50 to Watch from the UEFA Youth League
Who are the stars of the future?
After Chelsea's 3-2 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Youth League final on Monday, B/R picked out 50 players from the tournament to watch in the coming years.
Be it for mass potential, remarkable entertainment factor or positional intrigue, these 50 young stars' names are worth your attention and worth making a note of.
Please note: This is not a definitive ranking of the top 50 players in the tournament, although we have profiled the final four sides in the competition (Chelsea, Shakhtar, Anderlecht and Roma) more heavily as a result of their success.
All goal, assist and card statistics quoted are courtesy of UEFA.com. The players are ranked on their potential and prospects of establishing themselves as world-class stars. However, these rankings are accompanied by the obvious, natural road bumps and pitfalls of projecting 17- and 18-year-old kids.
50. Olivier Ntcham, Manchester City
Olivier Ntcham is coached by Patrick Vieira, and his playing style and powerful frame sometimes remind you of the Frenchman on the pitch.
The problem is it's only sometimes. You can watch 90 minutes of Ntcham and feel like he only burst into life three or four times. He has the size, strength and feet to dominate games—particularly against youth sides—but can go missing.
He's one to watch for all sorts of reasons, but can he find consistency and therefore a regular place at a top club, or will he fizzle into the "could have been" pile?
49. Herve Matthys, Anderlecht
Many in Belgium will speak of Wout Faes as a potential top-level talent in central defence, and his floppy, frizzy clump of hair matches David Luiz's, which gives him an extra edge of intrigue.
But Herve Matthys is the one who caught the eye this campaign. He's the captain, the organiser and plays a cool, calm demeanor for Anderlecht. Smooth on the ball and more alert to close down space than his partner, Nathan De Medina, Matthys is the standout player in the heart of the defence.
48. Gedion Zelalem, Arsenal
Gedion Zelalem is worth a watch almost solely because of his exquisite technique and passing ability, but you get the feeling he'd only be suited to sides that play exquisite football to match.
He has at least applied himself to playing off the ball and has shown improvement, particularly in anticipating attacks, but he remains a bit of a through-ball merchant, even to a fault.
It makes him a brilliant watch for entertainment/highlight-reel purposes but raises questions about his status at a professional club outside the elite.
47. Yakou Meite, Paris Saint-Germain
Yakou Meite is essentially chaos on legs—but in a good way. He's unpredictable and very positive, and the way that he storms forward creates a lot of ricochets and deflections in his area.
UEFA.com has him listed as a defender, but Meite typically plays off the flank and surges into the final third with the ball at his feet. His end product is unrefined, but he hashes out rough chances for himself and team-mates and has developed a habit of putting them away himself.
The Paris Saint-Germain coaching staff has really high hopes for him, as does the Ivory Coast national team.
46. Christian D'Urso, Roma
Roma ground out victories and tough draws on the way to their UEFA Youth League semi-final, arguably overachieving in their campaign. They were able to edge better sides because of their strong midfield, and Christian D'Urso caught the eye in the engine room fairly frequently.
He's a tough tackler and falls into position well. His game isn't overly fancy or even commanding like team-mate Lorenzo Pellegrini's, but he does the dirty work without fuss.
45. Xavi Quintilla, Barcelona
Xavi Quintilla doesn't look like a footballer in the way he plays—you know, in the same way Harry Kane looks a bit odd yet still excels—but it's hard to fault his tape.
He's an attacking left-back who is phenomenal on the ball, senses when to go forward well and overlaps/creates in the final third when space allows. His passing is clean and clear, and he doesn't panic under pressure in his own third.
44. Charly Musonda, Chelsea
Charly Musonda can take a game by storm, and his ability to play anywhere across the advanced midfield line will help him find a role. But unlike some others in the Chelsea team, his path to stardom looks less assured.
The Belgian can blow hot and cold, and his skinny frame means he sometimes drifts from games when the going gets tough. There's no doubting his technical brilliance, but does anyone remember Gael Kakuta?
