- J. Bellingham
- F. Wirtz
- J. Musiala
- H. Elliott
- M. Cherki
- D. Rensch
- Y. Moukoko
- B. Šeško
- R. Pepi
- Y. Demir
- Marcos Leonardo
- L. Netz
- M. Cho
- K. Kozłowski
- H. Mejbri
- C. Clark
- M. Gusto
- X. Simons
- Levi Colwill
- A. Karabec
- C. Chukwuemeka
- V. Barco
- B. Okoh
- E. Michut
- Matheus França
- S. Shoretire
- L. Gourna-Douath
- G. Slonina
- Borussia Dortmund
- Bayer Leverkusen
- Bayern München
- Olympique Lyonnais
- Dinamo Moskva II
- Rapid Wien
- Borussia M'gladbach
- Angers SCO
- RB Leipzig
- Brighton & Hove Albion
- Union Saint-Gilloise
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- New York RB
- Huddersfield Town
- Sparta Praha
- Aston Villa
- Boca Juniors
- Chicago Fire
- Real Madrid
- UEFA Champions League
- UEFA Europa League
- Premier League
- Serie A
- Primera División
- Serie A
- Ligue 1
- Features & Opinions
For more on the world's best young footballers, follow @nxgn_football on Twitter.
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#50 Bruno Iglesias
Real Madrid’s is an academy packed full of brilliant young diamonds, but none shine brighter right now than midfielder Bruno Iglesias.
The 18-year-old, who has been likened to Kaka within La Fabrica, has already reached double figures for both goals and assists with Madrid’s Under-19s this season.
Iglesias is now being tipped to make his first-team debut at some point in 2022, though Manchester City and Arsenal are monitoring his progress in the hope that his pathway to the senior side is blocked.
Not since the emergence of Neymar in 2008 has a player as young as Endrick bewitched Brazilian football fans like the Palmeiras forward.
The 15-year-old, who is described as being “a force of nature” by those to have coached him, has already trained with the Verdao first team after leading them to the Copinha title in January.
Endrick scored six goals in seven games during the prestigious Under-20s tournament, and is now a transfer target for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City, among others, amid claims the forward is already worth at least €45m.
#48 Marcelo Flores
Despite having only just broken into Arsenal’s Under-23s side, Marcelo Flores is creating plenty of headlines in Mexico.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder is already a full international, having made his debut for El Tri in December, and there is hope that he could yet make Gerardo Martino’s squad for the 2022 World Cup.
Back in north London, Flores has already told GOAL of his dream to become an Arsenal “legend”, and his playmaking ability and acrobatic celebrations are likely to make him a fan favourite once he inevitably breaks through at the Emirates Stadium.
#47 Roony Bardghji
Roony Bardghji became the youngest goalscorer in Danish Superliga history with a 25-yard effort in just his second senior appearance back in November 2021, spectacularly illustrating why he has been dubbed ‘the Swedish Messi’.
The 16-year-old forward, who is also FC Copenhagen’s youngest-ever player, has been on the radars of top European clubs for a number of years, and is expected to go from strength to strength over the next 12 months.
Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea are among those interested in Roony, with an eight-figure sum likely to be required to sign him.
#46 Gabriel Slonina
The United States has a strong tradition of producing excellent goalkeepers, and there is a chance that Gabriel Slonina will be their best yet.
The Chicago Fire youngster is already the youngest shot-stopper to keep a clean sheet in MLS history, with his form having earned him multiple call-ups to Gregg Berhalter’s senior national squad.
Manchester United, Juventus and Atletico Madrid have all been linked with 17-year-old Slonina, who has been compared to Jan Oblak, Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer since making his professional debut in August.
#45 Lucas Gourna
Allan Saint-Maximin, Wesley Fofana and William Saliba have all emerged from the Saint-Etienne academy in recent years, and their hot streak looks set to continue with Lucas Gourna.
The 18-year-old midfielder has been labelled ‘the new Paul Pogba’ by some, though, in truth, he is more defensively-minded than the Manchester United star, who – like Gourna – spent some of his teenage years at US Torcy, a club renowned for its youth development.
