20 Under 20: Twenty Teenage Footballers To Watch Out For
As Ryan Giggs, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Ronaldo Fenomeno and Thierry Henry wind down their careers, the question on many minds is who is the next young superstar?
While players like Bojan Krkić, Alexandre Pato, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller are quickly becoming world-class players, teams are on a mission to find the next star that will lead them to silverware.
Have you heard of Philippe Coutinho, Rogelio Mori or Romelu Lukaku? These three, along with 17 others under the age of 20, should be watched very closely.
You may see some of these youngsters already coming off the bench for their club/country. Others may still be taking baby steps and playing the majority of their minutes in domestic cup matches or hitting the training grounds with the first team.
A couple of these teenagers are already well on their way to becoming household names.
Unfortunately, a few of these players will probably end up as disappointments, but expect big things from the rest of the list.
Current Club: Santos
Position: Striker / Winger
Without a doubt, one of most hyped players to come out of Brazil over the past year.
Some pundits will say he should have been included in the 2010 World Cup squad.
He nearly went to Chelsea earlier this season before the transfer window closed, but Neymar decided to stay in Brazil with Santos in order to gain some more experience.
Unfortunately, his recent actions on and off the pitch have done little to improve his reputation. During a Brasileirão competition, Neymar was seen cursing at team mates and his own coach, Dorival Junior, when he was passed over to take a penalty.
No matter how old a player is, Neymar's actions were unacceptable. Right or wrong, all players must accept a head coach's decision, no matter how right or wrong he may be.
In his first game for the National Team, Neymar scored a goal against the United States. Playing alongside other Santos players such as Robinho, Ganso and Andre, the Seleção will benefit from so many players coming from his current club.
At just 18 years old, Neymar has already featured in 100 official games and has scored nearly 50 goals. A talented player, by no means of the imagination, his behavior on and off the pitch needs to improve if he wants to be taken seriously.
Name: Philippe Coutinho
Current Club: Inter Milan
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Signed by Inter Milan when he was 15, Coutinho played in Brazil with Vasco De Gama until his 18th birthday.
Since turning 18, he joined Inter and has quickly become involved in several games this season and plays with the composure of a 26-year-old. In the past month, he has been seeing valuable minutes at the club level by getting the starting nod in a couple Champion's League and Serie A matches.
Coutinho just received his first call-up to wear the yellow shirt in a recent friendly against Iran. Even though he did not light the world on fire in his debut, the experience will only help the young playmaker.
He is still young enough to represent his country in the U-20 World Cup next summer and the 2012 Olympics. Given the depth of attacking midfielders Brazil now has, Coutinho will be in no rush to be the eventual No. 10 for the Seleção.
Name: João Pedro
Current Club: Palermo
Position: Attacking Midfielder
While playing for Atlético Mineiro in Brazil, Pedro was given the opportunity to play in the supporting striker/attacking midfielder role thanks to the head coach of CAM, Vanderlei Luxemburgo.
The former national team head coach had enough faith to play him in several Brasileirão matches in the early months of 2010.
Just recently in August, Palermo signed him to a five-year contract. It will be exciting to see how he pairs up with another young superstar in Javier Pastore as the season progresses.
He has only seen a few minutes of game time this year, but expect to hear more about him as Palermo fights for a top spot in the Serie A and Europa League.
At the international level, he played in all three group stage games in the 2009 U-17 World Cup alongside Coutinho, Neymar and Wellington Silva. While Brazil did not make it out of the group stage, Pedro played in every minute of each of those games.
Name: Wellington Silva
Current Club: Fluminese (Will Join Arsenal in January 2011)
Position: Winger / Second Striker
In a similar situation to Coutinho, Arsenal signed Wellington Silva in December 2009.
Until he turns 18, he will continue to gain experience for the Brazilian club Fluminese.
During the month of August, Wellington was in London training with Arsenal. One of the main highlights of his trip to London was scoring a goal against Manchester United in a reserves match.
