The 20 Best Teenage Footballers in the World

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IJanuary 9, 2014

The 20 Best Teenage Footballers in the World

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    One of the areas of football which always attracts attention is emerging youth talent. Supporters are always keen to discover the next generation of leading stars who will grace the fields of the world's best competitions.

    Looking, then, at only those players yet to arrive at their 20th birthday, we are left with a selection of outstanding talents who still are some way from reaching the peak of their footballing abilities.

    However, in choosing the 20 best of that selection, it is clear that there is an abundance of top-level talent emerging from an ever-increasing spread of countries—not accounting for any late bloomers still to come.

    But who makes up our list of the 20 best teenagers in world football at the current time?

Notable Omissions

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    Tin Jedvaj

    Jedvaj is an excellent Croatian defensive prospect who Roma signed from GNK Dinamo last summer amid much competition.

    Rony Lopes

    Manchester City have spent a lot of time and effort acquiring youth talent over recent seasons. Lopes, who has impressed greatly when handed cameo opportunities, is the closest to a first-team breakthrough.

    Musa Mohammed

    The victorious captain of Nigeria at the Under-17 World Cup, Mohammed's boundless energy from right-back and excellent set-piece taking were key to the success.


    He's a Brazilian attacking midfielder who lit up the early stages of the Under-17 World Cup with his cutting edge in front of goal and eye for a pass.

    Angelo Henriquez

    Henriquez is a former Universidad de Chile striker who broke through in the Copa Libertadores, and he is now owned by Manchester United but developing on-loan with Real Zaragoza.

    Bryan Rabello

    Technically gifted Chilean No. 10 Rabello has struggled for playing time at Sevilla but is still regarded as one of South America's best next-generation playmakers.


    Up-and-coming Brazilian left-back touted as the country's next big thing in his position. Sadly, though, a serious knee injury has paused the tall and powerful full-back's development for the time being.


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    20. Kelechi Iheanacho

    He's the scorer of six goals in seven games from attacking midfield at the recent Under-17 World Cup. Reports from the Mirror suggest that Iheanacho's transfer to Manchester City is set to be announced in the near future.

    What makes the Nigerian so special is that he combines his height and speed with wonderful technical ability that allows him to pick out difficult passes from his central position behind the striker.

    African football has been deprived of top-level playmaking talent in recent years with the emphasis firmly on physicality. Iheanacho, though, could be the rightful successor to Jay-Jay Okocha and Abedi Pele.

    19. Leon Goretzka

    Former Bochum midfielder Goretzka joined Schalke last summer, having previously been linked with a number of Europe's top clubs.

    While he is yet to make himself an automatic starter in Gelsenkirchen, the former Under-17 international captain's qualities are well known. It is understandable that he should take time to adapt to a much higher standard of football.

    A brilliant passer of the ball, Goretzka should eventually go on to take a prominent role at the heart of midfield for both club and country. His ability to create chances from deep is an invaluable quality in any side.

    18. Angel Correa

    The revelation of Argentine football in 2013, forward Correa was an important member of the San Lorenzo side that recently claimed long-awaited success in the Torneo Inicial.

    The 18-year-old was linked to Arsenal last November, per the Sunday People, and will have attracted plenty of other interest with his pace and dribbling skills.

    It remains to be seen whether he will remain in Argentina come the end of January, but Correa has already done enough to ensure that he will leave his homeland with a burgeoning reputation whenever the time may come.

    17. Junior Malanda

    Strapping defensive midfielder Malanda caused somewhat of a scene when he walked out on Zulte Waregem in the summer to sign with Wolfsburg. However, he was somewhat surprisingly loaned back to his former club straight away.

    While Essevee are not quite performing at last year's levels, Malanda is once more having a fine campaign and continues to show himself to be one of the lesser heralded members of Belgium's next generation of talents.

    He will likely graduate to the senior national side after the coming World Cup, with Euro 2016 a realistic target, but he must first prove that he can carry his form into the high-level competition that the Bundesliga will offer next season.

    16. Raheem Sterling

    Since his arrival from Queens Park Rangers as a 15-year-old, Jamaica-born winger Sterling has made steady progress at Anfield to now be acknowledged as a regular member of the first-team setup.

    While his breakthrough into a starting role early last season showed his considerable ability, the Reds' over-reliance on their young star saw the England international lose form toward the end of the campaign.

    However, properly rested and in a side now with increased attacking options, Sterling is beginning to once more show the impressive technique and movement that made him such a handful when he first arrived on the scene.

15. Serge Gnabry

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    Arsenal's latest youth prospect to emerge at first-team level, the vivacious German is already proving a handful to Premier League defences in his brief appearances to date.

