As the European football season rumbles on, SportsPundit takes a look at the top 10 youngsters in world football at the moment. Now, the word ‘young’ can be vague, so for this list, we have take into considerations players who are 21 years or below.
Isco (Real Madrid)
When Real Madrid come calling, you know that you have got something special. And when Real Madrid let go of a world class playmaker to accommodate you into the team, then you must be extra special. On transfer deadline day, the Spanish giants sold the renowned Germany international Mesut Ozil to Arsenal but they had already recruited his replacement – a certain 21-year-old Isco who came from Malaga and cost them €30. In two years at Malaga under Manuel Pellegrino, Isco had already proved to the world that he is not only arguably the best young player in the world but he is a potential world’s best player. A creative midfielder with a vision and uncanny ability to pick out teammates under trying conditions, the 21-year-old former Valencia playmaker is already a Spain international and won the UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship in the summer.
Until this summer Neymar was probably the most talked about player yet to play in Europe. Now he does – for Barcelona – and he is already showing all his cynics how wrong they were to dismiss him as overrated. The 21-year-old forward was the key factor in Brazil winning the Confederations Cup in the summer and has already picked up 42 caps for his country, scoring 26 goals in the process. Neymar is essentially a forward but he can also plays out wide (as he does for Barcelona) and is absolutely sensational in cutting inside from wide areas. He is the big hope for Brazil for next summer’s World Cup.
Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich)
It would perhaps be a bit unfair to include Mario Gotze in this list given that he has already established himself as a world class footballer and a regular for Germany. It is still hard to assimilate that he is just 21 years of age! Gotze has been a German international since 2010 and joined Bayern from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. He was a crucial cog in Jurgen Klopp’s championship winning team of 2011 and 2012, and is rated as one of the best young players anywhere in Europe. It has been whispered that Guardiola personally requested the Bayern officials to sign Gotze before he toold change – he is that good.
Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid)
You would struggle to name up and coming goalkeepers, but if you don’t recognise Thibaut Courtois, then you must been living under a rock. The Belgium international is only 21 years of age but he is arguably one of the top thee custodians in Europe at the moment. He has been on loan at Atletico from Chelsea since 2011 (he has actually yet to make a first-team appearance for the Blues) and in Spain he has improved steadily. Last season many considered himself to be the best goalkeeper in La Liga ahead of Iker Casillas, Diego Lopez and Victor Valdez and having mustered the Copa del Rey and the Europa League with Atletico, Courtois looks destined for greatness.
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)
Raphael Varane has played just a handful of matches for Real Madrid, but for some players a few games are enough to convince one of their greatness. Varane is one of those as every time he has stepped on the pitch he has looked a class apart from the rest. The centre-back has mature head over young shoulders, reads the game well, passes the ball intelligently, makes the right tackles at the right time and is arguably the best under-21 centre-back in the world at the under. Still 20, Varane has a lot to fulfil and under Carlo Ancelotti and his French compatriot Zinedine Zidane, there is very likelihood that he will.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
For followers of football in mainland Europe, Christian Eriksen is a name synonymous with the classic ‘Number 10’. The Denmark international established himself as one of the best players in the Eredivisie before joining Tottenham Hotspur this summer. The 21-year-old featured in over 100 league matches for Ajax between 2010 and 2013, winning the league title three times.
Paul Pogba (Juventus)
What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison; what was Manchester United’s loss was Juventus’ gain. For some reason United allowed the France international’s contract to run down that allowed him to join Juventus in the summer of 2012. Apparently Pogba was frustrated at waiting for the chance to get a regular spot in the Red Devils’ first team, and at Juve he got just that. Last season the 20-year-old was arguably the best teenager in the whole of Serie A and this campaign there are talks of him being a permanent replacement for midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. A complete midfielder who can play defensively and can also launch attacks, Pogba is in the long-term plans of coach Antonio Conte, who has given him more game time and responsibility with passing time.
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Jack Wilshere’s progress has not gone to plan but that has more to do with the injuries that have troubled him over the past two seasons than anything else. There is little doubt that when fit, the 21-year-old is one of the best and most complete midfielders in the world. England have often struggled to produce quality players in recent years, but if the Three Lions aim to re-establish themselves a top contenders for major honours, then Wilshere will be the man to lead them. Whether he is bogged down by injuries or not remains to be seen.
Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur)
There was outcry in the city of Rome when Roma decided to sell the audaciously talented Erik Lamela to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer. That the Italian club received an initial £25.8 million for the Argentine attacker came as scant consolation to the fans, who made their opinion clear in protest and messages to the outfit. There is little surprise in that as Lamela is indisputably one of the brightest young prospects in world football. Signed by Roma from River Plater in 2011, the 21-year-old took some time to settle in Serie A but once he did, he was unstoppable. Tottenham have got a bright gem in the books and it is only a matter of time before they can see how great he is.
Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
Marco Verratti first came into European football observers’ attention in 2011-12 when he was arguably the best young player in all of Serie A. Playing for modest Pescara, his passing range, ability on the ball, intelligent movements and deep-lying playmaking skills made him a mouth-watering prospect. So much so that he was even called up to the Italian national team and was compared to the legendary Andrea Pirlo. However, Verratti’s growth has been slightly stunted at Paris Saint-Germain mainly because of the competition he has, but there can be little doubt that the 20-year-old is one of the brightest prospects the world of football has been in the last five or so years.