Every year, there are a lot of fresh-faced youngsters who break into the collective psyche of the football world with their spellbinding skills. Very few of them make it into the superstar stratosphere like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe while a lot of them fall by the wayside and get lost in oblivion. A few names who have been all but erased from the collective consciousness are Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli, Ravel Morrisson and Bojan Krkic. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s not easy to have sustained success in the cutthroat world of professional football but those who do, occupy a place in sporting lore as some of the greatest players to ever lace up their boots. Keeping that in mind, here are a few youngsters who we think will set the football world on fire in the coming decade or so:
Eduardo Camavinga (19), Real Madrid: We start with possibly the most sought out young player in the world right now after Barcelona’s Pedri. Camavinga is a French footballer who achieved what most people just dream about their entire lives. A move to Spanish giants Real Madrid. And he got that move at the tender age of 19. Even the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo had to wait till he was 24 to realise his Galactico dream. Camavinga has started his life at Real pretty positively, making 12 appearances in La Liga while scoring 1 goal. The only concern in his game is that he gets booked too often, already picking up 4 yellow cards this season. That is an edge that Real need to carefully polish in order for the diamond to shine through. He has also played 4 Champions League matches, assisting once. In Rennes, he became a revelation after his August 2019 performance against PSG in Ligue 1. Before being snatched up by Real Madrid, he featured 35 times for Rennes and helped them finish 6th in the league. On the back of those scintillating performances, he became the third-youngest player ever to be capped by France, later becoming the second-youngest goalscorer for Les Bleus. If he can stay focused and rein in those fouls, the sky is the limit for this French wonderkid.
Giovanni Reyna (19), Borussia Dortmund: A few years ago, when you talked about US football players, just two names popped up in your heads¬—Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Now, you can’t think past Christain Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna. Pulisic maybe the poster boy of US football (soccer, as they term it) now but this youngster is living the American Dream in Germany. Following in the footsteps of his compatriot, Reyna has made the Borussia Dortmund midfield his own. Last season, he played 32 matches for the German powerhouse, scoring 4 times and assisting on seven occasions. In the Champions League, he made 8 appearances and assisted once. It takes a hell lot of talent to shine in a team which boasts the likes of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho but Reyna has done just that. Since being called up in the Dortmund senior squad he has caught fire, becoming the youngest ever player to score in DFB Pokal history. His main USP is that he can play at any position which makes him an automatic choice for any team. Many are of the opinion that this young American may in the future even eclipse his compatriot Pulisic. It’s just a matter of time till a big club comes sniffing at Dortmund’s door but the German club should try and hold onto this gem of a player. He is one for the future.
Jude Bellingham (18), Borussia Dortmund: If you have ever heard English prodigy Jude Bellingham speak, you would think that he is way older than 18. The way he carries himself is reminiscent of someone way more mature than him. And his game reflects that. He is mature beyond his years and if he can keep his nose clean, we are looking at the next English superstar cut from the same cloth as Steven Gerrard. Plucked from Birmingham City, who retired his 22 number jersey, by Dortmund, Bellingham has hit the ground running in Germany, becoming a key figure in the Bundesliga. He is also the third-youngest player to ever represent England. Last season, he has played 29 times in the Bundesliga and has notched up 1 goal and 3 assists. In the Champions League, he played 10 matches, scoring 1 goal and assisting once. This year, the numbers are astonishing with 15 Bundesliga appearances with 2 goals and 5 assists, already eclipsing the numbers from last season. In 6 Champions League appearance, he has scored once and assisted thrice. Even though he talks like a much more mature person, sometimes we forget that he is just 18 and a recent comment after Dortmund’s loss to Bayern Munich just reminds us that Bellingham is just that. He was fined €40,000 (£33,970) by the German Football Association (DFB) for comments about the referee Felix Zwayer where the England international questioned the appointment of Zwayer, who was banned for six months in 2005 after becoming embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, after some controversial decisions in his side’s 3-2 loss. This is just a rare occasion where the calm nature of Bellingham has given way to a youthful rashness. He’ll obviously learn from this and move on because the future of England rests on his shoulder.
Florian Wirtz (18), Bayer Leverkusen: Dubbed as the next Kai Havertz in footballing circle, Wirtz had big shoes to fill when he first burst onto the scene. Scouted from Cologne, the Leverkusen teenager has made 29 Bundesliga appearances in 2020/21, scoring five goals and providing as many assists. He’s also gone on to become the youngest player to reach double figures for goals in the Bundesliga. When Havertz left for Chelsea, Leverkusen had no reason to panic as they already had a readymade player in his position. Known for his confidence and comfort when in possession, this attacking midfielder has sent the Bundesliga on fire with his immense talent. The attacking midfielder can take control of a game no matter which position he plays, capable of playing across the line behind a striker or even in a deep-lying playmaker role. He has started the 2021-22 season like a house on fire as he has already scored 5 goals while assisting 8 times in the Bundesliga in 15 games. In Europa, he has played 5 games and scored 3 times while having the same number of assists. Closely linked with Real Madrid, it’s just a matter of time till all the heavyweights come in for his signature. Leverkusen might want to brace themselves because this kid will be going places.
