Top 100 players 21 and under: Elite stars featuring Bayer Leverkusen forward Leon Bailey

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

We continue our top 100 players 21 and under with the Elite category. These players are grouped by talents who are quality assets shining at club level for some of the biggest sides in Europe and on the international stage.

Name: Joe Gomez

Club: Liverpool

Age: 21

Position: Centre-back

Style: If you require an indication of just how gifted Gomez is, then consider the fact he’s currently keeping a World Cup finalist and self-proclaimed “world’s best defender” out of the Liverpool XI. Yes, Croatia’s Dejan Lovren has barely had a look in since returning from the World Cup as Gomez has arguably been the Reds most outstanding star in 2018/19. That is far from hyperbole, even when you take into consideration the presence of Virgil van Dijk alongside him. So, what does the 21-year-old defender have to offer? First, there’s the physique. He’s drawn comparisons with Rio Ferdinand and unlike other nonsensical match-ups, it’s actually a pretty reliable piece of analysis. Gomez is super quick and he bundles that agility in an imposing 6ft2 frame which gives him the added advantage of being excellent in the air. He very rarely has to rely heavily on his athleticism, though, because his composure belies his fledgling years. Indeed, Gomez is so competent in one v one situations, he falls back on his speed as a last resort because usually his timing of the tackle and positional awareness is absolutely on point. And if you’re looking for any flaws in his game, it’s genuinely difficult to pick any out. Even when bringing the ball out from the back, the England international is crisp and accurate with his passing. You could argue he should be more productive from attacking set-pieces but then that really is being picky.

Forecast for 2019: Staying injury free is the main aim for Gomez. He’s the present and future for both club and country and now he just requires games under his belt after spending the majority of his Liverpool career on the sidelines. Having a centre-back partner like Van Dijk alongside him will only aid his development but he has all the tools to become a world-class centre-half just like his Reds team-mate.

By Alex Rea

ELITE3

Name: Dayot Upamecano

Club: RB Leipzig

Age: 20

Position: Centre back

Style: So good on the ball you question his position, so physically and mentally mature you second-guess his age. Yes, Upamecano is a fascinating find for Bundesliga side RB Leipzig, a street footballer who grew up alongside Ousmane Dembele in the French suburb of Evreux and is now one of the most coveted young defenders in Europe. Upamecano was never truly gifted in the ilk of countryman Raphael Varane, but he’s a fiercely hard worker and his development over the last few years owes much to his mentality more than anything else. This is a defender who appreciates the art of the position while concurrently changing the way we think about modern centre-halves.
Indeed, all those physical traits we consider a necessity are there to a maximum, the speed across the ground, strength in one-v-one duels and aerial prowess. But Leipzig’s youngest ever Bundesliga player is much more than that. The 19-year-old is a beauty and the beast footballer, one who fuses an animalistic desire to claim possession with grace and poise once the ball is at his feet. He’s so at ease in both situations as he sweeps up the ball then breaks forward into midfield to initiate Leipzig attacks. Don’t be surprised to see the French prodigy even operate as defensive midfielder such his confidence on the ball. That’s not to say it’s all positive, though. He is, after all, 20 years old and so there are a few deficiencies and that’s mainly borne through inexperience, particularly as he can be caught of position when the opposition breaks. Naturally, his speed can bail him out but it shouldn’t require that last resort.

Forecast for 2019: Curiously Upamecano has not come close to featuring for France, although he has progressed through every youth level. There’s a huge amount of time for that, of course, but that’s where he should be looking to next, rather than casting a glance at moving clubs. Barcelona have been linked and in future a blockbuster switch like that is definitely foreseeable but some refinement and experience are next on the agenda.

By Alex Rea

dayot Upamecano new

Name: Leon Bailey

Club: Bayer Leverkusen

Age: 21

Position: Winger

Style: Bailey is all about speed. From an early age the Jamaican knew what he wanted and he wanted it quickly. To get there, he would show the same haste on the pitch and when you watch him, you see an extremely precocious player who plays the game at high speed. Indeed, the 21-year-old is in a hurry, but he’s incredibly confident and has the ability in his feet to back up the mouth. There’s a tale told by former Genk boss Peter Maes in which he recalls an 18-year-old Bailey proclaiming “in three years time I’ll be playing in a bigger competition than Belgian league”. The bravado surprised Maes, all the more impactful when you consider Genk has nurtured the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Thibaut Courtois, but true to his nature, that prophecy arrived a lot sooner. He joined Bayer Leverkusen at 19, jumping from one hotbed of young talent to another and has since lit up the Bundesliga. Playing on either wing, Bailey’s dynamism, direct running and enchanting left-foot have made him a feature of Leverkusen’s promising young side after a period of settling in. He’s a clever player, too, with his anticipation and instinctive positional sense opening pathways to score when coming in off his wing. It’s not all good, though. That confidence we mentioned earlier has apparently made him tricky to coach while there was an instance at Genk when he was involved in a foul-mouthed rant with a supporter. Still, that single-minded attitude can see him go far.

Forecast for 2019: The likes of Tottenham and Liverpool were linked in the summer, a predictable result after an impressive first full season in the Bayer XI. However, a move to a club of that stature is a little premature because Bailey is a very streaky talent. Consistency has to be the aim over the next 12 months because he’s still not completely consolidated his spot in the XI.