Despite their on-field differences, Gourna does look likely to join Pogba at the top of the European game at some stage, with Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea among those monitoring his progress as he racks up appearances in Ligue 1.
#44 Shola Shoretire
Being the youngest player to ever appear in European competition for Manchester United is some feat given their illustrious history of bringing through academy talent, but that is the record Shola Shoretire managed to break when he debuted for the club in February 2021.
The forward, who is most comfortable playing from wide areas, has been touted as a future star for the Old Trafford outfit ever since he broke into their Under-19s squad at the age of 14.
Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich all made efforts to acquire 18-year-old Shoretire before he signed his first professional contract at United, and he is likely to earn further first-team opportunities when the club appoints its new permanent manager this summer.
#43 Matheus Franca
Reports in January claimed that Manchester City were ready to offer “a truckload” of money to sign Flamengo midfielder Matheus Franca in the coming months, and it is easy to see why.
Franca, 17, made his first-team debut towards the end of the 2021 season following an imperious year in the youth ranks, and is expected to emerge as a rising star of the Brazilian game over the next few years.
Real Madrid have also shown an interest in signing him, though the €100m (£83.5m/$113m) release clause that was placed in the new five-year contract he signed in early 2022 could detract any potential suitors, at least for the time being.
#42 Edouard Michut
Labelled ‘the new Marco Verratti’ by some inside the Paris Saint-Germain academy, Edouard Michut’s passing ability is among the best in Europe for players his age.
The 19-year-old has begun to make an impact on the star-studded first team at Parc des Princes, too, though there are fears that an overall lack of appearances for the senior side could lead to him moving elsewhere.
Barcelona and Manchester City have both attempted to sign Michut in the past, underlining how highly he is regarded by top European scouts.
#41 Bryan Okoh
Though Red Bull Salzburg have earned a reputation for developing some of the best young strikers in the world over the past few years, they also have some potential stars at the other end of the pitch.
Bryan Okoh is proof of that, with the 18-year-old regarded as having the ability to become an elite centre-back as he continues to learn his trade with the Austrian champions.
Okoh made his first-team debut in September, and although a serious knee injury suffered just days after receiving his first call-up to the senior Switzerland squad has since ended his season, he has the talent to force his way into Salzburg’s regular starting line-up during the 2022-23 campaign.
#40 Kaide Gordon
Jurgen Klopp does not use the phrase “outstanding talent” to describe just anyone, so it is clear that Liverpool attacker Kaide Gordon is something special.
Signed from Derby County for £3m ($4m) in January 2021, the 17-year-old is already the Reds’ second-youngest goalscorer, with his assured performances since breaking into the first team belying the forward’s lack of experience.
Gordon’s former coaches at Derby told GOAL in the summer of 2021 that “he can do anything with a football”, and he looks set to showcase his remarkable range of skills at Anfield for years to come.
#39 Valentin Barco
When conjuring up the image of an Argentine footballing wonderkid, red-headed left-backs are not normally what come to mind, but Valentin Barco is out to change perceptions.
Only three players have ever made their Boca Juniors debut at a younger age than the 17-year-old, who was unearthed by the same scout who discovered Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme.
Manchester City are now said to be monitoring Barco’s progress closely, with the converted winger as much a threat in the attacking third as he is defensively solid.
#38 Wahid Faghir
‘The new Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ is a moniker many players have struggled to live up to in the past, but Wahid Faghir is hoping to buck that trend.
The 18-year-old striker has long been compared to the iconic Swede, and showed flashes of why with his physical style of play and finishing ability while coming through the ranks at Vejle.
A €4m move to Stuttgart followed in the summer of 2021 for Faghir, who is already a regular in the Denmark Under-21s squad as he continues to get to grips with life in the Bundesliga.
#37 Carney Chukwuemeka
Back in March 2020, Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow claimed that the club had “the best 16-year-old in England” on their books in Carney Chukwuemeka.
The midfielder is now making good on those claims, with a series of impressive cameos in the Premier League already under his belt.
Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Liverpool have all previously considered signing the 18-year-old, who has been likened to Paul Pogba and Dele Alli in the past, and is now learning from one of the best midfielders of the past 20 years in Steven Gerrard.
#36 Roko Simic
Red Bull Salzburg’s conveyor belt of attacking talent is showing no signs of slowing, with Roko Simic set to be one of the latest strikers to emerge at the Austrian champions.
The son of Croatia legend Dario Simic, the 18-year-old joined Salzburg for €4m in the summer of 2021 having become the youngest scorer in Lokomotiva Zagreb history the previous season.
Simic, who has been likened to both Erling Haaland and Dusan Vlahovic, has since signed a fresh four-year deal at Salzburg after breaking into the first-team squad, with Real Madrid, Arsenal and Tottenham among those rumoured to be tracking him.
#35 Alejandro Balde
Barcelona’s rebuild in the post-Lionel Messi era is set to be a long one, but if talents like left-back Alejandro Balde continue emerging from La Masia, then the process could yet be accelerated.
The 18-year-old has already made his first-team debut for the Blaugrana after impressing in pre-season, and is seen by many in Catalunya as Jordi Alba’s long-term successor.
For Balde to reach such a level, he will need to avoid the injuries that have plagued him during his short career thus far, but if he can, then he has all the tools to be a success at Camp Nou.
#34 Adam Karabec
Football in the Czech Republic is on its way back up, with Adam Karabec one of a host of talented young players making their mark in the country’s top flight.
The rangey 18-year-old has been part of the Sparta Prague first-team squad for almost two years, and is the third-youngest goalscorer in the club’s history.
Regarded as the best midfield prospect to emerge in the country since Tomas Rosicky, Karabec has already been linked with a host of Serie A and Ligue 1 clubs.
#33 Isak Bergmann Johannesson
Back in 2020, Swedish side IFK Norrkoping were having to turn away scouts from some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, such was the level of excitement surrounding midfielder Isak Bergmann Johannesson.
Despite interest from Real Madrid, Liverpool and Juventus, it was FC Copenhagen who eventually won the race for the 18-year-old in the summer of 2021, paying around €4.5m for the son of ex-Premier League and La Liga midfielder Joey Gudjonsson.
Already a full Iceland international, Johannesson has continued to impress with his passing ability and game intelligence since his move to the Danish capital, and it should not be long before a club from Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues snaps him up.
#32 Levi Colwill
Dubbed ‘the new John Terry’ while making his way through the Chelsea academy, Levi Colwill has lived up to that billing during his first season of senior football.
The 19-year-old is regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the Championship after a string of impressive performances on loan at Huddersfield Town, with his ball-playing ability marking Colwill out as the ideal modern defender.
It is now expected that he will be introduced into Thomas Tuchel’s first-team squad when the England youth international returns to Stamford Bridge ahead of the 2022-23 season.
#31 Naci Unuvar
Naci Unuvar has been tipped for the top ever since he fired Ajax’s U19s to the national title as a 15-year-old, and the winger remains on that path.
The 18-year-old became the youngest player to ever score on their Ajax debut in January 2020, and though further first-team chances have been hard to come by, he remains highly rated in Amsterdam.
Unuvar, who was previously a transfer target for Barcelona and Manchester United, has starred for Jong Ajax in the Dutch second division this season as he attempts to catch Erik ten Hag’s eye.
In the country of ‘O Jogo Bonito’ where attacking football is king, it is testament to the performances of Kaiky that a centre-back is being touted as one of the most exciting prospects in Brazil.
The 18-year-old has become a mainstay of the Santos defence over the course of the past 12 months, with some drawing comparisons with current Selecao star Marquinhos.
Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Juventus have all been linked with Kaiky since his breakthrough into the senior ranks, with that interest leading to him having a €70m (£60m/$80m) release clause inserted into his contract.
#29 Andreas Schjelderup
With Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard already established stars of the European game, Norway fans are now hoping that Andreas Schjelderup can follow in their footsteps.
