NXGN: Matthijs de Ligt, Kai Havertz and where 2018's best wonderkids are now

GOAL selected the 50 best footballing talents from around the world born on or after January 1, 1999 – but did they go on to fulfil their potential?

Since NXGN's introduction in 2016, GOAL has profiled the 50 best footballing wonderkids on the planet on an annual basis, with the top-ranked player taking home the NXGN award.

Some of those recognised for their talent as teenagers are now household names, but others have not yet realised their potential.

So, after the NXGN 2023 list was revealed on Tuesday, March 21, check out where the stars of 2018 are now:

Every NXGN list

Dembele, Tielemans & 2016's best wonderkids

Mbappe, Donnarumma & 2017's best wonderkids

Haaland, Sancho & 2019's best wonderkids

Saka, Rodrygo & 2020's best wonderkids

Oberdorf, Huitema & 2020's best women's wonderkids

Pedri, Ansu Fati & 2021's best wonderkids

Bennison, Tromp & 2021's best women's wonderkids

Bellingham, Musiala & 2022's best wonderkids

Dumornay, Fowler & 2022's best women's wonderkids

Gavi, Garnacho & 2023's best wonderkids

Thompson, Caicedo & 2023's best women's wonderkids

N.B.: The NXGN 2018 list did not include rankings for all 50 players. The top five players were ranked, with all others listed in alphabetical order.

  1. Yacine Adli | Paris Saint-Germain

    Yacine Adli | Paris Saint-Germain

    2018: One of the stars of the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, the attacking midfielder was considered the most precious jewel in Paris Saint-Germain’s youth academy.

    2019: Having not made an appearance in the first half of the 2018-19 campaign, Adli joined Bordeaux in a deal worth €5.5m.

    2020: Adli enjoyed an encouraging first full season at Bordeaux, scoring his first professional goals in the process.

    2021: The midfielder began to develop into one of the most promising players in Ligue 1, convincing AC Milan to pay around €10m to sign him in the summer of 2021, though he was immediately sent back on loan to Bordeaux.

    2022: Adli continued to put in some strong displays in the French top flight, and surpassed his best season for direct goal contributions, even as Bordeaux were relegated to Ligue 2.

    2023: The midfielder has barely featured during his first season in Milan despite their struggles in defending their Serie A title.

  2. Alan | Palmeiras
    Getty Images

    Alan | Palmeiras

    2018: Having helped Brazil finish third at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, Alan was being linked with a move to Real Madrid, even though he had yet to break into the Palmeiras first team.

    2019: The midfielder continued to wait for a senior debut in Sao Paulo.

    2020: Having still not made a first-team appearance, Alan was loaned to Serie B side Guarani in August 2020, only to suffer a broken leg two months later.

    2021: Alan recovered to join another second-division side, Operario, on loan for the remainder of the 2021 campaign.

    2022: After changing his name to 'Alanzinho', the winger spent the first half of the 2022 Brazilian season with Serie B side Sport Recife before moving to Europe for the first time, joining Portuguese second division side Moreirense on a season-long loan.

    2023: Now 23, Alanzinho has worked his way into the Moreirense line up since the turn of the year, and has become a regular contributor with goals and assists.

  3. Ethan Ampadu | Chelsea

    Ethan Ampadu | Chelsea

    2018: Even though he was still only 17, Ampadu had already made his debut at club and international level, for Chelsea and Wales respectively, and was being touted as the 'new David Luiz'.

    2019: Ampadu made just five appearances over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, none of which came in the Premier League. He was loaned to RB Leipzig ahead of the following season.

    2020: The versatile defender made only seven Leipzig appearances before a back injury ended his season in February 2020. He returned to England, joining Sheffield United on loan.

    2021: Ampadu enjoyed the best season of his career in terms of appearances, but was unable to help keep the Blades in the Premier League. Another loan move beckoned, as he joined newly-promoted Venezia in Serie A.

    2022: A regular starter in 2021-22, Ampadu performed well enough to earn another loan move back to Italy with Spezia despite Venezia's relegation.

    2023: Ampadu has played both centre-back and in central midfield this season, but has been an almost ever-present for the second successive season.

  4. Mirko Antonucci | Roma

    Mirko Antonucci | Roma

    2018: An old-school winger who had come through the Roma youth academy, Antonucci became an instant fan favourite after setting up a goal for Edin Dzeko on his Giallorossi debut in January 2018.

    2019: Antonucci joined Pescara on loan for the 2018-19 campaign, playing 21 games for the Serie B outfit without finding the net.

    2020: After making four appearances for Roma in the first half of the 2019-20 season, Antonucci joined Vitoria Setubal on loan for the remainder of the campaign, but made just six appearances for the Portuguese side.

    2021: Another loan spell followed for Antonucci as he joined Salernitana in Serie B, but he featured just three times as they secured promotion to the top flight. At the end of the season, he was sold to Cittadella by Roma.

    2022: Antonucci was a regular in Serie B for his new, but managed just three goals.

    2023: The striker has raised his game in 2022-23, and is on track to hit double-figures for goals in the Italian second division.

  5. Jann-Fiete Arp | Hamburg

    Jann-Fiete Arp | Hamburg

    2018: The first player born in the 2000s to both play and score in the Bundesliga, Hamburg sensation Arp was being lauded for his predatory instincts in the area, as well as his mobility and technical ability.

    2019: It was announced in February 2019 that Arp would join Bayern Munich at the end of the season, with the Bundesliga giants paying around €3m to secure his transfer.

    2020: Arp did not make a first-team appearance during his first season at the Allianz Arena, instead playing for the club's reserves in the third tier of German football.

    2021: Despite finally making his Bayern debut in the first half of the 2020-21 season, Arp remained part of the reserve-team squad until he was loaned to Holstein Kiel ahead of the following campaign.

    2022: Arp played regularly in the German second division, albeit mostly from the bench, and managed just three goals in all competitions. Despite that, Holstein Kiel made the deal to sign Arp permanent in the summer of 2022.

    2023: The forward continues to be used predominantly as a substitute, and it seems like the lofty hopes for his career will never be met.

  6. Ezequiel Barco | Atlanta United

    Ezequiel Barco | Atlanta United

    2018: The diminutive attacking midfielder, who can also play out wide, had just been signed by Atlanta United from Independiente for $13.8m, after helping the Argentine outfit win the 2017 Copa Sudamericana.

    2019: Despite some injury problems, Barco managed six direct goal contributions in 18 appearances in 2019 as he continued to show improvements.

    2020: Barco endured his least effective year to date at Atalanta in 2020, as his side failed to reach the play-offs.

