It’s crazy how many young players have risen to the top of the game in such a short amount of time in only the past few years. There have been so many young players rising up to the starting elevens of their teams in 2016 without any degree of difficulty at all that this may be one of the most talented pool of players that we have seen in decades. A lot of these players are younger than me, making it all the more astonishing to me how they have been able to rise right to the top of the footballing world so rapidly.
These are the top fifteen most talented U-21 footballers in the world for the 2016-17 season. This list involves no set formula, no coordination with their ranking on my ever-changing Top 200 Footballers in the World list and instead takes into consideration how good these players are at this moment in time and how good they could one day become. It can be so hard to predict which young players are going to become massive stars in the future but with these fifteen players I feel confident enough to say that they are all going to become world beaters some day and at this moment in time are the top fifteen best young players in the world who have the biggest potential to one day be a world great.
15. Marco Asensio
The Real Madrid youngster has been given his chance to shine at the start of this season and has set La Liga alight with a string of very impressive performances right in that Cristiano Ronaldo role in the team. Even if the 20-year old doesn’t make it as a Real Madrid great or has to go out to other clubs to prove his worth, he will be a star someday no matter what team he ends up at. Last season on loan at Espanyol, Asensio scored 4 goals with 10 assists in 34 matches and as mentioned he’s already started off 2016-17 brightly with 3 goals in 7 matches in all competitions at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
14. Adrien Rabiot
Adrien Rabiot has really struggled to break into PSG’s first team ever since he first broke on to the scene back in 2013 but since Unai Emery has come into the fold as manager the French midfielder has been given more of a chance to strut his stuff and show the quality that he has. Rabiot is a calming presence in the middle of the field and is so comfortable and confident on the ball. He’s been likened to be a mix of fellow teammate Marco Verratti due to his incredible passing ability and French superstar Paul Pogba due to his mobility and energy to get up and down the field and go from box to box. Capable of playing anywhere in the midfield and still only 21, Rabiot could be a very important option for PSG in the future.
13. Kingsley Coman
Only 20 years of age and Kinglsey Coman already has a CV that includes Ligue 1, Serie A and German Bundesliga league titles with some of the biggest clubs in world football. Last year at just 19 years of age, the French winger flourished under the guidance of Pep Guardiola becoming one of the Spaniard’s favourite players, making 23 Bundesliga appearances with 4 goals with 6 assists and he added a further two goals with 5 assists in the UEFA Champions League to help Bayern make it to the semi finals in Europe. If you think he looks fast on the ball, wait until you see what he can do with it. This lad has pace for days and the fact that he has already played for some of the biggest clubs in the world under some of the best managers in modern day football demonstrates how likely he is to become an absolute world beater in the future.
12. Ousmane Dembele
So tricky and so good with the ball at his feet, Ousmane Dembele already has the kind of talent good enough to beat any defender in a one-on-one situation. The 20-year old has become a shining star in Borussia Dortmund’s side ever since making his big money move in the summer from Stade Rennais and has taken to his new side better than anyone could have ever expected. The French winger is absolutely incredible for his age and at only 18 years of age in Ligue 1 last year he scored 12 goals with 5 assists. This season still at the age of 19 playing in an even harder league, he is on course to do even better than that. Ousmane Dembele is going to be the next big thing for Borussia Dortmund without a doubt.
11. Christian Pulisic
It’s a little too early to tell exactly how good Christian Pulisic will become and speaking of praise being heaped on young players too early, this lad only recently turned eighteen! Christian Pulisic has been phenomenal ever since making his Borussia Dortmund debut last year and has since gone on to score 3 goals in 8 matches for the full men’s USA national football team. The American international wasn’t exactly thrilled when Dortmund sold Mkhitaryan and replaced the Armenian with three new right wingers rather than with himself, but he has since kept his head up high and has hit the ground running again this season, becoming the youngest ever player to score in the UEFA Europa League in Dortmund’s 6-0 win over Legia Warsaw and then scoring the following Sunday in the German Bundesliga againt Darmstadt in another 6-0 win. Pulisic has been extraordinary since making his Dortmund debut last year and the future certainly looks bright for this exceptional young player with a brilliant eye for goal.
