18 Players Under 18 Set for Big Things

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2014

18 Players Under 18 Set for Big Things

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    Growing up as a youth in modern football is both more difficult and, in other ways, an easier practice than ever. Those high-profile prospects stand to earn huge reimbursement early in their careers, but with a mountain of pressure along with it.

    Not every up-and-coming starlet boasts a worldwide renown, however, and it's refreshing when a talent emerges from obscurity, players who haven't been scouted in the global frame for months or years already.

    Here, we take a look at a selection of under-18 stars, each with a bright future ahead, some expected to make major impacts very soon, while others are more of a long-term project.

    Only those who were 18 or under at the beginning of Europe's 2014-15 season have been taken into account, meaning if a player was born before August 1, 1996, they've been deemed ineligible.

    Some of those included are already pottering among the youth ranks of an elite side, while others have established seniority at smaller outfits, and a few are fortunate to already be featuring in the first team of some well-respected outfits.

    This is only a brief glimpse at the masses of talent waiting in the wings to make more audacious moves in the seasons to come, so give us some of your suggestions in the forum below, falling in line with the prescribed criteria.

    All appearance statistics come courtesy of Transfermarkt.

Honourable Mentions

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Jairo Riedewald

    A product of one of the finest academies in football, Jairo Reidewald boomed onto Ajax's senior stage in December 2013, coming on against Roda JC with 10 minutes remaining, his side trailing 1-0. 

    The left-back proceeded to become the youngest scoring debutant in Eredivisie history, netting not once, but twice in the final phases of the fixture to rescue a 2-1 win and since making his first-team presence more know.

    Cast in a similar mould to Daley Blind, Riedewald also has the capacity to play in defensive midfield, sometimes coming in as a replacement for Christian Poulsen in recent months.

    Maxwel Cornet

    Maxwel Cornet is a name sure to earn increased attention in the months to come as his contract with Ligue 2 outfit Metz winds to its end in June of next year.

    The 17-year-old winger was born in the Ivory Coast but is building a steady reputation among France's youth ranks, having scored at every level from under-16 through to under-19, for whom he holds a goal-per-game ratio after two appearances.

    Matias Nahuel

    Already making small waves in La Liga, Matias Nahuel was brought to Villarreal from his native Argentina at just 14 years of age. Three years on and he's made his debut for the first team, but continues to feature prominently for the club's B team.

    An attacking midfielder perhaps looking to echo the creative gumption of a certain former Argentine international who starred at El Madrigal, Juan Roman Riquelme, although not quite with the same set-piece talent just yet.

1. Richairo Zivkovic

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    Age: 18

    Club: Ajax

    Given that he's only just turned 18, it's difficult to believe just how experienced an Eredivisie asset Richairo Zivkovic already is, with 33 top-flight appearances to his name since debuting in December 2012.

    All those appearances came with Groningen, however, and after a summer transfer to Ajax, the Amsterdam giants have added the striker to their youth side, presumably in an effort to teach him in their ways before making his first-team presence felt.

    And Zivkovic assuredly is an asset with first-team potential, given that he's already netted 10 Eredivisie goals in those 33 appearances, scoring four in six outings for the Netherlands' under-19 side, too.

    With time, we'll undoubtedly come to see the forward featuring among Holland's best and brightest, having earned comparisons with past Groningen greats Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez during his early career steps.

2. Hachim Mastour

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    Age: 16

    Club: Milan

    With a haircut that could rival Stephan El Shaarawy's in a gauge of exuberance, Hachim Mastour is causing quite a stir in San Siro circles, and all at the age of 16.

    Signed from Reggiana for a reported €500,000, the midfield maestro came to Milan knowing full well what a burden he had in living up to expectations.

    Still yet to make his Serie A debut but undoubtedly building toward that goal after numerous appearances on the bench, Filippo Inzaghi looks likely to be the one who inducts the playmaker, and what an appropriate mentor/student relationship for it to come about.

    Mastour's club statistics are still relatively minimal, but his progress with Italy's under-16 side and the profile he's developed with the Rossoneri suggests monumental possibilities sit on the horizon.

3. Albian Ajeti

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    Age: 17

    Club: Basel

    Basel have a trio of Ajeti brothers among their reserves at present, each of whom look capable of big things in the years to come, but it's perhaps striker Albian who stands out most.