By Alex Rea

ELITE2

Name: Justin Kluivert

Club: Roma

Age: 19

Position: Winger

Style: When your father is an iconic figure in his own right, the massive shadow cast can either be viewed as a guiding light to follow or a cloak to conceal your own shine. For Justin Kluivert, being the son of legendary former Ajax and Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert has helped, not hindered his career. The Dutchman’s early genesis through youth football and into the professional arena saw Justin tagged with the typical bio of being ‘Patrick’s son’. But he has since flourished to become a name of his own, a complete detachment from the success of his father and this is just the beginning. From academy graduate to marquee winger, Kluivert was at the centre of Ajax’s new generation of superstar talent with his devastating pace and electric skill earning him a €18.75million move to Serie A giants Roma in the summer. Here is a young left winger who has all the attributes to grow into one of the world’s finest talents. Packed into his diminutive frame are sacks of explosivity because Kluivert’s low centre of gravity enables him to twist and turn defenders before blasting them away with his incredible speed. He’s a traditional winger in the sense he sticks to the touchline and wants to beat his man before crossing to team-mates in the box. That’s not to say he can’t shoot, quite the opposite, he has already produced some gorgeous goals with his smooth right foot but Kluivert’s focus is to aid the striker. He’s reminiscent of a young Cristiano Ronaldo in the early days of his Manchester United and he’s quickly carving out his own reputation which could one day see him be a legend in his own right.

Forecast for 2019: The move to Roma represents an important step at a crucial phase of his career. It’s hard to believe Kluivert’s just a teenager because you read some of the interviews him and you detect the same swagger and confidence he displays on the pitch. He happily invites rumours linking him to the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona but for now, Roma is a perfect environment for evolution. Nail down a starting berth there and the next few years will be fascinating indeed. 

By Alex Rea

ELITE1

Name: Jean-Kevin Augustin

Club: RB Leipzig

Age: 21

Position: Striker

Style: If the summer of 2018 was all about Kylian Mbappe, Jean-Kevin Augustin can at least point to the time he stopped the sun from shining on football’s boy wonder during the summer of 2016. At that time Mbappe, while revered inside scouting circles, was to most just a name on the bench at Monaco. Meanwhile hope was building in the French capital for another precocious Parisian. During that year’s European Under-19 Championship, Augustin finished not only as the top scorer with six goals but by being named the best player of the tournament. The 21-year-old is a rather novel sight in this day and age, a pacy striker who thrives on taking the most direct route rather than relying on the flanks to pry open some space. Unsurprisingly that means he’s good in restricted space, and has made turning a through ball into a pirouette and a waspish strike something of a recurring motif. This showcase has come at RB Leipzig, who paid €13m for Augustin in the same summer that Mbappe moved to PSG for €222m. Still, it is likely that their paths will converge once more for France in the near future.

Forecast for 2019: Augustin may be filling his boots with RB Leipzig, but there is evidence he is growing a little too big for his britches. According to reports from France, a peeved Augustin demanded that Under-21s coach Sylvain Ripoli not talk to him after being taken off at half-time in a friendly in September. Shortly after, he refused a call-up – via text message. All is not rosy back in Leipzig, either, after he and team-mate Nordi Mukiele broke protocol before the ‘Red Bull’ Europa League derby. This is not the time for drama. If any position is uncertain in the senior France team it is central striker, but Youssef Poulsen has recently muscled into first-team contention alongside Timo Werner at Leipzig.

By Chris Bailey

ELITE14

Name: Lautaro Martinez

Club: Inter Milan

Age: 21

Position: Striker

Style: Even if Lionel Messi never throws on the Argentina jersey again, or the country’s high-octane attack on paper continues to be low-grade on the pitch, hope shall exist in the form of Lautaro Martinez. Whereas much of La Albiceleste’s once august front line looked they like they aged a few years during the World Cup, at 21, Martinez has the ability to define the next decade of Argentinian football. Martinez hassles centre-backs in a way that is eerily reminiscent to Sergio Aguero, while his centre of gravity is as low as a crocodile’s belly. But the former Racing Club man, who made the rite of passage to Europe and Inter Milan last summer, is so much more than just a predator. His sheer cheek can only be commended. The flicks, the back-heels, the chops and the spins are all part of his repertoire, and sometimes it seems as if he will only agree to pass if he can first pull from his bag of tricks. It’s all part of his charm.

Forecast for 2019: A move to an often slow-burning Serie A was a slightly curious one for Martinez, as was the ultimate destination. Inter routinely play with one striker under Luciano Spalletti and that player just so happens to be Martinez’s countryman Mauro Icardi, whose place in the team is ironclad. Icardi has always been much more valued in Milan than the national set-up, however, and Martinez got off the mark for Argentina with a header against Iraq in September. Should new coach Lionel Scaloni continue to eschew reputations, Martinez may not be far away from the team for the rest of his career.

By Chris Bailey

ELITE13

Name: Carlos Soler

Club: Valencia

Age: 21

Position: Midfielder

Style: David Beckham would love to bend it like Carlos Soler. The first thing you notice about the Valencia midfielder’s passing range is just how late the ball arcs on its trajectory from wayward to wondrous. That’s just the eye candy, though, as Soler has an assortment of chips, straight drives and penalty-box putts in his golf bag. His mastery over both the long and short stuff is why he is such a rare breed of player, as suited to ticking play over in a deep-lying central position as he is gliding on the right wing. It’s hard enough to be even capable of all these things, but after two full seasons in Valencia’s first-team, the 21-year-old now possesses the engine to go with his fine machinery. Just like the Koke and Saul combo at Atletico Madrid, Soler has no trouble working himself into the ground. It is not a surprise when he covers 12 kilometres in a game (the average is approximately 10) and only left-back Jose Luis Gaya can match him for duels won this term.