The 17-year-old playmaker has emerged as a key member of the FC Nordsjaelland first team, having previously spent time on trial at Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Juventus, amongst others.
Comparisons have been made with Eden Hazard and Jack Grealish, though Schjelderup himself is keen to emulate Andres Iniesta as he continues to develop his game in the Danish top flight.
#28 Charlie Patino
Described as “the best player who has ever walked through the doors at Hale End”, excitement around Charlie Patino has been building at Arsenal for some time.
The 18-year-old midfielder has already offered Gunners fans a glimpse of his talent, too, after he marked his first-team debut with a goal in December.
Barcelona have previously taken an interest in signing Patino, who is expected to make himself a key member of Mikel Arteta’s squad over the next 12-18 months.
#27 Xavi Simons
After becoming an internet sensation during his days in Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Xavi Simons has constantly faced questions over whether his undoubted ability will translate into a top-level career.
However, after a slow start to life at Paris Saint-Germain following his transfer to France in 2019, this season the 18-year-old forward has sprung into life, starring in the UEFA Youth League to force himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans.
Despite competition for places being stiff, Netherlands youth international Simons has earned regular minutes in the opening months of 2022, but could still leave Parc des Princes this summer as his contract runs into its final weeks.
#26 Malo Gusto
Lyon have one of the best academies in Europe, and the way in which Malo Gusto has settled into senior football is yet another illustration of that.
The 18-year-old right-back became the youngest defender to start a league match for the club since Samuel Umtiti’s debut in 2012 on the opening day of the Ligue 1 season, and has kept his place in Peter Bosz’s squad ever since.
Particularly strong going forward thanks in part to having spent his early years as a playmaking midfielder, Gusto is now regarded as one of the best teenage players in his position anywhere in the world.
Manchester City have made a habit of plucking teenage talents from South American football, and Kayky is considered their most exciting signing from Brazil since Gabriel Jesus.
The 18-year-old forward was snapped up in the summer of 2021 after breaking into the Fluminense first team and earning himself the nickname of ‘The Left-Footed Neymar’.
City could potentially pay up to £21.5m for Kayky if certain targets are met, with the youngster having already debuted for Pep Guardiola’s side in the FA Cup.
#24 Caden Clark
Caden Clark burst onto the scene in MLS with three stunning goals in his first eight appearances, and now the attacking midfielder is keen to make his mark on the European game.
The 18-year-old, who trained at Barcelona’s academy in Arizona during his youth, earned a call-up to the U.S. men’s national team squad at the end of the 2021 campaign having continued to shine for New York Red Bulls.
That form also earned Clark a move to RB Leipzig, though he has been loaned back to the Red Bulls for at least the 2022 MLS season.
#23 Liam Delap
Manchester City’s lack of a genuine No.9 is well documented, but in Liam Delap they could yet find a solution from within their own academy.
The 19-year-old, who is the son of ex-Premier League midfielder Rory Delap, broke the record for the most goals in a single Premier League 2 season in 2020-21, netting 24 times in just 20 games for City’s Under-23s.
Delap also scored on his first-team debut, and though injuries have hurt his development over the course of the current campaign, he is still regarded as a top prospect at the Etihad Stadium.
#22 Hannibal Mejbri
As Manchester United prepare to rebuild their midfield over the coming months, Hannibal Mejbri has a genuine shot at forcing himself into the reckoning at Old Trafford.
The 19-year-old, who was signed for an initial £4.5m from Monaco in the summer of 2019 having been targeted by a host of top European clubs, has impressed at every level for United, and is now a fully-fledged member of the first-team squad.
Hannibal, whose strengths include his passing and dribbling, has also become a key member of the Tunisia squad over the course of the past 12 months, playing a key role in their run to the 2021 Arab Cup final.
#21 Felix Afena-Gyan
Felix Afena-Gyan burst into the consciousness of Italian football fans in October 2021, when his two stunning strikes for Roma against Genoa earned him some new €800 trainers from manager Jose Mourinho.
