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50 Most Exciting Teenagers in World Football

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

50 Most Exciting Teenagers in World Football

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    There are few things in football more exciting than seeing a young player in full flow, with the potential for glory in front of him and no fears to hold him back.

    Teenagers have long been making their mark at the very top of the game, proving themselves as vital players within their teams and often outshining senior and more decorated team-mates.

    But who are the best teens in the game at the moment?

    Here's a countdown of the top 50.

Just Too Old

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    Before we start, though, and while you are bound to disagree with some names on the list or feel some absent players should have been included, several players are simply just too old to make it.

    Age catches up with us all, and the following is just a selection of the top talents that we've had to discount because they're "over the hill" at the ripe old age of 20.

    • Gerard Deulofeu
    • Lazar Markovic
    • Emre Can
    • Viktor Fischer
    • Mateo Kovacic
    • Marquinhos
    • Ross Barkley
    • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
    • Lucas Digne
    • Matthias Ginter
    • Julian Draxler
    • Memphis Depay
    • Hakan Calhanoglu
    • Lucas Ocampos
    • Domenico Berardi
    • Lucas Piazon
    • Aymeric Laporte

50. Agustin Allione (Palmeiras)

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    Impressive displays in the Argentine Primera Division for Velez Sarsfield have earned Agustin Allione a move to Brazil, where he joined Palmeiras earlier this year.

    Lively and direct, the diminutive right-winger has broken into the Argentina under-20 side, and it won't be long before he is making his mark further afield than South America.

49. Mosquito (Atletico Paranaense)

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    Get past the hilarious name and you have a pretty good young footballer. Mosquito scored four goals as Brazil reached the quarter-finals of the Under-17 World Cup last year.

    He was then part of the side that won the Toulon tournament this summer, and with his club career progressing well at Atletico Paranaense, it might not be long before his name is in your ear a lot more.

48. Fabrice Olinga (Zulte Waregem, on Loan from Malaga)

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    You can't be from Cameroon and have a youth career at Mallorca and not be compared to Samuel Eto'o. Indeed, Fabrice Olinga came through Eto'o's football foundation before making it all the way up to his country's World Cup squad, where he was a teammate of his idol.

    After leaving Mallorca for Malaga in 2011, Olinga went on to become La Liga's youngest ever goalscorer when he netted on his debut at age 16 years and 98 days on the opening day of the 2012/13 season. Although he's found life tougher since, he'll hope that his loan move to Belgium's Zulte Waregem will reawaken his promise.

47. Junior Malanda (Wolfsburg)

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    A powerful Belgian defensive midfielder, Junior Malanda is now ready to make his mark on the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg after a loan spell back at former club Zulte Waregem last year.

    Malanda is a regular in his country's under-21 team, and although he might need to dislodge Brazil's Luiz Gustavo in order to gain more minutes, he's shown that he isn't afraid to shirk any challenge.

46. Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham)

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    Algeria's Nabil Bentaleb may have been rushed into the Tottenham side too early by Tim Sherwood as the now ex-Spurs boss seemed desperate to prove a point, but there is little doubt that the youngster has huge potential.

    A regular at the World Cup after picking the African side over a future with France, Bentaleb now has to impress incoming Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino if he is to have a long-term future at White Hart Lane.

45. Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart)

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    Midfielder Carlos Gruezo moved to the Bundesliga in January, and his form with Stuttgart catapulted him into the Ecuador team. He played in a pre-World Cup friendly against England and then Ecuador's first two matches at the tournament against Switzerland and Honduras.

    A holding midfielder whom FIFA.com describes as a "precise passer," Gruezo's game only looks like it'll evolve among all the technically adept players in Germany. He could be being linked with the really big boys in about a year's time.

44. Hector Bellerin (Arsenal)

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    Nineteen-year-old Spanish full-back Hector Bellerin made one League Cup appearance for Arsenal last season and then headed off on a short-term loan deal to Watford, where he played eight matches.

    Following the signings of Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers this summer, Bellerin might have to head out on loan again to gain some more experience, but a good display in the Emirates Cup against Benfica underlined his potential.

43. Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution)

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    He might be taking an unusual route toward it, but Uruguayan youth international Diego Fagundez seems determined to become one of the top talents in South America.

    Having moved to the U.S. with his family at age five, Fagundez has risen to prominence with New England Revolution. He has become arguably the top teenager in the MLS and broke into the Uruguayan under-20 team as a result.

42. Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen, on Loan from Roma)

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    Eighteen-year-old Croatian defender Tin Jedvaj broke into the Dinamo Zagreb team last season, and after being snapped up by Roma, he's now moved to Bayer Leverkusen on a two-year loan deal.

    The centre-back is tall and powerful, and if he can develop his game in the Bundesliga, then he could go on to be one of the best young defenders in Europe in a very short space of time.

41. Jonathan Tah (Hamburg)

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    Local boy Jonathan Tah will have learned an awful lot from being in the struggling Hamburg team on 16 occasions last season—a campaign during which he turned 18 years old.

    The centre-back is tall and powerful. Those two attributes will help him fit in to this current German generation once the world champions start planning for the future.

40. Timo Werner (Stuttgart)

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    Just one game with the second team was enough for Timo Werner to convince Stuttgart that he was good enough to be rushed into the senior side, and he became the youngest player to play for the club when he made his debut a year ago.

    Four goals in his first senior campaign only strengthen the belief that the young German is more than ready to make an impact in the coming season. He is going to be one to watch across the continent in the years to come.

39. Bjorn Engels (Club Brugge)

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    Giant 6'4" centre-back Bjorn Engels made an instant impact at Club Brugge, for whom he scored within three minutes of his league debut against Oostende in August last year.

    Thirty-three appearances, five goals and a red card followed in an impressive campaign—one that shows that Belgian talents extends beyond the current "Golden Generation."

38. Jordon Ibe (Liverpool)

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    This is the second summer in a row in which Jordon Ibe has sparkled for Liverpool, but this time around he looks set to back it up when the real action begins.

    Both a loan spell at Birmingham City and a hat-trick for the England under-19s in recent months have underlined his potential. After Brendan Rodgers gave the pacy wide man a taste of Premier League action in the 5-1 hammering of Arsenal last season, you can expect to see more of Ibe this time around.

37. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Anderlecht)

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    The goals have flowed ever since 19-year-old forward Aleksandar Mitrovic left Partizan Belgrade for Anderlecht last summer, with the Belgian side seeing fit to make him their club record signing.

    He scored 16 times last season and has already found the net twice in this fledgling Belgian campaign. His six full international appearances and one goal are sure to be added to soon.

36. Karim Rekik (Manchester City)

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    Assorted loan spells at Portsmouth, Blackburn and much more successfully at PSV Eindhoven have furthered the career of Manchester City defender Karim Rekik, who made his debut for City as far back as September 2011.

    The Dutch international was in Louis van Gaal's provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be around to tackle Van Gaal's side this season, or if he'll be shipped off on loan again.

35. Hervin Ongenda (Paris Saint-Germain)

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    Given Paris Saint-Germain's galaxy of stars, you need to be a pretty special young player to break into the team at the Parc des Princes.

    France under-21 international Hervin Ongenda managed to make six appearances for the Ligue 1 champions last season, and although he may need a loan move to realise his potential in the short term, the forward has made a good start.

34. Will Hughes (Derby County)

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    Derby County just missed out on a return to the Premier League following a heartbreaking Championship play-off final defeat to Queens Park Rangers at Wembley in May, but another year in the second tier might be good for Will Hughes.

    The 19-year-old has long been seen as a target for clubs at the top level, as seen here in The Telegraph. His game has been allowed to develop under Steve McClaren at the iPro Stadium, and performances have improved as a result.

33. Nicola Murru (Cagliari)

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    Local lad and left-back Nicola Murru made 21 appearances for Cagliari in Serie A last season and played three times for Italy's under-21s as a direct consequence.

    The highly rated 19-year-old now enters a season in which he's bound to know that all eyes will be on him. If the teenager can impress, then some of Italy's big boys might knock on his agent's door.

32. Nathan Ake (Chelsea)

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    Young Dutchman Nathan Ake has now made seven competitive appearances for Chelsea's first team, and it isn't just his likeness to club legend Ruud Gullit that is catching the eye.

    The 2012/13 Chelsea Young Player of the Year has captained his country at various youth levels, and after featuring for Jose Mourinho's side in pre-season, his next challenge is to earn some more minutes in the first team—a goal perhaps aided by the sale of David Luiz and loaning out of Oriol Romeu.

31. Marcos Lopes (Lille, on Loan from Manchester City)

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    Five appearances for Manchester City, all in domestic cup competitions, have given the fans of the Premier League champions more than a glimpse of the potential of attacking midfielder Marcos Lopes, who scored 14 goals for his country at the under-19 level.