Forecast for 2019: Marcelino, Valencia’s drill sergeant, has whipped both Soler’s mind and matter into impressive shape. It is easy to see him being a success elsewhere, but aside from a squall of speculation surrounding a move to Manchester United last season, there are no immediate links. He is on the bubble of the Spain squad and shares many traits with Saul, who Luis Enrique has quickly made a centrepiece for his new-look side. Euro 2020 is a realistic goal.

By Chris Bailey

ELITE12

Name: Malcom

Club: Barcelona

Age: 21

Position: Winger

Style: No one made better out of Barcelona’s Malcom hijacking then ‘Roma Admin’, the brains behind the Giallorossi’s Twitter who cashed in on a heap of jokes – and possibly a pay rise – after the club was spurned by the Brazilian. From photoshopping him out of a pre-season Barca line-up to muting any mention of his name on social media, Roma made fun of the situation. And quite possibly jinxed him. Malcom appeared just two times for the Blaugrana in the first three months of the season, both times from the bench. For now we can only go on what we saw at Bordeaux. At his very best in Ligue 1 he was a game-breaking conquistador, habitually bursting into enemy territory – via a nutmeg or two – before swerving in from the right flank. The 21-year-old is a decent passer in the final third, but sometimes he need not get there, as his shooting from distance is so violent and unpredictable through the air. He can sometimes get tangled up in his own good intentions while dribbling and is a defensive non-entity, yet on pure excitement alone he was worthy of his move.

Forecast for 2019: This is where it gets complicated. While the club has reportedly preached patience to Malcom, he is right to question why on earth they parted with a Roma-gazumping €41m for him in the first place. Ernesto Valverde – who wanted Willian instead – pointedly said ‘the club’ thought it would be a good idea to sign the former Corinthian back in the summer, and he has dialled back on the 4-3-3 that has made Barca so vulnerable in defence. That move has jettisoned €100m plus man Ousmane Dembele, let alone Malcom. His agents have become increasingly active in the press, and the player himself must look on enviously at Everton winger Richarlison and his recent Brazil call-up. It may soon be time for yet more drastic action.

By Chris Bailey

ELITE11

Name: James Maddison

Club: Leicester City

Age: 21

Position: Centre midfielder

Style: Very few youngsters make the kind of impression in the Premier League Maddison has since his arrival at Leicester City. The former Norwich City man went straight into the Foxes first team and hasn’t looked back, with his playmaking ability key to their performance. A key aspect of Maddison’s game is his low centre of gravity. Although he doesn’t possess blistering pace, his ability to faint or change his direction subtly allow him to gain the edge on opposing defenders. On the ball, the midfielder is superb, with a pass accuracy of just under 90 per cent since the start of the 2017/18 campaign. Maddison’s propensity to find himself space, both anywhere in the final third and in the penalty area, has helped him on his way to 18 league goals already in his career. His confidence and superb technique have both been evident this season, having scored from the penalty spot and netted a superb free-kick already. Defensively, while Maddison can’t be faulted for his work ethic and contribution, there are lapses in concentration that must be eradicated, while his positional awareness when his team are in possession also needs work. Because he lacks that lightning pace, and to help his adaptation to life in the Premier League, the youngster’s physical presence could also improve.

Forecast for 2019: Maddison has made the step up to the Premier League look relatively easy, becoming a permanent fixture under Claude Puel in the early months of the campaign. Maintaining his excellent form for the entirety of his debut season in the top flight will be the 21-year-old’s biggest challenge. And while Maddison may be better served with a full international season at the highest youth level, culminating in the 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championships next summer, Gareth Southgate has already come calling, with the midfielder included in England’s most recent first-team squad. The England boss clearly sees Maddison as the true creative playmaker that the Three Lions have been desperate for in recent years.

By Tom Biggs

ELITE9

Name: David Neres

Club: Ajax

Age: 21

Position: Forward

Style: What is it with Brazil and skillful attackers? The Canarinho have a plethora of talent available to them in wide attacking positions, but Neres is certainly starting to make a big impression with his pace, trickery and confidence in front of goal. Having flourished as a right-winger during the 2017/18 campaign, where he showcased his excellent vision and passing ability regularly, Neres has operated in a more central position this time around, interchanging freely with Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech. At just 21-years-old, he possesses confidence and composure on the ball way beyond his years, while his awareness also affords him time and space to find the gaps between the opposition’s midfield and defence in his new central role. As much as he loves to create chances for his team-mates, Neres is also assured in front of goal. The Brazilian youth international netted 14 times in the Eredivisie during his first full season with Ajax.

Forecast for 2019: With a full season of Eredivisie football under his belt, in which he scored 14 goals in 32 games, Neres’ progression into a more central role should see him continue to flourish in 2019. The youngster will also hope to help Ajax end their wait for a 34th Eredivisie title, having struggled to keep pace with major rivals PSV and Feyenoord in recent seasons. In Europe, progression to the knockout rounds of the Champions League would hand Neres the chance to shine for Ajax on club football’s biggest stage. For Brazil, Neres won nine caps for the Under-20s, but will now have to hope his form for Ajax can earn him a call-up to Tite’s full side in 2019, with his form having already caught the attention of the Brazil boss, despite no call-up arising just yet.

