Top 100 European Football Prospects Aged Under 21

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterOctober 30, 2014

Top 100 European Football Prospects Aged Under 21

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    Welcome to B/R's index of the top youth prospects based in Europe aged 17-20.

    We're seeing a lot of talented 21-year-olds make a serious impact at high levels—think Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane and Romelu Lukaku—and the year between 19 and 20 appears to be the period in which young players now make great strides.

    With that in mind, who's coming through on the continent and who should you be looking out for? Here's our chronicling of the best talents; if you feel we've missed someone, add them in the comments below and start the conversation! 

    Please note: The players are ranked in terms of potential, not current footballing ability. That means our No. 1-ranked player is the one projected to become the best. We can't see into the future, but these are our views on the up-and-coming stars.

Where Is...?

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    We've only included players aged 17-20 in our index here, so if you're looking for Hachim Mastour of AC Milan, you're a year early.

    Many 21-year-olds are very much established—just take the three examples in our introductory slide as a reference for that—so we decided to go a year lower. We didn't hit the 16-year-old category due to the difficulty in finding film to assess at such a level.

    That, hopefully, will clear up any questions regarding any player who is 21 years of age or older. You won't find them here.

Honourable Mentions

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    Compiling an index such as this is tough, and there may be one or two our scouting range missed. Some are also very difficult to gauge and assess, while some simply fell just shy of the grade. 

    Nabil Bentaleb, Tottenham Hotspur

    Rolando Aarons, Newcastle United

    Gabriel Iancu, Steaua Bucharest

    Bryan Cristante, Benfica

    Tonny Sanabria, Roma

    Sinan Kurt, Bayern Munich

    Raphael Guerreiro, Lorient

    Angelo Henriquez, Manchester United

    Bryan Rabello, Sevilla

    Kelechi Iheanacho, Manchester City

    Yassine Benzia, Lyon

    Javi Manquillo, Liverpool

    Salih Ucan, Roma

    Moussa Dembele, Fulham

    Alvaro Vadillo, Real Betis

100. M'Baye Niang, AC Milan

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    M'Baye Niang's career trajectory suffered a huge hit when he was handed a suspended 18-month prison sentence for a hit-and-run incident, confirmed by the Daily Mail.

    Physically he's the complete package, combining size and strength with raw pace. Milan tried him wide of the striker as they couldn't trust him with the goal load, but he flattered to deceive at times.

    Once thought of as a potential elite striker, Niang's form and reputation has suffered since moving to the Rossoneri. Physical traits only get you so far, and while he's still exceptionally young, he'll need to string together the technical parts to his game, too.

99. Sandro Ramirez, Barcelona

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    The big question on Sandro Ramirez doesn't concern his talent or his application—he has both in abundance—but more his eventual position.

    He appears to be a tricky, versatile, hybrid player who can play reasonably well across the front three, but Barcelona will need to find a way to incorporate his killer instinct in the box without disrupting their own star-studded first-team setup.

98. Ricardo Kishna, Ajax

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    Ricardo Kishna is a taker of chances; when Viktor Fischer went down with an injury and Bojan Krkic blew his multiple chances to carve out a home at Ajax, this left-winger impressed enough to earn his stay.

    The Dutchman is fast, agile, intuitive and confident with the ball at his feet, offering a sideline-wide option and giving his team width.

    He's very raw still, and that comes with inexperience, but he's improving quickly and doesn't look like dropping away from Frank de Boer's XI.

97. Suso, Liverpool

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    Suso made his breakthrough at Liverpool in the 2012-13 season, but after impressing in those initial four months, he has had next to no chance to progress at the club.

    That, though, was mainly due to the team improving quicker than expected, rather than being an indication of his own ability.

    His loan spell last season at Almeria showed plenty of what he's all about: technically impressive, a threat with his delivery in the final third but also plenty of inconsistencies which need to be ironed out.

    He's a player who will look to get involved at every opportunity, is composed in possession and sees play opening up before him—but can't yet count decision-making among his biggest traits.

    Suso is capable of scoring and creating on a regular basis if he finds the platform to get game-time, but a dwindling contract and an injury at present when, due to the team under-performing, he might otherwise have been given another chance, means it's probably not going to be with Liverpool.

96. Maximilian Arnold, Wolfsburg

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    Wolfsburg have a habit of turning out superb offensive weapons and playmakers, and Maximilian Arnold only serves to continue that trend.

    The first thing to note about him is his exceptional hoovering up of chances, posting very efficient numbers in the final third. That's partly down to his opportunistic nature, but it's also partly due to the system he's in.

    He's pretty lightweight and may struggle to adapt to a Premier League lifestyle, but Wolfsburg are correct in assuming he can be their next "big thing."

95. Hector Bellerin, Arsenal

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    Hector Bellerin, a Barcelona academy project, found his way to Arsenal early—much in the same way Cesc Fabregas did. He was something of a myth until pre-season, where his performance against Benfica justified much of the hype surrounding his name.

    He is, perhaps understandably, far better at attacking than defending and has a strong presence to his runs. He forces opposing wingers back well, and his passing in tight spaces is very, very good.

    He also has the recovery pace to mop up his own mistakes. In more ways than you'd perhaps first imagine, he's quite a lot like Kyle Walker.

94. Niklas Sule, Hoffenheim

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    Hoffenheim's defensive setup was a bit of a car crash last season, and Niklas Sule played his part in making a few errors that led to ridiculously high-scoring games.

    But the German, still just 19 years of age, has improved over the summer and ironed out the odd error in his game. He's physically imposing but a little slow, and his style means he needs to execute in the tackle consistently well.

93. Bruno Fernandes, Udinese

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    Bruno Fernandes is another option for Fernando Santos in midfield for Portugal—just in case other prospective case Bernardo Silva doesn't tickle his fancy.

    The 20-year-old continues to surprise everyone by leaping from level to level with a cool ease, holding down a regular spot in midfield at Udinese in Serie A this season and scoring against Napoli.

    He looks like he could become a complete central-midfield presence, but he needs to add steel to either the defensive or offensive side of his game to move further in our estimations.

92. Dorin Rotariu, Dinamo Bucuresti

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    Dorin Rotariu is dancing through defences in Liga I, and there's only so much he can continue to learn in torching sub-standard teams over and over.

    He jinks around markers and uses his body very well to gain advantage, allowing him to nip into tight spaces. He's also unselfish, pulling a lot back for strikers and endeavouring to pass into the right areas.

91. Ryan Gauld, Sporting

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    Nicknamed "Mini Messi" by his former Dundee United team-mates, Ryan Gauld swapped Scotland for Portugal last summer in a £3 million move to Sporting.