Bonus information: He looks a lot like Paul Pogba.
43. Jerome Sinclair, Liverpool
If you score six in seven, you're bound to get noticed. Jerome Sinclair's expert finishing skills were one of the major talking points emanating from this season's UEFA Youth League.
He latches on to through balls and stutters toward goal in the same way Daniel Sturridge does—tap, tap, tap on the ball, tempting the defender into making a wrong move. Once he does, he burns the defender, jinks and finishes with aplomb.
The Reds' creative midfield did all the legwork, and Sinclair's finishing was the only part we truly ever saw. On occasion, he'd link up outside the box, but it was mostly him burying strikes. The jury's still out on his all-around skill set.
42. Mykola Matviyenko, Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar Donetsk didn't exactly bulldoze their way to the UEFA Youth League final, as their highest scorer in the competition was Vasyl Shtander with four goals.
Defensive aptitude and organisation have been the cornerstones upon which they've built their possession brand of control football, and Mykola Matviyenko is the leader at the back. The 18-year-old tackles, blocks and closes space well, playing close to his midfield line and reducing room for runners.
There are some aerial issues that plague the entire Waxtap team, Matviyenko included, but it's one negative among a sea of impressive traits.
41. Brandon Barker, Manchester City
Brandon Barker ended the UEFA Youth League campaign with four goals and three assists from seven appearances—not bad for the man largely playing opposite star attraction and focal point Thierry Ambrose.
Barker's style of play on the wing harks back to the olden days, as he simply beats his man and crosses the ball with accuracy. This youth league campaign has seen an emergence of players able to get wide and provide service to strikers in the air—a much-needed trait given the paucity of quality wing play among the professional ranks in 2015.
40. Ruben Macedo, FC Porto
Ruben Macedo is one of the most elusive midfielders in his age group, constantly looking to wriggle into a pocket of space and line up a shot.
The 19-year-old is a pretty playmaker, the type Portuguese clubs tend to produce, but he will likely end up playing higher up than most his nation are currently producing (Ruben Neves, Bernardo Silva, Joao Carvalho, etc.).
He's two-footed and quick, and he can bend an accurate strike from distance and hit the channels at pace on counter-attacks.
39. Jack Byrne, Manchester City
Jack Byrne's performances in the UEFA Youth League have led him to the cusp of Manchester City's first team. The Manchester Evening News' Simon Bajkowski reports he's training with them and will be in contention to make the final squads of the season.
He moves freely and gracefully and has shown adeptness for finding space on the pitch to receive the ball. He's never shy to take it under pressure and has excelled playing as a flat central midfielder linking the lines.
The one downside is he's a bit of a hothead. He can get upset quickly and found himself walking the disciplinary tightrope in the knockout stages. But he scored six goals in eight starts throughout the competition—a very healthy return.
38. Gilles Denayer, Anderlecht
Gilles Denayer gets the basics right and defends properly before pushing forward to influence in the final third. That sounds obvious for a full-back, but sadly, it's a chain of thought many modern players ignore.
Positionally, he's strong, which is a requirement because he's hardly quick. We pick him out because, unlike nearly every other young full-back in the competition, he plays in the way a traditionalist would love.
He's already of required size and reads the game well. He's like your non-flashy yet incredibly efficient Juanfran-type.
37. Toni Sanabria, Roma
Toni Sanabria has already been capped by Paraguay five times, but that is admittedly more of a scathing indictment on the lack of options the nation has post-Roque Santa Cruz.
He still flies under the radar across Europe due to being tucked away in the youth team, and he'll need to ensure he combines a little more responsibility in his buildup play to make the grade.
Put simply, he's a good finisher and has a great physical build, but he drifts from games and looks reluctant to do the dirty work to dig his side out of a hole. But should he round out his skill set, his potential is sky high.
36. Lionel Enguene, Barcelona
Lionel Enguene plays a little like Arsenal's Zelalem—a wand of a foot, picking passes and making good runs—but also has a little more grit about him on the defensive side of the game.
