25 Best Teenagers in World Football Right Now
One of the most beautiful aspects of the world's game is the knowledge that the next superstar could break out at any given moment.
Scouts will willingly travel the lengths of the globe in the hope that they'll discover the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Those embroiled in the business of football are well aware that the most important phase of a player's development comes between the ages of 16 and 19.
Here are the 25 best youngsters in the game still in their teens, ranked purely in terms of ability and talent right now.
As always, this list is intended to spark debate rather than end it.
Moritz Leitner: Borussia Dortmund central midfielder with a silky touch and a great future ahead of him. An increased role in the first team should see rapid improvement this season.
Lucas Ocampos: Argentine flying winger now plying his trade in the beautiful Monaco. Amazing skill, but still lacking a final product.
Juan Iturbe: Has disappointed since making a high profile move to Porto, but the winger has the potential to be a world class player once he adapts to the European game.
Carlos Fierro: Already an established starter in the Mexican League, Guadalajara's Fierro is a buzzing forward who needs to develop a better finishing touch.
Nick Powell: The Manchester United midfielder has only made a couple of appearances since moving up from League Two, but showed immense composure and tactical awareness in the brief time given him.
Sergi Samper: Barcelona playmaker with a technical genius and ability to read the game unlike most his age. Unbelievable tactical nous and passing range has led some to describe Samper as a possible heir to Xavi.
Ryo Miyaichi: Currently on loan at Wigan from EPL side Arsenal, the Japanese winger Miyaichi's upside is off the charts. Better passing and crossing skills must be developed to balance his stunning pace.
M'Baye Niang: AC Milan prodigy who is a unique physical specimen for his age (17). The French striker is yet to make any real impact for the Italian side, but great days surely lie ahead.
Suso: Burgeoning Liverpool attacking playmaker with a technical ability typical of his native Spain. An increased role in Brendan Rodgers' youth-orientated team is sure to accelerate his development.
25. Candido Ramirez
Club: Santos Laguna
Part of Mexico's much-vaunted youth setup, Candido Ramirez stands poised for great things alongside his national under-23 teammates.
A diminutive winger, Ramirez is quick, tricky and possesses excellent ball skills. He's already racked up 30 league appearances for club Santos Laguna, and he recently impressed in the 2012 Toulon Tournament.
24. Matthias Ginter
Club: SC Freiburg
Having debuted for Freiburg in January this year, Matthias Ginter has become an important member of the German club's first team, now playing regularly in the world class Bundesliga.
The well-rounded Ginter is a versatile asset, able to play throughout the centre of the team's midfield due to his unusually fine passing and ball skills for a defender.
23. Lucas Piazon
Brazilian prodigy Lucas Piazon may not have played much football at the highest level in his burgeoning career, but he's certainly set for great heights once he's able to adapt to the British game.
Tactically proficient, the attacking midfielder/second striker possesses skill and flair in abundance, and he is also able to hit a pretty good free kick too.
Another Brazilian, and not the last included in this list, Leandro is one of the more underrated young talents in the world game.
The Gremio striker/winger is blindingly quick with great finishing and awareness. He's not the finest attacker in the air, but who needs to be in the ground-game-dominated Brazilian league?
21. Gerard Deulofeu
Having recently made his debut for the Blaugrana, Gerard Deulofeu is one of the most talented in the long production line emerging from Catalonia.
Insanely fast, Deulofeu is skillful with exceptional technical ability for one so young—but what else would you expect from a Barcelona youth graduate?
20. Paul Pogba
Manchester United fans may not look too kindly on Paul Pogba, but as he is currently proving at Juventus, his vain demands for first-team football at Old Trafford were more than justified.
The Frenchman is capable of playing in both a box-to-box and attacking midfield capacity, displaying fine creativity and vision for one so bulky. United's loss is Juventus' gain.
19. Jetro Willems
Eyebrows were raised when Jetro Willems was inserted into the Netherlands' first team for the 2012 European Championships, but despite looking shaky at the back, his buccaneering spirit in attack was welcomed by fans keen to find positives from a nightmare showing from their team.
Quick and tricky like so many on this list, Willems has already become a first-team regular for PSV Eindhoven.
18. Timo Horn
Club: 1. FC Koln
Following in the footsteps of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, another excellent German prodigy between the sticks, Timo Horn ensures his nation's fortunes are in good hands (if you'll excuse the pun).
Tall and physically imposing, a step up to the next level is a guarantee if he can improve his handling and maturity for the recently relegated FC Koln.
17. Manuel Lanzini
Club: River Plate
Having spent last season on loan at Brazilian club Fluminense, young playmaker Manuel Lanzini is back at newly promoted River Plate, the club he's played for since he was a boy.
Incredibly skillful, the 5'5'' Argentine dances around defenders with the greatest of ease whilst also capable of playing a pass on a needle. A move to one of Europe's finest one day beckons.
16. Romelu Lukaku
Club: West Bromwich Albion (on loan from Chelsea)
Man-child Romelu Lukaku may have disappointed some with his debut season in West London, but now on loan at West Brom, the Belgian striker is showing why Chelsea parted with close to £15 million for his services in 2011.
Immensely powerful with a blistering shot, the big man may not be the most agile player in the Premier League, but he is currently plying his trade in a country suited to his brutish style.
15. Juan Fernando Quintero
Juan Fernando Quintero, at 5'5'', has been a breath of fresh air in the Serie A this season, often impressing with his form for Pescara.