The 19-year-old forward, who arrived at the Giallorossi in January 2021 as a relative unknown in his native Ghana, possesses blistering pace and plenty of skill, making him a nightmare for opposition defenders.
A raw talent, Afena-Gyan’s almost seamless transition into life as a Serie A player suggests that he can continue to make a name for himself at the top of the European game.
#20 Romeo Lavia
From the moment Pep Guardiola first set eyes on Romeo Lavia as a 14-year-old at a tournament hosted by Kevin De Bruyne in Dongen, Belgium, the defensive midfielder has been destined for the Manchester City first team.
The 18-year-old was eventually signed by City from Anderlecht in the summer of 2020, as they beat off a host of top Premier League clubs to secure his signature.
Lavia has since made his breakthrough into the senior squad, debuting for the first team in September, and is likely to become Rodri’s back-up once Fernandinho leaves the Etihad Stadium.
#19 Kacper Kozlowski
The youngest player to ever appear at the finals of a European Championship, Kacper Kozlowski is expected to be the flag-bearer for Polish football in the coming years, having become a regular in their international squad over the past 12 months.
The 18-year-old midfielder, who is noted for his passing and dribbling ability, has recovered superbly from a car accident suffered in January 2020 that left him in a back brace and ruled him out of action for six months.
The third-youngest player in Polish top-flight history at the time of his debut, Brighton paid £8m to sign Kozlowski from Pogon Szczecin in January, before sending him on loan to surprise Belgian title challengers Union Saint-Gilloise for the remainder of the campaign.
#18 Ilias Akhomach
“In La Masia, we already have the new Messi,” claimed ex-Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert in 2019, putting a weight of expectation upon Ilias Akhomach that few would be able to deal with.
The 17-year-old has, however, continued to thrive in Catalunya, and made his first-team debut in Xavi’s first match as Barca manager in November.
A wide forward with pace, quick feet and superb one-on-one ability, Ilias turned down Real Madrid to join Barcelona in 2017, and it looks set to be a decision that pays off for the Blaugrana.
#17 Ilaix Moriba
Dubbed ‘the new Paul Pogba’ as he came through the ranks at Barcelona, Ilaix Moriba has long been touted as a potential superstar of the European game.
As such, the 19-year-old midfielder did not look out of place when he was promoted to the Barca first team during the second half of the 2020-21 season, and it was with a heavy heart that he was sold to RB Leipzig for €16m in August following a contract dispute at Camp Nou.
Ilaix found opportunities harder to come by in the Bundesliga, however, and – after some impressive Africa Cup of Nations displays for Guinea – he moved back to Spain after joining Valencia on loan in January.
#16 Mohamed-Ali Cho
Angers might not be the most fashionable club in French football, but in Mohamed-Ali Cho they possess one of Ligue 1’s hottest young talents.
The 18-year-old, who spent time in the academies of Paris Saint-Germain and Everton before joining Angers in early 2020, has earned a great number of admirers with his direct running and versatility in being able to play anywhere across the forward line.
Borussia Dortmund were said to be willing to pay €20m to sign him in January, with Cho’s form having already earned the ex-England youth international a handful of France Under-21s caps.
#15 Luca Netz
Though Bundesliga clubs offer more chances than most to young talents, a teenage left-back being a regular starter in the top flight remains unusual, and so Luca Netz’s rise is testament to the talent he possesses.
A product of the Hertha Berlin academy, the 18-year-old became the club’s second-youngest Bundesliga goalscorer when he opened his account for the capital club in February 2021.
They were unable to keep hold of Netz, however, and despite interest from Bayern Munich, it was Borussia Monchengladbach who secured his signature, paying €4m so as to make the teenager a key part of Adi Hutter’s side.
#14 Marcos Leonardo
Though Neymar, Gabigol and Rodrygo all came through the Santos academy on their way to becoming stars of the Brazil national team, none of them scored as many goals at underage level for the club as Marcos Leonardo.