See More: Christian Pulisic: USA’s Next Star
10. Julian Weigl
Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Weigl burst on to the season last year after securing a move from 1860 Munich to the Black and Yellows and nailing down a starting place in their team straight away. The young German international played in 30 matches last season and had the fourth best pass percentage in the league with 91.9%. The defensive midfielder is a pass master and hardly ever misplaces a pass. Although he doesn’t offer as much going forward as past Borussia Dortmund midfielders to break on to the scene at a young age it is still remarkable how calm, comfortable and composed he is with the ball at his feet and how he’s never shied away from trying anything inventive. His defensive qualities are excellent, his support-play from deep is exceptional and he’s already a better passer than 90% of footballers on the planet. Julian Weigl can already dictate the tempo of a football match better than most other midfielders and is certainly going to be another jewel that will only enhance Borussia Dortmund’s reputation as one of the best talent scouts in world football.
9. Kelechi Iheanacho
With all the talent in Manchester City’s squad it’s always going to be hard for any youngster to earn regular playing time and make the leap up to the first team but one man who has had no issue at making an impact as a young player for the Citizens has been Nigerian international Kelechi Iheanacho. The 20-year old striker burst onto the scene in 2015-16 when he came on as a substitute to score the game winning goal in a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace and hasn’t been able to stop scoring since. Every time that Sergio Aguero gets injured, Iheanacho is the man to replace him and always fills the role better than expected, putting in some massively important displays already this season like scoring the game winner in the Manchester derby. The Manchester City forward can finish off a chance like few others can and when Sergio Aguero’s time is up at City, the Citizens won’t have to bother bringing a new man in because Kelechi Iheanacho is so similar to the Argentine in every way imaginable and could be almost as good some day.
8. Kurt Zouma
It’s been a shame that Chelsea’s star defender Kurt Zouma has been out injured for so long because he has been absolutely integral to them since making his move from Saint Etienne in 2014 and would have undoubtedly had a massive role to play in France’s Euro 2016 campaign. Zouma is an absolute beast at the back and with great aerial ability as well as impeccable defensive awareness, decision making and a fantastic ability to time his tackles to perfection he’s already been likened to be the next John Terry at Chelsea. If Chelsea can get him back in to their side soon, their so-called shaky defense will certainly be a lot less leaky. What’s surprising about Zouma is that every single time he plays he seemingly gets better. He’s calm, cool, collected and is also undoubtedly one of the quickest defenders in the league, making him a jack of all trades and an absolute jewel that Chelsea should consider them lucky to have been able to sign. The future looks bright for Kurt Zouma and even if he doesn’t become one of the greatest defenders on the planet, he will certainly be an absolute beast for Chelsea for a long time to come.
7. Anthony Martial
A lot of eyebrows were raised when Manchester United paid nearly $80 million for Anthony Martial on transfer deadline day in September 2015 but since then all eyebrows have been lowered as the French winger has shown exactly how good he is despite being only 20 years old. Few would have expected Martial to have such a positive start to life at Old Trafford but his fantastic displays in the Premier League of last season scoring 11 goals with 4 assists in 31 appearances, earned him a spot in France’s Euro 2016 squad and helped him build up a reputation as not only one of the best young players in the world but as one of the best footballers in the world as well. He has enough pace and skill on the ball to beat any defender and if his goal tallies of the past two seasons are anything to go by we could be looking at an all-time Premier League great in the making.
6. Gianluigi Donnarruma
Dubbed the next Gianluigi Buffon, Gialuigi Donnarruma is one of just a few young goalkeepers in the history of football to nail down a place in the starting eleven of his team as a teenager. In fact he nailed down the number one spot at AC Milan at just the age of 16. The fact that he is so good at just 17 years of age now is ridiculous given that goalkeepers normally can play into their forties and usually reach their peak around 30! The 6’5 goalkeeper made 30 Serie A appearances last season for AC Milan, keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding less than a goal per game even despite Milan’s shaky defense. Donnarruma still has an incredible amount of time left to establish himself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers and is probably closer to being the next Gianluigi Buffon than any other goalkeeper in the world has ever been before.
5. Renato Sanches
At Euro 2016, young 18-year old, Renato Sanches broke all kinds of records as he helped his nation claim victory and picked up the Young Player of the Tournament award. Since then he’s made a big money move to Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern Munich and although he has failed to nail down a regular place in the XI, it must be remembered that he is still only 19. With his impeccable stamina and inspiring energy levels, he is already capable of filling a number of different roles with his favourite undoubtedly being that box-to-box midfielder. The remarkable confidence and self-belief that the Portuguese midfielder has is quite astonishing and it’s certainly a reason why he has such a good eye for goal. Although he’s already broken so many of Cristiano Ronaldo’s records, he has only recently burst on to the seen and we haven’t seen enough of him to make a clear enough judgement call on how good he can truly become. One thing is for sure though, Renato Sanches will certainly become a world star. It’s only a matter of when.