    Lopes has moved to Lille on loan for the forthcoming season, and a year in France is sure to do him some good as he looks to develop his vast potential and perhaps take a step toward his nation's senior side.

30. Keita Balde Diao (Lazio)

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    Possessing three of the names of African footballers of the recent past doesn't seem to be a hindrance to Keita Balde Diao, who broke into the Lazio team for the first time last season following his move from Barcelona in 2011.

    Born in Spain but of Senegalese descent, it remains to be seen what the forward will decide to do with his international career, but right now he'll just be focusing on improving on his tally of six goals for the Serie A side last season.

29. Yassine Benzia (Lyon)

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    Maybe it's just the surname and the background, but Lyon's Yassine Benzia has been attracting comparisons to Karim Benzema ever since he made his debut for the club in May 2012.

    He needs to improve his goal output to live up to that tag, but some impressive strikes and performances for France's under-21s have ensured he shows promise. The forthcoming campaign could be a breakout for him.

28. James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

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    One good thing to come out of this summer's mass exodus at Southampton is that it should allow James Ward-Prowse to take up a more prominent position in the team.

    The 19-year-old England under-21 international featured in 34 of his club's 38 league games last season, but he could do with developing more of a cutting edge and a selfish streak in front of goal in this one, which has started well, given this strike in a friendly at Brighton.

27. Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord)

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    Regular watchers of the Dutch Eredivisie will perhaps be surprised to find out that Tonny Vilhena is still a teenager, given that he's been a fixture in the Feyenoord midfield for about two-and-a-half years now.

    The 19-year-old played in 28 matches in 2012/13 and 32 last season, and as he racks up plenty of Dutch under-21 caps, there are many who feel that both senior honours and a big transfer aren't too far away.

26. Andrija Zivkovic (Partizan Belgrade)

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    He just turned 18, but Andrija Zivkovic had already made himself so important to Partizan Belgrade that he was named captain for a game back in March, when he was still just 17.

    The lively winger scored five goals in his breakthrough season and also broke into the senior Serbia setup. A move away from his homeland is the next logical step for an impressive but raw talent.

25. Ryan Gauld (Sporting Lisbon)

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    Ryan Gauld's displays for Dundee United over the past two years have been earning him rave reviews, but when he left Scotland, there weren't many people envisaging him signing for Sporting Lisbon.

    Yet that's exactly what the 18-year-old did this summer, and now that he's in Portugal, the exciting attacking midfielder will look to hone his skills at the club that produced Cristiano Ronaldo.

24. Alessio Romagnoli (Roma)

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    After two appearances for the first team in 2012/13—games which even brought a goal against Genoa—19-year-old centre-back Alessio Romagnoli managed to play 11 times for Roma last season, often impressively.

    The Italian under-21 international appears to be getting groomed for a long and distinguished future in the side, and Champions League football could improve him even further this season. 

23. Anthony Martial (Monaco)

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    Forward Anthony Martial was perhaps the only beneficiary of Radamel Falcao's injury last season, as the 18-year-old managed to get into the team and play on a number of occasions.

    Formerly of Lyon, Martial's quick development has already seen him become a key member of the France under-21 side, and he'll hope that Falcao's possible departure this summer will pave the way for him to feature in Leonardo Jardim's plans more and more.

22. Angel Correa (San Lorenzo, Soon to Be Atletico Madrid)

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    An apparent heart condition hasn't put Atletico Madrid off from signing Argentine forward Angel Correa, with Sky Sports reporting that the £6 million deal will go ahead despite the teenager needing surgery.

    Currently at San Lorenzo in his homeland, Correa will move to the Spanish champions after scoring 12 goals for the current Copa Libertadores finalists. 

21. Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid)

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    An impressive season on loan at Rayo Vallecano appears to have been enough to secure Saul Niguez—formerly a youth player at Real Madrid—a return to the Atletico Madrid fold this season, and the champions are getting a good player back.

    Elegant and possessing a good engine, Niguez was part of the Spain team that won the European Under-19 Championships in 2012. He will be earmarked as a player who can help Spain rebuild following their disastrous World Cup.

20. Bruma (Galatasaray)

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    Injury has stalled the highly rated Bruma's progress since he left Sporting Lisbon for Galatasaray in a multi-million pound move 11 months ago.

    The Portuguese winger was slowly introduced to the team as he got used to life in Turkey, but a serious knee injury in January ended his season early and put paid to any hopes he had of making it into his country's senior squad for the World Cup. He had to sit on the bench for their final Group F qualifier against Luxembourg in October.