He reads the game well and can pick up key interceptions in dangerous areas from his advanced midfield position to spark attacks. The Gunners found this out firsthand last year in the competition.
His passing range suggests he could play in deeper midfield, but he looks like a snappy, opportunistic and technically excellent No. 10.
35. Franck Mikal, Anderlecht
Anderlecht No. 7 Franck Mikal isn't the star name many will point you to when surveying the Paars-wit's UEFA Youth League squad, but he's an interesting prospect for a number of reasons.
Playing off the right flank for the Belgian club, he's hardly the main attraction. They tend to play centrally and look to release Aaron Leya Iseka over the top whenever possible, so the flanks are something of a sideshow.
But when Mikal gets on the ball, he shoots forward at speed, dribbling not only with pace but also with fantastic close control and awareness. He interchanges and picks out passes well from just outside the box, and he can go for goal himself too.
Crucially, he's of Cameroonian decent. The Indomitable Lions are short of players with technical talent, and he could be a key feature in the years to come as they look to re-establish themselves as a force.
34. Viktor Kovalenko, Shakhtar Donetsk
Viktor Kovalenko is a favourite of the Shakhtar Donetsk academy staff, and they have high hopes for their blossoming No. 10.
He, like many of the Waxtap players, has been rotated into different roles in the side, and his tactical flexibility is a big plus in his favor as he angles for a first-team role.
Kovalenko is a goal-scoring midfielder who can make the difference in the final third. He's a bit big to play the No. 10 role conventionally, but he could end up as a support striker or jack-of-all-trades in the senior setup.
33. Jake Clarke-Salter, Chelsea
Playing next to Andreas Christensen, Chelsea's infamous young Danish centre-back, is a tough challenge for a player, largely because everyone focuses on Christensen and not the man beside him.
I was told as much by Jake Clarke-Salter's father after yet another match in which his son, the player in question, had played well but received little acclaim.
Clarke-Salter is a strong defender who tackles well and stands up physically with the best in his age group, but his best attribute is his passing. He pings beautiful balls of 50 to 60 yards across the park to switch play, sparking attacks from the back in seconds.
32. Joao Carvalho, Benfica
Joao Carvalho is a wonderfully skillful, athletic, driving midfielder who excels breaking into space. His role at the heart of Benfica's midfield cannot be understated, and he's become a key option for the Portugal youth setup too.
He's got fantastic agility, changing direction to dodge tackles and stray legs super fast, while he also keeps his passing reasonably simple (and therefore efficient) despite the likely temptation to do something extravagant.
He's just another exciting, promising midfield talent for Portugal to look forward to.
31. Ola Aina, Chelsea
Much has been said about Chelsea full-back Jay Dasilva's potential over the past two years, but Ola Aina has emerged on the opposite flank and given the club's fans two young full-backs to admire.
Playing at left-back or right-back, depending on the team's need, Aina is a powerful, aggressive runner who can bomb forward from the flanks and break between the lines. He possesses immense physicality and recovery speed—a huge plus point when considering his professional future—and works hard up and down the sideline.
There are still holes in his game—that's to be expected—but where many full-backs at this level clearly look like converted, trapped wingers, Aina is the perfect fit.
30. Denys Arendaruk, Shakhtar Donetsk
The coach quizzically left Denys Arendaruk on the bench for Shakhar Donetsk's semi-final against Anderlecht, as he opted for Oleksandr Hlahola instead. He'd later rectify that mistake with a substitution and see Arendaruk make the difference and score the goal to put the Ukrainian side ahead.
He's a direct, positive winger who can cross a good ball—the type of footballer Manchester United's Antonio Valencia used to be in 2010, when he was playing in his prime. Arendaruk doesn't overcomplicate things—much in the same way the aforementioned Barker doesn't—and keeps the width well when the Waxtap move forward through him.
Andriy Boryachuk, a clever, movement-based striker, seems to enjoy playing just inside of him for Shakhtar.