By Tom Biggs

ELITE6

Name: Ben Chilwell

Club: Leicester City

Age: 21

Position: Left-back

Style: Claude Puel’s extreme confidence in the 21-year-old Ben Chilwell has been reflected in his displays on the pitch, with a calm and composed nature in the left-back slot for Leicester City – and now England. Despite his young age, Chilwell’s defensive understanding is excellent, while his ability to defend with confidence in one-on-one situations has improved vastly since holding down a starting spot in the Foxes starting line-up. Going forward is where Chilwell is at his best. With a winger cutting inside, Chilwell loves to make overlapping runs down the left-hand side, where he’s able to produce quality balls into the box with regularity, thanks to his superb technique. Puel has praised his ability to “take the space to join the attack”, highlighting his awareness in attacking positions, and also causing an extra threat for opposition defenders who need to be wary of him. Chilwell’s energy and pace mean he is also suited to a wing-back position should he be required to play that role in the future.

Forecast for 2019: Chilwell’s excellent form for Leicester will no doubt see some of the Premier League’s top clubs registering an interest in the left-back, but with a contract at the King Power Stadium until 2021, continuing his progression with the Foxes may be the smartest move. Having already displaced Christian Fuchs from the starting line-up, managing his body well to cope with the demands of a full Premier League season will be key for Chilwell. He has already caught the eye of England boss Gareth Southgate, making his Three Lions debut in October, producing composed displays in the games against Croatia and Spain.

By Tom Biggs

new chilwell

Most popular

Related Sections

Top 100 players 21 and under: Elite stars as Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold features

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

We continue our top 100 players 21 and under with the Elite category. These players are grouped by talents who are quality assets shining at club level for some of the biggest sides in Europe and on the international stage.

Name: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Club: Liverpool

Age: 20

Position: Full-back

Style: Liverpool have quite the blood line when it comes to locally sourced talent thriving in front of the Kop. Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Steve McManaman are just some of the hallowed names to have shaped the Scouse heartbeat in recent years, and although the supply was temporarily cut off, Alexander-Arnold has ensured the Merseyside soul remains alive. Indeed, it brings great joy to the home faithful that the young right-back has rapidly matured into one of the finest English talents around. Despite spending much of his youth career in centre-midfield, it is a right-back the 20-year-old has excelled under Jurgen Klopp. The academy graduate actually fits the profile for a modern-day full-back more than he does a midfielder, although Klopp did use him there towards the end of their 2017/18 campaign. He is, though, extremely important to Liverpool, not just because of his birthplace, as his attacking mindset helps to pin opposition full-backs in their own half. His exceptional endurance allows him to bomb up and down the right wing with ease while his delivery in attacking areas is consistency threatening. Whether on the under or overlap, he’s a consistent option and a persistent danger when on the ball thanks to his sweet close control and passing range. Typically, improvements to be made are in the defensive side of the game because he can slack off in that regard. However, as he showed against Manchester City in the Champions League last season, he’s more than capable of standing up to the challenge when targeted.

Forecast for 2019: Alexander-Arnold has more than established himself as the first-choice right-back for Klopp and he’s also locking down that position for England as well. In our elite category, the next step is to elevate his talent into world class status and he can do that by helping Liverpool carry a title challenge to Manchester City in the Premier League. The boy has become a man very quickly and the next step in that development is to become a household name. For Liverpool fans, though, just having one of their own in the side makes his success story oh so much sweeter.

By Alex Rea

ELITE5

Name: Ruben Neves

Club: Wolves

Age: 21

Position: Midfielder

Style: Even though big things were expected of Ruben Neves when he made what some saw as a surprising switch to Wolves in the summer of 2017, his rise since arriving in England has been remarkable. The 21-year-old has adapted to life in England incredibly well thanks to his outstanding reading of the game from a defensive midfield position, impressive range of passing and a remarkable accuracy with long-range efforts. Neves loves to control the play, whether it’s winning back possession in key areas of the pitch and offloading to his faster team-mates, or switching the play with either foot. The Portugal international plays the role of deep-lying playmaker perfectly. The midfielder’s exquisite close control means he rarely needs time to take an extra touch, and thanks to a great understanding of the game, he often looks as though he’s one step ahead of those around him.

Forecast for 2019: Having made such a huge impression since arriving at Wolves, there is undoubtedly going to be big interest from some of the Premier League’s top clubs if Neves’ form continues. Wolves will hope he can help them stay in the top flight, improving their chances of keeping hold of him for another season or two. Having missed out on a spot in Portugal’s World Cup squad, he’s now starting to make a real impact on the international front too, with his qualities now realised in full by Fernando Santos.

By Tom Biggs

ELITE8

Name: Ruben Dias

Club: Benfica

Age: 21

Position: Centre-back

Style: Benfica look to have another supremely talented youngster progressing through their ranks. Defender Ruben Dias has excelled since breaking into the first-team in 2017, quickly catching the eye of Portugal boss Fernando Santos. While Dias may lack a natural pace, he more than makes up for it with his intelligence, positioning himself smartly to make up the ground in a race against a quick striker. Dias’ composure and calmness in possession are also a standout of his game, and while he often looks to keep things simple by playing passes into his midfielders, the 20-year-old is equally as adept at stepping out from the back and building play himself. His commanding presence is a positive both at the back and in the opposition penalty area, with the defender netting four times during his debut campaign with Benfica.

