30 years ago, the hottest teens in world football were forced to scrub their elders’ boots. They received horribly tough love from managers who wanted them to know their place. No one knew their names until they made them on the grass.
Well those days are gone – think of the England youth team that won the World Cup and celebrated with their shirts on backwards, just So would you remember their names? Kids born in weeks when Beyonce and Arctic Monkeys had number one singles became famous before you even recognized their faces. Blame Soccer Manager prodigies, if you will – but the fact is, we just can’t get enough of new talent. The next big thing is never finished.
Every year, we rank the 50 most exciting teens in world football not by their current talent, but by their potential trajectory. This is the half-century we’re most looking forward to – the collection of starlets, the Class of ’22, that could redefine the impending decade of the beautiful game… no pressure of course, guys.
Club: Blackburn Rovers
Somehow Ewood Park has turned into an assembly line of talent in recent years. Liverpool are sending out their most precocious stars, while Blackburn seem to be churning out solid stars at a rate of knots. Ashley Phillips as center back is just the latest.
17 years old yet six feet tall and confident on and off the ball, it’s hard to believe the boy is legally banned from drinking until summer. He recently signed a new contract until 2025 and it will take a reasonable fee to lure him out of Lancashire for years to come.
Haarlem native Charlie Setford, yet keeper of England youth teams, may be the next big player in the ‘holding’. He has played at every level of Ajax’s famed youth academy and after claiming he feels “confided” by England’s youth set-up, it seems likely he could one day be on the radar for a senior call-up.
48. Takuhiro Nakai (Pipi)
Club: Real Madrid
When Barcelona lost to Takefusa Kubo, Real Madrid moved in to steal the Japanese starlet. In Takuhiro Nakai, they may have a bigger prospect.
Known as Pipi in Spanish football, the starlet seems to have grown up on a diet of Andres Iniesta compilations, able to fight his way out of trouble and work his way from midfield to the final third. Two-legged and elegant, he is maturing at a great time for the exciting generation of the Samurai Blue.
47. Arnau Martinez
He has become more of a right-back, but Arnau Martinez could still become a central defender in the long run. His striking long balls and recovery pace are Kyle Walker-esque – perhaps handy that Girona is part of the City Football Group.
46. Shola Shoreband
Club: Manchester United
It is not pronounced “shaw-tyre”. Shola Shoretire, who has left Manchester City’s academy for Manchester’s red side, already has Premier League minutes under his belt and is tipped to become a pioneering attacker one day, thanks to his pinpoint control and decision-making in transition. He may get Erik ten Hag’s wink sooner rather than later.
45. Matthew Nascimento
Nascimento is a big name in Brazil: just ask anyone in Brazil what Pele’s full name was.
Namesake Matheus similarly plays up front. He is leggy but intense on the ball, with ferocious drive and great strength for a teenager. He’s not one of the hottest youngsters in his homeland, but his all-round attacker is very mature for his tender age.
44. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Jadon Sancho walked so the rest could run. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens has been in the academies of Chelsea, Reading and Manchester City and now he is following that now common path from London to the Bundesliga.
He also scares defenders at just 18 years old. Petite in stature and able to dance away from his opponent, he lacks the kind of explosiveness that Jude Bellingham might have when he bursts through midfield, but his creativity when coming in from the left is reminiscent of Sancho himself. . It will be fascinating to see what happens next for JBG.
43. Julio Enciso
Julio Enciso might have been the brightest in Paraguayan football had Miguel Almiron not activated his own God mode this season. The ball just sticks to the feet of the Brighton star: he’s annoying in the final third and watching him blossom under Roberto De Zerbi could be very exciting indeed.
He seems tailor-made for Mikel Arteta’s football. Marquinhos already has ‘la pausea’ in his game to stop-start when taking on players and seems unfazed by going both in and out of his man. Sao Paulo were reportedly devastated to leave for just £3million – it’s easy to see why, as he has essentially replaced club record holder Nicolas Pepe for European group stage outings.
41. Rico Lewis
Club: Manchester City
Manchester City have a weird relationship with full-backs – perhaps even weirder is that they seem to have spawned a Joao Cancelo director in the academy. Rico Lewis can play on either side and has already scored in the Champions League – he’s the youngest ever goalscorer from a first start and isn’t bad defensively either. He will go from strength to strength.
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