After August, he returned to Brazil to finish out the year playing in the Brasileirão. Once he turns 18 in January 2011, he will return to England and work his way up the ladder with the rest of the Gunners.
In the past, Arsenal has been successful with Brazilians such as Edu, Denilson and Gilberto Silva - Wellington will also prove that Brazilians can succeed in England.
When he was 16 years old, Silva represented Brazil at the U-17 level during the 2009 U-17 World Cup. As long as he does not catch the injury bug that Arsenal players have been catching in the past year, he should turn out to be a quality player.
Name: Rogelio Gabriel Funes Mori
Current Club: Club Atlético River Plate
Born in Argentina, but growing up in Arlington, TX, he performed well at the high school level, and in 2008 won a place with FC Dallas by winning a contest via the TV show "Sueno MLS."
While in London trying out for Chelsea, he was noticed by River Plate and invited to tryout in Buenos Aires. By the end of 2009, he was playing full-time for River.
Currently playing for Argentina at the U-18 levels, teammates at River are comparing him to Hernan Crespo. So far this year, he scored four goals in 10 matches for Los Millionarios.
Seems like Argentina will not have to worry about strikers for many years to come.
Name: Manuel Lanzini
Current Club: Club Atlético River Plate
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Nicknamed "la joya" (jewel), he just made his debut for River this season and set up Rogelio Mori with a goal.
Having already draw praises from teammates Ariel Ortega and Diego Bunonanotte, it will be interesting to see what happens once Ortega hangs up his boots and passes the title of "enganche" to someone like Lanzini.
On a side note, teammate Erik Lamela, is another 18-year-old star on the rise for River Plate. He, too, is an attacking midfielder and has seen some action this season.
Name: Sergio Araujo
Current Club: Boca Juniors
Product of Boca Juniors, Araujo made his debut for Boca in December 2009.
During the 2009-10 season, the forward only had one appearance, but this season he has made three appearances thus far.
He had a strong showing for Argentina at the U-17 World Cup in 2009 with three goals; expect to see him at the U-20 level in the 2011 South American Championship.
Once Juan Roman Riquelme returns from injury, and as playing time for Araujo increases, this youngster will be spoiled by having an amazing playmaker providing him service that most forwards would not see in their entire careers.
Name: James Rodriguez
Current Club: FC Porto
Position: Forward / Winger
The Colombian looked excellent for Banfield during the 2009-10 Copa Libertadores and was signed by FC Porto who have an eye for South American talent.
Surrounded by excellent midfielders and two fellow Colombians, J-Rod will be a valuable asset to the Portuguese outfit.
Supporters of the Colombian National Team are hoping he can progress quickly in Europe and help turn Colombia's shaky midfield into a threat. He probably will not be ready for the National Team by the time the Copa America arrives in July 2011, but James will be crucial to Colombia's chances for 2014 if he can carry his form from Banfield to Europe.
Name: Eden Hazard
Current Club: Lille OSC
Already a veteran of Ligue 1 in France, Hazard has already played in 100 games for Lille in the prior three seasons and this year.
In the past two seasons, he has already won the Ligue 1 Young Player of the year. Prior winners of this award include Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and the legendary Zidane.
Not even 20 years old, he was also included in the Ligue 1 2009-10 team of the year. He is already well on his way to more accolades for both club and country (14 caps).
Zidane has given his thumbs up about him. You know you are a good player when Zidane hails you.
Name: Romelu Lukaku
Current Club: Anderlecht
"Baby Drogba," as nicknamed by few, is already a veteran for Anderlecht and has seen a lot of playing time for Belgium's national team.
Even though he was only 16 during the 2009-10 season, Lukaku scored 19 goals in 45 games and already has six goals in 13 matches this season. The top scorer of the Belgian Pro Leauge last season, it is only a matter of time before he takes the next step to England, Spain, Germany or Italy.
His size, strength and technical ability will enable him to adapt well to the Premier League or Bundesliga. On the other hand, his finesse and ball control also make him a good fit in La Liga or Serie A.