Forecast for 2019: Despite renewing his contract in the summer, after heavy speculation had linked him with a move to Lyon, Dias may be the next in line to leave Benfica for a big-money move to one of Europe’s top clubs, with Arsenal among those interested. Dias will hope he can help Benfica regain the Primeira Liga title after missing out last year, while having already earned recognition at senior level for Portugal, the defender will want to cement his place in Santos’ plans. 

By Tom Biggs

ELITE7

Name: Denis Zakaria

Club: Borussia Monchengladbach

Age: 21

Position: Defensive midfield

Style: Monchengladbach and Switzerland’s midfield is in safe hands, for the next decade. Zakaria – born in Geneva to parents from Sudan and DR Congo – is a colossus, merging supreme physical capabilities with a beautiful use of the ball. His first four Bundesliga matches since June 2017’s €10 million switch from Young Boys saw 100-per-cent pass accuracy registered. Such a skillset has seen Zakaria talk positively about comparisons to Paul Pogba and Patrick Vieira. Gladbach legend Lothar Matthaus, instead, likened him to Real Madrid metronome Toni Kroos. With 11 yellow cards registered in his debut top-flight campaign in Germany, however, discipline remains an issue. Age should bring added composure.

Forecast for 2019: The challenge now for Zakaria is to complete his rapid transformation from bright prospect into a dominant senior figure. He’s got everything in his locker to do this throughout 2018/19. If he does, expect him to follow in the footsteps of the man he’s ultimately replaced for Gladbach – Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka.

By Matt Monaghan

Zakaria

Name: Tanguy Ndombele

Club: Lyon

Age: 21

Position: Centre midfielder

Style: Ndombele is a ball of energy for Lyon – which will come as a shock to those who saw him as an adolescent. Guingamp grew exasperated by his nonchalance and released him at 17. A series of rejections elsewhere then followed, before Amiens offered a lifeline that he couldn’t turn down. Ndombele is now an electrifying midfielder who comes alive when he receives possession under pressure. Then, he can exhibit his extravagant dribbling skills to evade markers and progressive passing – two assists were recorded in September against Marseille – to swiftly get his team up the park. At under 6ft tall, he doesn’t win many battles through raw physicality and struggles under high balls. But his expansive skillset, and the impressive pace that he plays the sport at, make him a competitor to admire.

Forecast for 2019: It is no surprise that the Premier League’s big guns are circling the new France cap. Ndombele appears ready made for success in England. Especially if he continues at the same rapid pace of development witnessed since August 2017’s, initial loan, move from Amiens.

By Matt Monaghan

Ndombele

Name: Frenkie de Jong

Club: Ajax

Age: 21

Position: Centre midfielder

Style: Stick De Jong at the heart of your team and all problems are solved. The hottest prospect at Ajax – an interesting state of affairs considering that he comes from a family of die-hard Feyenoord fans – possesses an angelic touch, laser-guided pass, eye-catching ability to dribble out of a tight spot and firmness in the tackle. One note of caution was September’s culpability as a makeshift centre-back – a position he has played in before – during the 3-0 hammering by Eredivisie champions PSV Eindhoven. The comparisons to Germany great Franz Beckenbauer received a terminal blow on that day. As a midfielder though, he’s got every major club in Europe salivating. The chase for his signature is set to be fiercely – and expensively – contested.

Forecast for 2019: Whether it is in Barcelona, Paris, London or Manchester, do not expect de Jong to be plying his trade in Amsterdam this time next year. Barca and Tottenham are reported to have already had sizeable offers rejected. Judged by the Netherlands international’s rapid rise, even bigger bids will be coming in.

By Matt Monaghan

De Jong

Name: Kai Havertz

Club: Bayer Leverkusen

Age: 19

Position: Attacking midfielder

Style: When you are mentioned in the same breath as Michael Ballack and Mesut Ozil, something is going right. These are the comparisons drawn when discussing the teenage Germany playmaker. Havertz’s comfort at senior level is detailed by the fact he is Bayer’s youngest-ever Bundesliga debutant, youngest-ever goalscorer and the competition’s youngest player to reach 50 appearances. He is also the consummate all-rounder; being able to invent off both feet, win a sizeable chunk of aerial duels and cleanly win tackles. With experience, he can only get better. Not bad for a kid who dreamed of glory alongside his father and brother on the terraces of humble Alemannia Aachen.

Forecast for 2019: Leverkusen has proven to be an excellent incubator of talent for several decades. Havertz will continue to learn his trade, alongside the likes of Leon Bailly, this season. From this platform, he must aim to position himself for a key role with Germany by Euro 2020.

By Matt Monaghan

Havertz

Name: Federico Chiesa

Club: Fiorentina

Age: 21

Position: Winger

Style: Easily one of the hottest prospects in Italian football, Federico Chiesa is renowned for his energy, relentless runs and effective dribbling. The Fiorentina man is known to take up great positions in attack, often roaming across the width of the pitch, making him unpredictable and difficult to pick up. The youngster’s weaving runs past defenders are a product of his ability to plot the right course and leave opponents off balance. His dribbling isn’t the most graceful but his stop-start, jinking style is certainly effective. However, a growing reputation has been tarnished by repeated simulation. Meanwhile, Chiesa still struggles with delivering an end product and only registered a pass completion of 78 per cent last season.

Forecast for 2019: Chiesa is a regular starter at Fiorentina and should work on honing his skills at the Serie A club rather than being lured away by one of the many clubs tracking his progress. On the international front, he still needs to establish himself under Roberto Mancini.

