Coming out of adolescence is a big occasion in the life of any aspirational sportsperson, and for the professional footballer, it signals the beginning of the end as a promising talent.
At the age of 20, no longer is a player simply a “promising talent.” Now, he is coming to the stage of his career when a certain standard is expected on a weekly basis, game in, game out.
That being said, investing in the youth is as popular as ever, and more money is being splashed on teenagers right now than has been witnessed in previous generations.
Even between the ages of 13 and 19, a player can be lumped with an enormous amount of responsibility. And with media coverage in its prime, we always have a good idea of who the world’s elite are keeping their eyes on.
The following 10 teens are yet to celebrate their 20th birthdays but have already made enough of an impression in the world of football to draw some major interest.
After breaking out in the 2011-12 season, Adam Maher has moved forward to become an integral part of the AZ Alkmaar side, despite being just 19 years old.
Earlier this year, Sky Sports reported that Barcelona, Manchester City, AC Milan and others were keeping their eyes on the Dutchman, so at least his early career comes without pressure.
A central midfielder by nature, Maher is capable of playing as an anchorman but can also fill in as playmaker should the need arise.
Currently out with illness, Maher won’t get an immediate chance to add to this season’s tally of three goals and five assists across all competitions, but he should be healthy by the New Year.
Should AZ Alkmaar continue their disappointing start to the season, Maher could become but the latest youngster from Holland to be tempted out of his native and accept a move away from the Eredivisie in January.
With Birmingham City beginning the 2012-13 season in a fashion they won’t have been hoping for, it’s not ludicrous to think that one player who could be on the move this winter is Jack Butland.
Butland has only one cap for the English side but has already made a big impact on both the club and international stage, all at the age of just 19 years old.
The teenager has made no secret of his desire to play first-team football, something he received after the Blues made him their No.1 choice following Ben Foster’s departure to West Brom.
Birmingham’s poor position in the Championship hasn’t been helped by a very average defence, of which Butland remains one of the brighter stars.
Should the club’s dread continue or even worsen in the coming months, Butland may consider jumping ship should the right offer come in, even if it means giving up that starting spot.
Both experiencing their share of left-back troubles, the Daily Mail recently suggested that Chelsea and Manchester United are eying up Lille starlet Lucas Digne.
The Red Devils brought in Alexander Büttner over the summer but seemingly continue their search for a Patrice Evra replacement, while Chelsea ponder who to purchase if Ashley Cole departs at the end of his contract this summer.
Digne made his surge into Lille’s first team last season and has capitalised on his early chances to maintain his spot there in the current campaign.
Goal.com also alleged several months ago that Manchester City were keeping tabs on the Frenchman in case they decided to cash in on the signature of Aleksandar Kolarov.
Just how likely it is that Lille will let go of their starlet in the New Year is debatable, but Digne is certainly warranting reason for the high amount of interest in his services.
Born in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, Lazar Markovic has spent the last six years of his training with Partizan Belgrade, making a big impression in the process.
Markovic may be just 18 years of age, but he has already racked up five caps for the Serbian national team and is becoming somewhat of a seasoned star amongst the Partizan team.
In 21 Superliga starts last season, the forward managed to score on six occasions and also pitched in with a healthy tally of six assists, a record he looks set to beat in the 2012-13 campaign.
In his first 20 games across all competitions this season, Markovic has managed four goals and an impressive seven assists, attracting an increased amount of interest from western Europe.
In keeping with his soaring form, Metro suggest that clubs leading the race for the starlet include Arsenal, Internazionale, Barcelona and Roma.
Capable of playing as a striker or on the wing, Markovic is a versatile talent and one that is likely to leave his native Serbia in the coming year. It would seem only a question of where his next destination is.
The youngest player to ever feature at any Euro competition, Jetro Willems has already established a path ahead of himself, the kind of which any player would find difficult to venture down.
Just as is the case with Lucas Digne, Manchester United are allegedly looking at Willems as an eventual replacement for the aging Patrice Evra, as reported by the Metro.
Still just 18, the defender has already earned eight caps playing for the Holland national team and has become a staple in the PSV setup, despite pressure from Erik Pieters.
In four Europa League games this season, Willems has averaged one assist per game, showing evidence of the strength he has going forward with the ball.
An emerging prospect in Louis van Gaal but already quite established in his own right, Jetro Willems is a talent making waves on a continental scale.