Romelu's father was a former professional footballer during the 1990's, so football is definitely in his DNA.
Along with Eden Hazard, these two will be instrumental to making Belgium a European threat once again.
Name: Christian Eriksen
Current Club: Ajax
The youngest player at the 2010 World Cup, Christian Eriksen has already been compared to Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart (both from Ajax) by current Ajax manager Martin Jol.
Eriksen made his first appearance for Ajax early in 2010, and quickly made an impact by playing in 21 games in his first season.
Shortly after his debut for Ajax, he earned his first cap for the national team in March of this year. Selected to be a part of the national team for the World Cup, Eriksen came off the bench during two of the group stage matches.
While he did not play in that many minutes, expect to see Eriksen be a vital member of the 2012 Euro campaign for the Danes.
Signed through 2014, Ajax will have a nice pay day when the next Michael Laudrup is sold to one of the European powerhouses.
Name: Jack Rodwell
Current Club: Everton
Making his debut in the Premier League at 16 years old, this midfielder/defender has attracted the interest of both Manchester City and Chelsea.
Roberto Mancini recently expressed a strong desire for one of the top English prospects, but do not expect to see Everton let him go so soon. So far, young Jack has represented England at every youth level except for the main national team.
Chances are he will not represent England by the time the Euro Cup arrives, but he will be involved in the World Cup Qualifiers as England hope to redeem themselves in Brazil from a less than impressive 2010 campaign.
Name: Jack Wilshere
Current Club: Arsenal
Remember when people saw something special in Cesc Fabregas when he debuted for Arsenal at 16 years old?
Jack Wilshere was able to generate a similar buzz when he made his debut during the 2008 Emirates Cup.
Over the last two seasons, Arsene Wenger was very careful in preparing Wilshere for life in the EPL, but after being loaned out to Bolton last season, the future looks bright for No. 19.
This season has started off well for midfielder. A starter for most of the matches this season, his absence was duly noted when Arsenal's midfield appeared very unorganized against West Brom.
At just 18 years old, this Gunner has not been phased by the physical style of play the EPL. Between Jack Rodwell and this Jack, England's future in the midfield has a positive outlook.
Name: Danny Welbeck
Current Club: Sunderland (on loan from Manchester United)
Position: Striker / Winger
On loan from Manchester United, Danny Welbeck will be a vital part of of the attack once Sir Alex Ferguson decides to move on from strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen.
In the meantime, the striker, who has been compared to Emmanuel Adebayor, is gaining valuable first-team experience for Sunderland. He was also loaned to Preston North End during the 2009-10 season.
At the international level, Welbeck has played at the U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-21 levels. With all the different strikers England has used alongside Wayne Rooney, maybe Welbeck is the missing link up front.
Unfortunately, Welbeck will not be ready for that role for at least another two years.
Name: Aaron Ramsey
Current Club: Arsenal
Before breaking his tibia and fibula on Feb. 27 of this year at the hands of Ryan Shawcross, Aaron Ramsey was quickly proving to everyone that he was an effective playmaker.
In 29 matches last year, the kid from Wales had four goals and three assists. In today's game, where so many players can only play one position, Aaron can play as a central midfielder, winger or even as a fullback.
Slated to return before the end of 2010, the central midfielder is not going to hold back when he returns from injury. Mentally, he will return as a smarter player and in due time.
His form will be as good, if not better, than it was prior to his horrible injury.
With the Wales National Team, Ramsey has participated in 11 games thus far and scored two times. His most notable game was against Scotland in November 2009, where he had a hand in each of the three goals in the 3-0 victory.
Name: Davide Santon
Current Club: Inter Milan
When Marcelo Lippi describes you as a young Paolo Maldini, you know you have big shoes to fill.
This young fullback is similar to Javier Zanetti, such that he can play RB or LB. After two seasons, he already has over 30 appearances for Inter Milan in all competitions.
