Picking the Top Footballing Starlets from the World's Best Clubs and Academies
Who is the shining beacon of promise emerging from your footballing academy?
Here, we take a look at who the next Jese Rodriguezs, Adrien Rabiots and Aymeric Laportes are—the players who are on the cusp of featuring for the first-team but haven't quite made it yet.
Better-known names have been excluded to bring a fresh element to the piece. Perhaps you'll learn a name or two!
Arsenal: Gedion Zelalem
Arsenal have two stunning midfield prospects to boast in the form of Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem.
We've opted for the latter here, though it was a close call, as Zelalem looks closer to the first-team by virtue of having a year on him and seems to be in better physical shape.
Zelalem slaloms between challenges with optimum silkiness, gliding across the pitch and picking out clever runs with consummate ease.
He's right on the verge of the first-team, though Arsene Wenger won't be trialling him just yet given the title challenge they find themselves in.
Atletico Madrid: Oli Torres
Oli Torres is on the cusp of Diego Simeone's first-team, but his impact has still been limited enough to qualify him for this list.
He lit up the FIFA U20 World Cup with his Xavi-esque passing range and moderation of the midfield, belying his small stature by mixing it with the very best in his age group.
His touch and technique are incredibly advanced, and he's become adept at making the right decisions from central midfield at an early age.
Many Barcelona and Spain fans see him as the heir to Xavi's throne for both club and country, and there's no reason to believe that can't be the case.
Barcelona: Gerard Deulofeu
A quick Twitter poll provided very little clarity on who Barcelona's finest youngster is.
We've opted for Gerard Deulofeu, ahead of Alex Grimaldo and Denis Suarez, as his progress at Everton has been so promising that Gerardo Martino could slot him into this Barca team right now.
He showed us why he's so prodigal at the FIFA U20 World Cup last summer in Turkey, dove-tailing with Jese and tearing defences apart for fun.
He has immense close control, trickery, movement and pace; Premier League defences underestimated just how tough he can be to dispossess originally, and his unfortunate injury curbed some incredible progress.
Deulofeu will be a Barca star for years to come.
Bayer Leverkusen: Julian Brandt
Julian Brandt signed for Bayer Leverkusen from Wolfsburg this season, and despite his youthful look and raw attributes, it appears Sami Hyypia is willing to give him a shot.
He's been thrown on in two losses of late for a 10-minute cameo and the home crowd adore him already. He shows no fear, looks to play positive passes and takes opponents on.
It's some feat to grab your Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League debuts in the same week at 17 years of age, and it only serves to affirm the talent he possesses already.
Bayern Munich: Julian Green
Julian Green is a young man with bags of potential and a seriously tough decision to make very soon.
At 18 years of age he's already managed to sidle in and make an impression under Pep Guardiola, grabbing a few minutes away to CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League and a chunk at the FIFA Club World Cup.
He holds dual citizenship and must choose between the United States and Germany, with USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann recently calling him up to train with the senior squad.
He's a versatile, quick, energetic attacker who can play on either wing or through the middle. At this stage, he seems a more first-team-ready prospect than Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Borussia Dortmund: Marian Sarr
We've had a glimpse of Marian Sarr this winter, and, while he did slip and concede a goal to Hertha Berlin, don't let that cloud your judgement of this top prospect.
Called in on an emergency basis to fill the void left by Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, it's not easy slotting into a Champions League calibre defence and commanding a line.
He performed admirably, exposed his raw nature, but also showed the immense promise he has.
He passes the ball extremely well, times his jumps to compensate for his small stature (for now) and isn't afraid to take the ball.
BVB's struggles this season in defence could have been far worse had they not been able to bring forth such a capable young stand-in.
Chelsea: Lewis Baker
Chelsea have a multitude of young talents coming through at the club, so with apologies to Islam Feruz, Lucas Piazon and many, many more, we present Lewis Baker.
He's been with the Blues since the U-10 level in the academy and rose to prominence during last season's NextGen series.
A remarkably clever central/attacking midfielder, Baker sees passes many can't and has developed an incredibly cool head despite being just 18 years of age.
He's the designated penalty-taker, drops into space superbly and was rightly nominated the NextGen Player of the Tournament last year despite losing to Aston Villa in the final.
Internazionale: Francesco Bardi
Many of Internazionale's academy graduates haven't progressed as the club would like, so we're left with 22-year-old Francesco Bardi.
His path to the first-team is blocked by the magnificent Samir Handanovic so his future at Inter may appear bleak, but he's performing out on loan at Livorno and has reached the level of first-team goalkeeper.
He's a fantastic size for the position, boasts remarkable agility given his height and has a strong decision-making process.
Unless Inter lose Handanovic, it's extremely likely Bardi will develop into a top-class 'keeper; he's well worth the plunge for any club searching for a long-term solution in goal.
Juventus: Daniele Rugani
We asked B/R's Gianni Verschueren for an update on Daniele Rugani's progress:
Long hailed as a future star defender for the Italian national team, Rugani joined Juventus permanently after spending the previous season on loan from Empoli.