Just another prodigious talent to emerge from the endless factory line coming out of La Castilla, one of Real Madrid’s hottest prospects right now is Jesé.
In fact, the 19-year-old has been so impressive in his early career in the Spanish capital that his performances prompted Los Blancos to slap a staggering buyout clause of around £31 million on their forward.
Speaking to AS (h/t Goal.com), Jesé’s agent stated, "Jese last year signed a contract until 2014 and a buyout clause of 40 million euros. In addition, Madrid does not intend to sell him. He is untouchable."
Just how much that extra stipulation in his contract has affected surrounding interest is questionable, but the same article alleges that Arsenal, Manchester City and Benfica are just some of those interested.
The Spanish youngster has a long road ahead of him before reaching the potential that many expect of him, but that hasn’t deterred Europe’s giants from paying him attention in the slightest.
As the second-youngest ever scorer in the Champions League, it’s fair to say that Mateo Kovacic is already giving spectators reason to be excited about his future in the sport.
The Dinamo Zagreb starlet has been linked with a move to some of Europe’s bigger leagues for quite some time now, and it would appear that speculation is once again mounting.
Last season, Goal.com (via Metro) reported that were Kovacic to complete a switch to the Premier League, his preference would be to play for Manchester United.
Back then, it was thought that Juventus, Arsenal and Bayern Munich were just some of the clubs who held interest in the midfielder.
Whether or not that might still be the case, a player already in the history books of a competition as prestigious as the Champions League deserves a certain amount of attention.
Kovacic plays centrally but has been shifted onto the wing by his club on occasion in order to accommodate those around him.
In five league starts this season, the 18-year-old has managed to pitch in with two assists and is continuing his run as one of Europe’s biggest playmaking prospects.
One of the youngest players in what is a re-emerging Schalke side, Julian Draxler is looked upon as one of the Bundesliga’s brightest teenagers and is one of those edging towards a budding international career also.
The attacking midfielder has made just six starts for The Miners so far this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from amassing a very respectable five goals and four assists across all competitions.
At 19, Draxler has already appeared for the German national team on two occasions and, like many of the prospects in Joachim Löw’s ranks, is a very versatile asset.
Able to play across the creative line, Schalke’s starlet is an ambidextrous force, capable of playing down either flank or slotting in behind the striker.
Earlier this year, the Metro tipped Arsenal as one of those clubs looking to sign Draxler, and although the transfer didn’t occur over the summer, that isn’t to say it’s out of the question in future.
Like Real Madrid, Barcelona have a thriving academy setup, one of the latest prodigies to come out of which is Gerard Deulofeu.
The 18-year-old has been hugely impressive for the Catalan giants’ second team, Barcelona B, of late and has contributed a total of six goals in eight league starts this season so far.
A winger by trade, Deulofeu is already showing that he might be ready for the step up into Barça’s first team soon, adding to last season’s tally of just the one game alongside his world-beater mentors.
According to the Express, Chelsea are on the trail of the teenage sensation and will be hoping to sew up an £8m swoop at some point in 2013, although Tito Vilanova’s side will undoubtedly do all they can to ensure that doesn’t happen.
From the video above, one can recognize the calm and cool way in which the speedster goes about his game and understand why Barcelona were the club to devote energy towards his development.
While he may be 19 years of age for just another month, Iker Muniain remains one of Spain’s most talented youngsters, which is saying a lot when one considers the talent available on the Iberia Peninsula.
Muniain’s move away from Athletic Bilbao has been talked about for some time, but the departure may finally come about given the poor start that the Spaniards have gotten off to this season.
The Basque club have done well to hold onto some of their biggest players in recent years, but it seems as if the 2012-13 campaign may go down as the occasion when they were forced into cashing in somewhat.
Speaking to Calciomercato.com (via Metro) prior to the summer transfer window, Muniain’s agent, Jesus Medina, told that any club looking to purchase the starlet would have to trigger his €36 million release clause.
The same article labels Manchester United and Juventus as a pair particularly interested in the Spanish international’s signature, a duo that may revive their interest in the coming months.
In truth, Muniain, along with many of the Athletic team, isn’t having his best season to date and has only managed to net once and make two assists across all competitions for his club.
That being said, Athletic Bilbao’s loss can be a gain to others and the club’s fall from grace may just open up the desperation necessary for a bigger club to pounce on possibly their most promising player.