When it comes to football’s future, it’s safe to say a plethora of stars awaits to make their mark on the global stage. Here, we look at 10 youngsters those waiting in the wings, and those already making headlines.
10 - Eduardo Camavinga – 17 – Rennes
Usually deployed as a defensive midfielder, many in France see Eduardo Camavinga as the second coming of Patrick Vieira. A classic box-to-box talent with plenty of pace to boot. And it’s not a surprise to see football’s big boys already lurking around this exciting teenager.
In November 2002, Camavinga was born to Congolese parents in Miconge, Angola. His family moved to France when he was two, and that set-in motion a pathway to greater things.
Camavinga has been a part of Rennes' system since the age of 11. He signed his first professional contract with Rennes on 14 December 2018, at the age of 16 and one month, becoming the youngest ever professional for the club. Three months later, he made his professional debut, to become the youngest to ever play for the first team.
He’s now a key fixture of a Rennes side making strides in Ligue 1. Just the one goal in his 24 appearances, although that was a last-minute winner against Lyon in December.
Camavinga has already received a cap from France’s U21 side and has a Ligue 1 Player of the Month award to boot. No wonder European heavyweights Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United are lurking!
9 - Myron Boadu – 19 – AZ Alkmaar
One game. One goal. That’s Myron Boadu’s record for the Netherlands.
If you wanted a sense of what this 19-year-old’s future holds, look no further than his impact on the international stage.
He’s already a star in the Eredivisie. After injury setbacks in 2017 (knee) and 2018 (broken ankle), Boadu has now established himself as AZ Alkmaar’s main man. 2019 has proven to be the year in the making for him. He has 14 goals in 23 league games. 20 in all competitions including six in Alkmaar’s UEFA Europa League campaign.
It’s earned him plaudits in his homeland, and who better than Ronald Koeman? The Netherlands head coach is such a fan that he gave Boadu his first cap. A 5-0 win against Estonia in which he scored the 5th. He also became the first player born in the 21st century to feature and score for the Netherlands national team.
8 - Rayan Cherki – 16 – Lyon
As much as Kylian Mbappe knows about life as a teenage football prodigy, even he cannot compete with Rayan Cherki when it comes to precocity. At the age that Cherki was when he made his first-team debut for Lyon earlier this season (16 years and 63 days), Mbappe was still over nine months away from his first taste of senior action with Monaco.
The third of five brothers born to a father of Italian origin and a mother with Algerian roots in the Lyon suburbs, Cherki was only six when his talents as a footballer first came to light.
A turgid 0-0 draw against Dijon was the stage for Cherki’s Lyon debut in October.
A match to forget but not for the player or even the club’s president. Jean-Michel Aulas said of his newest prodigy: “Our ray of sunshine on a rainy afternoon”
Comparisons with Mbappe go further than just ability on the pitch. L’Equipe recently reported Cherki’s parents were seeking out advice from Mbappe’s parents on how to manage their son’s rise to stardom.
His future is at Lyon for now, where he is the club’s youngest goalscorer, aged 16 and 140 days.
7 - Yari Verschaeren – 18 – Anderlecht
You’d be forgiven for not knowing too much about this 18-year-old attacking midfielder. But Yari Verschaeren has his national team manager, Roberto Martinez on side.
Verschaeren is a youth product from Anderlecht, joining the club at age 9. In 2017, he signed his first contract.
His senior debut for the 34-time Belgian champions came on 25 November 2018. Just two months later, he scored his first goal against KAS Eupen. Performances have been so impressive that he has received two call-ups to the Belgium national team.
Verschaeren made his international debut for Belgium on 9 September 2019, coming on as a late substitute against Scotland in a Euro 2020 qualifier. A month later, he scored his first goal, from a penalty, in Belgium's 9–0 win against San Marino.
At next year’s UEFA European Championships, most of Belgium’s golden generation will be heading to or surpassing, the age of 30. Verschaeren’s involvement proves the future remains bright.
6 - Giovanni Reyna – 17 – Borussia Dortmund
It’s not easy making your debut at such a young age. It’s also not easy making your debut when a teammate steals your limelight. That’s what happened to Gio Reyna, son of former Manchester City and USA midfielder, Claudio Reyna.
On January 18, 2020, Reyna made his Bundesliga debut for Borussia Dortmund, coming on as a substitute in the 72nd minute, in a 5–3 win against Augsburg. Unfortunately for Reyna, It just happened to be the same day Erling Haaland made his debut, and well, he scored a hat-trick.
For Reyna though, that day he became the youngest American, aged 17 years and 66 days, ever to appear in the Bundesliga, breaking a record previously set by Christian Pulisic. Since then, it’s been a meteoric rise to the exciting Dortmund squad filled to the brim with attacking brilliance.
On 4 February 2020, Reyna scored his first professional goal in the DFB-Pokal Round of 16. In doing so, he became the youngest goalscorer in German Cup history.
He also became the third-youngest player to play in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages when he came on a substitute against Paris Saint-Germain. Moments later, he set up Haaland for the game-winning goal. By doing that, Reyna became the youngest American to play and record an assist in a Champions League game.