By Brendon Netto

ELITE19

Name: Richarlison

Club: Everton

Age: 21

Position: Winger

Style: Richarlison is comfortable with either foot but his right side is his predominant one. As such, he normally operates from the left flank owing to his propensity to cut inside from wide areas. It’s from there that he also makes diagonal runs in behind the right-back and centre-back. His movement and uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time sees him ghost into the box and get on the end of several deliveries from the opposite flank. Standing at 5ft 10in, Richarlison isn’t the tallest but he has an excellent leap on him, making him an aerial target either from open play or set-pieces. The Brazilian is gifted with supreme technique and close control while his physicality has allowed him to flourish in the Premier League. The youngster also has an aptitude for identifying spaces and areas to exploit in the final third, an asset which has seen Marco Silva – his manager at former club Watford and now Everton – place plenty of trust in him. Richarlison is excellent in beating the first man but doesn’t normally go on dribbling runs through the defence. His tendency to try to though often lets down his team as he usually ends up losing possession in those scenarios.

Forecast for 2019: Having started his career with Everton like a house on fire, the challenge for him now is to carry that form into 2019. He fizzled out during the second half of the season with Watford last term and preventing a similar downturn in form would show great maturity. Part of that will be improving his decision-making in the final third. Richarlison has a tendency to go for goal and ignore better options. Having earned a first call-up to the Brazil national team, he scored a brace on his full debut. The aim will be to establish himself in the Selecao squad.

By Brendon Netto

ELITE21

Name: Patrick Cutrone

Club: AC Milan

Age: 20

Position: Striker

Style: Patrick Cutrone does not boast raw pace, an especially powerful shot or incredible dribbling ability. Yet, he is one of the most sought after young strikers. What sets him apart is his intelligent position and movement. Cutrone works hard and is always buzzing about in the final third, scoping the area for pockets of space to exploit. He’s a nightmare for defenders as he often looks to turn and run off his man into space in behind but does have a tendency to get caught offside. Once he gets into goalscoring positions, he shows great composure and is equally proficient with both feet although his aerial threat needs improvement. Cutrone is always involved in link-up play as well, making quick short passes and clever lay-offs.

Forecast for 2019: The 20-year-old will strive to become more clinical in front of goal having established himself at Milan. With Italy going through a transition period, positions are up for grabs and he will want to nail down a starting berth up front.

By Brendon Netto

ELITE22

Name: Matteo Guendouzi

Club: Arsenal

Age: 19

Position: Midfield

Style: In Matteo Guendouzi, Unai Emery signed the kind of player his predecessor would’ve passionately approved of. Young, French, an elegant passer and bundles of potential – Guendouzi is the archetypal Arsene Wenger recruit. The midfielder has been thrown into the deep end in his first season with Arsenal, beginning the campaign as a consistent starter. While early results went against the Gunners, their summer signing seemed to standout with his tidy passing and subtle defensive interventions proving particularly impressive. The 19-year-old operates as a deep-lying midfielder and frequently receives the ball from the goalkeeper or back-line to initiate the team’s build-up play. His distribution is top notch, ranking highest among his team-mates for pass accuracy this season, but he has a tendency to falter under pressure. Guendouzi has shown glimpses of his ability in attack as well, with a few effortless dribbles and gliding advances forward. However, his primary role is to recycle possession, look for forward runners and win back the ball as one of two holding midfielders in Emery’s system. He strives to receive the ball in space out wide as he has been guilty of being brushed off possession in tight areas through the middle. When afforded time on the ball though, he is capable of producing a killer pass.

Forecast for 2019: Having only made 18 appearances for Lorient in Ligue 2 before being roped in by Emery and thrust into the spotlight against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, Guendouzi has naturally exhibited a few key areas that needs improvement. The Frenchman will need bulk up to cope with the physicality of the Premier League and that should help him be more confident under pressure. He also needs to work on receiving the ball on the turn to manouevre away from opponents. He should be looking to establish himself in Arsenal’s midfield and hope for an international call-up at some point next year.

By Brendon Netto

Guendouzi

Name: Rodrigo Bentancur

Club: Juventus

Age: 21

Position: Centre midfield

Style: The Uruguay team of this generation has built a reputation off gnashed its teeth – quite literally in a certain No9s case – but Bentancur represents somewhat of a departure from the norm. The long-limbed midfielder is all feline grace, prowling the park with his languid strides rather than chasing after the proverbial bone like the habit of so many of his countrymen. The 21-year-old’s long-range passes are a motif of his work on the ball, and comparisons to Sergio Busquets are not far off the mark. Bentancur is more of a free roamer, though, and his positional versatility means he is often asked to play on the flank or higher up the pitch. His production as yet perhaps doesn’t match those instincts. When Juventus stop asking him to do the odd jobs, expect him to settle as a No6 with a well-timed habit of streaking into the box.

Forecast for 2019: Juventus’ bench is arguably the strongest in Europe and this is no truer of a position than midfield. Emre Can’s layoff has opened a window of opportunity however and Bentancur has regularly taken his place in a three alongside Blaise Matuidi and Miralem Pjanic, or a two when Matuidi shifts out wide. Can will have to light up the training pitch upon his return. While the marketeers were frothing over the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford, Bentancur passed Manchester United into submission during the 1-0 victory. With his place in the Uruguay team encased in cement since the start of the World Cup, that the former Boca man is already so well-regarded by Juventus is a sign he’ll be on the highest plane of European football for years to come.

By Chris Bailey 

rodrigo bentacur new

Most popular

Top 100 players 21 and under: Established stars including Monaco man Youri Tielemans

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

We continue our top 100 players 21 and under with the Established category. These players are grouped by talents who are already integral members of their respective sides and are on the brink of becoming a recognised name in the game. 