He possesses excellent balance and agility, is able to play quick-passing football, and he can dribble around any defender in his path.
14. Kurt Zouma
The man with an apt name, the high-flying Kurt Zouma is the second-youngest player on this list, playing regularly in central defence for historic Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne.
A powerful force in the rearguard, Manchester United were linked with a possible £9 million transfer for the 17-year-old only a couple of months ago (via The Sun).
Though he looks like his high school years should still be ahead of him, the baby-faced Adryan is one of the most highly touted players in his native Brazil.
Having starred for the national U-17 team, Adryan has been utilising his accomplished vision and long-range shooting skills in an increasingly prominent role for Serie A side Flamengo.
12. Stefanos Kapino
The youngest player to ever debut for the Greek national team at 17, goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino has been tipped for big things for both club and country.
The Panathinaikos shot-stopper is tall and lanky, but he is remarkably agile—able to get down and save low shots as easily as he can leap for those bound for the top corner.
11. Raheem Sterling
Liverpool's enfant terrible, the skillful speedster Raheem Sterling was originally signed by Rafa Benitez aged only 15, but it has been new boss Brendan Rodgers who has elevated the 17-year-old into his starting XI.
The winger-cum-forward scored his first goal for the first team only this past weekend, firing a powerful low shot past Reading's Alex McCarthy to give his side a valuable 1-0 win.
10. Zakaria Labyad
Club: Sporting CP
The name Zakaria Labyad has been around for so long on the world scene that it feels somewhat odd to include him on a list like this.
But the Moroccan winger with a knack for finding the back of the net is a worthy entrant, and he will now seek to take the next step in his career, having moved from PSV to Sporting Lisbon this past summer.
9. Adam Maher
The remarkable talents of AZ Alkmaar's Adam Maher have not gone unnoticed by Europe's elite, as the young playmaker nears 50 Eredivisie appearances for the club.
Polite and down to earth off the pitch, Maher is quietly determined on it, possessing delightful ball skills and composure. He is able to make the type of runs into space that torment opposing defences.
8. Matija Nastasic
Club: Manchester City
Having made the deserved step up from Fiorentina to Manchester City this season, Matija Nastasic will be relied upon heavily over the course of the long season as the Sky Blues' third-choice central defender.
The Serbian is an excellent tackler but, more significantly, he is a surprisingly capable tactician in possession—exactly the type of player City boss Roberto Mancini loves.
7. Julian Draxler
Club: Schalke 04
Capped twice for the German national side and a regular for the Bundesliga's Schalke 04, Julian Draxler may not be the quickest winger for club or country, but he makes up for that with great crossing abilities and a dynamite long shot.
With UEFA Champions League experience already under his belt, Draxler has more experience and maturity than most his age can boast.
6. Mateo Kovacic
Club: Dinamo Zagreb
So long as nobody calls him the next Luka Modric or the Croatian Messi, playmaker Mateo Kovacic is set for superstardom, having come on leaps and bounds for the domestically dominant Dinamo Zagreb in the past 12 months.
He is a real diamond in the rough—his tactical reading of a midfield is well beyond his years, whilst his passing and movement would suit any of the best clubs in world football down to a tee.
5. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Ox is a player unlike many of England's prodigies—tricky, technically proficient, with a balance and passing range that has seen him already capped nine times for country.
His future as one of the world's best seems certain. Playing under a coach like Arsene Wenger in the Arsenal mould can only do his development the power of good.
Gunners fans will be hoping his current injury doesn't keep him out of action for long, such is his importance for the team.
4. Raphael Varane
Club: Real Madrid
Raphael Varane is a truly classy player—the brand-spanking new-ish Rolls Royce of the Real Madrid roster.
The mature-beyond-his-years central defender is a footballer unlike most others in his position—comfortable bringing the ball out of danger at his feet, and even dribbling around a defender or two.
If he can improve in the air, he will become one of the youngest world-class players in the game.
3. Marco Verratti
Watching PSG's UEFA Champions League's games this season, it has been impossible not to have noticed the unbelievably prodigious performances of central midfielder Marco Verratti.
Technically masterful with a turn of pace to break ankles, he is truly a delight to watch.
Early comparisons to Andrea Pirlo are not undeserving—a regular place in the Italian national side seems a beautiful inevitability for Verratti.
2. Iker Muniain
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Iker Muniain is another young sensation who has been playing top-class football for so long, an inclusion on a list of future greats seems almost ridiculous.
He is already an outstanding player. He has made over 100 appearances for regional powerhouse Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, having debuted for the club at only 16.
Muniain glides past defenders with ease, and he is able to bury a subsequent shot past an unfortunate keeper with clinical precision.
1. Stephan El Shaarawy
Club: AC Milan
Anyone who even remotely follows world football is sure to have heard of Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy.
The 19-year-old has been a saving grace for the Serie A behemoths at times this season, rescuing his team from the depths of mediocrity that have threatened to engulf Massimiliano Allegri's side.
He is pacy, skillful, possesses two great feet, an accurate shot and an endless energy.
Six goals in 10 games isn't bad, but then, what else would you expect from the best teenager in the game right now?
(*Note: At the time of writing, El Shaarawy was indeed 19, now he's simply one of the best footballers aged 20).
Which of world football's prodigies do you think have been unfairly omitted from this list? Is the order flawed?