The 18-year-old netted well over 100 times for the Peixe youth teams before making his first-team debut in August 2020, and he has gone on to become Santos’ starting No.9 following the sale of Kaio Jorge to Juventus.
A natural finisher, Leonardo is likely to follow Kaio to Europe soon enough after a superb start to the 2022 Brazilian campaign, though the €100m release clause in his contract should ensure the Vila Belmiro-based outfit receive a decent fee.
#13 Yusuf Demir
After seeing his season-long loan deal was cut short in January, it would be easy to label Yusuf Demir’s time at Barcelona as a failure, but the winger showed enough at Camp Nou to suggest those who have tipped him for the very top will be vindicated.
The 18-year-old, who has been dubbed ‘the Austrian Messi’ in his homeland, was let go by Barca after it was decided the €10m fee they would have to pay to sign Demir permanently this summer could be better used elsewhere, so he returned to Rapid Vienna.
That experience of top-level European football should, however, help Demir in the long run, with title-challenging sides in Germany and England still interested in signing the Austria international this summer.
#12 Matias Soule
The rare teenage forward to come out of Argentina and not be compared to Lionel Messi, Matias Soule is instead evoking memories of a young Angel Di Maria, due to his slight frame and ability to cut inside and threaten the goal from wide areas.
The 18-year-old, who joined Juventus in January 2020 after leaving boyhood club Velez Sarsfield, has become the star of the Bianconeri youth ranks over the course of the past year, and made his first-team debut in November.
That came weeks after Soule received his first call-up to the senior Argentina squad, and though an Albiceleste cap looks a little way off yet, there is real belief that he can become a star of the future for the reigning Copa America champions.
#11 No player
Our panel placed Arsen Zakharyan 11th when it selected the NXGN list before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NXGN exists to celebrate talented young footballers. Zakharyan is certainly one, and we hope he has a great future.
However, in support of FIFA and UEFA’s ban of Russia from club and international competitions, we do not want to endorse or validate the teams Zakharyan plays for. We have therefore decided to leave 11th place vacant.
#10 Ricardo Pepi
There is no doubt that the current generation of United States players has the potential to take the national team to new heights in the coming years, and Ricardo Pepi is likely to be a key figure in that ascent.
The 19-year-old had a 2021 to remember, becoming the youngest player to ever score a hat-trick in MLS on his way to netting 13 goals in his first full season of senior football for FC Dallas.
He also made a dream start to life in the international arena, scoring two goals and laying on three assists in his first two matches for the U.S. men’s national team.
That form means that Pepi is now expected to lead the line for Gregg Berhalter’s side at the 2022 World Cup, while it also earned him a January move to Augsburg.
The Bundesliga outfit paid a club-record €17.5m fee to bring the striker to Germany, making Pepi the second-most expensive sale in MLS history, behind only Alphonso Davies’ move from the Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern Munich.
Now the onus is on the teenager – whose size and finishing ability has been likened by some to Erling Haaland – to prove that he can live up to that price tag within the European game.
#9 Benjamin Sesko
"My team-mates tell me that Haaland and I are very similar, especially in terms of speed. Most of them even tell me that I'm better than him!"
For Benjamin Sesko, that is some billing to live up to within the Red Bull Salzburg dressing room, but so far ‘Mini-Haaland’ is showing why he is regarded as one the best teenage strikers on the planet.
The 18-year-old has already reached double figures for direct goal involvements in his debut season with the Salzburg first team, while he has also found the net for Slovenia, for whom he is the country’s youngest-ever player.
Sesko is able to match his height and power with supreme pace, with his top speed of 36.1km/h pretty much matching that of Kylian Mbappe.
Where Sesko stands out from other young No.9s is his willingness to drop into midfield and help start attacks, rather than solely finishing them off.
That well-rounded ability has the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Tottenham closely monitoring Sesko’s progress, while Manchester City, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund have also previously shown an interest in acquiring him.
#8 Youssoufa Moukoko
Both the youngest player and goalscorer in Bundesliga history, Youssoufa Moukoko has been spoken about as a potential superstar of the world game ever since making headlines five years ago.