    He's yet to make a splash in the first team, but he's biding his time, and if Eric Dier's footballing education is anything to go by, he's in the right place to come true on his burgeoning potential.

90. Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco

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    Tiemoue Bakayoko joined Monaco this summer after nailing down a starting role in a competitive, packed Rennes midfield. To grab a regular spot in the side's strongest area was some feat so early.

    In his first "big" Ligue 1 season, he made a name for himself as a tackling, shielding machine, capable of dispossessing attackers and breaking up play with relative ease.

    He's started slow in the French province, but he'll come good as the team buck up.

89. Dennis Praet, Anderlecht

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    Dennis Praet emerged as Belgium's "next big thing" in 2011, hailed for his vision and awareness in the centre of the pitch.

    Often deployed on the wing under former Anderlecht manager John van den Brom, his development soon stalled, leading to plenty of criticism for the youngster.

    New manager Besnik Hasi has restored the 20-year-old to his usual spot in the centre of the pitch, however, and he seems to have rediscovered his form in the 2014-15 season.

    His performance against Arsenal in the Champions League was evidence of his skills as a playmaker, combining solid technical ability with a keen eye for passing lanes and a knack for launching counter-attacks.

    Paired with booming star Youri Tielemans, Anderlecht's midfield is as talented as they come.

88. Andrija Zivkovic, Partizan Belgrade

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    Per the Guardian's Igor Mladenovic, Andrija Zivkovic became the youngest-ever Serbian international in 2013-14, playing against Japan with Jose Mourinho watching on.

    A Partizan Belgrade youth product, he's nimble, instinctive and has a great eye for a pass. He also moves fluidly, surging forward at pace and wasting no energy at all.

    Unfortunately for Zivkovic, Serbia have quite a lot of players just like him, meaning his progress could falter unless he refines a pure striking role.

87. Harrison Reed, Southampton

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    "It's a massive compliment to be compared to him and mentioned in the same sentence," Harrison Reed told BBC Radio Solent upon hearing his name used in conjunction with Paul Scholes.

    "I think it's more to do with the colour of my hair."

    A modest midfielder Reed may be, but his talent is without doubt. He's made fleeting appearances for the Saints' first team over the last year, but Mauricio Pochettino saw in him a cool, calm, creative presence.

    It's hard not to get excited about academy products from the south coast right now.

86. Nick Powell, Manchester United (on Loan at Leicester City)

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    Nick Powell needs to start coming good on his potential or people will lose faith; Manchester United fans are adamant he's a super central midfielder in the making, but he's genuinely yet to prove anything yet.

    We saw, in his loan spell last season, that he's a controlling presence who creates and scores. His long-range shooting ability makes him a threat, and he can pass on a six-pence, too, if required.

85. Marcos Rony Lopes, Manchester City (on Loan at Lille)

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    Marcos "Rony" Lopes, a Manchester City prospect on loan at Lille, is learning what it's like to have the burden of creativity placed on your shoulders.

    It's not exactly ideal for an 18-year-old to be relied upon so heavily, but if he embraces the responsibility, it could be a fast-track method to elevate him through the gears quickly.

    He's played as a No. 10 in Ligue 1 this season, but City cameoed him a little deeper and that's where his athleticism and longer passing skills come to the fore. He looks more box-to-box than enganche.

84. Josip Radosevic, Napoli

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    Rafa Benitez had a dispute to deal with this summer among his defensive midfield corps, and the reason he was happy to shift Valon Behrami is the presence of the emerging Josip Radosevic.

    For €3 million, you feel as though Hajduk Split got duped a little on the fee, as many in Croatia see the midfielder as a natural holder and anchor for the national team's formation soon.

    He's a playmaker, too, capable of spreading play and impacting offensively. Overall, a complete package in waiting.

83. Balde Keita, Lazio

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    Balde Keita is one of the rawest on this list, but the upside is absolutely tremendous.

    He dribbles in the same, dinky way Iker Muniain does, keeping the ball close to his body and dipping into pint-sized holes despite his big frame. He also has tremendous burst and quickness in tight areas, and seems a willing dribbler—even to a fault at times.

82. Matthias Ginter, Borussia Dortmund

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    Matthias Ginter was a remarkably shrewd pickup for Borussia Dortmund this summer, not only because of his burgeoning potential but also because of the cover he can provide.

    He'll need to be careful not to split his time too heavily between centre-back and defensive midfield so as not to ruin his progress, but he's your prototypical size and somatotype for both.

    Decent ball skills and a good positional sense are first on the repertoire; if he can add a little nous, too, he's on the way up.

81. Jonathan Tah, Hamburg (on Loan at Dusseldorf)

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    Jonathan Tah emerged as one of Hamburg's best players down the stretch last season—a truly horrifying fact given the central defender was 17 years of age at the time.

    The titanic defender is seen through the same scope as Kurt Zouma: He's an incredibly gifted player when it comes to the physical side of the game, but is he merely punching above his weight because he can match older players man-to-man?

    Tah looks calmer and more composed on the ball than Zouma but has been loaned to 2. Bundesliga this season to continue his development. Perhaps a little rough round the edges, but the potential is limitless.

80. Obbi Oulare, Club Brugge

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    Dubbed "The Next Divock Origi," Obbi Oulare is an 18-year-old Belgian striker currently plying his trade for Club Brugge.

    The massive forward moved from Lille back to Belgium in 2013 and was instrumental in the Brugge team winning the youth title, prompting his promotion to the A-squad.

    Making his starting debut against rivals Kortrijk in September, the youth international showed why all the hype is warranted with a phenomenal first-half performance.

    Raw but incredibly gifted, Oulare could follow former teammate Origi to Belgium's A-squad soon enough.

79. Eric Dier, Tottenham Hotspur

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    Eric Dier joined Tottenham Hotspur this summer from Sporting, returning to his native England after a long spell in Portugal learning the continental trade.

    As a product of superb training and academic virtues, Dier has shown in his England duties that he is far and away the classiest, most composed centre-back the Three Lions have at their disposal.

    Deputising at right-back isn't his thing, but if he rekindles that electric start to life as a Spurs player, he'll find himself in the England senior setup pretty soon.

78. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Anderlecht

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    Aleksandar Mitrovic, when on song, is lethal. He's strong and combative and packs a complete game into his all-round play.

    He's shown an ability to score in prolific fashion and create for others, too. The only thing stopping him from reaching the top, as it stands, is his questionable attitude at times.

    Very raw but very promising.

77. Benjamin Mendy, Marseille

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    Benjamin Mendy has taken full control of the left side of Marseille's formation under Marcelo Bielsa, with Jeremy Morel moving inside to play centre-back rather than timeshare the full-back slot with him.

    He's a big-bodied, all-action defender who prefers to attack rather than track, and that should come as no surprise considering the Frenchman lists his idol as Dani Alves, per Sky Sports.