After his Champion's League debut in 2008, he drew praise from Cristiano Ronaldo when Inter faced Manchester United. Usually Ronaldo praises himself before anyone else, so to be hailed by him when you are just a teenager means you are doing something right.
As a reward for his performances at Inter in 2008-09, he was called up to represent Italy in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Despite not receiving any playing time, the experience to train alongside Cannavaro, Zambrotta and Grosso is something not many defenders get to experience.
Santon has appeared in a few matches thus far this season, but that will change as Inter goes further into the Champion's League and the Serie A.
Name: Federico Macheda
Current Club: Machester United
Ask any Manchester United supporter their favorite goal of the past two or three seasons, and many will point to Federico Macheda's goal against Aston Villa in April 2009.
Many pundits highlighted this was the point of the season when Manchester had enough momentum to win the EPL title for the 2008-9 season.
He began his football career with Lazio but was signed at 16 by Manchester United. Fast forward to the present day, Macheda is still only 19 years old, and is finally getting more consistent opportunities with the first team.
He was a regular in the North American preseason, so hopefully the 6'0" Italian will continue to see more time on the pitch as time goes on this year. Given the number of games Manchester usually plays during the season, that will not be a problem for Mr. Macheda.
He has represented Italy at various youth levels, and given the struggles with the Senior National team since 2006, maybe it is about time that the Azzurri take into consideration players like Macheda.
David De Gea
Name: David De Gea
Current Club: Atlético Madrid
How many keepers can you name that are starters for a top-flight European Squad.
If you answered David De Gea, then you are off to a good start. After him, there is probably no one else.
De Gea was the man in between the sticks when Atlético Madrid won the Europa League in 2010 and gave a heck of a performance against Inter Milan later in the year when the two teams faced off in the UEFA Super Cup.
De Gea even managed to stop a penalty from Diego Milito. Not a bad way to start off your career.
Perhaps he is just trying to keep up with Iker Casillas, who started his career in similar fashion at the other Madrid club.
At the national team level, he has yet to scratch the surface, but was part of the 30-man provisional squad that was preparing for South Africa. Unfortunately, De Gea did not make the squad, but do not be surprised to see him in the future.
He was the starting GK when Spain won the U-17 UEFA European Championship in 2007 and was the GK for the squad when they finished in second place in the 2007 U-17 World Cup (teammates included Bojan Krkic and Fran Merida).
With 13 clean sheets in just over one season, St. Iker Casillas better not mess up too much, because this 6'3" shot stopper will seize any opportunity to protect the back of the net.
Name: Sergio Canales
Current Club: Real Madrid
With all the major purchases Real Madrid has done over the past few years, the best long term purchase has gone under the radar for the average fan—Sergio Canales.
In his first full season for Racing Santander, Canales scored seven goals with three assists in 31 matches to help keep Racing in La Liga during the 2009-10 season.
At only 19 years old, Canales is in great company with Real Madrid. While there is no rush for him to be the main midfielder for Los Blancos, he is capable of some serious damage via his pace, dribbling ability, ball control and amazing shooting range.
Given the depth of midfielders at the national team level, Canales is making a name for himself at the U-21 level—two goals in three matches. He also helped lead the U-17 National Team to win the UEFA European Football Championship in 2008.
It certainly appears that Spain is the new football factory for world-class midfielders.
Name: Joel Matip
Current Club: Schalke 04
Position: Defensive Midfielder
The German-Cameroonian is currently a regular contributor at Schalke this season.
Through eight games, he has started in six games while coming off the bench in two other matches. Despite Schalke's struggles in the Bundesliga so far, Matip is off to the races and getting exposed to the Champion's League scene as well.
During the 2010 World Cup, Matip made his only appearance in the first match of Group E against Japan and lasted 63 minutes before being substituted. In the other two matches, he remained on the bench the entire time.
At the very minimum, he was able to feature in the World Cup and will hopefully use this experience and the opportunities he is currently getting at Schalke, to take his club and country to the next level.
At just 19 years old, he could form an excellent defensive partnership with Alex Song for many years to come.