B/R Football Ranks: The 10 Best Teenagers in World Football

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 6, 2020

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 01: Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 01, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
B/R

Who is the best teenager in world football?

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the answer to that question was probably Jadon Sancho, the Borussia Dortmund dynamo who was on track for a 20-goal, 20-assist Bundesliga season until the coronavirus pandemic forced football to pause.

But March 25 saw Sancho turn 20, leaving his teens behind forever and creating a vacancy on the throne—a vacancy B/R has decided must be filled.

A shortlist of more than 40 sensationally talented teens has been reduced to 10 and then ranked on ability now. With Sancho, Joao Felix, Matthijs De Ligt and Kai Havertz all into their 20s, there's space for new names to rise to the fore.

Here they are; get acquainted with them.


               

Honourable Mentions

Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus, on loan at Parma)

Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)

Sergino Dest (Ajax)

Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea)

                

10. Sandro Tonali, 19, Central Midfielder

Brescia

BRESCIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 09:  Sandro Tonali of Brescia Calcio looks on during the Serie A match between Brescia Calcio and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Mario Rigamonti on February 9, 2020 in Brescia, Italy.  (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

No one believes the Sandro Tonali hype more than Sandro Tonali himself.

Asked in October by Rai Sport (h/t Football Italia) to compare himself to an Italian legend, he went with multiple answers: 

"It's tough to pick one of those champions. Maybe a mix of all of them would be perfect. I guess there are similarities with [Andrea] Pirlo in a way, but I also put a lot of grit in there, so maybe more [Gennaro] Gattuso."

Despite playing in a poor side, Tonali has stood out consistently this season, controlling play from deep, protecting the ball well and using both feet to distribute. He scored a glorious free-kick from close to the touchline against Genoa in October too.

He boasts some mobility that allows him to get about the pitch and stick a foot in, in addition to some maturity when competing in tough circumstances—Brescia are nine points from safety as things stand.

            

9. Gabriel Martinelli, 18, Forward

Arsenal

PIRAEUS, GREECE - FEBRUARY 20:  Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal is challenged by Ruben Semedo of Olympiacos FC during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg match between Olympiacos FC and Arsenal FC at Karaiskakis Stadium on February 20, 2020 in Pira
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Martinelli is the epitome of your attacking X-factor. He is a question mark, has explosive unpredictability and is wired to do something—but you can never be sure what.

That he's got 10 goals this season in limited minutes illuminates the kind of impact he tends to have. Jostling for a spot in an attack containing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe isn't easy, but he's been more convincing than the latter two have over the past seven months.

You can play him left, right or centrally. It doesn't matter. Give him the ball, and he'll fashion something, clean or scruffy, when you need it the most—like his goal against Chelsea in January or his cross at the death against Southampton in November.

There's plenty of growing for Martinelli to do, particularly on the aesthetic side of his game, but a player who has his habit of making things happen so frequently is one you can earmark early for the top level.

                

8. Vinicius Junior, 19, Winger

Real Madrid

Vinicius Junior of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on February 26, 2020 in Madrid, Spain(Photo by ANP Sport via Getty Images)
ANP Sport/Getty Images

There's plenty of finessing for Vinicius still to do, but over the past year we've seen him start to make good on his sky-high potential.

He's heavily involved in games already, demanding the ball and looking to beat players. He's shown the speed, dribbling ability and X-factor that attracted Real Madrid to him in the first place, and he's started some big contests—El Clasico, the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Manchester City—and played well in them.

All that's missing, seemingly, is that finishing touch in the box. Once he develops a calmness in front of goal at the Bernabeu—something we have seen while he's wearing Brazil's colours—he'll be a true weapon, with something to offer at the end of his slinking, dazzling runs.

Right now, he impacts games; soon, though, he'll be deciding them.

              

7. Rodrygo, 19, Forward

Real Madrid 

VALLADOLID, SPAIN - JANUARY 26: Rodrygo of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander  match between Real Valladolid v Real Madrid at the Stadium Jose Zorrilla on January 26, 2020 in Valladolid Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Certain players just look unfazed, no matter the scenario. Rodrygo is one of those.

Aged just 19, having not long moved continents and now playing at one of Europe's most intense and demanding stadiums, you would forgive him if he looked a little nervous.

However, he is calmness personified, and his polished skill set—inclusive of low, curled shots and whipped crosses—adds to that aura. He doesn't rush anything; all actions are measured and precise.

Rodrygo announced himself with a perfect hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League this season but has had to make do with a bit-part role for the most part because of the competition for places.

It seems only a matter of time before he's troubling Zinedine Zidane for weekly selection, though, and his clear bond with Karim Benzema will only help his cause there.

             

6. William Saliba, 19, Defender

Arsenal (on loan at Saint-Etienne)

Saint-Etienne's French defender William Saliba gestures during the French L1 football match between Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne (ASSE) on October 20, 2019, at the Matmut Atlantique stadium in Bordeaux, southwestern France. (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP) (P
NICOLAS TUCAT/Getty Images

2019-20 hasn't been the developmental campaign for Saliba that Arsenal will have been hoping for because of two injuries.

But the Frenchman's talent is not in question, and in the 16 starts he has made for Saint-Etienne this term, he's shown all the traits the Gunners fell in love with last summer.

Saliba's positionally smart, can recover if required, does well in the air and, crucially, looks smooth on the ball.

There aren't many centre-backs who emanate an ultimate calmness, but Saliba is one. It's the key reason why he is reminiscent of Raphael Varane and Virgil van Dijk at times.

Tucked away in Ligue 1, there are many who still won't have had a proper look at this kid. But he's excellent, and it won't be long before the world knows it.

                

5. Eduardo Camavinga, 17, Central Midfielder

Rennes

Rennes' French midfielder Eduardo Camavinga (C) fights for the ball against Marseille's French defender Valentin Rongier (L) during the French L1 Football match between Stade Rennais Football Club and Olympique de Marseille, on January 10, 2020, at the Ro
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/Getty Images

Along with Tonali, Camavinga's the only other player on this list who doesn't belong to one of Europe's biggest clubs—but you'd imagine that changes for both of them soon enough.

Camavinga won't turn 18 until November, yet he's already got a year of senior football under his belt. It was on April 6 last year that he made his debut for Rennes, finding his feet at the senior level before breaking out at the start of 2019-20.

He's averaged a combined 5.6 tackles and interceptions per game this season, is a good carrier of the ball from deep and keeps things pretty simple in the passing game. Retrieve, carry, lay it off.

At 6'0" aged 17, he's likely to grow at least a little more, meaning he'll soon cut an imposing figure striding through the centre of the park, locking things down—the kind of player every club wants and needs but not all clubs can afford.

             

4. Ansu Fati, 17, Forward

Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 07: Anssumane Fati and Jordi Alba of FC Barcelona goal then disallowed by VAR decision during the Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad at Camp Nou on March 07, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Fati has shown over the past eight months that he can kick it with some of the best attackers in world football without a hitch.

He boasts an incredible ability to wriggle out of tight situations, utilising both burst and brilliant ball manipulation to escape from markers. His shooting is good, and we've seen him score with both feet and from different ranges. He can either cut in and strike or hit the byline before crossing.

All of these traits have endeared him to Barcelona players and fans, but the simplest key to his early success is that he has a clear understanding and connection with Lionel Messi—one that €120 million man Antoine Griezmann has yet to develop.

All of this at age 17 is quite incredible.

             

3. Phil Foden, 19, Midfielder

Manchester City

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Phil Foden of Manchester City celebrates victory after the Carabao Cup Final between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on March 01, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus)
Visionhaus/Getty Images

There are plenty who are frustrated with Pep Guardiola's extreme tempering of Foden's City career, and when you compare it to what Sancho has achieved elsewhere, that's understandable.

Guardiola is adamant Foden will enjoy the career we expect him to, affirming that as recently as March after the 19-year-old stole the show in the Carabao Cup final win against Aston Villa.

It's performances like that which raise expectations and hopes and underline just how talented a midfield schemer he is. There isn't room for him in City's midfield, but post-David Silva there will be, and Foden's remarkable technical talent and tactical awareness will be on show more regularly soon.

Don't let the fact that we don't see him that often fool you; he is a 19-year-old central midfielder who is good enough to play for one of the best teams in the world.

              

2. Alphonso Davies, 19, Full-Back/Winger

Bayern Munich 

Bayern Munich's Canadian midfielder Alphonso Davies plays the ball during the German first division Bundesliga football match FC Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg in Munich, southern Germany on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP) / DFL REGULATIONS P
CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

Throw it back to October 2019, when the B/R Football Ranks podcast travelled to Munich to speak to Alphonso Davies, and he talked through the challenges facing him as he transitioned from winger to left-back.

"Left-back has to be one of the toughest ones; you need the stamina to defend and attack," he said. "Playing that position, you have to have a lot of endurance. Your positioning has to be spot on as well. If you don't look at your back line, and you're the last guy, you get hammered."

He admitted on the day that he didn't like the position—and has done since, on Instagram Live. Yet in April 2020, he is among the best left-backs in the world, and given his age (19), he's arguably the most valuable one.

He has the recovery speed, positional intelligence and inherent attacking instincts to be a force on the left—and as we've seen against top-tier opponents like RB Leipzig and Chelsea this year, he's putting those tools to work.

        

      

1. Erling Haaland, 19, Striker

Borussia Dortmund

BREMEN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 22: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Bundesliga match between SV Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund at Wohninvest Weserstadion on February 22, 202
DeFodi Images/Getty Images

It's tough to recall another example of someone making as instant an impact as the one Erling Haaland has early on in his Dortmund career.

A hat-trick off the bench on his debut, two braces in the games that followed and a double against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League—one of which was a true rocket of a strike—have given his side an extremely sharp edge and has transformed its image in the process.

It's the sort of impact only a star can make. Not a rising star. A star—one who is all too happy to take command of a situation and make the difference on a regular basis.

With the pause in effect, it gives teams a chance to get a little more savvy with his tendencies and a little better prepared for his calling cards: that eyebrow-raising blend of speed and strength, his near-post runs across the defender, timed to the nanosecond, and his range of lashed and caressed finishes.

          

Listen to Sam every Wednesday on the B/R Football Ranks podcast. Subscribe here. 

       

Follow @stighefootball

Instagram.com/brsamtighe

All statistics via WhoScored.com.

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