    He should continue to improve and become less rash with more games. His form to start the 2014-15 season has been great.

76. Junior Malanda, Wolfsburg

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    We love Junior Malanda's tenacity and work rate in midfield. We don't love his finishing, though.

    He's been compared to Moussa Sissoko of Newcastle United and that's perhaps a bit harsh; his defensive skill-set is profiting from playing alongside Luiz Gustavo, and we'd like to think he's more refined going forward than Sissoko's wrecking-ball approach.

    How Malanda's game develops is a question few can answer right now, as it depends thoroughly on his next season or so in the Bundesliga.

75. Calum Chambers, Arsenal

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    Tread carefully when projecting Calum Chambers, as there's a plethora of opinions out there and his skill level is a hotly debated subject.

    He's getting plenty of playing time at Arsenal due to the sheer amount of injuries they typically accrue, and he's put in strong showings at both right-back and centre-back.

    Long term, his build suits centre-back, and he's instinctive enough to reach the level Laurent Koscielny is at now, but he's not the same player. He's measured but brave, quick to act but careful to think first.

    Right-back is a temporary arrangement to get him the minutes. His end-product is nowhere close to consistent enough to play wide, and he's not really an athlete, either.

74. Anderson Talisca, Benfica

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    Anderson Talisca was one of very few absolutely unknowns to transfer this summer, but so convinced in his potential were Benfica, they parted with €4 million to buy him from Bahia in Brazil.

    Averaging just 93 minutes per goal in Primeira Liga play, per Transfermarkt.com, he's scored six in seven starts as the Eagles begin the season strongly and sit atop the table early on.

    Performing as a support striker or attacking midfielder, Talisca shows athleticism, trickery, an eye for goal and a dynamism every player wants. Defenders hate playing this mould of player.

73. Jetro Willems, PSV Eindhoven

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    Jetro Willems' name is stigmatised unfairly—it wasn't his fault he was shoved in at left-back at Euro 2012 for the Netherlands when he clearly wasn't ready.

    He seems galvanised by the failures that summer, and despite being just 20 years of age, it feels like he's been a presence in Dutch football for a far longer period.

    Willems is lightning quick, offensively potent and improving defensively. He's certainly got a mistake in him still, but he's improving all over, and his natural gifts mean he can lock down a starting role for the national team if his mind catches up with his limbs.

72. Bruma, Galatasaray

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    Bruma's prospects have suffered over the last year so, as after exploding on to the scene at the FIFA U20 World Cup with Portugal, he moved to Galatasaray only to see his career suffer as a result.

    Roberto Mancini wasn't able to use him properly, and a torn ACL cut short a disappointing season. At his best, he's a goalscoring winger whose physical presence is tough to resist, and he's capable of drifting inside to breach the central zones.

    A real handful and difficult to possess, but we need to see how he bounces back.

71. Ruben Vezo, Valencia

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    Ruben Vezo is remarkably composed for a 20-year-old centre-back and reads the game superbly from a sweeper-esque role.

    He leaves the tough stuff to Nicolas Otamendi—a player who once would have found his name in a list like this—only Vezo will hope to come good on his burgeoning potential a little quicker.

    We got a small taste of the Portuguese defender at the Emirates Cup, and he's now playing a key role at the back for an excellent Valencia side.

70. Bernardo Silva, Benfica (on Loan at Monaco)

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    Bernardo Silva has been described as a street footballer due to the fact that the ball seems "attached" to the end of his foot, but he's been sent out on loan to work on his off-the-ball skills.

    Portugal are certainly looking to him to improve quickly so they can incorporate him in the senior setup, and Ligue 1 is the perfect place to smooth out the rough edges.

    He's quick, mazy, elusive and difficult to anticipate.

69. Julian Green, Bayern Munich (on Loan at Hamburg SV)

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    The last time we checked in on Julian Green from a prospect point of view, he was at the centre of an international allegiance maelstrom.

    Now things appear far more settled—and his talent was affirmed on the world stage by volleying home for USA against Belgium at the World Cup.

    He showed glimpses of the clever, elusive forward he's been threatening to become for a while, with speed, dribbling and a natural finishing ability all strengths.

    On loan at HSV, he's certain to learn the hard-knocks side to football, and if he can work on his physique over the course of the season, he can be a Bayern Munich first-team player next year.

68. Lewis Baker, Chelsea

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    Lewis Baker was named Player of the Tournament for the NextGen series 2012-13, serving as a veritable silver lining following Chelsea's loss to Aston Villa in the final.

    The young prodigy, now 19 years of age, is frequenting Gareth Southgate's U21 squads and excels out of the No. 10 role. His quick feet, immaculate control and spatial awareness all play a huge part in his ability to unlock defences.

67. Lucas Ocampos, Monaco

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    Lucas Ocampos is now the one Monaco fans are looking to for some divine intervention. With Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez gone, it's possible the Argentine is the key spark in the attack.

    This is the first season he's been a regular starter and, despite playing well in Ligue 2, struggled to show his best last year in Ligue 1. With the Colombian contingent gone, though, he can now start to enjoy himself in attack.

    Ocampos plays anywhere across the front but is arguably at his best tucked in behind the striker. He has long-range finishing ability, neat passing in tight spaces and killer movement.

66. John Stones, Everton

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    John Stones' emergence has seen Sylvain Distin finally moved to the side at Everton, and in truth the shift has happened quicker than we'd anticipated.

    The former Barnsley player shows remarkable maturity and doesn't excel solely due to physical skills; it's much easier to project him as a sure-fire top prospect as a result.

    He's capped for England already despite playing fairly little senior football in reality. He's not the tallest or best in the air, but his lateral quickness is good and he fans out to cover the channels very well as a centre-back.

65. Hervin Ongenda, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Hervin Ongenda's exceptional vision and creativity in space has led many to believe he'll find a home in midfield rather than up front.

    Throughout his youth footballing development, most expected him to play as a central striker.

    He finds pockets to manipulate with ease, drifting around the pitch and searching for pressure points to use to his advantage. He's stocky, muscular and exceptionally difficult to get off the ball when he's in the mood.

64. Ante Coric, Dinamo Zagreb

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    With Ante Coric, perhaps the comparison with Croatian legend Robert Prosinecki is far too easy to draw.

    As we've seen over the last decade, the Croatians are superb at developing attacking talent, and Coric will be hoping his career, from this point, follows the Mateo Kovacic trajectory from here.

    In many ways they're comparable, with Coric an excellent creator centrally but capable wide right or left, too. Dinamo Zagreb is a breeding ground in all the right ways.

63. Mats Daehli, Cardiff City

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    It's arguable Mats Daehli made a mistake in trying out a Premier League relegation dog-fight; his game is not suited to the rough-and-tumble of a string of physical, desperate games.

