Top 50 Young Players in World Football Right Now (21 and Under)

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2012

Top 50 Young Players in World Football Right Now (21 and Under)

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    In the business-minded world of football, it’s paramount for managers and club owners to invest in the talent of tomorrow almost as much as the talent of today.

    In this sport, it’s normal for an outfield player to hit their maximum playing potential between the ages of 27 and 30, while a goalkeeper might take slightly longer.

    Whether you’re into spotting the next big star on Football Manager or just a general Wunderkind fanatic, everyone can take pleasure in seeing future stars mature from their adolescence into superstardom.

    Some take longer to nurture their talent, while others are slotted into the limelight from their teenage years, forced to live up to their potential now rather than later.

    Whichever path of the two they may be on, the following 50 players have been selected in terms of success and the career performances they may have displayed so far in their football lives.

    Just to clarify, the list doesn't take into account whatever potential a starlet may or may not be showing, these selections were made based on results produced thus far.

    All 50 candidates will not have celebrated their 22nd birthday yet, and I’ve even put myself in the line of fire by going as far as ranking all those included.

    It may be five more years before you see some of these kids on the international stage, and some of them may already be on it.

    Wherever they may be, look out for every single one in the seasons to come.

    Follow me on Twitter: @TomSunderland_

50. Marco Verratti

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    Age: 19

    Having recently made his debut for the Italian national team in his side's friendly defeat to England, Marco Verratti is being tipped for a bright future on both the national and club stage.

    The midfielder's 2012 looks even better when you consider he signed a five-year contract with big-spending PSG earlier this summer.

    A defensive playmaker built in the same mold as Andrea Pirlo, Verratti is, along with a number of Italians on this list, set to become his nation's next generation.

49. Lucas Piazon

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    Age: 18

    Yet to make a senior appearance for Chelsea, Lucas Piazon is currently causing waves in the Blues' reserve ranks, scoring four goals in nine starts for the side last season.

    One of the players to have come through the youth ranks at São Paulo, Piazon only became eligible to play for Chelsea after January 2012, and featured heavily in the club's 2012-13 preseason tour.

    Once billed as the next Kaka, Piazon has already had an impact on the international level, scoring nine goals in 15 appearances for Brazil's Under-17 side.

    The youngster has been named in his side's 22-man squad for the Champions League tournament, and it would appear that Roberto Di Matteo has plans for Piazon, who can play as a striker, winger or even an attacking midfielder.

48. Raheem Sterling

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    Age: 17

    Sterling is only just making his first forays into the Liverpool senior team, but at the age of 17, it's incredible that he's involved at all.

    That being said, Brendan Rodgers' faith has looked well placed so far, and the speedster being built up in the club's youth academy seems very promising indeed.

    The teenager got his first Premier League start against Manchester City, and didn't seem too out of depth considering the weight of his opposition.

47. Mateo Kovačić

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    Age: 18

    Currently the second-youngest scorer ever in the Champions League, it would seem that Mateo Kovačić may be destined for greater things than his current surroundings at Dinamo Zagreb.

    Not to offend the Croatian outfit, but the youngster may soon follow in the footsteps of compatriots like Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar by opting for a move to a more elite league.

    Playing from an attacking playmaker role, Kovačić scored four goals and made seven assists in 20 league starts for his club last season, prompting interest from some European parties.

46. Lorenzo Insigne

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    Age: 21

    The first 21-year-old to make his way onto this list, Lorenzo Insigne is a proven quantity in Italy's second tier and is now getting his crack of the whip in Serie A.

    Insigne first emerged as a talent in the 2010-11 season when he scored 19 goals for Foggia in Italy's third tier, before going on to net 18 goals and make 14 assists with Pescara in Serie B last campaign.

    Napoli have now realised what a prodigy they may have on their hands and have kept the youngster amongst their ranks for the first time in his career.

    The youth is currently a part of Italy's Under-21 side, for whom he has scored four goals in six games, and could swiftly take the next step into senior team matters.

45. Ola John

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    Age: 20

    Having impressed greatly in the 2011-12 Eredivisie season, Ola John was quickly snapped up by Benfica this summer for an initial fee of €9m, which could rise to €12m.

    John made 40 starts for FC Twente last season, scoring nine goals and registering 22 assists along the way, quite a massive total for one so young.

    This form earned the attention of Bert van Marwijk, who included the youth in his 36-man provisional squad for Euro 2012 and although John didn't make the final cut, it won't be long until he's featuring in the senior colours of Oranje.

44. John Guidetti

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    Age: 20

    Another man to make his mark on the Dutch top flight last season, John Guidetti has been kept at the Etihad Stadium for the current campaign.

    The 20-year-old made 21 starts while on loan at Feyenoord in 2011-12, scoring 20 goals and making eight assists in the process.

    The Swedish striker would have been selected for international duty at Euro 2012 were it not for a lingering injury, but has plenty of time to make his impact on the world stage.

    Currently on the injured list, City failed to farm their youngster out on loan in the summer transfer window and while a first-team place is unlikely at the Etihad, the future would seem bright for Guidetti.

43. Bernd Leno

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    Age: 20

    Any player with the ability to push Rene Adler out of first-team matters within his first season of arriving at Bayer Leverkusen must have a considerable amount of talent, never mind a 19-year-old.

    However, that was the feat accomplished by Bernd Leno last season and, despite being drafted in on loan as a temporary replacement for Adler, Leno is now the safe choice as No.1 at the BayArena.

    Despite his age, the 6'3" stopper has already racked up 35 Bundesliga starts and could have another two decades ahead of him playing at this standard.

42. Aaron Ramsey

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    Age: 21

    There's no doubt that Aaron Ramsey would have featured much more highly on this list were it not for a Ryan Shawcross tackle back in 2010 that broke both Ramsey's tibia and fibula.

    The injury may have slowed the Welshman's progress, but Ramsey is now a firm part of the Arsenal squad and also captains his national side, despite being barely out of his teens.

    Trivia: Ramsey has developed a habit of scoring goals the day before the deaths of either a political dictator or celebrity in the public eye.

    February 11 2012—Ramsey scores against Sunderland. Whitney Houston reported dead the next day.

    May 1 2011—Ramsey scores against Manchester United. Osama Bin Laden reported dead the next day.

    October 19 2011—Ramsey scores against Marseille. Col. Muammar Gaddafi reported dead the next day.

    Eerie.

41. David Alaba

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    Age: 20

    Having joined the Bayern youth academy for the final year of his training, David Alaba has rapidly acclimated to the needs of the German top flight and is quickly rising as one of the club's finest assets.

    Capable of functioning as a left-back, left midfielder or in the centre of the park, Alaba is a versatile youngster that can be called upon in numerous moments of crisis.

    The utility has already earned 17 caps for the Austrian national side and will keep adding to that tally for quite some time yet.

40. Lucas Ocampos

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    Age: 18

    After being relegated to Argentina's second division, last season was Lucas Ocampos' chance to shine on the bigger stage, and shine he did.

    The teenager played so well in fact, that he got himself a big money move to Monaco that boasted a price-tag of around €15m.

    While you may be thinking a Ligue 2 outfit isn't exactly the most prestigious surroundings for a South American starlet, bear in mind that Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a majority stake in the club last year and is attempting to fire the club back into France's top flight.

    Ocampos is a midfield playmaker with some dazzling dribbling skills and while scoring goals isn't his trademark ability, setting them up certainly is. 

39. Raphaël Varane

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    Age: 19

    Raphaël Varane is yet to make a huge impact on first-team matters at the Santiago Bernabeu, but has held a good account of himself whenver he has featured for Los Merengues.

    Last season, the Frenchman made nine La Liga appearances for Real Madrid and appears to be in the future plans of Jose Mourinho.

38. Luciano Narsingh

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    Age: 21

    Just about fitting into this demographic, Luciano Narsingh turns 22 in mid-September, but is certainly not out of the "starlet market" just yet.

    In what turned out to be a breakout season for the right winger, 2011-12 saw Narsingh finish the Eredivisie campaign as the league's biggest provider of goals, recording 22 assists for Heerenveen.

    That tally, coupled with his eight goals, drew the gaze of PSV Eindhoven, who chose to purchase the youngster, showing his gradual moves up the Dutch ladder.

    Narsingh capped off a brilliant season by being included in Bert van Marwijk's 23-man squad for Euro 2012, which promises to be the first inclusion of many.

37. Jack Wilshere

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    Age: 20

    Held in much esteem around the Emirates Stadium, Jack Wilshere has had to endure a torrid time through injury in the last year, and missed the entire 2011-12 season due to a stress fracture on his ankle.

    Gunner fans highly anticipate the return of their starlet and can only hope that he recaptures the form displayed prior to the injury.

    Since debuting in 2010, Wilshere made five appearances for the England national side and is regarded as one of the Premier League's brightest playmaking prospects, regardless of his age.

36. Patrick Herrmann

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    Age: 21

    While his former Borussia Mönchengladbach teammate may only be a year older than him, Patrick Herrmann is already being hailed as "the next Marco Reus," following the latter's defection to Borussia Dortmund this summer.

    Like Reus, Herrmann is capable of playing on the wing or in a more centrally-attacking position, and will feature with more prominence this season, now that "The Skunk" isn't taking up the limelight at the club.

    In 22 league starts last season, Herrmann scored six goals and made nine assists, and is also striding through every tier of the German national setup.

35. Sebastián Coates

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    Age: 21

    Upon his 2011 arrival at Anfield, Sebastián Coates was met with a resounding chorus of "Who?"

    Since then, the youngster has proven himself to be a very capable asset in the Liverpool defence, and has looked impressive when deputising for Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger.

    Following Uruguay's Copa América triumph in 2011, it was Coates that was voted the tournament's Best Young Player, prompting the Reds' increased interest in his services.

34. Giorgino Wijnaldum

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    Age: 21

    A product of the Feyenoord youth academy, Giorgino Wijnaldum remains the youngest ever player to have featured for the club's first team, having made his debut at the age of 16 years and 148 days.

    The 21-year-old has since moved on to PSV and made 50 appearances for the club last season, scoring 14 goals and making nine assists.

    This tally becomes al the more impressive when you consider that Wijnaldum plays out of central midfield.

    This kind of form hasn't gone unnoticed on the international stage, and the starlet has made two appearances for the Dutch national team, scoring a sole goal.

33. Joel Matip

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    Age: 21

    It's not so common for a player under the age of 21 to be a starter in the middle of defence for a top-flight side.

    With that in mind, Joel Matip has already shown maturity beyond his years and is a firm staple in the Schalke 04 first team, having made 47 starts for the club last season.

    Capable of playing in midfield, Matip has also earned himself five caps with the Cameroonian national team and is a constant threat when going forward, despite his defensive duties.

32. M'Baye Niang

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    Age: 17

    Coming in at 6'0", you wouldn't think to look at M'Baye Niang that the player has another two-and-a-half years until he's no longer a teenager.

    The youngster has featured in Caen's first team since the 2010-11 campaign, but was picked up by AC Milan this summer as the Italians think they can make the best of his significant talent.

    Operating mainly as a striker, Niang's considerable frame makes him a constant physical threat, it's now merely a case of honing his technical gifts at the San Siro.

31. Romelu Lukaku

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    Age: 19

    After months of speculation linking the striker with a temporary move away from Stamford Bridge, Romelu Lukaku recently began a season-long loan with West Brom.

    The Belgian international scored on his debut for the Baggies, despite coming on as a 77th minute substitute, and is giving Steve Clarke quite a headache over whom he should start up front.

    After his £18m move to Chelsea in 2011, there were doubts as to whether or not Lukaku would live up to the expectations he built up during his prolific scoring days at Anderlecht.

    He appears to be proving the critics wrong.

30. Antoine Griezmann

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    Age: 21

    Having just signed a new four-year contract with Real Sociedad, it appears that Antoine Griezmann is happy to ignore any speculation regarding a move away from the Basque club for now.

    While he's only 21, Griezmann has already made 120 appearances for the Spanish outfit, averaging around 39 games per season.

    The 2011-12 season saw the winger rack up 28 league starts for Real Sociedad, scoring seven goals and making four assists.

    The Frenchman has been a component in his nation's Under-21 team since 2010 and he could make the step up to the senior side with some more impressive form.

29. Kyriakos Papadopoulos

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    Age: 20

    With Joel Matip having already featured on this list, it's his defensive partner, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, who deserves an equal share of the Schalke 04 limelight.

    In three starts for the Bundesliga side this season, Papadopoulos has already scored two goals—and yes, he is still a centre-back.

    The 6'0" defender has also proven his scoring threat on the international level, scoring four goals in 13 appearances for the Greek national side.

    While his national escapades may not yield much silverware, Papadopoulos has a real chance of excelling in an improving Schalke team.

28. Douglas Costa

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    Age: 21

    With not long left until the starlet turns 22, Costa is fortunate to fall into this demographic, but is a worthy candidate all the same.

    The Brazilian made the move to Shakhtar Donetsk from Grêmio in 2010 despite perceived interest from Manchester United at the time.

    Since then, the winger has become a constant figure in the first-team plans of the Ukrainian champions and his importance at the club is evident in their offering of a recent five-year contract extension.

    Yet to make an appearance for the Brazilian national team, Costa may have received more international precedence, were he involved in one of Europe's elite leagues.

27. James Rodriguez

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    Age: 21

    Considered by many as the future of Colombian football and the second coming of Carlos Valderrama, James Rodriguez has evolved into a fan favourite at the Estádio do Dragão.

    The Porto winger finished last season with a record of 15 goals and eight assists in the Portuguese top flight, and is considered to be one of South America's most promising talents.

    Rodriguez already has five caps for the Colombian national team and the Daily Mail reports that the youngster is content with his current surroundings, despite a host of European interest.

    With Hulk now playing with Zenit St. Petersburg, it's likely that Rodriguez will get an even bigger chance to shine, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him flourish further this campaign.

26. Mattia Destro

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    Age: 21

    Capable of playing on the wing or as a centre forward, Mattia Destro's exploits for Siena last season provided sufficient reason for a host of Serie A outfits to race toward his signature, a race that AS Roma won.

    Netting 12 times in 26 appearances in the Italian top flight, Destro also earned himself his first call-up to Italy's senior squad, for the August friendly against England.

    Destro will strive to truly prove his pedigree at his new club, and the last campaign suggests he's got the potential to do so.

25. Rodrigo

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    Age: 21

    Having failed to make any real use of his time at Real Madrid, it's only in his days with Benfica that Rodrigo is truly unlocking his potential as an elite attacker.

    The 21-year-old managed to score 16 goals in just 19 starts across all competitions for Benfica last season, despite having struggled in spells at the Santiago Bernabeu and Reebok Stadium in the past.

    The youngster also netted seven goals in just six games for the Spanish Under-21 side last season and will surely be knocking on the door of the senior side in the coming months.

24. David De Gea

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    Age: 21

    After struggling to acclimate to the English tempo, Manchester United's 2011 summer signing has really settled into his No.1 spot at Old Trafford, albeit with the occasional blip still lingering.

    If a midfielder misplaces a pass, or a striker misses a sitter, it's quite simple to forget. If a goalkeeper makes a mistake that results in the conceding of a goal, that image can stick around for a while.

    Considering all the mistakes that predictably occurred in his first term with the Red Devils, De Gea has grown massively in the space of the year, developing great shot-stopping ability, along with a tougher approach to his surroundings.

    The youngster still suffers when it comes to the aerial side of things, but his involvement at Manchester United and with the Spanish Under-21 team suggests there are plenty of people that have faith in the stopper.

23. Jack Rodwell

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    Age: 21

    An Everton youth product now at Manchester City, there are clearly certain figures banking on Jack Rodwell to overcome his injury woes and fulfill his potential as a Premier League star and England anchorman.

    The defensive midfielder has already looked impressive in his performances with the Citizens and if he can live up to the expectations put before him in his teenage years, the youngster will undoubtedly emerge as an England regular.

    There are those who doubt Rodwell can thrive at the Etihad Stadium and will only warm the bench amongst a fully fit squad, but if the 21-year-old can make it there, he can make it almost anywhere.

22. Thibaut Courtois

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    Age: 20

    Thibaut Courtois recently had the unusual honour of beating his own side in the UEFA Super Cup to take home the European trophy.

    The No.1 is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea and is flourishing within the Spanish top flight, thriving on his chance at first-team football.

    Already a part of the Belgian national team, Courtois isn't likely to take the starting spot from Petr Čech anytime soon, but Chelsea won't be eager to let this starlet go, lest it come back to bite them in the future.

21. Victor Moses

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    Age: 21

    Following a lengthy transfer saga, Chelsea recently paid out the amount required to prise Victor Moses away from the DW Stadium and take him to Stamford Bridge.

    The winger arrives on the back of a summer full of spending for the Blues and while some will doubt his chances of first-team football, they really shouldn't.

    Moses was a bright light in an otherwise dim Wigan Athletic side and his explosive pace and dazzling footwork could be put to far better use in his new surroundings.

    The wide man was a key figure in keeping the Latics in the English top flight last season, and he'll look to work his magic at the other end of the spectrum from now on.

20. Iker Muniain

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    Age: 19

    Still in his teenage years, it's incredible that Iker Muniain has had so much influence with Athletic Bilbao, including a Europa League final and the toppling of European giants alike.

    An useful asset in any attacking role, Muniain has proven to be a versatile provider and scorer of goals in recent seasons.

    The youngster earned his first cap for the Spanish national side earlier this year and his tally would appear as unlikely to stop there.

19. Isco

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    Age: 20

    Emerging from Valencia's youth academy, Isco failed to find his place amongst the first-team plans of Unai Emery last season and opted for a summer move to Málaga.

    It was with the Qatari-owned club that the attacking midfielder found his best form, scoring five goals and making five assists in 29 league starts.

    With a penchant for being a tad too aggressive at times, Isco has found himself involved in the plans of Vicente Del Bosque this year, but is yet to play a minute for the Spanish senior side as of yet—although it wouldn't seem far away.

18. Philippe Coutinho

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    Age: 20

    After going through a period of uncertainty, Philippe Coutinho is now firmly back in the plans of Internazionale after making his return to the San Siro this summer.

    The Brazilian international was loaned to Espanyol for the second half of last season, and the temporary spell in Spain did Coutinho the world of good, allowing the forward to relocate his shooting boots once more.

    Coutinho has scored two goals and made one assist in his first six games back in Italy and will be a key part of any revival that the Milan outfit may see this campaign.

17. Lewis Holtby

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    Age: 21

    The third member of the Schalke fraternity to be included on this list, Lewis Holtby has grown to become a key figure at the Velkins Arena.

    The attacking playmaker only has a year left on his contract with the German club, casting a seed of uncertainty over his future.

    Regardless, the midfielder—who has two caps with the German national team—is one of the Bundesliga's more prodigious talents and will have a bright future wherever he finds himself next season.

16. Gaston Ramirez

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    Age: 21

    This time last month, Gaston Ramirez was being linked with moves to Liverpool, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur (via Goal.com).

    Fast forward 30 days, and the Uruguayan international is Southampton's record signing and is set to undergo his first Premier League inspection with a side hoping to survive amongst England's elite.

    Having played a major role in Bologna's 2011-12 Serie A success, the playmaker finished last season with eight goals and five assists.

    The attacking midfielder announced himself to the world with a brace of goals at London 2012, displaying his talents as a very capable free-kick taker in the process.

15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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    Age: 19

    A winger by nature, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has recently voiced his eagerness to try things out in a more central position following the departure of Alex Song from the Emirates Stadium (via Goal.com).

    The England international pounced on the opportunity given to him at Euro 2012 and showed the rest of the world just what all the fuss was about following his move from Southampton in 2011.

    Oxlade-Chamberlain has speed by the busload, but has shown himself to be more than just another Theo Walcott, as was prophesied upon his arrival in North London.

    The youngster will get more of a chance to start under Arsene Wenger this season, and could be a staple at Arsenal for some years to come.

14. Marc-André Ter Stegen

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    Age: 20

    Despite having made just the one appearance for Germany's Under-21 side, Marc-André ter Stegen is already making his impressions on the senior squad and pressing Manuel Neuer for a starting spot.

    The Borussia Mönchengladbach stopper is one of several goalkeeping prodigies currently in the Bundesliga, but is arguably the pick of the crop following his 2011-12 exploits with Die Fohlen.

    Ter Stegen kept clean sheets in almost half of his fixtures last season and it wasn't all down to the defence in front of him.

    A very good shot-stopper, excellent commander of his area and with the reflexes of the most acute feline, Marc-André ter Stegen is undoubtedly one of Europe's emerging talents between the pipes. 

13. Julian Draxler

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    Age: 18

    A fourth entrant from the Schalke 04 ranks, Julian Draxler represents the future hopes of the Gelsenkirchen side.

    Having come to the club as a seven-year-old, Draxler is now greatly influencing the fortune of the club he grew up with, establishing himself as a starter since making his debut in 2011.

    The teenager has made three starts for the club this season so far, scoring two goals and one assist in Schalke's DFB Pokal fixture against Saabrücken.

    Slowly making his way into the German senior side, Draxler has already made his first-team debut, and it shouldn't be long before he's replacing some of the nation's old guard.

12. Phil Jones

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    Age: 20

    Currently struggling with injury, Phil Jones is yet to make an appearance for Manchester United this season, but is assured to play a big role in the club's future.

    As Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic gradually edge their way out of their playing primes, it's clear that Jones will have a huge chance to influence Red Devil matters in the coming seasons.

    His debut season at Old Trafford saw the youngster earn his first England caps and his versatility makes him a key player under Sir Alex Ferguson, as well.

    Able to play at centre-back, right-back or in central midfield, Jones has already progressed towards justifying his 2011 price-tag and plays beyond the quality his age would suggest. 

11. Xherdan Shaqiri

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    Age: 20

    In today's market, youth is valued more highly than ever, so it's astonishing that Bayern Munich may have secured the services of Xherdan Shaqiri for a sum as little as €13m.

    Prior to the winger agreeing a move to the Allianz Arena, he was being billed as one of Europe's top talents and appears to be living up to expectations with the German giants.

    The Swiss international—who already has 19 senior caps—has scored one goal and made two assists in his first four appearances in Bayern colours, and would seem set for a bright career.

10. Thiago Alcantara

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    Age: 21

    Already making a name for himself amongst the Spanish national side, Barcelona's production line of central midfield stars appears to be safe in the hands of Thiago Alcântara.

    The playmaker made 20 league starts in the already packed Barça midfield last season, scoring two goals and making four assists.

    If Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas weren't enough in terms of central creators, Tito Vilanova can feel safe in knowing that he has another starlet in the same mold as that trio waiting in the wings.

9. Stephan El Shaarawy

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    Age: 19

    Having recently put pen to paper over a five-year contract extension, it's quite clear that AC Milan have big hopes for Stephan El Shaarawy in the future and are hoping to keep him at the San Siro for years to come.

    The teenager earned his first senior Italian cap earlier this summer and will shoulder a heap of the Rosoneri's goal scoring responsibilities this season following the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    Big shoes though they might be to fill, ask any Milan fan, and they'll tell you they've got a large amount of confidence in their starlet—whom many are tipping to win Serie A's Young Player of the Year award this season.

8. Danny Welbeck

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    Age: 21

    With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez also at Old Trafford, it's no secret that Danny Welbeck will find it slightly difficult to stand out as one of Manchester United's premier strikers.

    However, after signing a new four-year extension with the club, it's clear that both player and club have big plans for the forward, who has already impressed in his short professional career.

    In 23 league starts last campaign, Welbeck scored nine goals and made five assists and is making big strides with the England senior squad in the meantime.

7. Oscar

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    Age: 20

    After sealing a £25m move to Stamford Bridge in late July 2012, it's fair to say there's a mountain of expectation surrounding Brazilian starlet, Oscar.

    The former Internacional youth prodigy earned massive plaudits for his performances in the Brasileiro Serie A and while there's a constant flow of production coming out of Brazil, the 20-year-old still manages to stick out as a particular talent.

    Known for his playmaking skill as opposed to scoring ability, it'll be up to Oscar to ensure that the likes of Fernando Torres can maximize their scoring potential in west London.

6. André Schürrle

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    Age: 21

    One of a number of German youngsters being eased into the nation's senior team, André Schürrle has been making waves in the German top flight for some time now.

    The 21-year-old made 30 starts for Bayer Leverkusen in his debut season at the BayArena, making six assists and scoring seven goals in the process.

    Schürrle already has 17 caps for the German national team, scoring seven goals—quite a considerable record when you consider the player is only 21 years old.

5. Christian Eriksen

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    Age: 20

    Three games into the Eredivisie campaign and Christian Eriksen is already showing why there was so much European interest in his signature over the last 18 months.

    The Ajax playmaker finished last season with 19 assists and seven goals in 33 starts for the Dutch champions.

    Barely out of his teenage years, Eriksen already has 26 caps for the Denmark national team and showcased his talent to the world at Euro 2012 which was, believe it or not, his second major international tournament.

    The first entrant in our top five Under-21 players is a talisman in his current surroundings, but may not be with the Godenzonen for too much longer.

4. Lucas Moura

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    Age: 20

    In a dramatic turn of events, Lucas Moura opted for a move to the big-spending French giants that are Paris Saint-Germain instead of Manchester United, who were known to hold an interest in his services.

    The attacking playmaker won't complete the switch until after the Brazilian season comes to a close in January 2013, only emphasising how eager the Ligue 1 club were to get their man.

    Regardless of his age, Lucas has made 15 appearances for the Brazilian senior side and will certainly be adding to that tally in the coming years.

3. Mario Götze

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    Age: 20

    The man responsible for a great deal of Borussia Dortmund's most recent successes, Mario Götze's future rides in tandem with that of his club's.

    Operating as an attacking midfielder, Götze formed a very productive partnership with Shinji Kagawa, but appears to be the Yellow and Blacks' main catalyst, making those around him look a lot better.

    One person who benefits greatly from Götze's supply is Robert Lewandowski and the two have been in fine form over the last two seasons.

    Götze already has 16 senior caps with Germany and is already challenging some of the nation's stalwarts for a starting place.

2. Neymar

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    Age: 20

    Perhaps a shock inclusion at anywhere but the top spot, it goes without saying that Neymar is up there with the world's best when playing to his optimum.

    The only thing working against the striker is that he's yet to play in a European elite league, a factor which can often make or break a South American prodigy.

    Sky Sports reported earlier this summer that several sides agreed to meet the release clause included in his Santos contract, but the forward remained to continue his development in the Brasileiro Serie A.

    Neymar regularly averages more than a goal every other game in a club season, but his first foray into Europe could be his true test.

1. Eden Hazard

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    Age: 21

    And here he is, the man to knock Neymar off his usual throne in these sort of countdowns, is Eden Hazard.

    The Belgian starlet has been in the public eye for as long as his Brazilian counterpart, and is dealing well with the pressure of a £32m move to Chelsea.

    In three Premier League appearances for the Blues, Hazard has racked up six assists. No, your eyes aren't failing you, that is six assists.

    With superior agility, a ferocious turn of pace and exhilirating dribbling control, Hazard is one of the main reasons that Chelsea are enjoying the early season success they currently are, and will play a huge role in whether they can build on last season's Champions League triumph.

    The 21-year-old is a marvel, that's for sure, but do you want to know the scary thing?

    He has three younger brothers, all of whom are pretty darn good.

    Follow me on Twitter: @TomSunderland_

Honorable Mentions

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    Lazar Markovic - Age 18, FK Partizan

    Erik Lamela - Age 20, AS Roma

    Ilkay Gundogan - Age 21, Borussia Dortmund

    Steven Caulker - Age 20, Tottenham Hotspur

    Kevin de Bruyne - Age 21, Werder Bremen (on loan from Chelsea)

    Gerard Deulofeu - Age 18, Barcelona

    Oriol Romeu - Age 20, Chelsea

    John Obi - Age 21, Internazionale

    Paul Pogba - Age 19, Juventus

    Son Heung-Min - Age 20, Hamburg