    Twin to Adonis and younger sibling of Arlind, 19, the 17-year-old attacker already has extensive experience with the Swiss youth ranks, starring at under-17 and under-18 level, and is showing Basel he's nearing preparation for more first-team chances.

    So far in 2014-15, Ajeti has eight goals in eight outings for Basel II, the reserve side who compete in Switzerland's third tier, although his regular presence on the first-team bench suggests bigger opportunities are coming.

4. Patrick Roberts

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    Age: 17

    Club: Fulham

    Fulham's relegation to the Championship last season marked a dark note in the club's history, but amid all that gloom, some small consolation has been taken in what lies ahead for the club as Patrick Roberts continues to shine.

    The forward shot to prominence during the 2013-14 FA Youth Cup and was rewarded with more and more prominent roles in England's under-16 and under-17 groups, tipped as a key prospect among his nation's youth.

    According to Goal.com (h/t Independent), Liverpool were eager enough to sign his talents over the summer that a formal bid was mooted, but with Chelsea and Manchester United also interested, a move never came to fruition.

    For now, the Cottagers have sought to hang onto their starlet by offering him a better chance of first-team football in the Championship, but it seems inevitable that talk will emerge regarding a potential exit in 2015.

5. Sascha Horvath

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    Age: 18

    Club: Austria Wien

    Austria Wien's most promising prospect at present is a talent they've been grooming for the past nine years, and Sascha Horvath is now showing the potential to pay back that investment in time.

    The attacking midfielder made his Bundesliga debut for the Austrian giants last season, and despite failing to score in his 12 appearances, the experience afforded to him at the top is likely to result in increased success this term.

    Horvath is a playmaker whose talent has been well-covered with his nation's under-17 setup, making the step up to under-19 level in 2013 and hoping to push on among more talented opposition.

6. Donis Avdijaj

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    Age: 18

    Club: Schalke

    Schalke's pedigree in youth production has been tested to the extreme by the Bundesliga's bigger powers in years gone by, and following the likes of Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Max Meyer, Donis Avdijaj is next off their lot.

    Still just 18, the forward is the latest starlet to join up with the Miners' senior divisions in pursuit of a Bundesliga future, and that future looks bright if his record in the academy is anything to go by.

    In 51 appearances for Schalke's under-17 side, Avdijaj scored 59 goals and made 14 assists in 51 appearances. Add to that a further 17 goals and four assists in 18 games for the under-19 team, and you have something seemingly special on your hands.

    German newspaper BILD (h/t Simon Jones of the Daily Mail) reports that a £41 million release clause has been inserted in the striker's latest deal. A prized asset, indeed.

7. Gabriel

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    Age: 18

    Club: Santos

    The Brasileiro Serie A wouldn't seem right unless there were always that one talent who stands out as "the next" this or "the second coming" of that.

    In that sense, Gabriel Barbosa—commonly referred to as simply "Gabriel"—bears the weight of filling a Neymar-shaped hole at Santos, and he is going about doing so with extreme efficiency.

    Upgraded from reserve-team member to senior star in January 2013, the teen has gone about his progress with steady momentum and recently starred for Brazil's under-20s in the COTIF L'Alcudia Internatonal tournament this summer.

    Brazil ran out of Valencia as competition winners and Gabriel as the contest's top scorer, building on the finishing touch that's improving by the game back in his domestic setting.

8. Federico Bonazzoli

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    Age: 17

    Club: Inter

    Milan may have an attacking marvel emerging through their ranks in the shape of Mastour, but San Siro rivals Inter have one of their own as Federico Bonazzoli continues to earn plaudits among the Nerazurri youth.

    Bonazzoli was just 18 days late in eclipsing Massimo Pellegrini's record as the youngest-ever Serie A footballer when he made his debut in May of this year, instead settling for second-youngest in that regard.

    The striker remains intimately involved with the club's Primavera line-up, for whom he's scored 15 goals in 25 outings, as well as making the step-by-step moves through Italy's youth lines, from under-15 level up to his current under-18 surroundings.

9. Joseph Marie Minala

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    Age: 18

    Club: Bari (On loan from Lazio)

    It's a story we're all familiar with by now. Despite his appearance of being far more seasoned than Lazio suggest and actually of an age necessary to have attended Woodstock in person, Joseph Marie Minala is 18.