One to watch, particularly with a certain Jadon Sancho looking for a way out of Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
5 - Jayden Braaf - 17 - Manchester City
Already compared to Jadon Sancho, the winger who can play on both flanks has been the standout performer in City’s youth teams since signing from PSV Eindhoven in 2018.
An excellent gift of a first touch, Braaf has the natural ability to take on and beat defenders in mere seconds. He is a constant source of goals and assists which is enough for the Sancho comparisons to carry substance.
The 17-year-old however, appears to be in no mood to wait and has already voiced his displeasure at not seeing any first-team action after the FA Cup third-round win over Port Vale. In a Snapchat post, he said: “I must score 100 times to make senior debut man, damn.”
The Premier League champions wish to avoid another Sancho scenario, question marks remain over his attitude. In an interview last October, Braaf expressed his hope to play in a first-team next season “at Manchester City or somewhere else.”
Whatever happens next, Jayden Braaf’s career will be one that should be followed closely.
4 - Ansu Fati – 17 - Barcelona
“You’re the one for me, Fati.”
While Morrisey may not have had Barcelona’s prodigious talent in mind, the Catalan giants must no doubt be glad they made that declaration for the youngster when they signed him from Sevilla’s academy aged 10.
Originally born in Guinea-Bissau, the starlet was granted Spanish citizenship in October 2019 and has since represented his adopted country at U21 level.
Potentially the most talented footballer of his generation, Fati’s rise to prominence this season has been meteoric. He’s already made history as Barcelona’s as the youngest ever player to score twice in a La Liga with a brace against Levante earlier in the season.
Not content with one record, he followed that up by claiming the UEFA Champions League’s youngest-ever scorer accolade with a winner in Barca’s 2-1 win over Inter Milan on Matchday Six:
Granted, Fati’s chance largely came due to the injuries of Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele but the teen has grabbed it and will no doubt be looking to become a Blaugrana stalwart for years to come.
3 - Pablo Moreno - 17 - Juventus
One who got away from Barcelona, the Spaniard decided his footballing education would be better served in Turin and so far, it’s proved to be the right decision.
Having broken several goal-scoring records at the famed La Masia academy, Moreno’s head was turned by Juventus and signed in 2018 for a reported £595,000. A first-team debut still awaits, but that hasn’t stopped the forward from impressing in the club’s U19 & U23 sides.
Although Moreno is yet to have a defined position, his versatility across the forward line has seen him play out wide or even as a second striker. His goal-scoring instincts have remained with 4 goals in 3 UEFA Youth League appearances for the Italians.
Internationally, the Granada-born prospect played a key role as Spain’s U17 side reached the World Cup Quarter Finals in Brazil last year. It is surely only a matter of time before Moreno is running out for Juventus’ senior side.
2 - Billy Gilmour – 18 - Chelsea
As Frank Lampard joined Chelsea in June 2001, a future Chelsea midfielder was born in Glasgow.
18 years later, Lampard handed Billy Gilmour his full Blues debut as a substitute during a Premier League game against Sheffield United. Since then Gilmour grabbed the headlines for back-to-back Man of the Match performances against Liverpool and Everton at the beginning of March and has already been touted with a senior call-up to the Scotland squad.
The display against Liverpool, in particular, caught the eye as he controlled proceedings in midfield. The ex-Rangers scholar showed no nerves as he faced up to experienced opposition and played a big role in defeating the Premier League leaders 2-0 in the FA Cup 5th Round.
It was more of the same in his first Premier League start. Gilmour again dominated against the Toffees and completed a game-high 74 passes with an accuracy of 92.5%. He also proved to be a real-life Billy Whizz after he covered 12.62km – over 1km more than any of his team-mates.
In the absence of Jorginho, Gilmour excelled at the base of Chelsea’s midfield and further enhanced his claims for regular inclusion in Lampard’s starting line-ups.
1 - Bukayo Saka - 18 - Arsenal
Originally played further forward in Arsenal’s youth sides, Bukayo Saka’s emergence into the first team has seen the Londoner predominately feature at left-back.
But his attacking contributions have far from subsided as Saka has scored three goals in all competitions in 2019-20. Domestically Saka has made a real impact in the Premier League, with more assists than any other teenager.
18y 171d - Aged 18 years and 171 days, Bukayo Saka is the youngest player to assist in consecutive Premier League appearances since Francis Jeffers for Everton in April 1999 (18y 89d). Pinpoint. pic.twitter.com/nFBksVXNaS— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 23, 2020
Handed his senior debut last season by Unai Emery, Saka has continued to blossom under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta. But with less than 18 months on his current contract, rumoured interest from elsewhere may lure him away if the Gunners fail to secure future European qualification.
Which is why Arsenal are said to have brought forward discussions with his representatives to secure the 18-year-old’s future.
One other big decision Saka will have to make is which country he will pledge allegiance to between England and Nigeria; the former with whom he’s already represented at youth level, the latter the birthplace of his parents.
For all the dilemmas about positions, contracts and international representation, the hype surrounding Arsenal’s No.77 is fully justified.