4. Joshua Kimmich
Joshua Kimmich is a carbon-copy of Phillipp Lahm and at the same time is only 21 years of age. The German defender started to impress last season at Bayern under Pep Guardiola as Kimmich filled in for an injured Boateng at centre defense despite being known before that point as a defensive midfielder. Then Kimmich rocked Euro 2016 at right back for Germany, nailing down a starting spot ahead of Benedikt Howedes and helping his nation make it to the semi finals. Since that tournament he’s continued to retain his place in the XI and recently assisted Toni Kroos’ goal in World Cup Qualifying against the Czech Republic. Germany has been looking for a Phillipp Lahm replacement ever since he retired from international football after winning the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and Joshua Kimmich certainly will be that man. Not even a forward thinking player, the German already has an outrageous tally of 5 goals in 7 appearances for his club so far this season between the Champions League and Bundesliga as Bayern sit well-positioned to win both. Joshua Kimmich is an absolutely brilliant footballer and has the potential to be an all-time Bayern great.
3. Dele Alli
I was unsure if Dele Alli would be able to carry over his incredible form of 2015-16 over to this season but now that he has I am absolutely certain that the English midfielder is the real deal. So incredibly versatile and capable of picking up a number of different positions, he thrives as a number ten in behind the central striker due to his play-making and goal-scoring abilities. Last season the then 19-year old scored an astonishing 10 goals with 9 assists in the toughest league in the world to make the PFA Team of the Year ahead of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Kevin de Bruyne. He has since gone on to become a regular in England’s side and continues to be their most important player as they remain unbeaten in World Cup 2018 qualifying. The youngster only recently burst on to the scenes after coming up from third tier side Milton Keynes Dons, also his place of birth, and although his rise to the top has been rapid, there is not a doubt in anyone’s minds that this young player will be England’s next superstar.
2. Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling has been a household name in the league now for years so it may surprise many readers to find out that he’s still only the tender age of 21. It seems as if the young Englishman has already achieved so much in his time as a professional footballer yet it’s evident that there is still so much more to come. Sterling has been flourishing under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City this season and is currently performing like one of the best players in the league, with 4 goals and 2 assists in just 7 Premier League appearances so far. He’s had a remarkable rise to the top of his game, nearly helping Liverpool win the league title as an eighteen year old with a stunning 9 goals and 5 assists in 33 Premier League matches. Since then he’s become a regular in England’s set-up, has won the Golden Boy Award and even scooped up the Premier League’s Player of the Month award for August 2016. Raheem Sterling is going to be the next big thing in world football and that is a fact.
1. Marcus Rashford
A lot can go wrong when praise is heaped upon a youngster at such a young age, but Marcus Rashford, at the age of just 19 is absolutely incredible and is clearly going to be a massive Manchester United star some day.
As pictured above, Marcus Rashford has scored on every single kind of debut he has had for club and country so far, something that 99% of youngsters could only dream of. In 11 appearances last season, Rashford scored 5 goals with 2 assists in the Premier League as an 18-year old, while also netting 2 goals in 3 UEFA Europa League matches. Now under Jose Mourinho the versatile attacker is set to shine again this season and will likely be more important to Mourinho’s plans than any other teenager has ever been before. He is after all the only teenager to ever score for Mourinho, showing just how much trust the Portuguese manager has in him and how highly he thinks of the player and how good he can become. After starring in his England U21 debut last month, Rashford received all sorts of praise from other young talents around the world including Iheanacho and Real Madrid’s Martin Odegaard. If he isn’t already, Marcus Rashford will be a star someday for Manchester United and may just have the potential to become one of the world’s greatest players.
It’s pretty remarkable to me to say that the three best u-21 footballers at the moment are all Englishman but it speaks to the strength of the Premier League and how good England truly could be if they could just get a proper coach who knows what he’s doing. The future also looks very bright for the French as five out of fifteen stars on this list are already regular starters for Les Bleus.
Hopefully, these fifteen youngsters can continue their rise to the top and perhaps even surpass expectations. But at the moment these are the fifteen players with the biggest potential in world football. Hope you enjoyed it, don’t be afraid to comment below and can’t wait to see you next time!