are keen on signing Diaz.
11. Willem Geubbels
Willem Geubbels’ decision to turn down a new contract at Lyon is set to spark one of the biggest bidding wars of the summer. Club president Jean-Michel Aulas is demanding €70m for the elegant left winger with the blistering pace. He’s unlikely to get it, though, as Geubbels’ current deal expires in 2019 but Lyon will be buoyed by the fact that while Monaco are the only club to have confirmed their interest, several others are poised to pounce.
12. Sergio Gomez
Barcelona were devastated by Sergio Gomez’s decision to depart for Borussia Dortmund in January, given his Silver Ball-winning performances for Spain at the Under-17 World Cup just two months before. A versatile No.10 who can also play on the wing, the 17-year-old almost seems as quick with the ball as he is without it, while his sublime technique saw him touted as the ideal replacement for Andres Iniesta at Camp Nou until BVB met his €3m buy-out clause.
13. Amine Gouiri
After earning big pay-days on both Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon believe that it won’t be too long before they are fielding massive offers for their latest striking sensation, Amine Gouiri. The top-scorer at last year’s Under-17 European Championship in Croatia, the 18-year-old has already made his first appearances in both Ligue 1 and the Europa League, impressing scouts across the continent with his mobility, movement and technique.
14. Kai Havertz
Kai Havertz is just 18 years of age yet he is a Bayer Leverkusen regular with over 50 senior appearances to his name. Given his technique, vision, versatility and height (1.88m), the Germany Under-19 attacking midfielder has been described as a cross between Mesut Ozil and Michael Ballack, and Liverpool have scouted him repeatedly in recent months.
15. Takefusa Kubo
Takefusa Kubo has the face and physique of a kid, which is hardly surprising, given he’s only 16, but he plays and reads the game like a veteran. His ridiculous talent has been obvious for years, with Barcelona having signed him in 2011 only to be forced by FIFA to give him up in 2015 after they were found to have breached transfer regulations regarding the movement of Under-18s. It is only a matter of time before the attacking midfielder returns to Europe, though, having already become the youngest player ever to appear and score in the J.League.
16. Timothy Weah
Timothy Weah must carry the burden of a famous surname but the good news is that from everything that we’ve seen so far from the 18-year-old attacker, he has both the talent and the temperament to cope with being constantly compared to his father George. Although not as physically powerful, Timothy has the same keen eye for goal and terrific turn of pace. Having elected to represent the United States, where he was born and raised, Weah netted a hat-trick at the Under-17 World Cup in December before making his first starts for both the USMNT and PSG this very month.
17. Alban Lafont
The most remarkable thing about Alban Lafont, ‘France’s Donnarumma’, is that the Toulouse No.1 is actually managing to live up to all of the hype that has surrounded him since he became the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in Ligue 1, in 2015, at 16 years and 310 days old. It is now only a matter of time before the Burkina Faso-born France Under-20 international is snapped up by one of Europe’s top clubs, with Arsenal hoping the fact that Lafont was a childhood Gunners fan will decide the race for his signature in their favour.
18. Rafael Leao
The latest gem unearthed by Sporting’s renowned youth academy, Rafael Leao is a powerful, intelligent and skilful attacker with an awesome turn of pace. With the 18-year-old having just scored his first goal for the club, in only his third Primeira Liga appearance, Sporting are now scrambling to increase his buy-out clause from €45 million to €100m in order to fend off interest from elsewhere.
19. Ryan Sessegnon
It is now a question of when rather than if Ryan Sessegnon will leave Fulham for one of England’s biggest clubs. It’s going to take a colossal offer to take him away from Craven Cottage, though, as the 17-year-old has been tearing up the Championship this season, whether deployed at full-back or on the wing. Given his pace, technique, versatility and cultured left foot, he’s unsurprisingly being touted as ‘The new Gareth Bale’.
20. Reiss Nelson
Arsenal are desperate to persuade Reiss Nelson to sign a contract extension, with his current deal set to expire in 2019. A turbo-charged winger with mesmerising dribbling skills, the 19-year-old has already broken into Arsene Wenger’s first-team squad, impressing in the Community Shield win over Chelsea at the start of the season before making his first appearances in the Europa League, League Cup, FA Cup and then, in January, the Premier League.