    Or rather he just turned 18 in late August and around the same time was sent on loan to Bari; Twitter has been a breeding ground for jests at this juxtaposition between perception and reality:

    Joseph Minala turned 18 and went to his first ever loan. To get experience perhaps. Or to share it with everyone else pic.twitter.com/UkMzdv8ghk

    — Artur Petrosyan (@arturpetrosyan) August 26, 2014

    Happy 4̶0̶t̶h̶ 18th Birthday to Lazio striker Joseph Minala. pic.twitter.com/FUwP9X08N8

    — BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) August 25, 2014

    Regardless of any controversy related to his documented years, Minala is a talent and will get to showcase his potential in Serie B this season, having already made his Serie A bow with his parent club in Rome.

    The Cameroonian has been backed for success by Lazio, who released a statement regarding age allegations, per Metro:

    "We reserve the right to take action against those responsible for the protection of the good name of the company and the footballer."

    For a club founded 114 years ago, it's a sensitive reaction to what should otherwise be a non-issue if the documents provided are genuine.

    Act your age, Lazio.

10. Gennaro Tutino

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    Age: 18

    Club: Vicenza (On loan from Napoli)

    Gennaro Tutino opened a gateway to first-team chances upon being loaned out to Serie B's Vicenza this summer, but the winger was unfortunate to sustain injury in his first outing for the club, a Coppa Italia fixture against Bassano.

    However, when he recovers, Tutino will be expected to resume his momentum as a rising star in Italian football, a quick wide asset with afterburners to spare, but who has also shown an eye for goal in his career to date.

    Starring for Napoli's Primavera side, the teenager has 21 goals in 53 games, and five goals in six UEFA Youth League appearances is nothing to be sniffed at, netting against the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Marseille and Arsenal in last season's group stage.

11. Youri Tielemans

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    Age: 17

    Club: Anderlecht

    A central midfielder already well known in Belgian circles, Youri Tielemans is growing in importance as one of Anderlecht's stars and is perhaps the most senior player included on our list of prodigies.

    Tielmans has played all but one half of the club's Jupiler League campaign thus far, steering the club to top spot in the Jupiler League and showing their prolific record for producing talent is as well-oiled a machine as ever.

    In a modern age where the slightest highlight action can be captured for all to peruse, Paddy Power posted this beautiful through ball from the playmaker in April, as his side routed Club Brugge 3-0:

    Decent pass here from Anderlecht's 16 year old Youri Tielemans: http://t.co/sj3a9hFh8G

    — Paddy Power (@paddypower) April 7, 2014

    A rounded asset who tends to showcase more than simple vision and passing alone, Tielemans isn't shy of the more physical aspect of things despite his disadvantage in years and is sure to see more eyes gravitate toward Belgium once again in 2015. 

    Tielemans is no new commodity in the realm of aspiring youngsters, and after coming into the Anderlecht setup at the age of five, his renown on the European stage is reaching feverish levels.

12. Patrick Pflucke

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    Age: 17

    Club: Mainz

    Promotion to the senior setting at Mainz indicates Patrick Pflucke is nearing a stage in his career where first-team involvement isn't far off, having made considerable steps through the club's youth squads in recent campaigns.

    In 2010, the attacker took his first international steps with Germany's under-15 side and has since climbed the age groups, most recently making his way into the under-19 grade.

    There, he'll look to continue impressing among his more senior peers, and he seems well capable of doing so after scoring 29 goals in 43 appearances for Mainz's under-17 side, scoring 14 in 35 outings for the under-19s thus far.

13. Gianluca Gaudino

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    Age: 17

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Having been schooled in all things Barcelona, it's no surprise that Pep Guardiola is as eager as any Bayern Munich manager before him to promote youth from within the club's ranks, and Gianluca Gaudino is the latest to cause a fuss at the Allianz Arena.

    The midfielder made his first-team debut for Der FCB in the German Supercup clash against Borussia Dortmund in August and earned his Bundesliga bow in a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg one week later.

    The son of ex-German international Maurizio Gaudino is the fourth-youngest debutant in Bayern's history and can play at centre-back as well as in his usual central-midfield abode.

    Despite his age, the 17-year-old is already a part of Germany's under-19 international team, growing in an establishment where he'll have some of the finest mentors in the world to learn from.