Aged just 12, Moukoko scored almost two goals-a-game for Borussia Dortmund’s Under-15s side, marking him out as a talent of rare potential.
The 17-year-old continued his out-of-this-world goalscoring record throughout his youth-team career, netting over 140 times in less than three-and-a-half seasons before celebrating his 16th birthday with a professional debut.
Moukoko ended his first season in the senior side with three goals to his name, but Erling Haaland’s presence, as well as some bad injury luck, means that opportunities to impress have been limited in 2021-22.
That said, Moukoko has made an impact at international level, scoring three goals in his first two appearances for Germany U21s, with the hope that he will one day be leading the line for Die Mannschaft at a major tournament.
For now, though, his focus remains on making his mark at Dortmund, particularly if – as expected – Haaland departs this summer.
#7 Devyne Rensch
Ajax’s tradition of producing top-tier talents is showing no signs of slowing down, with Devyne Rensch the latest to graduate to both the first team in Amsterdam and the senior Netherlands side.
The 19-year-old has played in a variety of positions during his academy career, including both full-back positions, centre-back and defensive midfield.
Rensch has settled into a right-back role since breaking into Erik ten Hag’s squad at the Johan Cruyff ArenA, though it is expected that he will eventually be moved inside into the heart of the backline.
Described as being a “true Ajax defender” due to the comfort he has when in possession, Rensch’s ascent has been relatively rapid, given he was not scouted by a professional club until the age of 13.
But after PSV Eindhoven allowed him to move on following a trial, Ajax snapped him up, and by 2020 he was lifting the Abdelhak Nouri Trophy after being voted the club’s best academy player.
Barcelona and Juventus have both been linked with moves for Rensch in the past, and it is likely that he eventually joins the growing group of homegrown Ajax talents to sign for one of Europe’s modern elite in the years to come.
#6 Rayan Cherki
Rayan Cherki is regularly described as the greatest talent to ever emerge from the Lyon academy, which is some claim given they were the club where Karim Benzema learned his trade.
There is no doubt, however, that the 18-year-old playmaker possesses outrageous ability with the ball at his feet, with Real Madrid among the clubs to have taken a very close look at him in recent years.
Questions remain over Cherki’s decision-making and defensive work, and there is a feeling that those doubts have led to him being left on the bench more times than not by Peter Bosz this season.
When he has played, however, he has made an impact, providing five direct goal contributions in four Europa League matches while netting four times in his first three games for France Under-21s.
The youngest-ever player to appear in a Champions League knockout match when he came on for the 2020 semi-final against Bayern Munich, there remains a belief that Cherki can come close to matching the career of Benzema.
There is also a growing feeling that he may need to leave his comfort zone at Lyon to do so, but regardless of how it happens, Cherki being able to deliver on his potential would be excellent news for all who enjoy the beautiful game.
#5 Harvey Elliott
At the start of the 2021-22 season, it was expected that Harvey Elliott would have an increased role within the Liverpool first team, but that his opportunities would largely come from the bench.
It became clear early on, however, that Jurgen Klopp had other ideas for the 18-year-old, as he named him in the Reds’ starting line-up for three of their opening four matches of the campaign.
In all likelihood, Elliott would have become an established starter in recent months if not for suffering a fractured ankle in September that kept him out of action for almost five months, but he has since returned to the line-up, netting his first goal for the club in early February.
The youngest player in Premier League history, Elliott joined Liverpool from Fulham in the summer of 2019, but it was not until his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in 2020-21 that his talent truly began to shine through.
He provided 19 direct goal contributions for the Championship outfit while playing as a wide forward, though he has been shifted into midfield by Klopp since returning to Merseyside.
It is a position that Elliott seems to like, too, with his recent displays having prompted many pundits to push for him to be rewarded with an England call-up ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
#4 Jamal Musiala
When Jamal Musiala left Chelsea to join Bayern Munich in the summer of 2019, he was a little-known England youth international whose lack of physicality meant he seemed a few years away from making a first-team breakthrough.