    While strong and powerful in possession, Gnabry's fleet feet and ability to beat his opposite number set him apart from the crowd, while he shows sublime deftness when seeking to play final balls to a colleague.

    We will only know his true potential when he is handed more regular first-team football, but all signs so far would suggest that the Arsenal man's career will be on a solely upward trajectory for some time yet.

14. Andrija Zivkovic

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    The latest young star to emerge from Partizan's highly productive academy setup, Andrija Zivkovic has been the outstanding breakthrough player of Serbian football this season with four goals to his name.

    In October, the left-footer became the youngest player to represent his country internationally when he played the final half-hour in a 2-0 victory over Japan. It was a fine achievement for someone whose club debut had come just weeks earlier.

    Cutting in from the right flank, Zivkovic has an eye for goal and the close control to terrify defenders when running at pace. Given space to shoot, he has shown himself to be lethal from anywhere in and around the penalty area.

13. Alen Halilovic

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    Croatian playmaker Alen Halilovic has always been labelled the "next Luka Modric" due to the similarity in their playing styles and progression at GNK Dinamo. The former, too, almost joined Tottenham last summer, per Sky Sports, but for an inability to agree on contractual terms.

    The great and the good of European football have been linked to his services since, as documented by David Wright of the Express, but there has, as yet, been no club able to tie down his services. Halilovic remains in Croatian football for the time being.

    Renowned for his long-range shooting ability, the left-footer's diminutive size allows him to use his low centre of gravity to beat opponents and find space.

    A full international and still just 17, he has the talent to go to the top of the game. But he must be careful to ensure his game does not stagnate at a Dinamo side far ahead of their domestic rivals.

12. Viktor Fischer

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    Denmark forward Viktor Fischer came to prominence in the 2011-12 season as the joint-top scorer of the NextGen Series, a youth competition featuring many of Europe's top sides.

    That was Fischer's first campaign with Ajax and served as a catalyst for a speedy promotion to first-team football. Since then he has become an important member of Frank de Boer's side.

    Playing predominantly from the left, Fischer's strength lies in his interplay with teammates and calmness in front of goal.

    "Pass and move" is the concept on which the Ajax game is built, and Fischer is a terrific exponent, using neat triangles and patterns of play to find space in front of goal, from where he is normally lethal.

11. Gerard Deulofeu

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    The most hotly anticipated talent out of Barcelona's academy system since Lionel Messi, Gerard Deulofeu has the potential to be one of Europe's leading players over the next decade if he can continue to improve his game.

    Currently at Everton on loan, injury has sadly kept the young Catalan from building on what was a highly promising start to life in England. With a burst of pace few can live with, nimble feet and an eye for goal, he has all the attributes needed to be a major star in the Premier League.

    Another year at Goodison Park could be on the cards. But for now, the hope will be he makes a full recovery from injury and finishes his first season away from the Camp Nou in style.

10. Oliver Torres

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    Touted as the long-term heir to Xavi in the Spain midfield, Atletico Madrid youngster Oliver is a real pleasure to watch when on form. He uses his remarkable perception of the game to run proceedings from midfield.

    His club are being understandably cautious about throwing him into regular first-team action too quickly, but the classy playmaker is gradually picking up experience. The time for more regular inclusion will doubtless come soon.

    With excellent balance allowing him to turn on a sixpence, Oliver's game is about finding a couple of yards of space and then picking the right pass to continue the attack. It is something he has done excellently at youth level.

    There are challenges ahead, but Oliver is a brilliantly talented youngster. His intelligence on the ball suggests he will find little difficulty stepping up.

9. Timo Werner

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    Just 17 years old, it is fair to say that Timo Werner's performances for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga thus far this season have been nothing short of sensational.

    Lightning-fast, the young forward has predominantly operated from the left-flank, cutting in onto his favoured right foot in order to look for a pass or a shot at goal.

    The opening half of the campaign has brought four goals and four assists, while he was named rookie of the season so far by the league as the competition entered its winter break.

    He will find himself a marked man from now on, but he has already embarrassed several far more experienced defenders with his direct running from deep.

8. Luke Shaw

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    English footballers are often the subject of much criticism. However, it is fair to say that the country has excelled at producing players at left-back over recent years.

    At 18, Luke Shaw looks set to continue that trend.

    The Southampton full-back is not faultless, and there have been mistakes over the past 18 months in which he has featured at Premier League level. In general, though, he has been an astonishingly consistent performer.

    Shaw is a wonderful attacking presence on the left, looking to overlap and whip crosses into the area. A set-piece taker, his delivery is a strong point of his game.