19. Adrien Rabiot (Paris Saint-Germain)

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    A Daily Express report in July linked Chelsea with a possible £7 million move for Paris Saint-Germain's midfielder Adrien Rabiot, with the 19-year-old growing frustrated at a lack of opportunities at the French champions.

    Whether he'd get those chances at Stamford Bridge is another matter, but Rabiot is a tall, rangy and elegant midfielder who could shine in the right environment. If he is set on leaving PSG, as reported by Sky Sports, then he'll be a good signing for somebody. 

18. Calum Chambers (Arsenal)

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    The Southampton talent factory has been raided this summer, and given Arsene Wenger's eye for a young player, Calum Chambers could just turn out to be the best one of the lot.

    A deal that could rise to £16 million was struck last month, with Chambers moving to North London in time to make his debut in a 5-1 win over Benfica at the Emirates Cup. It remains to be seen whether or not the 19-year-old Englishman can hold down a place in the side, but given that he's comfortable both at right-back and in the centre of defence, he has a good chance.

17. Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid)

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    Bar Luis Suarez's brain, centre-back was identified as a key weak spot for Uruguay going into the World Cup, but Jose Gimenez could occupy that spot for years to come as Diego Lugano fades out of the picture.

    Gimenez came into the team in the 2-1 win over England and then stayed in it for the rest of Uruguay's tournament. He'll now be targeting more game time with his club Atletico Madrid in the new season, having featured just once in La Liga in their successful 2013/14 campaign. 

16. Simone Scuffet (Udinese)

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    Goalkeeper Simone Scuffet came into the Udinese team as a 17-year-old in early February when he replaced the injured Zeljko Brkic, and he hasn't lost his place since.

    Italy under-18 stopper Scuffet kept clean sheets on his first two senior appearances before also keeping out both Milan and Inter. He played 16 times right up to the end of the 2013/14 campaign. 

15. Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal)

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    Arsenal supporters have been aware of the potential of 17-year-old German youth international Gedion Zelalem for quite some time, and the midfielder became the first player to play for the Gunners who was born after Arsene Wenger took charge. The youngster appeared in an FA Cup tie against Coventry in January.

    Competition for places at the Emirates Stadium is fierce, but don't be surprised if he features a little more in the coming campaign.

14. Julian Green (Bayern Munich)

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    Given the talent he's up against, it won't be easy for USA winger Julian Green to break into the Bayern Munich team, but having made his Champions League debut and scored at a World Cup in the past year, he's not going to be fazed by anything.

    Having switched his allegiance from Germany to play for the U.S. in Brazil this summer, Green scored his nation's final goal of the tournament in extra-time of their brave defeat to Belgium. His strike made him the youngest player to score at a World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006, per MLS Soccer

13. Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)

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    He's been seamlessly integrated into the squad and given the No. 5 shirt, so French centre-back Kurt Zouma looks set to be a key part of Jose Mourinho's Chelsea plans this season after he returned from his loan spell at Saint-Etienne.

    The powerful defender scored for the Blues on his debut in a friendly in Slovenia this summer, and although he'll still be behind John Terry, Gary Cahill and perhaps others in the pecking order, the lessons he learns this season could stay with him throughout his career.

12. Doria (Botafogo)

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    Centre-back Doria was the captain of the Brazil team that won the Toulon tournament both last summer and this one, and he's been a regular in the Botafogo team for the last two years.

    The 19-year-old also has three minutes of senior international football under his belt. Given Brazil's defensive struggles at the World Cup, it might not be long before we see this powerful defender both at a European club and breaking into the senior international setup for more than those three minutes.

11. Zakaria Bakkali (PSV Eindhoven)

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    Goal.com report that PSV Eindhoven's 18-year-old winger Zakaria Bakkali is currently discussing terms with Atletico Madrid before a move to La Liga, and the Spanish champions would certainly be getting a huge talent.

    Bakkali has chosen to represent Belgium ahead of Morocco and has picked up one senior cap to go with several at the youth level. He scored four goals for PSV last season and has quickly carved out a reputation as a huge talent to watch. 

10. Luke Shaw (Manchester United)

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    Probably only in England would Luke Shaw have cost in the region of £30 million, but there is little doubt that the 18-year-old who swapped Southampton for Manchester United this summer has talent.

    A rocky beginning under his new manager Louis van Gaal should hopefully give way to a long and successful career at Old Trafford, and it'll be interesting to see how the England international adapts to the wing-back system that Van Gaal seems determined to operate at United.

9. Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City)

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Seventeen-year-old attacker Kelechi Iheanacho was seen on Manchester City's tour of the United States this summer, scoring a goal against AC Milan and finding the net in a penalty shootout defeat to Liverpool.

    The winner of the Golden Ball for the best player at last summer's Under-17 World Cup, which Nigeria won partly thanks to his six goals, Iheanacho doesn't yet have a work permit to play in England and so could be sent out on loan this year. Whoever gets him will be getting a special player. 

8. Serge Gnabry (Arsenal)

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    Perhaps the most highly thought-of teenager at Arsenal, where there is quite some competition, Serge Gnabry broke into the Gunners team at the beginning of last season, scoring his first goal for the club in a win over Swansea.

    The German youth international is quick and lively and seemingly possesses good football intelligence; however, given recent arrivals, perhaps a loan move away from the Gunners will sharpen all of those senses ahead of a return to an Arsenal setup that he seems to be made for. 

7. Divock Origi (Lille, on Loan from Liverpool)

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    It takes a lot to dislodge Romelu Lukaku, but teenage forward Divock Origi managed to do it during the World Cup when he came on for the forward in Belgium's opening two matches against Algeria and Russia, scoring the winner in the latter.

    Having caught the eye for Lille before the tournament, Origi was then snapped up by Liverpool, who immediately loaned him back to the Ligue 1 side. Reds supporters will be following his progress closely this season, especially as their team seems to be in need of a forward right now.

6. Oliver Torres (Porto, on Loan from Atletico Madrid)

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    When you're a young Spanish midfielder, you are certain to be the subject of several, perhaps unhelpful, comparisons, but being mentioned in the same breath as some world and European champions hasn't seemed to worry Oliver Torres.

    After breaking into the Atletico Madrid team in 2012, a lack of opportunities led to the classy Spain under-21 midfielder being loaned to Villarreal at the tail end of 2013/14. He'll spend the coming season honing his considerable talents at Porto and might never look back.

5. Alen Halilovic (Barcelona)

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    Despite having only recently turned 18, Alen Halilovic has been known for a while now, and the attacking midfielder's reputation is only set to increase now that he's completed his transfer to Barcelona.

    The Croatian attacking midfielder rose to prominence at Dinamo Zagreb, creating a path that has already taken him to full international honours and worldwide acclaim. He'll spend this season with Barca's B side, but if he can continue to learn at the rate he has been, then the sky is the limit for him.

4. Leon Goretzka (Schalke)

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    Having been named in the provisional squad by Joachim Low only to be cut from Germany's final 23 before the finals, Schalke's Leon Goretzka could be downhearted at having missed out on a World Cup medal, but he shouldn't be.

    The 19-year-old has grown into a vital member of the Schalke side since moving from Bochum. He has developed into a tactically aware, classy midfielder who is sure to have several tournaments in his international future.

3. Max Meyer (Schalke)

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    Germany is teeming with exciting attacking midfielders, and by the time the world champions come to defend their crown in Russia in four years' time, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Schalke's Max Meyer as part of the squad.

    After taking over Raul's No. 7 shirt, the 18-year-old enjoyed a fine season with the Bundesliga outfit, scoring seven goals and creating many others—all with the authority of a player you'd think was a seasoned professional. 

2. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)

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    At least David Moyes will always have this.

    The one and only good thing about the Scot's Manchester United tenure was the emergence of the Belgian Adnan Januzaj, whose performances earned him a place in his country's World Cup squad following a seemingly endless debate about his nationality.

    Both Brazil and large chunks of last season would have been a fine learning experience for Januzaj, and he'll need to call upon that experience as he battles for a place in Louis van Gaal's team.

    He certainly has the qualities to win that battle.

1. Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)

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    Had this list been compiled about six months ago, then Raheem Sterling would have featured in the top 10, but the way in which the Liverpool youngster’s game has improved recently means that he deservedly takes the top spot.

    His transformation from speedy winger to gifted and devastating No. 10 has to be the most thrilling thing about the English game at the moment. Sterling was one of the few bright sparks to emerge from the awful World Cup campaign that the Three Lions experienced under Roy Hodgson.

    Prior to going to Brazil, Sterling was arguably the inspiration behind the closing weeks of Liverpool's unlikely quest for the title too, and he'll be a key figure in the new season following the departure of Luis Suarez.

    No teenager is as important to an elite club as Sterling is to Liverpool right now, and for that alone he takes the honours of being the most exciting teenager in the world.

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