    2021: With eight goals and seven assists in all competitions, Barco proved to be one of MLS' best playmakers in the 2021 season, while also representing Argentina at the Olympics.

    2022: Barco returned to his homeland in January 2022, joining River Plate on a two-year loan deal.

    2023: In just over 12 months at River, Barco has been in and out of the line up, and it feels unlikely that they will make his move permanent at the end of 2023.

  7. Brenner | Sao Paulo

    Brenner | Sao Paulo

    2018: It was considered only a matter of time before a top European club activated the €50m release clause in Brenner's Sao Paulo contract, with the teenager having already netted in the Brasileiro, the Paulistao and the Copa do Brasil

    2019: Brenner joined Fluminense on loan in May 2019, but failed to score in five appearances over the course of the season.

    2020: The 2020 season proved to be a breakout campaign for the forward, as he scored 22 goals in all competitions for Sao Paulo.

    2021: In a shock move, MLS newcomers FC Cincinnati paid $13m for Brenner amid interest from top European clubs. He enjoyed a decent first year in MLS, scoring eight goals.

    2022: Brenner took his game to a new level in 2022, netting 18 times while also providing six assists as Cincinnati reached the play-offs for the first time in their history.

    2023: Despite continued links with a move to Europe, Brenner remains in the United States, with his presence making Cincinnati one of the favourites to win the 2023 MLS Cup.

  8. Rhian Brewster | Liverpool

    Rhian Brewster | Liverpool

    2018: The Liverpool striker had fired England to victory at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup with eight goals, but then suffered an ankle sprain and ligament damage during an U23 game against Manchester City in January 2018.

    2019: After missing over a year of action, Brewster returned in March 2019, and was on the bench as Liverpool won the Champions League final against Tottenham.

    2020: With opportunities at Anfield limited, Brewster joined Swansea City on loan in January 2020, for whom he scored 11 goals in 22 appearances. That form convinced Sheffield United to pay £23.5m to sign him on a permanent deal in October 2020.

    2021: Brewster failed to score as the Blades were relegated from the Premier League, with suggestions that he was weighed down by his hefty price tag.

    2022: The forward showed signs of settling at Bramall Lane in his second season, finally scoring his first goals for the club, though a hamstring injury suffered in January proved to be a season-ender.

    2023: Brewster was back in the line up at the start of the 2022-23 campaign, but another hamstring injury has ruled him out of action since November.

  9. Tahith Chong | Manchester United

    Tahith Chong | Manchester United

    2018: One of the most exciting young players at Manchester United, Chong had yet to make his senior debut, though he was impressing Jose Mourinho with his performances for the club's Under-23s.

    2019: Chong made his United debut in January 2019, one of four first-team appearances he would make that season.

    2020: Another 12 senior appearances followed in 2019-20 before Chong joined Werder Bremen on loan ahead of the following campaign.

    2021: Chong's spell in Germany was cut short in January 2021, before joining Club Brugge on loan for the remainder of the campaign. He then signed for Birmingham City on a season-long loan ahead of the 2021-22 season.

    2022: Despite missing over three months of action after undergoing groin surgery in November, Chong performed well in the Championship, and Birmingham made his move permanent in the summer of 2022.

    2023: Now regarded as one of Birmingham's main men, Chong has been an almost ever-present in 2022-23.

  10. Facundo Colidio | Inter

    Facundo Colidio | Inter

    2018: A €7m (£5.8m/$7.6m) signing from Boca Juniors, Colidio had made a positive start to his Inter career by impressing for the Primavera, and was drawing comparisons with fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain.

    2019: Colidio continued to wait for his first Inter appearance, but did he contribute plenty at youth level. He joined Belgian side Sint-Truidense on a two-year loan deal in August 2019.

    2020: The striker made 13 appearances during his first season for his new club, scoring his first professional goal in the process.

    2021: A regular at Sint-Truidense in his second season, Colidio continued to struggle in terms of contributing goals and assists.

    2022: Colidio was back in his native Argentina, having joined Tigre on an 18-month loan in January 2022, and netted eight goals in all competitions.

    2023: Now 23, Colidio has started the new Argentine season as a first-choice attacker for Tigre, though his role is yet to be fully defined.

  11. Diogo Dalot | Porto

    Diogo Dalot | Porto

    2018: One of the stars of Portugal’s Under-17 European Championship triumph in 2016, Dalot was being tipped to become "the best full-back in the world" by Miguel Layun after breaking into Porto's senior squad at the age of 19.

    2019: Dalot joined Manchester United in the summer of 2018 for £19m and immediately earned praise from Jose Mourinho. He remained a rotational option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Mourinho's sacking, too.

    2020: After an injury-hit first half of the 2019-20 season, Dalot made just 11 appearances in all competitions amid increased competition from Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford.

    2021: After falling even further out of favour at United, Dalot joined AC Milan on loan in January 2021, and shone in Serie A for the Rossoneri. His form earned the right-back a call-up to Portugal's Euro 2020 squad, and he made his full international debut during the tournament.

    2022: Dalot re-established himself at United under Ralf Rangnick, though there was a feeling that the club would look to upgrade at right-back during the summer transfer window.

    2023: United opted against signing a right-back following Erik ten Hag's appointment, and Dalot has been his first-choice in the position over the course of the 2022-23 campaign.

  12. Brahim Diaz | Manchester City

    Brahim Diaz | Manchester City

    2018: A two-footed, Lionel Messi-like dribbler with a keen eye for goal, Brahim was considered by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola as a possible replacement for the ageing David Silva. However, the Spanish playmaker was being constantly linked with a move to Real Madrid because of his concerns over a lack of game time at the Etihad.

    2019: With his contract having entered its final six months, Real Madrid paid €17m to take the Spain youth international to Santiago Bernabeu, and he made a handful of appearances before the season was out.

    2020: Brahim fell down the pecking order at Madrid during the 2019-20 season and was subsequently loaned to AC Milan ahead of the following campaign.

    2021: The playmaker impressed at San Siro, scoring seven goals in all competitions, and the Rossoneri agreed a deal to continue his loan spell for another two seasons. He also made his senior Spain debut in June 2021.

    2022: Though he only scored three league goals in 2021-22, and none after September 25, but Brahim was still a key figure as Milan won their first Scudetto since 2011.

    2023: Brahim has again been a regular starter for Milan this season, and there are reports that Real Madrid are keen to introduce him back into their squad once his loan deal expires this summer.

  13. Umaro Embalo | Benfica

    Umaro Embalo | Benfica

    2018: A 16-year-old sensation drawing comparisons with Angel Di Maria on account of his pace, nimbleness and fantastic left foot. Indeed, RB Leipzig even offered €20m for Embalo during the 2018 January transfer window.

    2019: Embalo continued to progress with the Benfica B team in the second tier of Portuguese football.

    2020: The winger impressed in the UEFA Youth League, but was still waiting for a chance to show what he could at first-team level.

    2021: Embalo missed the first half of the 2020-21 season through injury, and failed to score in 16 appearances for Benfica B upon his return.

    2022: After an improved season for Benfica B, Embalo eventually left the Portuguese club having never made a first-team appearance to join Dutch side Fortuna Sittard in the summer of 2022.

    2023: Embalo has started more often than not in the Eredivisie as he belatedly gets used to playing top-flight football.

  14. Willem Geubbels | Lyon

    Willem Geubbels | Lyon

    2018: One of the hottest properties in European football having turned down a new contract with Lyon. Club president Jean-Michel Aulas even put a rather fanciful €70m price tag on the first player born in the 21st century to debut in Ligue 1, at just 16 years of age.

    2019: Monaco ultimately paid €20m to sign Geubbels in the summer of 2018, but he made just two appearances in his first season at the club after suffering a horrendous run of luck with injuries.

    2020: Forced to undergo knee surgery in the summer of 2019, Geubbels failed to make an appearance over the course of the campaign that followed.

    2021: Geubbels forced himself back into contention after returning to full fitness, and scored his first professional goal early in the 2020-21 season. A broken foot, however, saw him miss over two months of action towards the end of the campaign, and he joined Nantes on loan in the weeks that followed.

    2022: The forward managed to stay fit for much of 2021-22, but largely had to make do with a substitute's role at Nantes as he scored just two Ligue 1 goals.

    2023: After not appearing for Nantes in the first half of the 2022-23 season, Geubbels joined Swiss side St. Gallen on a free transfer in January.

  15. Angel Gomes | Manchester United

    Angel Gomes | Manchester United

    2018: One of the heroes of England's triumph at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, Gomes was being tipped by former Manchester United winger Nani as being the club's "next star".

    2019: The midfielder found himself on the fringes at Old Trafford, making just two Premier League appearances in the 2018-19 campaign.

    2020: After featuring in just 10 games, Gomes left United in the summer of 2020 having failed to agree a contract extension and joined Lille, who immediately sent him on loan to Boavista to gain more experience.

    2021: Gomes made a strong start to life in Portugal, registering a hat-trick of assists on his debut and scoring his first goal from the halfway line, with his performances over the course of the season enough to convince Lille he was ready to join their squad the following campaign.

    2022: Despite scoring his first Champions League goal, Gomes was in and out of the Lille line up during his first season in French football.

    2023: The 22-year-old has now established himself as a starter at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, and there have been whispers regarding a return to the Premier League.

  16. Sergio Gomez | Borussia Dortmund

    Sergio Gomez | Borussia Dortmund

    2018: Barcelona were still coming to terms with the loss of a player tipped to fill the void left by Andres Iniesta, with the Silver Ball winner at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup having joined Borussia Dortmund in January 2020, after the German side met his €3m release clause.

    2019: Having made just three first-team appearances in his first 18 months at Dortmund, Gomez joined Huesca on loan for the 2019-20 campaign.

    2020: Gomez played the vast majority of Huesca's games as they were promoted to La Liga, and the Spanish side extended his loan by a further season as a result.

    2021: The midfielder could not help Huesca avoid relegation back to the Segunda Division. Dortmund then took the decision to sell him, as Anderlecht paid €1.5m to take Gomez to Belgium.

    2022: Having been switched to play left-back, Gomez was a revelation, providing seven goals and 15 assists in all competitions. That form convinced Manchester City to pay £11m to sign Gomez in the summer of 2022.

    2023: Gomez has struggled for minutes during his first season at the Etihad Stadium, with Pep Guardiola having used centre-backs at left-back over the 22-year-old.

  17. Amine Gouiri | Lyon

    Amine Gouiri | Lyon

    2018: Considered the next great forward to come out of Lyon after Karim Benzema and Alexandre Lacazette, Gouiri had already debuted for the first team, and top-scored for France's Under-17s at the 2017 European Championship in Croatia.

    2019: A ruptured cruciate ligament suffered in August 2018 meant that Gouiri missed almost all the 2018-19 season, and did not make a first-team appearance.

    2020: Gouiri may have returned to full fitness, but he struggled to force his way into the first-team picture, making just five appearances in 2019-20. At the end of the season, he joined Nice in a €7m deal.

    2021: The move did Gouiri the world of good, as he scored 16 goals and laid on eight assists in all competitions for Nice.

    2022: Gouiri carried that form into his second season with Nice, as he recorded a combined 22 goals and assists. That form convinced Rennes to pay a club-record €28m to sign him in the summer of 2022.

    2023: Despite not scoring consistently for his new club, Gouiri has again hit double-figures for goals in all competitions.

  18. Kai Havertz | Bayer Leverkusen

    Kai Havertz | Bayer Leverkusen

    2018: Described as a cross between Mesut Ozil and Michael Ballack, the attacking midfielder was already a regular at Bayer Leverkusen and reportedly of interest to Liverpool.

    2019: The playmaker went to another level in 2018-19, scoring 17 Bundesliga goals as some of Europe's biggest clubs began to take note of his talent.

    2020: Another 18 goals in all competitions followed for Havertz before he joined Chelsea in a £62m deal in the summer of 2020.

    2021: Havertz was not always at his best during his first season in west London, but he ended it in memorable fashion, scoring the only goal as Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final.

    2022: The 22-year-old's penchant for important goals continued as he netted the winning goal in the Club World Cup final, but having been installed as Thomas Tuchel's first-choice central striker, his return of 14 goals in all competitions was a little disappointing.

    2023: Havertz has kept his place in the line up since Graham Potter replaced Tuchel at Stamford Bridge, but he continues to face criticism for his lack of consistent goalscoring.

  19. Cucho Hernandez | Watford

    Cucho Hernandez | Watford

    2018: The dynamic and versatile Watford forward was drawing comparisons with Alexis Sanchez after making a prolific start to his loan spell at Segunda Division side Huesca.

    2019: Having helped Huesca earn promotion to La Liga, Hernandez's loan was extended through the 2018-19 campaign, while he also scored twice on his Colombia debut.

    2020: The striker remained in La Liga for the following season, this time representing newly-promoted Mallorca, for whom he scored five goals during his loan spell.

    2021: A third loan spell in the Spanish top flight followed, though Hernandez struggled for goals during his season with Getafe.

    2022: Four years after joining Watford, Hernandez finally made his debut for the club on the opening day of the 2021-22 season. Though he netted some crucial goals, he could not save them from relegation, and was quickly sold to Columbus Crew, who paid a club record $10m to bring him to MLS.

    2023: After scoring nine goals in his first 16 MLS matches towards the end of the 2022 season, Hernandez is being tipped as a potential star of the American top flight as the 2023 campaign gets going.

  20. Alexander Isak | Borussia Dortmund

    Alexander Isak | Borussia Dortmund

    2018: After turning down Real Madrid to join Borussia Dortmund from AIK in 2017, the 'new Ibrahimovic' had seen some first-team game time but was mainly lining out for BVB's reserves.

    2019: The striker failed to make a first-team appearance in the first half of the 2018-19 campaign, and was loaned out to Willem II in January 2019. He proved a sensation in Eredivisie, scoring 13 goals and laying on seven assists in 16 league appearances for the Dutch side. That form convinced Real Sociedad to pay €15m to sign him that summer.

    2020: Isak enjoyed a productive first season in Spain, scoring 16 goals in all competitions for La Real.

    2021: A superb second half of the season saw Isak score 17 league goals in 2020-21, and he carried that form into the European Championship with Sweden, as his performances earned him interest from top European sides.

    2022: Isak did not quite hit the same heights in front of goal in 2021-22, but that did not put Newcastle off from spending £58m to bring him to the Premier League in August 2022.

    2023: A hamstring injury that kept him out of action for three months meant that Isak struggled to build up any early momentum in the Premier League, but he has shown some signs of being a successful long-term signing.

  21. Moise Kean | Juventus

    Moise Kean | Juventus

    2018: The Juventus-owned striker was starting to find his feet at relegation-threatened Verona, where he was on loan for the duration of the 2017-18 campaign.

    2019: Having returned to Juve, the striker finished the 2018-19 season strongly, scoring in six successive matches for club and country during the spring, but was surprisingly sold to Everton in a deal worth £27m.

    2020: Kean struggled for the Toffees, scoring just two Premier League goals in 29 appearances. In a bid to revive his career, he joined Paris Saint-Germain on loan in October 2020.

    2021: Playing for a Champions League-level club suited Kean far better, and he scored 17 goals in all competitions for PSG. He then returned to Juventus in the summer of 2021, agreeing a two-year loan deal that will then become a €28m permanent move.

    2022: Kean found goals harder to come by back in Turin, as he netted just six times in all competitions during his first year back at the Bianconeri.

    2023: The striker has already surpassed his goal tally from last season in 2022-23, though he remains a rotational piece under Massimiliano Allegri.

  22. Takefusa Kubo | FC Tokyo

    Takefusa Kubo | FC Tokyo

    2018: Having been forced to leave Barcelona after the Catalan club were found to have breached transfer regulations regarding the movement of under-18s, the 'Japanese Messi' was making waves back in his homeland, becoming the youngest player to both appear and score in the J.League.

    2019: On the back of the most productive season of his career at senior level in 2019, Kubo made his international debut after being called-up to the Japan squad for the Copa America (they participated as one of the guest teams in Brazil). At club level, many expected him to return to Barcelona, but Real Madrid managed to secure his signature, before sending him on loan to newly-promoted Mallorca for the 2019-20 campaign.

    2020: Kubo was one of the young stars of the Spanish season, directly contributing to nine goals as Mallorca fought against relegation. His form persuaded Villarreal to take him on loan for the following season.

    2021: The forward failed to force his way into Unai Emery's team, and had his loan spell cut short in January 2021, with Madrid instead sending him on loan to Getafe for the remainder of the season, though he struggled to make much of an impact.

    2022: Mallorca's promotion back to La Liga allowed them to make their move and bring Kubo back to the club on loan in 2021-22, and the Japan international's form having improved a little as a result.

    2023: Kubo left Real Madrid to join Real Sociedad for an initial €6.5m in the summer of 2022 and he has been back to his best for the Spanish high-flyers so far this season.

  23. Alban Lafont | Toulouse

    Alban Lafont | Toulouse

    2018: Actually managing to live up to the hype after becoming the youngest goalkeeper ever to appear in Ligue 1 in 2015, at 16 years and 310 days old. Lafont was Toulouse's No.1 and being tracked by the likes of Arsenal before eventually joining Fiorentina in the summer of 2018.

    2019: Lafont's first season in Serie A was a mixed one, with a number of eye-catching saves marred by some high-profile errors and, having lost his place in the Fiorentina team, he was loaned to Nantes in July 2019 on a two-year deal.

    2020: Back in France, Lafont began to rebuild his reputation with a solid first season at Nantes.

    2021: Lafont helped Nantes avoid relegation from Ligue 1 and, in May 2021, the club triggered the option to sign him permanently for €7m.

    2022: Finally starting to return on his undoubted potential, Lafont was linked with the likes of Barcelona, Arsenal and Tottenham, having become the first goalkeeper to ever be awarded a 10/10 rating by the famously mean L'Equipe for his performance versus Paris Saint-Germain in February 2022.

    2023: Now the Nantes captain, Lafont received his first France call-up at the start of the 2022-23 season and continues to be linked with a move to the Premier League.

  24. Diego Lainez | Club America

    Diego Lainez | Club America

    2018: As a diminutive No.10 with a wand for a left foot, Lainez had already been dubbed ‘The Mexican Messi’ and was being courted by a number of European clubs.

    2019: In January 2019, Real Betis paid €12m to sign Lainez, making him the second-most expensive Mexican player bought by a European club. His first goal for the club came in dramatic fashion, as he netted a last-minute equaliser against Rennes in the Europa League.

    2020: Lainez's first full season in Spain yielded just 18 outings, though he did miss the final three months of the campaign due to an abdominal strain.

    2021: The forward again found himself on the fringes at Betis, making 25 appearances during the 2020-21 campaign. Scored for Mexico in the final of the Concacaf Nations League, though El Tri were beaten by the United States.

    2022: After a knee injury meant he missed the first two months of the season, Lainez fell right down the pecking order and made just 13 appearances in all competitions before being loaned to Braga at the end of the campaign.

    2023: Braga cut Lainez's loan short in January 2023 after he made just six league appearances in Portugal, and he was sent on a one-year loan to Tigres in his native Mexico a few weeks later.

  25. Rafael Leao | Sporting C.P.

    Rafael Leao | Sporting C.P.

    2018: Sporting were scrambling to increase Leao's release clause from €45m (£38m/$49m) to €100m (£85m/$110m) in order to fend off interest from Europe's top clubs. Indeed, Leao was being described as better than Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age.

    2019: Leao terminated his contract with Sporting in the summer of 2018 after players and staff were attacked by fans at the club's training ground, joining Lille on a free transfer. He fared well in France, scoring eight goals in Ligue 1 before AC Milan paid €23m to sign him at the end of the season.

    2020: A return of just six goals in his first season at San Siro was a little underwhelming from Leao, as he largely had to make do with a substitute's role.

    2021: Injuries ensured Leao's second season at Milan was stop-start, and he again finished with six Serie A goals.

    2022: Leao exploded in 2021-22 as he was named Serie A MVP of the Season after hitting double-figures for goals and assists as Milan won the Scudetto. That form saw him linked with a mega-money move to Chelsea.

    2023: Milan were able to keep Leao at San Siro, but his form has dropped somewhat in 2022-23 amid an ongoing contract saga.

  26. Lincoln | Flamengo

    Lincoln | Flamengo

    2018: A former team-mate of Vinicius Junior at under-age level for Flamengo, Lincoln was expected to follow his fellow Brazilian to Europe sooner rather than later.

    2019: Lincoln managed three top-flight goals in 2019, despite only playing 11 matches after he was forced to spend three months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.

    2020: The striker managed just three goals during the 2020 season for Flamengo as he struggled to hold down a place in the Brazilian side's line-up.

    2021: Lincoln joined Vissel Kobe in January 2021, but his first season of Japanese football yielded just a single goal.

    2022: The forward forced his way into the starting XI during the early weeks of the J.League season, but soon fell out favour again. He joined Cruzeiro on a short-term loan deal in August 2022, but scored just a solitary Serie B goal in nine appearances back in Brazil.

    2023: Lincoln's prospects of making an impact at Vissel Kobe seem slim, and it remains to be seen what direction his career goes in next.

  27. Myziane Maolida | Lyon

    Myziane Maolida | Lyon

    2018: Maolida had already scored for Lyon's first team, and club legend Alexandre Lacazette was among those singing the teenager's praises: "He's a little like me but has more quality at the same age (19)."

    2019: Nice paid €10m to sign Maolida in the summer of 2018, but long spells of his first season with the club were spent on the sidelines nursing foot and ankle injuries.

    2020: Maolida played 18 Ligue 1 matches during the 2019-20 campaign, but scored just once as he struggled to make much of an impact.

    2021: The forward managed three goals in 2020-21, before Hertha Berlin agreed to pay €4m to take Maolida to Germany.

    2022: Maolida scored on his Bundesliga debut, but that proved to be his only goal of his debut season in the league.

    2023: After making just four appearances in the first half of the 2022-23 season, Maolida moved back to France to join Reims on loan in January 2023.

  28. Gonzalo Maroni | Boca Juniors

    Gonzalo Maroni | Boca Juniors

    2018: Likened to Pablo Aimar, Maroni was on the fringes of the Boca Juniors first team, having made his first appearance in 2016 at just 17 years of age.

    2019: Having been sent on a year-long loan to fellow Argentine top-flight side Talleres in June 2018, Maroni scored twice in 17 league games during the 2019 campaign. From there, he was loaned to Sampdoria.

    2020: Maroni made just seven appearances during his season-long stay in Italy, before returning to Boca, where he came off the bench as they won the Copa Diego Maradona.

    2021: The attacking midfielder made a handful of appearances at the start of the 2021 season for Boca, before he was again loaned out, this time to Liga MX outfit Atlas.

    2022: Having largely been used as a substitute since arriving in Mexico, Maroni returned to Argentina and joined San Lorenzo on an 18-month loan deal in June 2022 before making eight top-flight appearances before the end of the campaign.

    2023: Maroni remains at San Lorenzo, but his chances of making an impact seem slim at best.

  29. Jordi Mboula | Monaco

    Jordi Mboula | Monaco

    2018: Monaco were still celebrating after prising Mboula away from Barcelona in July 2017, after meeting his €3m release clause.

    2019: Mboula made just nine first-team appearances in 2018-19, with a groin injury ruling him out for four months in the middle of the campaign. That summer, he was loaned to Cercle Brugge.

    2020: The winger lasted just six months in Belgium, making eight appearances, before his loan was cut short, and he returned to Spain to join Huesca on a six-month deal. He helped them gain promotion, before leaving Monaco on a permanent basis as he joined Mallorca.

    2021: Mboula played 29 times as Mallorca won promotion to La Liga, though scored just once.

    2022: Mboula played sporadically for Mallorca through the first half of the 2021-22 season, before joining Portuguese side Estoril on loan in January, where he was a regular starter in the top flight.

    2023: The winger is spending the 2022-23 season on loan in the Spanish second division at Racing Santander, and he has hit some form in recent weeks after a slow start to the campaign.

  30. Mason Mount | Chelsea

    Mason Mount | Chelsea

    2018: The Chelsea-owned No.10 was flourishing during a season-long loan at Vitesse, showcasing the vision and creativity that had earned him the Player of the Tournament award at the 2017 Under-19 European Championship.

    2019: Mount was signed on loan by ex-Chelsea star Frank Lampard after he took charge at Derby County, and the midfielder thrived in the Championship, playing a leading role as the Rams reached the play-off final.

    2020: Both Mount and Lampard returned to Chelsea in 2019-20, with the former making a seamless transition into becoming a Premier League player, as he directly contributed to 13 goals in the top flight.

    2021: Mount took his game to new levels still the following year, as he proved to be one of the key figures in Chelsea's run to win the Champions League before starting regularly for England as they reached the final of Euro 2020.

    2022: Regarded as one of the leading midfielders in the English game, Mount sealed personal bests for both goals and assists in a Premier League season.

    2023: Mount's form has taken a downturn in 2022-23 amid a contract stand-off that could lead to him leaving Stamford Bridge this summer.

  31. Reiss Nelson | Arsenal

    Reiss Nelson | Arsenal

    2018: Arsenal's sole concern was tying Nelson down to a new contract, as numerous clubs across Europe were tracking the 19-year-old sensation who had already broken into Arsene Wenger's first-team squad.

    2019: Nelson enhanced his reputation with a strong season on loan at Hoffenheim, where he scored seven times in just 23 Bundesliga appearances.

    2020: Despite some injury struggles, Nelson managed 17 Premier League appearances in 2019-20, but found the net just once for the Gunners.

    2021: Nelson fell well down the pecking order under Mikel Arteta, and managed just nine first-team appearances across five different competitions in 2020-21.

    2022: In need of a career rejuvenation, Nelson joined Feyenoord on loan, but struggled to lock down a regular starting berth in Rotterdam.

    2023: Now back at Arsenal, chances have been few and far between for Nelson, but he has popped up with some key goals as the Gunners chase the Premier League title.

  32. Eddie Nketiah | Arsenal

    Eddie Nketiah | Arsenal

    2018: The former Chelsea youth-team player was being tipped to go on and achieve great things at Arsenal by none other than Thierry Henry, after Nketiah had come off the bench to strike twice in a League Cup win over Norwich.

    2019: Despite scoring almost a goal a game for the Under-23s, Nketiah struggled for opportunities to impress in the Arsenal first team, and was, thus, loaned to Leeds United in the summer of 2019.

    2020: Nketiah scored some crucial goals coming off the bench for Leeds as they chased promotion, but a lack of starting opportunities saw his spell at Elland Road cut short. He netted four times for Arsenal before the season was out, before going on to break Alan Shearer's record as the top goalscorer in England U21s history in October 2020.

    2021: The striker continued to have a bit-part role at the Emirates Stadium, scoring six goals in all competitions in 2020-21.

    2022: Nketiah was still being used predominantly as a substitute by Mikel Arteta, though a patch of good form towards the end of the season convinced Arsenal to hand him a new contract and Henry's former No.14 shirt.

    2023: Gabriel Jesus' arrival has meant Nketiah has remained a back-up in 2022-23, though he did step up impressively when the Brazilian was injured through the winter months.

  33. Paulinho | Vasco da Gama

    Paulinho | Vasco da Gama

    2018: Paulinho was regarded as the most promising player to come out of Vasco da Gama's academy since Philippe Coutinho and, after making his senior debut at just 16, was already a first-team regular.

    2019: The forward joined Bayer Leverkusen in a deal worth around €18.5m in the summer of 2018 and managed 21 appearances in his first season of Bundesliga football.

    2020: Paulinho fell out of favour somewhat the following year, starting just one league game over the course of the campaign.

    2021: A cruciate ligament rupture suffered in pre-season meant that Paulinho made just one appearance, on the final day of the campaign, in 2020-21.

    2022: Back fit, Paulinho was in and out of the Leverkusen line-up over the course of the 2021-22 season, scoring four Bundesliga goals in the process.

    2023: Paulinho made just seven appearances for Leverkusen in the first half of the current campaign before returning to Brazil as he joined Atletico Mineiro on a six-month loan deal.

  34. Pietro Pellegri | Monaco

    Pietro Pellegri | Monaco

    2018: Monaco had just paid €25m to sign a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-like striker who had become the joint-youngest debutant in Serie A history at just 15 years and 280 days old when he lined out for Genoa in December 2016.

    2019: After suffering a serious groin injury in September 2018 that kept him out for almost a year, Pellegri returned for the start of the 2019-20 campaign, but almost instantly suffered back-to-back hamstring injuries that left him on the sidelines for another six months.

    2020: Having worked himself back to fitness and into first-team contention at the Stade Louis II, Pellegri made his senior Italy debut in November 2020.

    2021: More injury problems plagued Pellegri through the second half of the 2020-21 season, at the end of which he was loaned to AC Milan in the hope he could rejuvenate his career back in his homeland.

    2022: Having made just six appearances for the Rossoneri, Pellegri's loan deal at Milan was cut short as injuries again took hold. He joined Torino on loan in January 2022, before that move was made permanent six months later.

    2023: Pellegri was a bit-part player in the opening months of the season, but a knee injury has kept him out of action since the turn of the year.

  35. Maximiliano Romero | PSV

    Maximiliano Romero | PSV

    2018: Romero had seen a 2015 move to Arsenal scuppered by a knee injury, but he recovered well, breaking into the Velez Sarsfield first team and impressing sufficiently to earn himself a transfer to PSV in January 2018.

    2019: The striker made just two first-team appearances in his first full campaign in Eindhoven, and was loaned back to Velez in the summer of 2019.

    2020: Romero scored seven league goals while back in Argentina, giving hope that he could hit the ground running upon his return to Netherlands.

    2021: After scoring in his first appearance of the 2020-21 season, Romero suffered a serious knee injury just five days later that ruled him out for almost a year.

    2022: Still plagued by injury problems, Romero was used mostly as a substitute by PSV in 2021-22 before returning to Argentina to join Racing Club on a year-long loan at the end of the campaign.

    2023: Romero has started the 2023 Argentine season as a starter at Racing as he finally aims to kickstart his career.

  36. Abel Ruiz | Barcelona

    Abel Ruiz | Barcelona

    2018: The former Valencia academy product was being touted as Spain's next great No.9, with Ruiz having already become his country's all-time record goalscorer at Under-17 level.

    2019: Ruiz made his Barcelona first-team debut in May 2019, though that proved to be his only appearance of the campaign at senior level.

    2020: The forward never played again for the Blaugrana, as he joined Braga on loan in January 2020, before making the move permanent that summer.

    2021: Ruiz shone in his first full season in Portugal, scoring 10 goals and laying on six assists, with seven of those goals coming in Braga's Portuguese Cup-winning run.

    2022: He did not hit the same heights in 2021-22, as Ruiz struggled to hold down a regular place in the Braga line-up and scored just two league goals in 28 appearances.

    2023: Ruiz's form has improved this season, and is approaching double-figure totals for both goals and assists in all competitions.

  37. Jadon Sancho | Borussia Dortmund

    Jadon Sancho | Borussia Dortmund

    2018: The prodigiously gifted teenager was already impressing in Borussia Dortmund's first team, having devastated Manchester City by deciding his chances of senior football would be better served by swapping the Etihad Stadium for Signal Iduna Park.

    2019: Sancho truly broke out over the course of the 2018-19 season, directly contributing to 30 Bundesliga goals as he earned his first England caps and the 2019 NXGN award.

    2020: The winger took his game to an even higher level the following campaign, returning 34 direct goal contributions from just 32 Bundesliga appearances as Manchester United tried but ultimately failed to sign him that summer.

    2021: After a slow start to the 2020-21 season, Sancho was back to his best during the second half of the campaign, and starred as Dortmund won the DFB-Pokal. United finally got their man, too, paying £73m to bring Sancho to Old Trafford.

    2022: Sancho's first taste of Premier League football did not hit the heights many expected as he fell out of favour as the season wore on.

    2023: After a period out of the team to work on both his mental and physical health, Sancho has shown glimpses of a return to form in 2023 under Erik ten Hag.

  38. Malang Sarr | Nice

    Malang Sarr | Nice

    2018: Considered a raw but ridiculously talented centre-half, Sarr had been a fixture in the Nice squad since making his debut at the age of 17, and was being compared to fellow Frenchman Samuel Umtiti.

    2019: The defender played all-but three Ligue 1 matches for Nice in 2018-19, as he continued to establish himself as one of the best young players in French football.

    2020: Sarr failed to agree a new contract at Nice, leading to Chelsea snapping him up on a free transfer in the summer of 2020, before loaning him to Porto for the following season.

    2021: A bit-part player in Portugal, Sarr only played 19 times during his season with Porto.

    2022: Sarr returned to Chelsea and impressed Thomas Tuchel sufficiently to become a rotational piece at Stamford Bridge over the course of 2021-22. He was then loaned to Monaco ahead of the following campaign.

    2023: The centre-back has been in and out of the line up at the Stade Louis II, and with Tuchel having been sacked by Chelsea, his future is unclear.

  39. Ryan Sessegnon | Fulham

    Ryan Sessegnon | Fulham

    2018: Whether deployed at full-back or on the wing, the 'new Gareth Bale' was proving far too much to handle for Championship defences, and it was considered only a matter of time before Sessegnon was plying his trade in the Premier League, either with Fulham or one of England's elite.

    2019: After playing a starring role in Fulham's 2018 promotion, Sessegnon found the leap to the top flight difficult, and he scored just twice as relegation was confirmed. He would remain in the Premier League, however, as Tottenham paid £25m to sign him.

    2020: Sessegnon made just 12 appearances in his first season at Spurs and was loaned to Hoffenheim in the summer of 2020 in a bid to revive his career.

    2021: Injuries in the second half of the campaign meant that Sessegnon's year in the Bundesliga was not as fulfilling as it might have been, but he did manage to get 23 top-flight appearances under his belt.

    2022: After finding himself down the pecking order in north London, Sessegnon was given a new lease of life playing as a wing-back under Antonio Conte.

    2023: Ivan Perisic's arrival in the summer of 2022 gave Sessegnon added competition, and having been in and out of the line up, a recent hamstring injury has left him facing a period on the sidelines.

  40. Mile Svilar | Benfica

    Mile Svilar | Benfica

    2018: Having broken Iker Casillas' record as the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history when he faced Manchester United in October 2017, Svilar was tipped to become one of the best shot-stoppers in Europe by Jose Mourinho after saving a penalty in the return fixture at Old Trafford.

    2019: Svilar settled back into his role as a back-up during the 2018-19 season, though he did manage to make 11 first-team appearances, albeit mostly in the domestic cups.

    2020: The keeper became the regular starter for Benfica's B team, making just one appearance for the senior side.

    2021: Svilar continued to wait for his chance by impressing for the B team in Lisbon.

    2022: In a move that brought him full circle from his debut, Svilar reunited with Mourinho in the summer of 2022 after joining Roma on a free transfer.

    2023: Svilar is still waiting to make his Serie A debut as his career struggles to get off the ground.

  41. Timothy Tillman | Bayern Munich

    Timothy Tillman | Bayern Munich

    2018: Tillman was considered such a hot prospect that Barcelona tried to prise him away from Bayern Munich in 2017, but the Bavarians had no intention of giving up a player they had signed from Greuther Furth at the age of 15.

    2019: The forward joined Nuremberg on loan for the 2018-19, but made just six Bundesliga appearances over the course of the campaign.

    2020: With opportunities still hard to come by at Bayern, Tillman requested a move back to his boyhood club, Greuther Furth, in January 2020, and he made 12 appearances in the German second division before the season was out.

    2021: Greuther won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2021, but Tillman started just three league games.

    2022: Tillman forced his way into the Greuther line-up but managed to score just once as they suffered relegation.

    2023: The midfielder began to fall out of favour in the early months of 2022-23, and left Germany to join Los Angeles FC ahead of the 2023 MLS season.

  42. Ferran Torres | Valencia

    Ferran Torres | Valencia

    2018: A member of the Valencia academy since the age of six, Torres had already become a regular in the club's first team, alerting Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona to the 18-year-old's many talents.

    2019: Torres slowly worked his way into the first-team picture at Mestalla, scoring his first three professional goals over the course of the 2018-19 season.

    2020: After a true breakout season that saw him play 40 times for Valencia, Torres joined Manchester City in a £21m deal in the summer of 2020, before making his Spain debut a couple of months later.

    2021: Though far from a regular, Torres managed 13 goals in his first season at City, with Pep Guardiola increasingly using him as a central striker.

    2022: Torres became the first signing of the Xavi era at Barcelona, who paid €55m to bring him to Camp Nou, and he managed to score seven goals before the end of the campaign.

    2023: The summer signings of Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski moved Torres down the pecking order at Barca, and he has struggled to make much of an impact in 2022-23.

  43. Timothy Weah | Paris Saint-Germain

    Timothy Weah | Paris Saint-Germain

    2018: Weah had only just turned 18 but had already made his first appearances for both PSG and the United States, suggesting that he had every chance of following in the footsteps of his father George, who had become a superstar during his time at the Parc des Princes.

    2019: With opportunities at PSG limited, Weah joined Celtic on loan in January 2019, and scored four times for the Scottish outfit. He was then sold to Lille for €10m ahead of the following campaign.

    2020: Weah's first season at Lille was ruined by injuries, as he made just three Ligue 1 appearances.

    2021: The forward finally got going in 2020-21, as he acted as a rotational piece for Christophe Galtier, who guided Lille to the Ligue 1 title.

    2022: Weah earned more starts in 2021-22, though to call him a regular in the Lille line-up would have been overstating it somewhat, with his three Ligue 1 goals for the season all coming in the campaign's final two matches.

    2023: After scoring the United States' first World Cup goal in eight years, Weah has begun to force his way into the Lille line up, albeit as a makeshift left-back.

  44. Ben Woodburn | Liverpool

    Ben Woodburn | Liverpool

    2018: Liverpool's youngest-ever goalscorer was finding first-team opportunities with Jurgen Klopp's stellar squad tough to come by, but he could not have been more highly rated at Anfield, where he was made captain of Steven Gerrard's Under-19s. Woodburn had also marked his Wales debut with a winning goal against Austria.

    2019: Having seen a loan spell at Sheffield United cut short in the first half of the 2018-19 season, Woodburn spent the remainder of the campaign playing for Liverpool Under-23s.

    2020: Woodburn joined Oxford United on loan for the 2019-20 season, but back-to-back foot injuries saw him miss over four months of action, meaning he made just 16 appearances for the League One outfit. He then reunited with ex-Liverpool U23s boss Neil Critchley as Woodburn joined Blackpool on loan in the summer of 2020.

    2021: Having played just 11 times, Woodburn again returned from a loan spell halfway through a season, and again had to make do with youth-team matches on Merseyside to maintain his fitness.

    2022: Woodburn spent the 2021-22 season on loan at Hearts, for whom he scored his top-flight goals. He was then released by Liverpool before joining Preston North End on a free transfer.

    2023: The attacking midfielder has made over 30 appearances for the Championship side, but has been a substitute more often than not.

  45. Dan-Axel Zagadou | Borussia Dortmund

    Dan-Axel Zagadou | Borussia Dortmund

    2018: Dortmund were still patting themselves on the back after beating a host of top European clubs to the signing of the PSG youth-team star, who had become available on a free transfer.

    2019: Zagadou made over 20 appearances for Dortmund in 2018-19, though injuries hampered his progress throughout the season.

    2020: The defender's bad injury luck continued, as he suffered a torn knee ligament in April 2020 that kept him out of action for over seven months.

    2021: Zagadou managed just 13 appearances in 2020-21, with fitness issues the main reason for his lack of game time.

    2022: Recovery from knee surgery meant that Zagadou made a delayed start to the 2021-22 campaign, and he gradually worked his way back into the Dortmund line up, though he didn't do enough to earn a new contract and was released.

    2023: Zagadou joined Stuttgart in September 2022 and has become a regular starter for the Bundesliga outfit.

  46. 5. Phil Foden | Manchester City

    5. Phil Foden | Manchester City

    2018: Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was enamoured with Foden, whom he described as "a gift" from the club's academy to the senior squad. The teenager had already had his first taste of Premier League and Champions League football, and also lifted the Golden Ball at the end of England's victorious 2017 Under-17 World Cup campaign.

    2019: Despite calls for him to be named in the City line-up more often, Foden made 26 first-team appearances in 2018-19, with the majority coming from the bench.

    2020: A more regular contributor the following season, Foden was rewarded for a campaign in which he directly contributed to 17 goals by earning a first England cap in September 2020.

    2021: The PFA and Premier League Young Player of the Year, Foden became a regular starter for Guardiola in 2020-21, scoring 16 goals in all competitions from a variety of positions.

    2022: Foden continued to go from strength to strength, and once again was voted PFA and Premier League Young Player of the Year after contributing a combined 25 goals and assists in all competitions.

    2023: After a hot start to the season, injuries and a drop in form saw Foden fall out of favour in early 2023, but he has recently been back to his best.

  47. 4. Matthijs de Ligt | Ajax

    4. Matthijs de Ligt | Ajax

    2018: Regarded as the most promising centre-back to emerge in Europe in years, the Ajax ace had already been capped at senior level by Netherlands and was being constantly linked with Barcelona.

    2019: De Ligt skippered Ajax to a domestic double and the semi-finals of the Champions League, during which he scored some crucial goals. Those performances earned him a €75m move to Juventus, as well as the Kopa Trophee at the Ballon d'Or ceremony.

    2020: After a slow start to life in Turin, De Ligt grew into a key figure for Juve as they secured the Serie A title.

    2021: A shoulder injury saw him miss the first three months of the 2020-21 but, once fit, De Ligt was an automatic starter at the Allianz Stadium.

    2022: After another decent season in Serie A, De Ligt left Juve to join Bayern Munich for an initial €67m in the summer of 2022.

    2023: De Ligt started just once for the Netherlands at the 2022 World Cup, but has been a regular in the line up during his first season with Bundesliga champions Bayern.

  48. 3. Vinicius Junior | Real Madrid

    3. Vinicius Junior | Real Madrid

    2018: The Brazilian sensation had already been signed by Real Madrid for a whopping €45m, but that world-record fee for a 16-year-old was beginning to look like a bargain, with Vinicius developing at a rapid rate after being loaned back to Flamengo until the summer of 2018.

    2019: After starting life in Madrid with the Castilla squad, Vinicius was quickly promoted to the first team, and registered 12 assists in all competitions over the course of 2018-19.

    2020: Though Vinicius frustrated Madrid fans with some wayward finishes, he continued to grow into a regular contributor for Los Blancos.

    2021: Vinicius played all-but three of Madrid's league games in 2020-21, signalling the trust that Zinedine Zidane had in the forward, despite his underwhelming strike rate.

    2022: The Brazil international finally flourished at Santiago Bernabeu, registering double figures for both goals and assists, including the winning goal in the Champions League final victory over Liverpool.

    2023: Vinicius is now regarded among the best attacking players in European football, and has shown great strength to thrive while being the subject of constant abuse from opposition supporters.

  49. 2. Gianluigi Donnarumma | AC Milan

    2. Gianluigi Donnarumma | AC Milan

    2018: The 2017 NXGN winner had endured a difficult 12 months off the field because of contractual controversy caused by his agent, Mino Raiola. However, the 'new Gigi Buffon' showed remarkable composure for one so young to retain his status as AC Milan's No.1, despite still being only 19 years of age.

    2019: Despite incessant reports linking him with a move away from San Siro, Donnarumma continued to perform superbly for Milan, even if the Rossoneri were struggling to make much of an impact on Serie A.

    2020: Donnarumma went past 50 Serie A clean sheets during the 2019-20 season, though concerns began to grow as he entered the final year of his contract.

    2021: Crowned Player of the Tournament as Italy won Euro 2020, Donnarumma left Milan that same summer, joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

    2022: Donnarumma was forced to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas at Parc des Princes during his first season in France, with his defining moment being the error that sparked Real Madrid's come-from-behind win to knock PSG out of the Champions League in the last 16.

    2023: Now the established No.1, Donnarumma does still make the occasional high-profile error, but on the whole remains one of world football's top goalkeepers.

  50. 1. Justin Kluivert | Ajax

    1. Justin Kluivert | Ajax

    2018: Ronald de Boer was among those comparing the Ajax winger with the silky skills and super-sonic speed to Neymar. Hardly surprising, then, that the son of the legendary Patrick Kluivert was being linked with the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, even though he was still only 18.

    2019: Having joined Roma in the summer of 2018, the forward managed just a single Serie A goal in his first season at Stadio Olimpico, as an encouraging start to the season soon fizzled out.

    2020: Kluivert performed slightly better in 2019-20, scoring seven goals in all competitions, but his inconsistent performances led to him being loaned out to RB Leipzig ahead of the following campaign.

    2021: Despite goals in high-profile Bundesliga and Champions League games, Kluivert was largely a disappointment at Leipzig, and he was loaned back out to Nice for the 2021-22 season.

    2022: Kluivert enjoyed the most consistent season since his Ajax days, but that was not enough to convince Roma to keep him around upon his return from France. A loan move to Fulham fell through due to work permit issues before he joined Valencia on a season-long deal.

    2023: The forward has largely been a substitute for the struggling Spanish side, with Kluivert's hopes of being a long-term contributor at the highest level fading with every season that passes.