Ryan Gravenberch (19), Ajax: From the new Kai Havertz, we dive headfirst into the new Paul Pogba, as quoted from Justin Kluivert. Though Sebastian Haller is hogging the limelight with his insane amount of Champions League goals this season, this Dutch holding midfielder is quietly going around his business in the background. In 16 Eredivise matches, he has scored one goal and has registered one assist. That may not look like much on paper but the young prodigy has given a level of assurance to the depleted Ajax midfield after the departure of Van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong. Last season, he was the heart of the Dutch side’s defensive midfield, making 32 appearances and scoring thrice while providing 5 assists. He is a very good progressive passer of the ball and often looks to break lines with his passing. The player who is a product of the Ajax academy made his debut for the club at the age of 16 in 2018 and has since gone on to be capped ten times by the national team. Liverpool are the most likely suitors but Manchester United and Barcelona are sniffing around in an attempt to snatch this teen up after his contract is up in 2023.
Jamal Musiala (18), Bayern Munich: Though Jamal Musiala has already made his mark in the footballing world after leaving Chelsea for Bayern Munich, that is just the tip of the iceberg. This teenager who excels as a winger, an attacking midfielder, and even as a defensive midfielder, is one of the most exciting players walking the face of this earth. Though his versatility allows him to play in every position, Musiala excels when he is deployed as a winger. His coaches seem to know that as he has started nearly half of his 15 games in the 2021/22 campaign in that position. The role displays Musiala’s mastery of the one-on-one. With his speed, he becomes a handful for defenders. The only problem that he might face is the amount of riches Bayern already possess in its wings in the form of Kingsley Coman, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry. These are all world class players and all of them are relatively young which makes Musiala’s best position a bit of a problem. After Joshua Kimmich was infected with Covid though, a new avenue opened up for Musiala as he took control of the number 6 position in Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 formation. He is versatile and his adaptability is insane but as pointed out earlier, his best position is as a winger. Of his nine Bundesliga career goals, seven have come as a winger, while all four top-flight assists have been tallied from out wide with three already this season. If he does not rise up the pecking order in upcoming seasons, it’s not hard to see him ending up in one of the other European powerhouses.
Nuno Mendes (19), Sporting CP (On loan to PSG): Even before joining Paris Saint Germain on loan from Sporting CP, the football world had sat up and taken notice of Nuno Mendes. The defender became the youngest player to start a game for Sporting since Cristiano Ronaldo in June 2020. After Argentinian Marcos Acuna left for Sevilla, Mendes became a regular fixture in the starting Sporting starting lineup at just 18 years of age. He has strength, speed, focus and timing to ensure defensive solidity, in addition to refined technique and a propensity to attack with purpose. In a nutshell, he is what the modern wingbacks are supposed to be and more. You don’t really see a star-studded team like PSG line up to take you on loan if you haven’t shown glimpses of greatness. That is a team chock full of superstars like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He really came into focus against a 1-1 draw in the Champions League when he came off the bench and made a darting run to set up Lionel Messi. That is what you call instant impact. PSG have an option to buy after the loan ends and it’ll be their loss if they don’t take up the option. This young left back will have no shortage of suitors once the transfer market opens up in the summer.
Jeremy Doku (19), Rennes: For a while now, Rennes have been the breeding ground for high quality right backs, be it Rafinha or Ismaila Sarr who were both sold to Leeds and Watford respectively. The third and the most exciting among the bunch may be Belgian Jeremy Doku. Doku came into the collective consciousness after his impressive showing against Italy in their quarterfinal loss in Euro 2020. Even before that he was a highly coveted player who is tipped to set the Premier League on fire if he is signed by a proper EPL club. With his combination of speed, balance and dribbling skills, Doku will be right at home at the world’s most famous league. However, his greatest strength is his dribbling, owing to a combination of speed, coordination, ability to change pace quickly, and unpredictable footwork. Even if the Premier League has a reputation of being a hard-nosed league, with his pace Doku will explode to life here. La Liga and the German Bundesliga are also options but owing to his skillset, EPL seems to be the most compatible. The only glitch in his game is decision making, with him being in two minds sometimes on whether to shoot or cross. Though, that is something that can be easily fixed as his game grows. This is a mercurial talent who is destined for good things down the line.
Special mentions: Ansu Fati, Pedri, Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka