Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil Among Top 25 Young Footballers in World

Vijay MuraliAnalyst ISeptember 18, 2010

Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil Among Top 25 Young Footballers in World

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    ROME, ITALY - MAY 27:  Cristiano Ronaldo (R) of Manchester United FC and Lionel Messi of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Barcelona and Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico on May 27, 2009 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Claud
    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    It is said that the prime years of a footballer are from ages 26 to 29. However, there are a lot of marvelous footballers who are younger than the aforementioned age, and makes us wonder how good they will be when they do reach their prime ages.

    Most of these footballers are currently plying their trade at top football clubs and have caught the eye of many with their wonderful performances. Teams like Barcelona, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and of late, Real Madrid have all got a lot of youngsters in their starting XI, and these footballers will only continue to improve.

    In this slideshow, I have tried to include most of the talented young players, but I may have missed out on some important players. Please do comment and let me know my errors.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona reacts after scoring his sides third goal during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Barcelona and Panathinaikos on September 14, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Ge
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Does this genius need any introduction? The Barcelona prodigy is already one of the world's best, if not the best and has excelled in the domestic and European competitions. He is an integral part of this Barcelona team and has already broken many club records.

    At only 23 years of age and already a winner of the prestigious Ballon D' Or, it is frightening to think how much better he can be at the age of 26 or so. It is just a privilege for us that the Argentine plays in this era of football.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

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    MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and AFC Ajax at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Im
    Angel Martinez/Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo is a brilliant footballer, and along with Lionel Messi, he is currently amongst the best footballers of this generation. Ronaldo can play as a winger or as a centre forward, and is already a Ballon d' Or winner.

    He was sold by Manchester United for a record transfer worth 90 million. In his 2007-08 at Old Trafford, he scored a record 42 goals helping Manchester United win both the EPL and Champions League. He is still rated as the best footballer at present by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

Luis Suarez (Ajax)

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    AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 25:  Luis Suarez of AFC Ajax in action during the Champions League Play-off match between AFC Ajax and FC Dynamo Kiev at Amsterdam Arena on August 25, 2010 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Image
    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Luis Suarez was infamous for his handball against Ghana, which helped Uruguay reach the Semifinals of World Cup 2010. For the next few years though, Suarez will make the headlines for his incredible talent that he has. He scored more than 40 goals for Ajax last season, and was a transfer target for many top clubs.

    Suarez is a two-footed complete striker, who also has good aerial ability. He has great potential and will surely be among one of the best strikers in the world in the next few years.

Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15:  Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal scores from the penalty spot during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Arsenal and SC Braga at the Emirates Stadium on September 15, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Get
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    At only 23 years of age, he is already the inspirational captain of Arsenal. The Spanish international joined the North London club from FC Barcelona at the tender age of 16, and has developed into a world class midfielder.

    Fabregas is seen as heir-apparent to the legendary Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona and has been the subject of transfer speculation over the past few years. However, it has not affected the midfielder's performances for Arsenal, and he remains to be the key player for Arsenal. He topped the goals and assists tally for Arsenal last year and will look to continue the good form this year as well.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Manchester United and Rangers at Old Trafford on September 14, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Get
    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Wayne Rooney carried the hope of millions of England fans, but sadly, could not play to his immense potential. He is a world class centre forward, and is rated by many to be the best striker in the English Premier League.

    The former Everton player has really taken centre stage for Manchester United, following the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo and had his best season last year, scoring 34 goals, which made a lot of people talk of him in the same breath as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)

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    MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and AFC Ajax at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
    Angel Martinez/Getty Images

    Mesut Ozil is an integral member of the Germany team and proved his worth by performing wonderfully in South Africa. Ozil was signed by Jose Mourinho for Real Madrid for this season, and already, he is becoming an important player for the Los Blancos.

    Ozil was sold for a reported 15 million by Werder Bremen, who cashed in on the star, because he was into the last year of the World Cup. He was linked with many clubs and moved to Real Madrid to become another one of the Galacticos. 

Gerard Pique (Barcelona)

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    SANTANDER, SPAIN - AUGUST 29:  Gerard Pique of Barcelona waits for play to resume during the La Liga match between Racing Santander and Barcelona at El Sardinero stadium on August 29, 2010 in Santander, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    A product of Barcelona's youth academy, he had a four years of a not-so-successful stint with Manchester United and returned to his hometown in 2008. From there on, he has formed a very strong partnership with Carles Puyol for Barcelona and Spain, helping the teams win numerous trophies.

    Tall and strong, he is also technically gifted for a defender and brings out the ball from the back on a lot of occasions. He has a swagger about him and is one of the most gifted defenders in Europe.  

Joe Hart (Manchester City)

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  Joe Hart of Manchester City in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at City of Manchester Stadium on August 23, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/G
    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    It may be considered a surprise inclusion in this list by some, but believe me, he is one of the finest young goalkeepers in the world today. He has shown that he has the talent to be a top keeper and at only 23, he has already established himself as the No. 1 keeper for England.

    For his club Manchester City, he has to face tough competition from the experienced Shay Given, but has the faith of the manager Roberto Mancini, and has been impressive this season so far, barring his lone error against Blackburn Rovers.

Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31:  Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal in action during the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and AC Milan at Emirates Stadium on July 31, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Thomas Vermaelen, the former Ajax captain, joined Arsenal in the previous season and has proved to be a revelation for the North London club. He is now an integral member of the side, and along with Fabregas, Robin van Persie, and Andrei Arshavin, forms the core of the team.

    At only 24 years of age, he has still got room for development and can be one of the world's best defenders in the future years. He is not afraid to put in hard tackles and he is also good in the air, which also helps him to chip in with some very important goals for the club.

Alexandre Pato (AC Milan)

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    MILAN, ITALY - AUGUST 29:  Pato of AC Milan celebrates the opening goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and US Lecce at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on August 29, 2010 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Alexandre Pato is one of the most exciting young prospects in the world, and at only 21 years of age, he is already an important player for AC Milan. After being controversially excluded from the World Cup, he has been recalled to the Brazilian team by the new manager.

    Pato is also a prolific goal scorer and also broke the legendary Pele's record for being the youngest player to score a goal in a FIFA competition. He has a bright future ahead of him and has already shown he is capable of achieving big things in the future. 

Alex Song (Arsenal)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09:  Alex Song of Arsenal runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 match between Arsenal and FC Porto at the Emirates Stadium on March 9, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Again, I think Song's inclusion in this list might not be agreed by some, but he has shown that he has the makings of a truly world class defensive midfielder in the mould of Javier Mascherano or Michael Essien. He has come a long way in the previous season and will continue to develop under the tutelage of Wenger.

    He is an integral member of the Arsenal team and can also play in defence when required. His passing is awry at times, but with time on his side at only 23 years of age, he can grow up to be one of the best in his role.

Gareth Bale (Tottenham)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur during a Pre-Season Friendly between Tottenham Hotspur and  Villarreal at White Hart Lane on July 29, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
    Phil Cole/Getty Images

    Gareth Bale has established his place in Tottenham's starting XI and provides great width from the wings. He also has the ability to conjure magic and create goals from nothing. He will be a trouble for all right backs, who will find his pace and skill difficult to deal with.

    He initially struggled in the Premier League, but in the previous season, he excelled in the role of a winger and has shown he has the talent to be one of the best in the EPL. He can also play as a left back, which is an added advantage for the manager.

Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax)

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    AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - AUGUST 25:  Gregory Van Der Wiel of AFC Ajax in action during the Champions League Play-off match between AFC Ajax and FC Dynamo Kiev at Amsterdam Arena on August 25, 2010 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Ge
    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Gregory Van Der Wiel is another of Ajax's impressive youth academy products. The competent right back is known for his speedy runs down the right wing and is also very good at defending. He has been excellent in the last couple of seasons, which has made him a regular for the Dutch club.

    He has also established himself in the Netherlands team, and was an integral member of the side that reached the World Cup Final. He was awarded the Johan Cruijff award for the "Young Player of the Year."

Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich)

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    PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 10:  Thomas Mueller of Germany in action during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Third Place Play-off match between Uruguay and Germany at The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on July 10, 2010 in Port Elizabeth, South Afr
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Thomas Mueller is one of Germany's prodigious young talents and has established himself in the Bayern Munich lineup. At only 21, he has shown remarkable composure in front of goal, and in the future, he will be a real force to reckon with.

    He is also a regular for Germany and in the World Cup, he had five goals and three assists to his name, winning the Golden Boot award and the award for the Young Player of the Tournament. Under the tutelage of Louis Van Gaal, he has done remarkably well and will continue to develop as a player.

Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

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    DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 07:  Miroslav Klose of Germany challenges Sergio Busquets of Spain during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Semi Final match between Germany and Spain at Durban Stadium on July 7, 2010 in Durban, South Africa.  (Photo by Jas
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    A product of the Barcelona youth academy, Sergio Busquets has established himself as a starter in the very talented Bacrelona lineup. The manager Pep Guardiola has huge faith in the youngster, promoting him ahead of Yaya Toure in the last season.

    He also established himself as a regular for Spain last year, and started every game in the World Cup, in which they were triumphant. He is still very young, but has shown immense talent and composure to excel at the highest level. 

Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon)

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    LYON, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 14:  Yoann Gourcuff of Lyon during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Olympique Lyonnais and FC Schalke 04 at the Stade de Gerland on September 14, 2010 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Despite a disappointing World Cup for the France international, he is regarded as one of the finest attacking midfielders across the world. He has got good creativity and vision, and has been very influential for his club. He was one of the most important players for his former club Bordeaux in the last couple of seasons, before he signed for Lyon this year.

    Gourcuff is also a good set-piece taker and even though he was not great for France in the World Cup, he has got the talent to be great for club and country.

David Silva (Manchester City)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14:  David Silva of Manchester City in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at White Hart Lane on August 14, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
    Phil Cole/Getty Images

    David Silva is an immensely talented player, who has also represented Spain in a lot of matches. He signed for Manchester City from Valencia, this year for a fee of around 25 million. Silva is a versatile player, and is comfortable playing as a winger or as a second striker.

    He has not been able to establish himself at City, so far, but he will be an integral part of the side in the near future. His chemistry with David Villa helped Valencia attain a Champions League place and he will look to establish himself as a regular for club and country.

Angel di Maria (Real Madrid)

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    MADRID, SPAIN - AUGUST 24:  Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid in action during the Santiago Bernabeu Trophy match between Real Madrid and Penarol at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on August 24, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Angel di Maria impressed everyone with his stunning performances for Benefica in the last season, which led to him being signed by Jose Mourinho for Real Madrid. Di Maria has a lot of flair and can play on both wings. He is also a regular for Argentina and is an important player for the South American side.

    Di Maria has shown he has immense talent and Mourinho has shown confidence in the youngster. He can still improve as a player, and under Mourinho, he will learn more about the tactical side of the game. He also scored for Argentina in the Olympics final, which secured them the gold medal.

Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg)

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    PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 19:  Simon Kjaer of Denmark directs his team mates during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group E match between Cameroon and Denmark at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 19, 2010 in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo
    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Simon Kjaer was linked with numerous clubs this season including Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United, but joined Wolfsburg from Palermo this year for an undisclosed fee close to 10 million. Aged only 21, he can develop into a very good defender in the future and certainly has the attributes required.

    He anticipates the situations well, and has good technique and aerial ability. He was called up for the Denmark team for the World Cup and produced some impressive displays in the prestigious tournament. He is one for the future and will hope to realise his enormous potential.

Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid)

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    MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his sides second goal during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and Ajax at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (P
    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Gonzalo Higuain was the leading goal scorer for Real Madrid in the previous season, and also topped the scoring charts for Argentina in the World Championship. At only 22, he has a huge future ahead of him and he is already playing alongside great players like Ronaldo and Kaka.

    He can only improve from here and will hope to establish himself as one of the world's greatest strikers in the future. The talented Argentine has great technique and is also good in the air, making him a lethal striker.

Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona)

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    BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 25: Pedro Rodriguez of Barcelona in action during the Joan Gamper Trophy match between Barcelona and AC Milan at Camp Nou stadium on August 25, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
    Denis Doyle/Getty Images

    Pedro Rodriguez has grown into the Barcelona team in the last season, and his impressive performances saw him selected for Spain for the World Cup. Following Fernando Torres' poor form, he was given starts in both the semifinal and final of the International competition. He displaced Thierry Henry from the 2008-09 team and went on to establish his place in the Barcelona team.

    He is a two-footed player, and can play on both winger or as a second striker. His versatility provides a lot of options for his manager, and Guardiola has high hopes for the young lad. In the future years, we will see more of Pedro, who can have a glittering career if he builds on his impressive start to his career.

Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg)

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    VILLARREAL, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 18:  Edin Dzeko of Wolfsburg in action during the UEFA Europa League football match between Villarreal CF and VFL Wolfsburg at El Madrigal stadium on February 18, 2010 in Villarreal, Spain. Villarreal and Wolfsburg tie 2-2.  (
    Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

    Edin Dzeko was chased by a number of prestigious clubs, notably Juventus and Manchester City throughout this summer, but remained with Wolfsburg for this season. The Bosnian striker, who also captains the side, has been very impressive for the Bundesliga side, and was the top scorer of the league last year.

    He was also Bundesliga players' German Footballer of the Year for the 2008-09 season after notching up numerous marvellous performances for the club. The huge footballer standing at 6'4", has good technique and is also very good in the air. At 24, he has a bright future ahead of him.

Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10:  Mario Balotelli of Italy in action during the international friendly match between Italy and Ivory Coast at The Boleyn Ground on August 10, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    The Italian youngster possesses a lot of flair and technique and can play as a winger and as a striker. He was signed by Roberto Mancini, for Manchester City from Inter Milan, this season. He is no stranger to controversy and has had disciplinary issues in the past, which even resulted in him being temporarily, thrown out of the squad by Jose Mourinho.

    But the Italian, undeniably, has the potential to develop into the world's greatest players. He can create goals out of nothing and can prove to be the difference for his team. Mancini has handled the hot-headed youngster in the past, and will hope to bring the best out of him.

Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 21:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates his third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Blackpool at The Emirates Stadium on August 21, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Theo Walcott shot to fame when he was selected for the 2006 World Cup for England at the age of 17, but he did not play a single minute for England in that competition. Walcott was then signed by Arsenal from Southampton, and looked to continue his development. Injuries and his inconsistent form saw him excluded from the squad for the 2010 World Cup, but bounced back from the disappointment scoring four goals from three games before getting injured in an international.

    He is still very young at 21, and he has shown that he can develop to be a great player. His pace will help him beat defenders with ease, and even though he has to develop, do not be surprised if he becomes one of the feared players in the next couple of years.

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)

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    PASADENA, CA - AUGUST 07:  Sergio Ramos #4 of Real Madrid during the pre-season friendly soccer match against Los Angeles Galaxy on August 7, 2010 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Real Madrid will travel back to Spain after the soccer match compl
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Sergio Ramos has established himself as one of the most important players for Spain and Real Madrid. He is one of the best Right Backs in the world and is also a competent centre back. His marauding overlapping runs down the right wing provides the team will trouble defenders and he also has a good eye for goal.

    Aged only 24, the former Sevilla defender is already one of the world's best defenders and he has excelled for both club and country. He is one of the most consistent performers, who is experienced at the highest level and also excelled in their marvellous success at the world cup.

Notable Mentions

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    BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27: James Milner of England and Jerome Boateng of Germany jump for the ball during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Round of Sixteen match between Germany and England at Free State Stadium on June 27, 2010 in Bloemfon
    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    I could not enumerate all the top young prospects in the world in that list, and I would like to add 15 more excellent prospects, who deserve a mention.

    1. Jesus Navas (Sevilla)

    2. Adam Johnson (Manchester City)

    3. Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich)

    4. James Milner (Manchester City)

    5. Jerome Boateng (Manchester City)

    6. Sergio Aguero (Athletico Madrid)

    7. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

    8. Nani (Manchester United)

    9. Ramires (Chelsea)

    10. Samir Nasri (Arsenal)

    11. Luka Modric (Tottenham)

    12. Fabio Coentrao (Benefica)

    13. John Obi Mikel (Chelsea)

    14. Sami Khedira (Real Madrid)

    15. Juan Mata (Valencia)

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