29. Sinan Kurt, Bayern Munich
Sinan Kurt will show immense promise in one game but fall flat in another. If he can hammer out some consistency and Bayern first-team manager Pep Guardiola is willing to help him do so, he could be fearsome.
His best position feels a little undefined as yet, though trials as a winger and as a centre-forward haven't looked nearly as impressive as his exploits in the middle, just off the striker.
He's two-footed and tricky, and he has a rasping shot on him along with a high footballing IQ. He finds space with ease as he drifts around off the ball.
28. Andriy Boryachuk, Shakhtar Donetsk
Boryachuk is a fleet-footed, nimble forward who has proved he can be malleable to most formations and circumstances. Shakhtar Donetsk's path to the final was far from easy, and he played a number of roles and showcased his varied game along the way.
He's quick enough to play over the shoulder, agile enough to drop between the lines and has a good first touch to make the ball stick. He struck the post in the semi-final and scored three goals in total, proving he's a finisher as well as a linker.
Intelligent movement in and around the box, in addition to these strengths, should ensure he has a professional career ahead of him.
27. Borja Mayoral, Real Madrid
The Real Madrid U19 team should be a scouting goldmine for other teams, as they know, with Los Blancos' galactico policy in place, very few—if any—of these players will breach the first-team setup.
Any scout who took in a Real Madrid game this year will have noticed Borja Mayoral, a superb, neat finisher with excellent technical ability and the braveness to run at players.
He's got a surefooted finish with left and right—an immensely valuable trait—and wriggles free of his markers in tight spaces with quick, tight turns on the spot.
26. Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roma
Lorenzo Pellegrini will have taken the UEFA Youth League more seriously than most. He's Roman-born and playing for his beloved club, and that connection tends to run deeper and more committed than most.
Some have compared him to Daniele De Rossi, not just for his lion-sized heart and pride in wearing the Giallorossi colours but for the dominance he exerts in midfield as he takes control of the game.
He scored a cracker to settle the quarter-final against Manchester City and was an ever-present for his side in its run to the semi-finals. He's already made a fleeting Serie A debut, and Roma first-team manager Rudi Garcia is a fan.
25. Dominic Solanke, Chelsea
Jose Mourinho has had Dominic Solanke in to train with the Chelsea first team on a number of occasions, and he declared last summer that if Solanke (along with a few others from the academy) doesn't one day play for England, then Mourinho himself would be to blame, per the Daily Mail's Oliver Todd.
Solanke finished the UEFA Youth League campaign with 12 goals from nine appearances. He's proven himself the ideal poacher for this Chelsea team, able to tuck away chances with aplomb and finesse in the box.
The question mark is with his all-around game. He hasn't had to create and link too heavily in such a talented side, so he hasn't had the chance to prove he can do the "other" bits a modern striker must do. Hopefully, we'll be privy to that chance soon.
24. Thierry Ambrose, Manchester City
Thierry Ambrose sticks out like a sore thumb in Manchester City's side, but for all the right reasons.
Unlike his aforementioned team-mate Ntcham, Ambrose makes sure he's involved in the game heavily despite playing from the wing. City tend to focus their play down the right flank, where he lines up, and give him as many chances to create chances as possible.
In a way, he's a bit like Yannick Bolasie: unpredictable with the ball at his feet with searing pace and dynamic short-area movement. He scores, creates and dribbles; he's a machine once he gets going.
23. Izzy Brown, Chelsea
Izzy Brown was poached from West Bromwich Albion's academy by Chelsea, and judging by his performances for the U19 side, there's no way the Baggies will ever receive an appropriate amount of compensation for his exit.
Playing just off the striker or on the flanks, he's an absolute live wire, capable of pinning down a full-back and wrestling him into submission. He's nifty, fast, positive and carves out clear-cut chances consistently—the golden ticket for a wide man to make the step to the elite tier.
He has a great relationship with Solanke, and they link up superbly.