He's the latest starlet to emerge from the Tuscan youth program, blessed with impressive physical tools and an understanding of the game well beyond his years. Since joining the Old Lady, his passing and tackling have come along handsomely and he has been rewarded for his hard work with a handful of call-ups to the first team already.
Rugani is currently back with Empoli on loan gaining first-team experience, and it won't be long before he's mixing it with the Juve first-team and challenging the likes of Angelo Ogbonna for a spot.
Liverpool: Jordan Rossiter
Our resident expert on all things Liverpool, Karl Matchett, gives us the low-down on Jordan Rossiter:
Rossiter is a central midfielder, capable of playing the holding role or in a more aggressive box-to-box capacity. Though strong with good stamina levels as befits such a player, Rossiter's true strengths actually lie in his reading of the game and his technique.
Two-footed, with a great range of passing and the ability to dictate a game for his team, Rossiter has been playing well ahead of his age group (and shining) and has made the bench for the first-team too—and is still just 16 years of age.
Were Liverpool's season to peter out at some point with a top-four finish assured, it's likely he could see his first minutes on the pitch this season—but even if not, don't be surprised to see him make an impression of sorts next term.
Manchester City: Marcos Lopes
Marcos Lopes has shown us glimpses of what's to come this season, featuring sporadically for Manchester City in odd games and cup showings.
Whenever he's played he's been fantastic, providing a wonderful service from midfield and proving he has the guile to cut top-tier defences open.
Portuguese football fans are taking a particular interest in him following his move from Benfica to the Citizens, and many hope he can continue to blossom in time for the 2016 European Championships.
For one so young, aged just 18, he is incredibly level-headed.
Manchester United: James Wilson
Will Keane may have been a surefire miss, but James Wilson looks to have every attribute needed to break into the Manchester United first-team in just a few short years.
He made his U-18 debut at 15 and scored, then debuted for the Man Utd. reserve team just a year later. Wilson displays impressive pace, cool finishing, immense composure and strong footwork anywhere in the final third.
He's able to filter wide and play off the edge on either side, but the England youth international is at his best when playing through the centre with a goalscoring brief.
Marseille: Maxime Lopez
Maxime Lopez is a talent many, many top clubs are aware of. The Express have suggested Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and more are all looking to snap up the precocious 16-year-old.
He'll be able to negotiate professional terms with any party once he turns 17, and Marseille are looking to bend their usual rules and offer him the earth—and with good reason.
The Express suggest a five-year deal and a guarantee of first-team football in France is on the table, and given his flimsy frame, it may well be the wise choice.
He's impressed again in the youth leagues this season to cement his status as a rising talent.
Milan: Hachim Mastour
Hachim Matsour is perhaps the most promising youngster in world football.
Milan won the race to sign him from Reggiana last season for just £500,000, and there's currently a tug-of-war between Morocco and Italy to claim his nationality and allegiance to their national team.
He could be a one-man spark to restore the Rossoneri to former glory should he continue to progress at pace, with his dribbling, close control, awareness and technical talents unrivalled at most clubs.
Paris Saint-Germain: Hervin Ongenda
With Adrien Rabiot part of the furniture at Paris Saint-Germain (but for injuries), we turn to a player who has made a few sporadic showings with the first-team: Hervin Ongenda.
He solved Laurent Blanc's headache this summer when Kevin Gameiro left by stepping into a role capable of subbing in for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, and the Franco-Congolese is working closely with the stars to hone his game.
His natural talent and swagger are obvious, and throughout his career in the youth leagues he's been a mightily consistent finisher.
His path to the first-team is blocked at this moment in time, but it won't be long before he makes a splash.
Real Madrid: Jose Rodriguez
Jese has broken into the first-term and Alvaro Morata may be pushed out of Real Madrid's club as a result. Both are now experienced in the first-team ways and stand to become superb players in the future.
That opens up a spot for another youngster to assume the mantle of best Castilla prospect, and we now turn to Jose Rodriguez.
He's been acing it for the Real Madrid youth midfields recently, combining silky agility and a good passing range with confidence and hunger to win.
Carlo Ancelotti has allowed him to dip his toes in the first-team this season, but he's still a year or two off becoming a major contributor.
Roma: Tin Jedvaj
Roma have Alessio Romagnoli breaking into the first-team now that he's fit and ready to play, so the focus falls on Tin Jedvaj—a fellow central defensive prospect.
The Croatian swapped Dinamo Zagreb for Italy's capital this summer and has had to be patient thus far, but at 18 years of age he looks a little flimsy to be thrown into first-team action.
There's a precedent for trying young talents at the club, continued by Marquinhos last season and Romagnoli now, so it seems only a matter of time before the mega-talented teenager gets a chance to shine.
Jedvaj showed fantastic awareness, positional sense and maturity in Eastern Europe.
Schalke: Donis Avdijaj
Leon Goretzka is perhaps the jewel of Germany's 1995 crop, but he's fringing on the Schalke first-team and making strides for himself in the professional game.
We look deeper, then, at the ranks at the Veltins Arena and preview the phenomenal talent that is Donis Avdijaj—a young striker who cannot stop scoring in the youth setup.
He scored 54 goals and laid on 16 assists in just 45 showings last season for the Royal Blues, affirming both his burgeoning potential and killer instinct.