Name: Theo Hernandez

Club: Real Madrid (on loan at Real Sociedad)

Age: 21

Position: Left-back

Style: For Real Madrid to break their long standing gentleman’s agreement with rivals Atletico, you would have to assume hopes for Theo Hernandez must have been sky high at the Bernabeu. Unfortunately, his progression has stalled somewhat since his move across the city. After impressing on loan at Alaves, Madrid met the 21-year-old’s buyout clause to bring him to the Bernabeu, but a difficult first season has seen him loaned out to Real Sociedad for the 2018/19 campaign. Just like current Madrid left-back Marcelo, Hernandez loves to attack. His athleticism, power and raw speed mean he’s able to get forward and provide a threat in the opposition’s final third, but also able to recover quickly and defend smartly. Hernandez’s speed is perhaps surprising considering his height (185 cm), but matched with his obvious strength and power, he can make life difficult for anyone who comes up against him down the flanks.

Forecast for 2019: While a move away from Madrid after one full season at the club may have seemed like a backwards step, with Marcelo firmly planted as first-choice left-back, Hernandez must make the most of his opportunity at Sociedad. Should he impress again, just as he did during a loan spell at Alaves which earned him his move to the Bernabeu, Marcelo may well be looking over his shoulder come the start of the 2019/20 campaign. There is also the suggestion in Madrid that the defender could well switch to a central position in the future, thanks to his height and defensive understanding. 

By Tom Biggs

theo hernandez new

Name: Alban Lafont

Club: Fiorentina

Age: 19

Position: Goalkeeper

Style: There will be very few goalkeepers in the world who have played over 100 top-flight league matches before they turn 20, but Alban Lafont is one of those. After breaking into the Toulouse first-team aged 16 in 2014, he hasn’t looked back. The Frenchman missed just two games in two seasons in Ligue 1 after his breakthrough campaign, with interest in the stopper spreading around Europe. He made the move to Serie A side Fiorentina in the summer, where his progression has continued. Expected to become France’s first-choice goalkeeper in the coming years, Lafont is the very definition of the ‘sweeper keeper’ coming off his line confidently to support his defenders whenever he can. Lafont’s excellent shot-stopping ability, coupled with real speed in springing into action and closing down an angle, means he makes life very difficult for opposition forwards. His confidence on the ball, as well as his passing ability, are also key facets of the youngster’s style of play.

Forecast for 2019: Having made the move to Serie A with Fiorentina, Lafont will hope to make the same sort of impression in Italy as he did in France after making his breakthrough in 2015 at Toulouse. Interest in the 19-year-old was high in the summer of 2018, and a positive debut season with Stefano Pioli’s side could see some of those suitors return at the end of the current campaign. At international level, Lafont, who has been capped at every level up to France’s Under-20s, is yet to make his debut for the Under-21 side, despite being called up in late 2017. Should his impressive form continue, it may not be long before Didier Deschamps comes calling instead.

By Tom Biggs

Lafont

Name: Youri Tielemans

Club: AS Monaco

Age: 21

Position: Centre midfielder

Style: The 2017/18 season was very much a transitional one for Tielemans following his move to Monaco from Anderlecht, but the intelligent central midfielder has already made an impressive start to the new campaign, despite his side’s struggles. Ever since making his breakthrough at 16 with Anderlecht, Tielemans has shown an excellent awareness on the pitch, whether in a defensive or more advanced central midfield position. Thanks to that understanding, coupled with a real confidence on the ball, Tielemans shows a maturity way beyond his years on the pitch. When deployed in a more defensive position, Tielemans, largely thanks to his playmaking habits, reads the game extremely well, cutting out passes and making interceptions, while also putting pressure on the opposition rather than backing off and allowing them time on the ball. In possession, Tielemans opts for quality over quantity, averaging around just 40 passes a game since moving to Monaco. The Belgium international, who loves to split open defences thanks to his excellent range of passing, also has an eye for a stunning goal, as proved with his strike against Toulouse earlier this season.

Forecast for 2019: Having featured heavily Monaco so far this season, Tielemans has already taken positive steps forward following his debut campaign in Ligue 1, in which he made nine of his league appearances from the bench. Monaco have a history of developing young talent, and Tielemans may be the latest in a long line to reap the rewards of a spell at the Stade Louis II. Having worked with Thierry Henry at international level, the midfielder will now get the chance to work under him every day at club level. On the international front, Tielemans has been part of the Belgium setup since 2016, and since their World Cup exploits, he has forced his way in to Roberto Martinez’s starting XI.

By Tom Biggs

ESTABLISHED9

Name: Ryan Sessegnon

Club: Fulham

Age: 18

Position: Left-back/Left-wing

Style: From cleaning his own kit, to taking a bus to training and agreeing a new deal with Fulham rather than make the move to one of England’s top six, Sessegnon’s humility and selflessness are reflected in his style on the pitch. Drive and tenacity, coupled with his raw pace and excellent game understanding, helped Sessegnon become the first player in history from outside the Premier League to be shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award after a terrific campaign with Fulham last season. While there is room for improvement defensively, Sessegnon excels when on the front foot, providing a constant outlet down the left, whether that be from left-back or left-wing; two positions he has switched between regularly since breaking into the Fulham first-team. His eye for a pass and confidence in front of goal saw him register 16 goals and seven assists in the Championship. With excellent balance and control, and plenty of tricks to boot, Sessegnon has shown extreme confidence in one-on-one situations up against his man down the left-hand side.