    That's a red flag as far as we're concerned, and he could be another in a seemingly endless line of Scandinavian playmakers who fail to come forth on their potential.

    That could also be a harsh assessment, as we've seen a number of players who bounce back after a poor fit in England—see Diego Forlan. It's a case of wait and see.

62. Dominic Solanke, Chelsea

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    Dominic Solanke is a prospect Jose Mourinho is very, very excited about. He told West London Sport that he has the right mentality and all the tools to succeed, but needs guidance and nurturing.

    We can certainly see what the Portuguese means when it comes to his talent, with Solanke looking an assured, technically proficient forward who can ping passes and finish in the right areas.

    He's also a potentially physically dominant player, just like a few of his other Chelsea youth product colleagues.

61. Daniele Rugani, Juventus (on Loan at Empoli)

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    The endearing attribute of Daniel Rugani is his leadership; no matter which dressing room he enters—international, youth or senior—he soon commands the room.

    That presence he brings reeks of a John Terry-esque situation—the Englishman has been an elite centre-back for a decade, and that's largely thanks to his mental strength.

    He's on loan at Empoli this season, hauling in the playing time and improving as he goes. Antonio Conte was the one who demanded his signing after seeing him, and who are we distrust him?

60. James Wilson, Manchester United

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    I interviewed Nicky Butt at the tail end of last season, and the Manchester United youth manager was effusive in his praise for James Wilson:

    "Wilson is very explosive, an out-and-out goalscorer with good pace and he's good size, too. At 6'2", he'll be a big strong boy in a few years' time.

    "He's still only 19, but he's one that, if he keeps his head down, could be a superstar in a few years. He's got a lot of work to do yet, but he could be as good as...anyone who's played for this club in a long, long time."

    It's rare you see managers at any level heap so much praise on a young, unproven player, but it speaks volumes of Wilson's natural talent, attitude and size.

    He's a goal-getter with the complete game to back it up.

59. Adrien Rabiot, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Per the Mirror, Adrien Rabiot looks set to depart Paris Saint-Germain for Roma in the coming months, but rest assured, Nasser Al-Khelaifi won't lose any sleep over it.

    Like the Zakaria Bakkali (featured later), he has attitude issues which could stop him realising his full potential. He's a big-bodied central midfielder with all the natural and physical tools needed to become a primary creative force, but his head needs turning in the right direction.

    Is he the long-term successor for Miralem Pjanic in Italy's capital?

58. Charly Musonda, Chelsea

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    Days after completing the signing of Eden Hazard in 2012, Chelsea swooped for Charly Musonda from Anderlecht—a player dubbed the "next Hazard," per the Daily Mail.

    I caught a first-hand glimpse of Musonda in the FA Youth Cup final earlier this year, and in a way the comparison to Hazard is similar but not in the fashion you'd want.

    He has dazzling feet and a good footballing brain, but he'll need to show more in terms of decisiveness and end-product to cut it at Stamford Bridge. A very pretty playmaker and a hard worker otherwise.

57. Paulo Dybala, Palermo

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    The Palermo offensive buck stops squarely with Paulo Dybala this season, as with Abel Hernandez gone, the Argentine will carry the attack.

    Outspoken club president Maurizio Zamparini thinks he's the new Sergio Aguero, according to Sky Sport Italia and via Goal.com, but while we agree he's a superlative talent, that may be taking it a little far.

    Playing as a striker or just off the front, Dybala dips in and out of the line and looks great on the ball. He needs more goals in his game and a sustained impact, too, but that can come in what looks like a big season for him.

56. Emre Can, Liverpool

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    Emre Can has been used in a variety of positions by a variety of managers, but it's clear already he's only really suited to one position.

    A reasonable left-back he may be, sure, and he can fill in at central midfield and try to instigate attacking play, but his skill-set, somatotype and height make him the ideal sole anchor. Playing him elsewhere will only harm his development.

    He boasts impressive aggression, and his physical streak means he can cut it with the best in the midfield battle zone. He's agile enough to span the pitch, but you don't want him dribbling forward unless it's absolutely necessary.

55. Nathaniel Chalobah, Chelsea (on Loan at Burnley)

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    Nathaniel Chalobah has played just 58 minutes for Burnley since sealing a loan move there, per WhoScored.com—a disappointing tally considering the Clarets are struggling and winless in the Premier League.

    His grace and athleticism could be just what's required in an ailing midfield, and his ability to calm things down in possession and gain control of an area is something Burnley lack.

    His frame suggests he can play centre-back or holding midfield, but he's a little rash right now to play at the back. He'll grow into a top-tier holding player—just the type England need for their diamond, actually.

54. Samuel Umtiti, Lyon

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    Samuel Umtiti’s emergence was the reason Lyon were so happy to sell Dejan Lovren to Southampton, and the reason why when Lovren was benched at the end of the 2012-13 season, Lyon's defence actually improved.

    His short career has had its ups and downs—scoring a golazo against Tottenham in the Europa League signified his turning the corner on being benched by Remi Garde (earlier in the year)—but he's now well and truly a first-team lock.

    He reminds me of Mamadou Sakho as, although he rarely makes mistakes, he looks rather awkward aesthetically. He occasionally plays left-back, and it does help refine his technical game, but he's a bruising, physical centre-back all the way.

53. Will Hughes, Derby County

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    Will Hughes broke into senior football very early, and as a result, it feels like he's been around forever despite there being just 19 years on his clock.

    His fluorescent crop of hair makes him impossible to miss on the pitch, and he combines good technique and cute moves with industrious work-rate and a never-say-die attitude.

    Hughes plays a No. 10 at times but possesses the vertical drive and pace to play slightly deeper and open his legs. The good news for anyone interested: He's exceptionally versatile in terms of what he can take on midfield.

52. Kurt Zouma, Chelsea

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    Some Chelsea fans will be wondering when Kurt Zouma will be ready to challenge John Terry for a first-team slot, but there's still a fair way to go for the Frenchman in terms of coaching.

    He's got the physical tools to be an absolute monster and has looked reasonable in the Blues' cup competition games this season. Pre-season gave us a glimpse of what he can be like though: rash, error-prone and over-zealous.

    This is perfectly normal in a player who is so quick and strong—they come to lean on their physical gifts—and Jose Mourinho will be working hard to ensure Zouma doesn't embark upon the same path he feels Romelu Lukaku has.

    That's why he's not on loan; Mourinho is ensuring he doesn't flop.

51. Gianluca Gaudino, Bayern Munich

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    Gianluca Gaudino, son of former Germany international Maurizio Gaudino, has emerged as a surprise contender for a spot in central midfield at Bayern Munich.

