World Football: Top 23 Players in the World Under 23

Neri Stein@neristeinFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2011

World Football: Top 23 Players in the World Under 23

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    There is a definite youth movement happening in World Football. More and more top teams, on both the club and international level, are turning to their young stars over their more experienced veterans to get the job done. 

    While youth, quickness and athleticism can never replace experience, they certainly don't hurt anything. 

    Let's take a look the the top 23 players in world football under the age of 23. For purposes of this list, I've included players who turned 23 this year. 

    Chime in with who's left off or who's misplaced.

23. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)

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    One of Kenny Dalglish's new recruits for Liverpool and the youngest, Jordan Henderson has a bright future ahead of him at the tender age of 21.

    He's already under pressure thanks to a steep price tag, but Dalglish saw something in him, and that counts for plenty.

22. Phil Jones (Manchester United)

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    Phil Jones, 19, was a transfer target of both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger this summer. That says a lot. 

    The English defender will get to show his worth early in his Manchester United career as both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand went down with injuries in the first game at West Brom. 

21. Romelu Lukaku (Anderlecht/Chelsea)

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    Romelu Lukaku is only 18 years old, and he's already one the most talked about young strikers in world football.

    His move to Chelsea should go through any day now, and he'll get to learn from world-class strikers like Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres (he's still in there somewhere), and he'll be lighting up the game for the Blues and Belgium in years to come.

20. Philippe Coutinho (Inter Milan)

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    Philippe Coutinho has been a star for Brazil in the U-20 World Cup this summer, and he was impressive last year in his first season with Inter Milan, especially in the 3-2 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16.

    The 19-year-old has a bright future and could very well be a star in the 2014 World Cup in front of his hometown fans. 

19. Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool)

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    Jonjo Shelvey, 19, is one of the top youngsters in English football and captained the England U-16 and U-19 sides.

    He's a very creative midfielder with a great knack for setting up him teammates. 

18. Connor Wickham (Sunderland)

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    Connor Wickham, 18, has the perfect build for a center-forward, and his performances for Ipswich Town made him one of the hottest players on the transfer market this summer before Sunderland snapped him up. 

    The young Englishman still has a lot to prove if he wants to show he can really lead the line for a Premier League side or the Three Lions, but he's got loads of talent and plenty of time. 

17. Bojan Krkic (Roma)

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    Bojan Krkic may have not completely panned out with Barcelona, but in five years (one with the B team), the 20-year-old scored an impressive number of goals, most of them from the bench.

    He should get more playing time with Roma and will likely be able to really show what he can do. 

16. Aaron Ramsey

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    At age 20, Aaron Ramsey has already captained Wales and can be a star for Arsenal in the coming years.

    He likely would be higher on the list if his progress hadn't been hampered by a horrific leg break. 

15. Alexandre Pato (AC Milan)

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    Alexandre Pato is only 21, and he's already had plenty of playing time with AC Milan and Brazil. He's scored goals wherever he's been.

    He has a tendency to score big goals and multiple goals in big games.

14. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

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    It's a little surprising that Sergio Aguero only turned 23 this summer, considering he's been one of the top strikers in the world the past several years.

    The Argentinian was spectacular for Atletico Madrid, but he could never really shine on the biggest stage. That's all changed now that he's moved to Manchester City. 

13. Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

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    If Mario Balotelli can get over himself, he can be one of the top strikers in the world.

    The 21-year-old has all the talent in the world, but not many coaches are going to put up with his attitude. 

12. Andy Carroll (Liverpool)

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    Andy Carroll, at 22, is already the most expensive Englishman ever, but he showed with Newcastle and partly with Liverpool that he's ready to back it up.

    He's a perfect No. 9 and will be hoping to lead England come 2014. 

11. Giovani Dos Santos (Tottenham)

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    Giovani dos Santos is one of many young, bright stars for Mexico right now, and his talents were on full display at this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup when he ran over all opposing defenses.

    The 22-year-old has all the talent in the world, but he needs to show his manager Harry Redknapp that he's also got the work ethic. 

10. David De Gea (Manchester United)

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    While David de Gea has had a nervy start to his Manchester United career, he's still done so much more than most 20-year-old goalkeepers.

    He helped Atletico Madrid win the Europa League in 2010 and the Super Cup over Inter Milan a few months later.

    He's also been in goal for Spain's U-17 and U-21 sides, which won the European Championships in 2007 and 2011.  

9. Javier Hernandez (Manchester United)

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    Javier Hernandez turned 23 this summer as well, just a day before Sergio Aguero.

    Chicharito announced himself onto the scene with Mexico in the 2010 World Cup, and then he really burst out last season with Manchester United, scoring almost every other appearance for the Red Devils.

8. Juan Mata (Valencia)

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    Juan Mata turned 23 in April, but he won the European U-21 Championship with Spain this summer. Go figure.

    Mata is a fantastic left winger who can read the game as well as anyone, and it just goes to show how loaded with talent Spain is that Mata can hardly get on the pitch for the senior side. 

7. Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

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    Theo Walcott is another player you think would be older simply because he's already had some much experience.

    The 22-year-old Arsenal and English winger still can't hold down a starting spot for club or country, but his speed makes him a very dangerous player, and this could be his true breakout year with Arsenal.

6. Eden Hazard (Lille)

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    Beglium can be a very big player in the 2014 World Cup, and Eden Hazard will be a very big reason why.

    The 20-year-old scored 12 goals and had 10 assists in Ligue 1 last season to help Lille secure its first double since 1946. He is the youngest player ever to be named the Ligue 1's Player of the Year.

5. Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich)

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    Thomas Muller won the Golden Boot in the 2010 World Cup with five goals and three assists as Germany took third place. And he was just 20 years old. 

    He's scored goals for every team he's played on and at every level. He's a big reason why Germany will be one of the favorites in next summer's European Championships. 

4. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

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    Jack Wilshere broke out with Arsenal last season, and at just 19 years old, he's still got a lot of room for improvement. 

    The midfielder dazzled everyone with his passing last season, and he could very well be the cure to England's central midfield headache. 

3. Gareth Bale (Tottenham)

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    Gareth Bale was huge for Tottenham last season, especially in their first Champions League campaign. 

    The 22-year-old inspired his side to a 4-0 win over Young Boys, scored a hat trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro and was virtually unstoppable for much of the year on the way to winning the PFA Player of the Year award. 

2. Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)

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    Mesut Ozil is just 22 years old and has been handed the No. 10 shirt at Real Madrid by his manager Jose Mourinho, signalling him as the main playmaker—over the vastly experienced Xabi Alonso, no less. 

    He broke out with Germany in the 2010 World Cup and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.

1. Neymar (Santos)

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    Neymar is just 19 years old, and he has the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and more fighting over his services.

    He has been likened to Pele and has scored plenty of goals to start to justify the comparison, and he will only get better in the coming years.

    He'll be a football superstar by the time the 2014 World Cup rolls around.