22. Renato Sanches, Benfica
Renato Sanches looks like an absolute nightmare to play against. Not only is he quick and tricky, but he also has a very good conventional skill set and can choose to simplify things if he wants.
Playing off the left flank is his preference, but he can also play right. He's shown "modern" winger skills in terms of cutting in, using misdirection and threading passes, and also "traditional" winger skills in skinning a man and crossing from the byline.
If his game translates to the professional level, we're all in trouble.
21. Jordan Rossiter, Liverpool
Some Liverpool fans have already labelled Jordan Rossiter the "Next Steven Gerrard." No pressure, then.
Playing in defensive midfield as a crunching, battering ram of a No. 6, Rossiter starts deep but piles forward with menace and physicality, barreling over opposition players as he hunts for the ball.
He's got a strike on him, as his goal against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup clearly indicates, and he has the attractive quality of being able to surge forward on a run that ends in something positive most of the time.
Rossiter leads even without the armband, and he's wise in football beyond his years.
20. Marco Hingerl, Bayern Munich
Marco Hingerl was perhaps the standout player in Bayern Munich's UEFA Youth League campaign, taking on the box-to-box role fans of the club adore and getting himself into attacking areas.
He scored two and assisted two, doing his best to drive his side into the final third. He wears the captain's armband, and that shows in his determined way of playing.
Hingerl has picked up a regular spot in Germany's youth squads as a result of his strong form and looks to be moving from strength to strength.
19. Jean-Kevin Augustin, Paris Saint-Germain
Jean-Kevin Augustin's form for Paris Saint-Germain's U19 squad has earned him a professional contract with the club. Given the riches available to Les Parisiens and the players they are able to buy, it's a real achievement to seal a deal.
The reason why PSG extended him is because of his immensely cool finishing. He's dynamite in the box, trusting his close control and level head to fool the 'keeper and slot home. He's been seen rounding the 'keeper from just six yards out—a testament to his own self-confidence.
The question, though, is will he ever get the game time at PSG to succeed?
18. Mile Svilar, Anderlecht
Mile Svilar, son of Yugoslavian goalkeeper Ratko Svilar, is turning heads despite being just 15 years of age. He's too short to come close to professional action in 2015, but clubs will keep a beady eye on him to see how tall he gets.
Why? Because he's a bit like Inspector Gadget—his arms seem to elongate on chains, miraculously shooting out to claim crosses, stop shots and tip headers over the bar. Some goalkeepers are capable of morphing into unbeatable mode for 90 minutes on occasion, and it seems Svilar could be one of those.
17. Daniele Verde, Roma
Daniele Verde is already making waves on the senior scene, making his first start in February against Cagliari and crowning it with two assists. He earned that spot in Rudi Garcia's squad due to his exploits with the youth squad, though, and the manager didn't pick him just because of his fantastic beard-hair combination.
He's a springy, tricky midfielder who looks perfectly suited to a wide forward role. His feet are exceptionally quick and his stepovers leave you in a daze if you stare for too long.
The excitement he brings to the pitch gives the crowd a reason to roar; the Giallorossi will be hoping for big things out of the Naples-born boy.
16. Sheyi Ojo, Liverpool
It's amazing to think Sheyi Ojo is just 17. The way he takes hold of a game and seizes the initiative make him appear mature beyond his years.
He made five appearances for Liverpool in the UEFA Youth League before joining Wigan Athletic on loan, tasting consistent first-team football in the Championship despite his clear inexperience.
Ojo is capable of the much-fabled moment of magic—the long-range golazo or the weaving assist that changes the game in favour of his team. He's a live wire with the ball at his feet and looks capable of playing in a number of roles across the midfield.
15. Beka Vachiberadze, Shakhtar Donetsk
Beka Vachiberadze is a wonderful little player, and the key to his future is how Shakhtar Donetsk—or if not them, whichever club he joins after—utilise his talents.