    An injury crisis saw him start the DFB Pokal final and three subsequent Bundesliga games, and it's easy to see why Pep Guardiola likes him. Immeasurable calm on the ball despite such inexperience, in addition to fluid technique and passing skills, makes him a perfect fit for the philosophy.

    A little lightweight, but that's OK in the possession-heavy situation he's in.

50. Tonny Vilhena, Feyenoord

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    It seemed as though, at one point, Tonny Vilhena was destined to play as a lightweight No. 10, but over the last season or two, he's developed into a box-to-box midfield threat.

    Looking far less delicate than before and adding raw power to his game, Vilhena is the driving force in Feyenoord's midfield, breaking between the lines with the ball at his feet and finding killer passes with ease.

    He's a bundle of energy.

49. Hakan Calhanoglu, Bayer Leverkusen

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    Hakan Calhanoglu was a rare shining light in Hamburg's horrendous 2013-14 season, netting a long-range free-kick against Borussia Dortmund to kick-start his reputation.

    He's a creative force playing from the No. 10 role, boasting the ability to do the seemingly impossible and outfox defenders with ease. He won a move to Bayer Leverkusen this summer to play under Roger Schmidt, and his new boss is teaching him the defensive, pressing side of the game.

    A precocious talent, Calhanoglu's ceiling is impossible to predict.

48. Domenico Berardi, Sassuolo/Juventus (Co-Own)

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    Domenico Berardi has the potential to become one of Europe's best players, but first he needs to eradicate the petulant behaviour on the pitch that we've already witnessed on multiple occasions.

    Excelling from the right, Berardi's pace and anticipation allow him to beat most defenders with ease.

    The 20-year-old will need to sharpen up his judgement in the final third to reach the next level, but the aforementioned attributes along with his composure in front of goal already make him a wonderful player.

47. James Ward-Prowse, Southampton

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    While Southampton's mass exodus this summer caused more than a few broken hearts, James Ward-Prowse should be quietly happy despite seeing some of his best friends leave.

    He needs to play, and Ronald Koeman's philosophy will suit him down to the ground. There's still veritable competition in the form of Steven Davis and Jack Cork, but JWP is the future of Southampton's midfield and the management know it.

    Ward-Prowse has wicked technique, a beautiful delivery and is willing to work hard. He can play central midfield, right attacking midfield or as a No. 10; he works hard, presses, closes down and plays with the team's best interests at heart.

46. Tin Jedvaj, Roma (on Loan at Bayer Leverkusen)

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    Roma's decision to lend Tin Jedvaj to Bayer Leverkusen for two seasons was seen as an odd one—especially given Mehdi Benatia looked destined for the door at the time (and later left).

    The Croatian is a little spindly, and that's played a part in Rudi Garcia and Roger Schmidt's decision to initially play him at full-back. He's not a natural fit there, though, and will eventually find his home in the middle once he's bulked up.

    Playing him wide has helped his possession skills and passing catch up with his defensive intelligence, and the only natural barrier stopping him from a world-class trajectory is arguably his height.

45. Viktor Fischer, Ajax

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    Viktor Fischer's ascent has been disturbed by a serious hamstring injury requiring surgery, and in his place at Ajax on the left wing, another listed player in Ricardo Kishna has been taking advantage.

    The Dane was one of the top-five youth prospects a year ago, with his ridiculous explosiveness giving him an automatic advantage in one vs. one situations on the wing. Think of a more refined Lazar Markovic.

    Once he found his goalscoring touch to match up to his technical talents, he was embedded as a sure-starter in the Godenzonen XI as a key outlet.

    We hope he returns to form.

44. Saul Niguez, Atletico Madrid

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    Saul Niguez is still incredibly young and a little rash, but he's just the sort of midfield enforcer Diego Simeone can mould and shape to his own liking.

    Last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano showed he has a multi-faceted game, subscribing to the pass-and-move style while simultaneously keeping the order with firm tackles and good tracking.

    Importantly, he looks willing to take on board anything asked. That's a huge positive—he could be a sponge for Simeone's wise words.

43. Oliver Torres, Atletico Madrid (on Loan at FC Porto)

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    Oliver Torres used the FIFA U20 World Cup just about as well as anyone could do to further their reputation.

    The world was expected to marvel in the presence of Gerard Deulofeu and Jese but instead came away arguably more ensconced with the mini-Xavi in central midfield.

    The diminutive playmaker, on loan at FC Porto with former Spanish U20 manager Julen Lopetegui, is mature beyond his years and plays, in many ways, like the Barcelona midfield general we all know and love.

    To see a man so small control a senior game with such ease is rare.

42. Jean-Paul Boetius, Feyenoord

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    Following Ronald Koeman's decision to sign Graziano Pelle this summer, I checked in on Feyenoord's tape from last season to see what the Saints were getting.

    Undeniably, Pelle's ability to attract markers and create space for others played a part in this, but I found my eyes consistently drawn toward Jean-Paul Boetius instead.

    He's explosive like dynamite, superb with the ball at his feet and has picked up a knack of making the right decisions on the ball in key areas. That mental maturity stands him in excellent stead, and it's easy to project him as a top-level winger in the mould of Pedro at Barcelona.

41. Mateo Kovacic, Internazionale

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    Mateo Kovacic was an expensive gamble by Andrea Stramaccioni. His talent and potential were never in question but making the move to a team like Internazionale so soon?

    Initially it didn't go well, and the Croat failed to show the raw creative instincts he had done at Dinamo Zagreb. But moving to a deeper position unlocked his comfort on the ball, and he now stands a player—already—who can play any central-midfield role.

    He's performing well for Walter Mazzarri after a year in the wilderness.

40. Anthony Martial, Monaco

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    Anthony Martial is still getting very little in terms of genuine chances in Monaco's first team, but he scored a real profile-raiser after coming on against Paris Saint-Germain and grabbing the equaliser late on.

    The nouveau-riche derby is perhaps the biggest game in France as far as the rest of Europe is concerned, and the young Frenchman seized his chance to impress.

    He played last season, too, in place of Radamel Falcao post-injury. He doesn't look fazed by the pressure and plays calm, inventive football from an advanced role.

39. Zakaria Bakkali, PSV Eindhoven

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    Zakaria Bakkali is an immense raw talent, but he got too big for his boots too quickly and PSV Eindhoven weren't happy with what they saw.

    The Belgian scored a hat-trick on his home debut against NEC Nijmegen, showing immense burst, a natural poacher's ability and confidence that soared through the roof.

    Whether he ends up on the wing or as a striker, we can't say for now, but he may never reach the heights projected if he doesn't start focusing on his football, rather than his contractual situation.