But over the course of the last two-and-a-half seasons, the 19-year-old has grown into a key player for the Bundesliga champions’, breaking a number of records along the way, while also earning himself a regular spot in the senior Germany squad.
The youngest player in Bayern’s league history at the time of his debut towards the end of the 2019-20 campaign, Musiala impressed with his confidence, quick footwork and intelligent decision-making, marking him out as a potential heir for Thomas Muller at the Allianz Arena.
That said, there is talk that Julian Nagelsmann could look to move Musiala back into a deeper midfield role, believing his close control and passing ability is an ideal combination as he aims to find a new No.6 in Bavaria.
Regardless of position, Musiala, who spent time at Southampton’s academy before joining Chelsea as an eight-year-old, looks set to continue making his mark on both the Bundesliga and Champions League stages.
When Luis Enrique was picking his Spain squad for the Nations League finals in October, the first Google result for ‘Gavi’ returned the official website of The Vaccine Alliance, with no mention of football until halfway down the page.
A result that reflects the times we live in, perhaps, but also a sign of just how little was being spoken about Barcelona midfielder Gavi outside of Catalunya and the football scouting community.
But not only was the 17-year-old selected in La Roja’s squad, he also started both matches (the eighth and ninth of his professional career), including the final, to signpost what has been a meteoric rise for one of the jewels of La Masia.
Gavi’s talent has been spoken about in hushed tones around Camp Nou for a couple of years, but not even the most optimistic supporters would have expected him to become such a key member of the first team so soon.
A sublime first touch, game intelligence and outrageous confidence are Gavi’s key strengths, though his passing and shooting are also well above-average for someone of his age.
He and team-mate Pedri are now being spoken about as being ‘the new Xavi and Iniesta’ for both Barcelona and Spain, and there is no reason to think that may not come to pass given the time both still have on their side.
#2 Florian Wirtz
When Bayer Leverkusen sold Kai Havertz to Chelsea, they would have been forgiven in investing some of the €85m fee they received in signing a replacement.
Instead, the Bundesliga outfit reached into their youth ranks and introduced Florian Wirtz into the line-up, saving themselves a huge amount of cash while unearthing a player who could prove to be even better than his predecessor.
Leverkusen beat Liverpool to the signing of Wirtz from FC Koln in January 2020, and after making his debut four months later, he briefly became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history in the final weeks of that season.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder then went on to enjoy an encouraging first full campaign of senior football in 2020-21, registering 16 direct goal contributions in all competitions.
This season, though, Wirtz has blown that number out of the water already, announcing himself as one of the most effective attacking players in Europe, capable of providing both goals and assists at an extraordinary rate for a player his age.
Already a full Germany international, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been credited with interest in Wirtz, who looks set to be sold for an even bigger fee than Havertz in the next few years.
#1 Jude Bellingham
While English football has been doing a roaring trade when it comes to producing high-quality wingers and No.10s in recent times, the Three Lions have been crying out for a true box-to-box midfielder around whom Gareth Southgate (and his eventual successors) can build his team for the next 15 years.
Enter Jude Bellingham.
The 18-year-old has emerged as the finest young midfielder on the planet since joining Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2020, with Bellingham capable of dictating the tempo of matches at the very highest level of the European game.
Fans of rival clubs laughed when Birmingham City retired the No.22 shirt of their youngest-ever player after he left for Germany, but those same supporters are now realising quite why such a fuss was made.
With close control any player would kill for, and the self-confidence of a seasoned title-winner, Bellingham has all the ingredients a modern-day coach would want, particularly given his goal and assist numbers have shot up this season.
Manchester United have already missed out on signing him once but are unlikely to give up that easily, while Liverpool and Chelsea will also be in the race when Bellingham eventually leaves Signal Iduna Park as the latest top-tier talent to benefit from Europe’s finest football finishing school.
Regardless of his next destination, there is no doubt that Bellingham’s is a name that will be around the very top of the European and world game for years and years to come.
The men’s winner of NXGN 2022: Jude Bellingham.