He plays deep in midfield as a controller and a recycler but does not boast the typical skill set of a destroyer. He's calm and composed and initiates periods of pressure for his own team much in the same way a smaller player like Ashley Westwood would.
Because of his small size (5'6"), he's a difficult one to place; a team may have to build around him to incorporate him. He could also force his own involvement in games more often—he has a tendency to take 10 minutes out.
14. Andreas Christensen, Chelsea
Andreas Christensen is clearly one of the finest central defenders of his age group. The man much maligned by the Daily Mail for supposedly earning £20,000 per week—the player's father later claimed this was false in an interview with Ekstra Bladet (h/t We Ain't Got No History)—could well end up being worth every penny anyway.
The only drawback is he's a bit skinny. He'll need to pack on some muscle to move into a senior position at any club, as he'll be facing bulldozing strikers on a weekly basis. Jose Mourinho's decision to play him at right-back in the cup on his debut was likely influenced by this. Once his body has caught up, he'll be all set. His football IQ is off the charts, and he's a cool, calm leader in the defensive line.
Jake Clarke-Salter, his regular defensive partner, benefits immensely from Christensen's presence.
13. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Arsenal
Ainsley Maitland-Niles has all the tools required to blossom as a star. He's technically unbelievable—one of the best on this list—and is physically developed beyond his years. Not only can he flummox you with twists, turns and flicks, but he can also burn past you with immense pace and strength.
He's played on the wing, slightly deeper in midfield and in an advanced position, largely fitting in around centre-piece Dan Crowley, so his true position isn't set just yet. He's not as consistently destructive as you'd like, but at 17, he has plenty of time to find that groove.
12. Andy Kawaya, Anderlecht
Once you notice Andy Kawaya, it's impossible to take your eyes off of him.
The 18-year-old Belgian picked up six assists during the UEFA Youth League, garnering himself a reputation as something of an unstoppable force driving forward. His passing, flashy dribbling and remarkably consistent end product bode incredibly well for the future.
The big question mark is which position he will come to play. He's small (5'8", 170 lbs), perhaps a little lightweight, but is at his best surging from deep and taking players on.
11. Harry Wilson, Liverpool
Harry Wilson's already a relatively big name, and his rise to prominence as a kid prompted Wales to cap him and stash him as a future international in 2013. He replaced Gareth Bale as the youngest-ever debutant.
But for the last two years, he's been kept from the limelight in studious fashion, his skills only available if taking in the UEFA Youth League or watching the U21s.
It's very, very easy to see why he's considered such a precocious talent. He oozes class and skill, with superior dribbling ability to most and immense movement on the ball. He has a wand of a left foot, has mastered set pieces, shoots with strong technique and works hard to close the opposition down, forcing mistakes.
At 18, he's still got much to learn in terms of decision-making, but boy is he one to get excited about.
10. Aaron Leya Iseka, Anderlecht
It must run in the blood!
Aaron Leya Iseka, younger brother of Marseille prospect Michy Batshuayi, finished second in scoring in the UEFA Youth League after netting nine for Anderlecht.
The 17-year-old is the coolest finisher at this level you'll find—when slotted through one vs. one, he has the calm of a seasoned pro. He buzzes about looking for mistakes to pounce upon and takes a Mario Balotelli-esque penalty.
9. Jack Harper, Real Madrid
Jack Harper joined the Real Madrid academy in 2009 and has emerged as one of its brightest prospects. It's not often you say that about a Scotsman and future Scotland international.
He plays primarily as a No. 10 and does his damage slipping between the lines. His one-touch passing and instinctive movement make him a David Silva-esque threat when threading passes into the box.
Harper can play wide, but he's at his best centrally. His touch and technique are astounding, and his awareness of runners off the ball is second to none among his age group.
8. Charlie Colkett, Chelsea
Charlie Colkett is an incredibly enticing prospect. He reminds me a little of Dan Crowley of Arsenal in the way he moves and manipulates the ball, but he's also got the flair many English midfielders can only dream of.