38. Timo Werner, Stuttgart

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    Often "The New X" tags are completely inaccurate, but Timo Werner's likening to Thomas Muller is astonishing to say the least.

    Werner, a wide forward for Stuttgart and the club's youngest-ever player, has the physique and height to match his twisting, turning dribbles that tie defenders in knots. He also possesses the same killer instinct Muller does, and he's not afraid to use his body to work an angle.

    Of all the German youth prospects featured here, Werner is one of the most highly thought of.

37. Patrick Roberts, Fulham

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    One of the more pleasant ramifications from Fulham's relegation to the Championship in 2013-14 is the chance it has afforded Patrick Roberts.

    The tricky, talented attacking midfielder may never have been thrown into a survival brawl due to his inexperience and slight figure, but now the Cottagers can rebuild and give him a chance to shine.

    At his own level, Roberts can run a game single-handedly and put defences through 90 minutes of torture. His reverse-passing and vision is reminiscent of David Silva, sending shivers down central defenders' spines.

36. Izzy Brown, Chelsea

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    Izzy Brown was poached from West Bromwich Albion's academy in 2013, joining Chelsea and heading straight to the U21 setup.

    He's absurdly tricky, mesmeric when dribbling, but doesn't relish the physical side of the game and can be spooked by man-handling at times. For a 17-year-old, that's perfectly acceptable, but it's an important thing to watch in a striker as they adapt to new levels.

35. Gedion Zelalem, Arsenal

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    Gedion Zelalem wowed in 2013 pre-season for Arsenal, showing exceptional calm and fluidity on the ball along with an eye for a killer pass.

    Most tuning in to the East Asian exhibition matches had never heard his name uttered, but Twitter was soon awash with praise for the youngster controlling the game at an arm's length.

    The German-born creator has a tough task breaking into Arsenal's midfield due to the presence of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, but he'll be a star in the future no matter which club he plays for.

34. Ruben Neves, FC Porto

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    Julen Lopetegui may well have been delighted to secure Oliver Torres' signature for the season, but FC Porto have a prospect shining even brighter in the same midfield.

    Ruben Neves was a surprise promotion to the senior squad this year and has taken every chance with aplomb. Playing as a defensive or central midfielder, the 17-year-old has been helping his side dominate games in the Primeira Liga and the Champions League.

    Tactically intelligent, superb at passing and with the mentality of a captain despite very few miles on the clock, Neves has been the talking point of the Dragons' season so far despite their return to relevancy.

33. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea

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    People ask the question: Which midfielder could play as the deepest in England's midfield diamond? And they often come up short of answers.

    Tom Huddlestone is a strong stylistic and tactical fit, but is he of the requisite quality? Perhaps not, but in a few years, provided he gets the opportunities in first-team football, Ruben Loftus-Cheek may be the answer.

    B/R columnist Sam Rooke and I attended Chelsea's 7-6 victory over Fulham in the FA Youth Cup final last season, and we were blown away by RLC's grace and fluidity on the ball.

    He plays with immeasurable confidence, his feet are perfect and his instincts strong.

32. Jeremie Boga, Chelsea

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    Replace Jeremie Boga's head with Kurt Zouma's and you may not see much of a difference, such is the unnaturally bulky build the playmaker boasts.

    He's powerful, quick and mightily consistent in tearing down defences at youth level, and the Daily Mail labelled him the breakout star of Chelsea's latest pre-season exhibition.

    He plays behind the striker or wide and represents the spark in the team. Very raw but an amazing athlete.

31. Alen Halilovic, Barcelona

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    Croatia love a dynamic playmaker, and Alen Halilovic will soon threaten Luka Modric's crown as the best creative presence representing the Vatreni.

    He's a different mould—more mobile and playing in more advanced positions—than Modric and stands to learn plenty from Barcelona's academy now he's finally left his homeland.

    Halilovic boasts natural close control, smooth fluidity to his movements and composure in tight spaces. Playing with better team-mates will make him a star, but he'll need to pull up some heavy trees in order to force his way into the Blaugrana first XI reckoning.

30. Doria, Marseille

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    Doria's move to Marseille was viewed as a serious coup for the French club, but the Brazilian's decision to move to a Marcelo Bielsa-managed club could easily backfire given El Loco's usual, odd M.O.

    At Botafogo, he looked the near-complete package, showing speed, strength and immense positional instincts. He's tall and lean but powerful, too.

    In France, he'll need to negotiate the traditionally tricky Bielsa-inspired politics and hone his focus on football development. That said, if he makes a quick step up, he could move again very quickly—he looks that good.

29. Serge Gnabry, Arsenal

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    Serge Gnabry represents an athletic bundle of energy, and the natural talent levels he possesses are so insanely high, it's led some to suggest he's the biggest prospect in Arsenal's youth setup.

    His first-team chances are limited, but whenever he makes the XI, he showcases insane agility, burst and close control in tight spaces.

    In the short time he was exposed to the Premier League, he became a little predictable, so that's something to work on while he's out of the limelight.

28. Julian Brandt, Bayer Leverkusen

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    Julian Brandt burst on to the scene last season with Bayer Leverkusen and immediately wowed fans with his blistering pace.

    He's an impact player in the mould of Raheem Sterling, with his quickness and threat over the top giving full-backs a plethora of problems when choosing how to try and stymie him.

    His close control and awareness are also already at a high level, meaning Brandt is ready for an expanded role whenever Roger Schmidt decides he wishes to award one.

27. Kingsley Coman, Juventus

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    It's possible Juventus have pulled off Paul Pogba Mark II in the form of Kingsley Coman, coaxing him from the ranks at Paris Saint-Germain and integrating him into the senior squad early.

    The forward is absurdly quick—like, verging on Gareth Bale rinsing Maicon quick—and uses that pace to crucify defenders in space. His feet are quick and he's not as selfish as many with his speed; his decision-making already looks pretty decent.

    The Bianconeri will be feeling pretty good about themselves after already handing him a full debut.

26. Jack Grealish, Aston Villa

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    Aston Villa recently managed to sign Jack Grealish to a new, rewarding contract, while England are busy trying to secure his national commitment over the Republic of Ireland.

    All the attention must mean something, right?

    Right.

    His home debut for Aston Villa saw Hull City kick him to pieces, clearly aware of his mesmeric, weaving dribbling talents. He's slight and skinny but immensely clued up on how to tie defenders into knots and create room for a shot.

25. Divock Origi, Liverpool (on Loan at Lille)

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    Divock Origi was signed by Liverpool last summer after exploding on to the world scene during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Back on loan at Lille for a year, he's taking in first-team football every week in a bid to prepare himself to play alongside Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge.

    Truth be told, and despite the slightly erratic nature of his still-developing game, the Reds could use him right now given the state of their attacking play.