14. John Souttar

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    Age: 17

    Club: Dundee United

    There's a youth revolution at Tannadice that's been building for well over a year now, and Dundee United are reaping the benefits of a program that sees the likes of John Souttar handed first-team responsibilities with little drawback.

    Ryan Gauld was perhaps the most high-profile youngster to emerge from the setting this year, but his summer move to Sporting Lisbon leaves Souttar as perhaps the "next big thing," although for entirely different reasons.

    The centre-back already has good experience in Scotland's under-19 setup and became a Scottish Premiership staple last season, making 22 league appearances for United, only one of which came as a substitute.

    Tannadice's system provides its younger stars with a platform to thrive, and although some have capitalised upon that rise with summer moves, Souttar is recovering from an ankle injury, ready to go again in 2014-15.

15. Kelechi Iheanacho

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    Age: 17

    Club: Manchester City

    The 2013 CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year is yet to make first-team emergence at Manchester City, but Kelechi Iheanacho is a player simmering in their youth ranks on the cusp of something more.

    The club's vast funds means that they and their extensive scouting network can be among the first outfits on the scene ready to invest in most continents' resources, and in Nigeria's Iheanacho, they've got their hands on a rising stock.

    As his Nigerian team won last year's under-17 World Cup, the forward claimed the tournament's Silver Boot award, but his ability to play out wide and in other supplemental roles make him a valuable creative asset, too.

    During that competition, Iheanacho scored six goals and made seven assists, in itself a sound summary of his prowess in bringing more to the table than finishing alone. To illustrate his promise further, he was also named the 2013 under-17 World Cup Golden Ball award as the most impressive player.

    Iheanacho trained with Columbus Crew earlier in September.

16. Maxime Lopez

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    Warning: Video contains some language NSFW.

    Age: 16

    Club: Marseille

    Marseille were a worried party in the first few months of 2014, where talk was building of a potential exit for youngster Maxime Lopez, who was at the time reported by the Mirror's Andrew Gibney as a target for Liverpool.

    However, the attacking midfield wunderkind staved off any interest to sign his first professional terms for the club with whom he's grown up.

    It's a major victory for the club as much as it is the player, and although the 16-year-old only has a handful of appearances playing for Marseille's under-19 squad, it shows just how ahead of his time the playmaker is.

    Gibney quotes former youth coach Bernard Gregori in likening the diminutive maestro to Mathieu Valbuena, a firm assurance in more than just stature similarity, a testament to his creative credentials.

17. Gedion Zelalem

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    Age: 17

    Club: Arsenal

    Among the hordes of burgeoning young talent emerging at the Emirates Stadium, Gedion Zelalem has managed to cut out a reputation as one of the more promising up-and-comers.

    Formerly of Hertha Berlin's academy, the teenager was born in Germany's capital but moved to the United States in his adolescence before finally making his way to north London in 2013.

    Heavily involved in the club's 2014-15 pre-season fixtures, Zelalem's pace as a potential first-team player is quickening, and Arsene Wenger was quoted by the Daily Mail's David Kent in saying of his midfield prodigy:

    I honestly think Gedion has the talent to become a great player, but that will be decided in the next two or three years because he has to show that he has the mental level required to be a top-level competitor. He is a creative player and he can create a spark, an opening with his passing, his vision through the lines. If he manages to develop his physique and keep his qualities, he can be a very important player. Let's hope he will do it. 

    I believe he is a very young, promising talent who was educated here [in the United States]. Today it is too early for him to play for us but I would say in one year we will know more about him. Maybe if it all goes well, in six months. Just now he is not ready to start in the Premier League, but he is with us and practises with us a lot and we have high expectations for him.

    High praise indeed from a manager who has produced the emergences of so many young talents in his time at the club, giving a sense of just how close German under-17 international Zelalem is to that next phase of his career.

18. Dawid Kownacki

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    Age: 17

    Club: Lech Poznan

    Robert Lewandowski broke the mould in establishing the heights possible for Poland's up-and-coming strikers, a number among which Lech Poznan's Dawid Kownacki figures highly.

    Although just 17 years of age, already the youngster has 20 appearances to his name in Poland's top tier, six of those coming as starts and the rest in cameo roles.

    Arsenal were reported by Metro earlier this year as having scouted the attacker, but his contract with Lech Poznan has since been extended by two years, quelling any exit rumours for the time being.

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