He's emerged this season as a real star, captaining his side on occasion and standing an ever-present in Chelsea's UEFA Youth League win with 10 appearances. His tricks and flicks are only brought out when necessary; otherwise, he's an incredibly trustworthy player on the ball despite not being blessed with great pace.
His passing is superb, his finishing is clean, and his intelligence on the pitch is astounding.
7. Jay Dasilva, Chelsea
Jay Dasilva is seriously coming of age, and his performance against Roma in the semi-finals, when he single-handedly blunted first-team fringer Daniele Verde, was brilliant.
He's a consistent performer at left-back for Chelsea and has all the tools required. He attacks well when appropriate, defends his flank properly and has recovery pace to die for.
His decision-making in the final third could use some work, but he's 16. It'll come. He's a definite possible England international and full starter at left-back.
6. Leroy Sane, Schalke 04
Leroy Sane only ended up making four appearances in the UEFA Youth League before being whisked into the first team. When you're ready to play, Schalke aren't shy about making that happen.
His performance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu affirmed what we know about him as a player: He's ambitious, creative, intent on creating chances and boasts remarkable technique. He's also got that knack of being in the right place at the right time, making him a real danger inside 25 yards.
5. Abdelhak Nouri, Ajax
Abdelhak Nouri's quick feet are mesmerising. It's difficult to truly explain in words how flabbergastingly fast he moves his legs when deceiving his opponents with misdirection.
Some use stepovers unnecessarily—remember the 18-year-old version of Cristiano Ronaldo—but Nouri's moves all carry purpose. And that purpose is to place his markers on their backsides. Operating off the left, he's deadly cutting into the box and weighing up a pass, cross or jink to one side.
He's got a hell of a shot on him when required, and his outstanding close control allows him to dominate centrally if asked to come inside.
4. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, if given the correct exposure to first-team football at the right time, will become a world football star. But the longer he's trapped playing youth football, the more that window to stardom closes.
He's a bully at this level, standing nearly 6'4" with broad shoulders and a thick air of confidence. His feet are amazing considering his size, and he breezes through midfields with ease when he's in the mood. He also has strong defensive instincts, checking over his shoulder constantly and tracking late runs into his own box.
With the right tuition, he can be one of the best, and the market for his type—a graceful yet powerful deep midfielder who can push forward—is ripe.
3. Gianluca Gaudino, Bayern Munich
The only thing working against Gianluca Gaudino right now is a lack of strength; having not long turned 18 years of age, he's mixing with players twice his size when he turns out for the senior side.
His penchant for the long pass, slicing through defences, is similar to Gedion Zelalem's. But sometimes he forces it and gives up possession when the simpler option was on.
When he plays for the Bayern first XI, he's trusted with the ball in deep areas—a mark of serious appreciation for his skill and a level of respect from players years his senior. He can go on to be a top-level metronome and recycler of possession while mixing in 60-yard balls.
2. Jeremie Boga, Chelsea
Jeremie Boga is thickset, low to the ground and has a blockish look to his physique. But despite all that, he seemingly moves at the speed of light out of his breaks.
He's got the wiggle and dribble that you can't teach, and his ability to burst into space after a sure first touch to take it past his man on the half-turn is astonishing. Playing from behind the striker or on either flank, he's an absolute menace.
Boga is a goal threat, a creator, but more than anything, a bringer of havoc. He rips defensive structures at this level apart with ease.
1. Dan Crowley, Arsenal
Before this season's UEFA Youth League, Dan Crowley was nothing more than a whisper of hope emanating from the Arsenal academy. Now, though, with a season against European counterparts under his belt, we can verify he's the real deal.
Plucked from the Aston Villa academy having already captained England at several age groups, Crowley is a calm controller who dominates the midfield and dictates play. He's goal-happy, assist-happy, key pass-happy and takes the game by the scruff of the neck.
He's a set-piece specialist and an overall leader to his peers. Basically, there's very little to pick out that isn't already very, very good.