    At the World Cup, Marc Wilmots had no qualms starting Origi up front for Belgium, and in those displays he showcased incredible agility, sharpness and channel-running ability.

    A bit of composure and he is good to go.

24. Dan Crowley, Arsenal

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    Plucked from the Aston Villa academy after captaining England youth sides far above his age group, Dan Crowley became a contender to Gedion Zelalem's would-be crown in the youth setup.

    Unnatural talent on the ball and a silky, commanding style of play ensure he's in the thick of everything positive for his side on the pitch at all times. He's your prototypical "young" captain in the mould of Joao Moutinho.

23. Leon Goretzka, Schalke

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    Schalke have utilised Leon Goretzka in myriad positions so far in his young career, rounding him as a prospect and giving him a feel for every area of the pitch.

    In doing so, his already-sharp game has been heightened further; no longer "just" a defensive midfielder or screener, he's accustomed to bombing forward and putting his own physicality to the test.

    Perhaps the only area he does not excel in is consistent finishing. It's unlikely he'll make the move into the No. 10 role, as his size and skill-set are so perfectly suited to a deeper position.

22. Denis Suarez, Barcelona (on Loan at Sevilla)

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    Manchester City fans were upset when prodigious youth talent Denis Suarez was allowed to leave for Barcelona, and while he didn't make the grade in Catalonia immediately, he's certainly earning his spurs out on loan at Sevilla.

    Los Rojiblancos are flying in the league and Suarez is a key part of their approach. His technical talents make him a natural fit in La Liga, and after he learned to stop forcing his passes, he's quickly become a key part of a surprise early title run.

    Playing out of the No. 10 slot or slightly deeper in a No. 8 role, he's a clean distributor who boasts agility, awareness and that "head up" ability you want in a playmaker.

21. Lucas Piazon, Chelsea (on Loan at Frankfurt)

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    Lucas Piazon is six foot tall, quick on the ball and capable of playing both wide and from a central berth. He's taken to European football like a duck to water following an early move from Sao Paulo, and Chelsea must be very tempted to incorporate him in the first team next season.

    It was his loan to Vitesse Arnhem last season that allowed us to see what he's truly made of, and it was his link-up play with Mike Havenaar—be it cutting in from the left or playing just behind—that showed us his skills are not limited to the penalty area.

    He's developed a mean set piece, too, making him a genuine goal threat in every game.

20. Lazar Markovic, Liverpool

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    Lazar Markovic is a wonderful prospect, but he's in the unfortunate situation of needing to perform very well from the off, despite not being ready.

    The £25 million paid for his services essentially requires immediate integration, but he's such a raw project he's having trouble out-dueling Adam Lallana for a spot in midfield.

    With space to run into, this kid is exceptional, and the turn of pace he has to accompany his dribbling skills is astonishing. He needs to work on creativity and possession in tighter spaces, though, before he troubles the top tier of midfielders.

19. Simone Scuffet, Udinese

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    Simone Scuffet lucked into a starting role for Udinese last season and made the most of it, keeping six clean sheets in his first 10 games as a 17-year-old.

    That record was eerily akin to Gianluigi Buffon's Serie A start, and, as such, calls were made for the Udine to be fast-tracked into the Italy setup.

    Still think it's too soon, personally, to put Scuffet ahead of the likes of Bardi and Perin, but at 17 he makes them look like old-timers

    — Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) March 31, 2014

    Talk surrounding the youngster has cooled off this season as he continues his development, but the stark reflexes and commanding presence are tough to forget.

18. Richairo Zivkovic, Ajax

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    Ajax fans, and indeed world football fans, are watching Richairo Zivkovic with bated breath. He's followed the Groningen to Godenzonen path that Luis Suarez took not so long ago.

    He appears the complete forward even at such a young age, backing up his technical ability and speed with an opportunistic finishing streak that will impress visiting scouts.

    He's got a lot to learn, but he's shown high footballing IQ.

17. Max Meyer, Schalke 04

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    You hate to label someone "the next Lionel Messi," but Max Meyer has a definite Messi-esque way of manipulating space and using his low centre of gravity to his advantage.

    It is very difficult to dispossess him once he's found his balance, and the 19-year-old has been routinely leaving markers in his dust since breaking into the Schalke first-team setup.

    He thrives in the No. 10 space but can also play wide, and he's a pass-first creator rather than a sharp-shooter.

16. Luke Shaw, Manchester United

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    Many questioned Manchester United's decision to pay £30 million for Luke Shaw, but they're paying through the nose for English potential and it's frankly unavoidable in 2014.

    My own projections for Shaw must be similar to those of the United scouts—I believe he'll be worth every penny should he avoid a curtailing injury, and perhaps his most fascinating attribute is his willingness to fight tooth and nail for every square inch of pitch.

    He's not a cultured defender—far from it, in fact—but what's got footballing personnel crazy about him is it's clear he'll pick that part up naturally. He jockeys and tugs in every tussle and has the physique to endure a varied role.

    Mauricio Pochettino saw Shaw as a key offensive outlet and made specific arrangements to get him the ball in space on the left. To be that important to a side finishing eighth in the league at just 18 years of age is incredible.

15. Andreas Christensen, Chelsea

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    It's worth separating yourself from the off-field controversies surrounding Andreas Christensen, forwarded by the Daily Mail, in order to admire him as a young footballer.

    He oozes confidence and quality, leading a back line with part-maturity and part-positional skill. He tackles cleanly, looks stronger than most in his age bracket and moves very smoothly on the ball.

    The hype is justified.

14. Donis Avdijaj, Schalke 04

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    Schalke 04 won't rush Donis Avdijaj into action, but you can bet they're secretly pining to give him a go in the first team.

    They'll make sure he's physically ready before mixing him in with the big boys, and if his body catches up with his feet, we could have the next great goalscorer on our hands.

    Avdijaj's record at youth level is astonishing: In 2012-13 he netted 44 goals and provided 13 assists in 25 appearances in the junior league, then submitted Schalke's U17 opponents to a similar level of torture.

    His mesmeric body control and ability with the ball at his feet screams Lionel Messi at times, and he's more clinical than the Argentine was at this stage.

13. Alessio Romagnoli, Roma (on Loan at Sampdoria)

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    Alessio Romagnoli also received the "Tin Jedvaj treatment"—that is, to play out wide at times to improve ball skills and understanding in possession.

    The Italian, born in Anzio, is seen as a local product by the fans, and they were delighted to see him make his breakthrough under Zdenek Zeman and Rudi Garcia. He showed super aerial strength, a thirst for the ball and a cool head in his formative games.

    Now on loan at Sampdoria, he's getting the playing time required to develop fast. We're very, very optimistic that Romagnoli can become a world-class centre-back in the future.