    With pace to burn and impressive strength, he is also proving to be a solid presence defensively and will surely continue to improve in his positional play with age and experience.

7. Max Meyer

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    Germany have produced a number of wonderfully gifted attacking midfielders in recent years. 18-year-old Max Meyer is proving at Schalke that the production line is far from over.

    Able to play anywhere across the attacking midfield line, Meyer has taken up a regular central role for his side this season and has made steady contributions to the club's Bundesliga effort.

    Predominantly right-footed, Meyer is inclined to run at defenders using his blistering acceleration and has shown improving judgement in terms of his timing of his final pass.

    The diminutive German will doubtless improve as he gains experience. With the country boasting so many talents in his area of the pitch, he should be given plentiful time to improve at his own pace.

6. Doria

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    Since making his first-team breakthrough 18 months ago, Botafogo defender Doria is yet to take a backward step in his journey to the top of the Brazilian game.

    Physically strong, the 19-year-old has dealt with players much more experienced in uncompromising fashion from the start. However, what is pleasing is that his physicality is tempered by a more cultured side to his game.

    The left-footed Brazil international is a good passer and often carries the ball out of defence before distributing to those further up the pitch. Tottenham and Chelsea have been mentioned as possible next steps upon his route to the top of the game by Darren Lewis of the Daily Mirror.

5. Lazar Markovic

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    Benfica winger Lazar Markovic made the switch to Portugal last summer after two seasons in the first-team setup at Partizan Belgrade in which he had established himself as Serbia's leading prospect.

    With pace, excellent close control and balance, Markovic impressed for Partizan both domestically and in the Europa League. His showing from the left flank against Inter Milan at the San Siro last season was a vivid demonstration of his potential.

    Life in Portugal has begun well, albeit with his place in the club's starting lineup not yet assured. There is, though, measured progress.

    Chelsea, who have longstanding links with Benfica, continue to be connected with the player in the media, as shown by the Mirror's John Cross.

    For now, though, it is in Lisbon that the tricky winger hones his trade.

4. Kurt Zouma

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    Commanding, powerful and comfortable on the ball, 19-year-old Zouma is not far away from the prototype of a modern central defender.

    Although he's currently serving a lengthy ban for a tackle that was unfortunate in causing injury rather than malicious, Zouma is and has been a regular in the Saint Etienne side for two years in spite of his age.

    As reported by Metro's Jamie Sanderson, Chelsea are the team most frequently linked with his services. A January move must be seen as possible given that he has come close to departing in previous windows.

    A senior French international, he would be a terrific signing for any side looking to build for the years ahead.

3. Adnan Januzaj

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    He only made his first-team breakthrough earlier in the campaign, but 18-year-old attacking midfielder Adnan Januzaj is already a go-to figure for Manchester United in times of trouble.

    Unfortunately for new manager David Moyes, trouble has been all too frequent for the Red Devils this campaign. But the consequence has been plentiful playing time for the young starlet.

    With three goals and two assists to his name, he is already beginning to make a tangible mark in the Premier League. He has impressed many with his coolness on the ball.

    Although he's tall and spindly, Januzaj shows good strength and balance when running with the ball, breezing past opponents with an elegance similar to Kaka at his very best.

    Occasional tumbles to the ground when not touched, however, have seen Januzaj pick up a reputation for diving of late.

2. Mateo Kovacic

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    Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic has been at the San Siro with Inter Milan for a year now, and, while not always a regular starter, he has impressed in several midfield roles.

    The 19-year-old made his first-team breakthrough at GNK Dinamo as an attacking midfielder of some quality, showing quick feet to beat opponents and an eye for a pass.

    Since joining Inter, though, he has spent a lot of time playing in a deeper midfield role, using his excellent distribution skills to good effect to spread play to those further up the pitch.

    Kovacic still has much to prove in Italy. But he could be yet another who slips through the net of Serie A, with interest in his services a virtual constant.

    He should attend the coming World Cup with Croatia if he can secure enough playing time for the remainder of the campaign, and he could be one of the young stars of the tournament if given the chance to shine.

1. Marquinhos

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    It's not often on such lists that the leading positions are held by defensive players, but that is the level at which Marquinhos has placed himself with his performances over the past 18 months.

    A former captain of Brazil at youth level, Marquinhos joined Roma on loan in the summer of 2012 after just a handful of appearances for Corinthians.

    In the Italian capital, he was quickly catapulted into an important role in defence. The club moved swiftly to use their right to purchase to secure the Brazilian long-term.

    A superb athlete and an excellent reader of the game, Marquinhos' form in Serie A meant that he was to be on the move once more last summer. French giants Paris Saint-Germain came calling with what proved an irresistible €35 million offer.