Forecast for 2019: Staying with Fulham may well be one of the wisest decisions Sessegnon makes throughout his career. Regular Premier League football, at the age of 18, will only serve him well moving forward. Under the stewardship of the recently sacked Slavisa Jokanovic, the England youth international was given the sort of freedom and opportunity many others his age can only dream of and he should follow suit under Claudio Ranieri. Sessegnon made the step up to England’s Under-21 squad in 2018, but a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s senior side won’t be out of the question in 2019 if the teenager continues his upward trajectory and keeps his place in Fulham’s first-team. At club level, Sessegnon, who signed a new five-year deal before the start of the current campaign, will hope to keep his starting spot in Fulham’s new-look squad, while helping his boyhood club secure Premier League survival. If he can do that, his loyalty may be tested again with the big clubs circling next summer.

By Tom Biggs

Sessegnon

Name: Justin Bijlow

Club: Feyenoord

Age: 20

Position: Goalkeeper

Style: At 6ft 1in, Justin Bijlow is relatively small for a goalkeeper and doesn’t possess a huge presence within his goal, but the 20-year-old more than makes up for that with his quick feet and ability to come off his line to close down the angle sharply. With ball-playing goalkeepers becoming more and more popular, Bijlow certainly possesses the qualities on the ball required to play with confidence from the back thanks to his terrific distribution and range of passing. Bijlow’s sharpness isn’t just with his feet. The stopper has shown excellent reflexes and agility, while his well-executed positioning is another aspect of his game that makes up for his lack of height compared to some of his rivals. While he likes to command his area, Bijlow’s aerial ability does need some work, making his presence felt as much as possible when claiming corners or high balls into his penalty area.

Forecast for 2019: Aged just 20, Bijlow has established himself as Feyenoord’s first-choice goalkeeper in the opening months of the 2018/19 campaign, and will hope to build on that as the season progresses. Having already won three trophies in his young career, including the Eredivisie title, adding to that collection will be at the top of his agenda. Bijlow has represented the Netherlands at every youth level, and while still eligible to play for the Under-21s, the stopper will be hoping to catch the eye of senior boss Ronald Koeman. Koeman has already shown his willingness to give youngsters an opportunity, even inviting Bijlow to a training camp earlier this year.

By Tom Biggs

ESTABLISHED13

Name: Amadou Haidara

Club: Red Bull Salzburg

Age: 20

Position: Centre midfielder

Style: Aged just 20, Amadou Haidara has already made over 100 senior appearances and represented Mali at senior level. In his first full season with RB Salzburg, his industrious displays helped his side to a Europa League semi-final and a league title. His tireless running and terrific work ethic, as well as his pace and quality on the ball, mean Haidara, while predominantly a box-to-box midfielder, is equally as capable playing a right-midfield position. He loves to dictate the tempo with his cunning vision and passing range, and while his passing accuracy can improve, he has all of the qualities required to become a top-class central midfielder. Timed runs into the box, whether to meet a through pass or finish off a move, are another aspect of Haidara’s game that will excite some of Europe’s biggest clubs, with the midfielder averaging a goal or assist every three games for Salzburg.

Forecast for 2019: Another strong season at Salzburg could see interest in securing Haidara’s services rise in the summer. The midfielder was terrific in the Europa League last season and has another chance to impress in UEFA’s second tier competition this time around. He’s already helped Mali secure qualification to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and that tournament will serve as another important milestone for Haidara in his young career, and should his form continue for both club and country, he could be in for a very busy summer.

By Tom Biggs

ESTABLISHED new

Name: Renato Sanches

Club: Bayern Munich

Age: 21

Position: Central Midfield

Style: Everyone remembers Renato Sanches being his best self at Euro 2016 when he starred for tournament winners Portugal and was named Best Young Player. That’s probably why his failure to meet those standards since his move to Bayern Munich that summer has been so disappointing. Sanches has bundles of energy, shuttling from one end of the pitch to the other trying everything to be as involved as possible. When he’s on the ball, it’s nearly impossible to force him off it while he has the technique to consistently find passes and retain possession. Off the ball, he boasts the work-rate to cover vast areas of space and doubles up as a ball winner. Arguably his most eye-catching feature is his ability to carry the ball into enemy territory, providing thrust to the attack from midfield. He also has the passing range to create and get on the end of several chances in the final third. He may have thrived in a throwback orthodox 4-4-2 formation as a box-to-box midfielder but in modern football he requires the right system and circumstances to thrive. He is lacking in tactical discipline, straying from where he should be positioned on and off the ball. He can be a little overzealous with his tackling as well, walking a fine line between full-blooded challenges and recklessness. His most notable weakness is his lack of goals and that stems not from a reluctance to get forward but his simply woeful finishing that needs a lot of work.

Forecast: As far as his career at Bayern is concerned, it may just be salvageable yet. The Portuguese has shown a willingness to improve and has had some relatively good performances this season. He’s still regaining his confidence but once he’s in full flight, he’s capable of being a real asset even to a powerhouse like Bayern. Sanches needs to continue clocking valuable playing time this season and focus on reclaiming a spot on the national team. Leona Goretzka’s arrival this summer hasn’t done him any favours but Thiago Alcantara’s injury issues afford him ample opportunities and in Niko Kovac he has a coach who seems to genuinely believe in him.

By Brendon Netto 

ESTABLISHED33

Most popular