12. Adnan Januzaj, Manchester United

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    Manchester United fans expected Adnan Januzaj to break out by now, and while he fluttered into our consciousness last season under David Moyes, he's yet to take hold of a spot in an XI dominated by world-class stars.

    That leaves Januzaj under pressure to perform well in every chance he gets, despite said chances coming once a month on average. He won't be able to showcase his incredible vision, technique and killer passing ability if he's playing so sporadically.

    Januzaj could become one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, and his ability to play all across the formation is a huge plus.

11. Julian Draxler, Schalke 04

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    Bundesliga fans get a little upset when Julian Draxler isn't named in the conversation of best youngsters, and it's easy to see why.

    Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund attract all the attention, even when it comes to youth prospects, but the Konigsblauen's academy is arguably the best in Germany.

    Draxler is their crown jewel, and what sets him apart is simple: He can dramatically change the game with just a few touches and, despite being just 19 years of age, has the body of a developed man.

    The Schalke man could easily convert to a complete striker or continue as he is in a hybrid No. 10/left-wing role, and the sky's truly the limit in terms of potential.

10. Pierre Hojbjerg, Bayern Munich

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    Pierre Hojbjerg is struggling to find game-time at Bayern Munich, but that hasn't stopped Denmark manager Morten Olsen from picking the midfielder for his senior international side.

    When playing centrally, Hojbjerg runs a box-to-box game full of energy and buzz. Considering he's not physically overbearing in the slightest, it's high praise to say he's capable of dominating games at this early age.

    He needs a run in the right position—central midfield—but for now, it's stomachable to see him playing right wing-back for Bayern due to the fact he needs playing time, too.

9. Munir El Haddadi, Barcelona

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    Munir El Haddadi has exploded on to the scene this season at Barcelona, but his playing time is set to take a dramatic cut now with Luis Suarez available to play again.

    Spain have acted quickly to snap him up by playing him in a competitive game, removing the threat of Morocco claiming him as their own, and will now allow him to progress out of the spotlight a little.

    Munir has absurd speed, wonderful close control and a serious eye for a finish. He's ideally suited to Barcelona's 4-3-3 as a wide forward, combining a little bit of Neymar with a little bit of Pedro in all the right ways.

8. Memphis Depay, PSV Eindhoven

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    Memphis Depay's rise to fame has been catalogued superbly by the chaps over at BeNeFoot, and I'm just as convinced as they are that the Dutchman is headed for the very top.

    He shows rare, raw athleticism, a thirst for improvement and stands wonderfully versatile given his relative inexperience. A lot was made of his impressive record of golazos in the Eredivisie last year, then subsequently that achievement was pooh-poohed by conversion statistics.

    That asset of his game stands hotly contested, but what we can measure is how often he changes matches. It seems to happen every single week.

7. Ross Barkley, Everton

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    Ross Barkley's commanding return to the Everton team against Aston Villa last week reminded a few what they'd perhaps forgotten: He is already a quality, impact player despite his tender age.

    Suggestions, purported by The Telegraph, that Manchester City and Chelsea are hovering with £30-50 million valuations are very, very believable; his physical, direct yet also technically delightful game makes him a homegrown replacement for Yaya Toure.

    Barkley bullies those five years older than him and outfoxes those the same age. He shoots, he passes and dribbles with velocity and power.

6. Sergi Samper, Barcelona

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    Many are heralded as the "future" of Barcelona, but Sergi Samper is the one Los Cules are truly, veritably excited about.

    His full debut in the UEFA Champions League this season, albeit against lowly APOEL Nicosia, proved the hype true: stunning footballing IQ, reliability in possession and maturity beyond his years.

    Playing at the base of Barca's 4-3-3, Samper is a reliable sole anchor and maestro in possession.

5. Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Club

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    Aymeric Laporte exploded on to the European scene last season after rising to the challenge laid down by Ernesto Valverde.

    Athletic Bilbao are often hamstrung by their cantera policy, but one position that looks set for the foreseeable position was Laporte's: centre-back.

    In the space of one year, the 19-year-old has made the likes of Mikel San Jose and Borja Ekiza an afterthought; his polished performances and incredible tackling talents have allowed him to lock down the spot next to Carlos Gurpegi in Los Leones' defence.

    Laporte has the anticipation and recovery pace to make up for his lack of core strength.

4. Gerard Deulofeu, Barcelona (on Loan at Sevilla)

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    There's a chance Gerard Deulofeu feels disheartened with Barcelona's decision to consistently loan him out, and as he plies his trade elsewhere, myriad other prospects are enjoying time in Luis Enrique's ranks.

    Sevilla, though, are the grateful recipients of a very talented young winger who can dribble you into a daze. His quick feet and slight frame prove a magnet for mistimed lunges and tackles, making Deulofeu a true chance for a penalty or free-kick in dangerous areas.

    His eye for goal improves with every month, and he's beginning to shoulder the responsibility of being a main goal source, too.

3. Youri Tielemans, Anderlecht

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Anderlecht receive attention due to the presence of Denis Praet and Mitrovic, but the real gem of a talent comes in the form of Youri Tielemans.

    Described to me by B/R's Jonathan Johnson in private as a "once in a generation sort of talent," Tielemans is incredibly sure-footed and confident considering he's just 17 years of age.

    He operates in a deeper midfield role but can surge forward, already showing immense understanding and Frank Lampard-esque timing when arriving in key spots in the box.

    He doesn't lose it, he doesn't take silly risks and he can bag a great set piece, too.

2. Marquinhos, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Marquinhos may just be the most polished of this entire list, with the Brazilian appearing near complete in many facets of his game.

    Whether it's a lucky streak of natural talent or something extra in the water in the Italian capital, Roma are on a roll when it comes to honing central-defensive talent with world-class upside.

    The Giallorossi had him for just one year before selling him on to Paris Saint-Germain for a colossal fee, where he's now perfecting his craft under the stewardship of the world's best central defender, Thiago Silva.

    Marquinhos is smooth, athletic, quick across the ground and accomplished in the tackle.

1. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool

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    Brendan Rodgers' decision to move Raheem Sterling into a central berth will go down as one of his greatest.

    Many would have been reluctant due to the youngster's wiry frame, but where some saw physical weakness, Rodgers saw impressive burst and the natural ability to make a marker look foolish.

    Despite not yet reaching his 20th birthday, he's already far too important to the Reds' makeup to be marooned in the wide areas, at risk of not being involved.

    Sterling has unteachable dribbling talent and that low centre of gravity every No. 10 craves. The midfield diamond employed by Rodgers is no longer a way to get the best out of Steven Gerrard—it's a way to get the best out of Sterling.

    He's our No. 1 both in projected potential and current ability levels. An all-round, all-encompassing first choice.

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