FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 50-41
Words: Andrew Gibney, Michael Yokhin, David Cartlidge, Marcus Alves, Jonathan Harding, Adam Digby, Priya Ramesh.
50. Vincent Koziello, 20 (Nice)
There’s very little not to love about Koziello. Nice’s baby-faced assassin looks no older than a GCSE student, but his vision, understanding of the game and sense of control bely first impressions.
The 20-year-old was a huge part of Claude Puel's success last season. He pulls the strings in the midfield as something of a box-to-box player, but with more grace and style than a powerful midfielder like Blaise Matuidi. Koziello glides with the ball and makes link-up play look effortless, but he's no angel – the France U21 star picked up nine yellow cards last term, so don't let his innocent face fool you.
Koziello has already started well again under new boss Lucien Favre, despite the loss of midfield mucker Nampalys Mendy to Leicester. There’s more to come too. Sure, he needs to toughen up to compete with Europe's best, but it’s hard to envisage Nice’s 5ft 6in bundle of energy not taking his game to the next level soon enough. AG
49. Aleksandr Golovin, 20 (CSKA Moscow)
Youngsters rarely get chances to prove themselves in Russia, and that’s why Golovin’s emergence is especially encouraging. At the beginning of 2016, CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky – impressed with what he saw from the midfielder in a training camp – hailed Golovin on a weekly basis and decided to promote him to his starting line-up. The results were positive: Golovin scored a majestic brace in the Russian Cup semi-final against Krasnodar.
As Slutsky combined jobs and worked as Russia coach on a temporary basis at the time, he included the 20-year-old in his squad for Euro 2016. With Alan Dzagoev injured, Golovin started against England and Slovakia in his defensive midfield berth, but that proved to be a step too far.
It’s hard to blame a youngster who’s usually employed much further up the pitch, however, and it will be important for Golovin to find his ideal position – right now he is considered too versatile for his own good. If everything goes smoothly, though, he should star for Russia at a World Cup on home soil in 2018. MY
48. Adam Ounas, 20 (Bordeaux)
After being linked with a move to Manchester United in the summer, it’s a little surprising that Ounas is still with Bordeaux this season. In reality, though, the winger couldn't be in a better place – new boss Jocelyn Gourvennec has an exceptional track record in developing talent and that bodes well for the 20-year-old.
With Eden Hazard-esque ability on the ball, Ounas regularly drags fans off their seats with quick drops of the shoulder and speedy changes in direction. Opposition defenders don’t enjoy it quite so much.
Ounas still has to learn when it’s best to use his skill or when to give the ball up, but it’s important that he doesn’t lose his spark. For now he’s still playing the role of impact sub, but his five goals and two assists last term caught the attentions of some big clubs. It's now on Ounas to prove he’s worth the interest. AG
47. Predrag Rajkovic, 20 (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
The goalkeeper burst onto the scene in July 2013 when Serbia unexpectedly won the U19 European Championship. Rajkovic was just 17 at the time, but showed remarkable leadership skills, saved two penalties in the shootout against Portugal in the semi-finals and kept a clean sheet in the 1-0 win over France in the final, stopping Anthony Martial and chums.
Two years later he was captain of the U20 national team that won the World Cup in New Zealand. He only conceded four goals in seven games, was imperious in the 2-1 extra-time final win over Brazil and deservedly voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
Rajkovic then chose a rather questionable path, moving from Red Star Belgrade to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2015. He preferred the Israeli club in order to play in the Champions League, but that adventure ended in six defeats at the group stage, and the keeper's development has stalled a bit recently. He might need a new challenge to get back on track. MY
46. Santi Mina, 20 (Valencia)
After cutting his teeth at Celta Vigo, where he managed to make an impact in the first team, Mina was picked up by an ambitious Valencia who weren’t afraid to spend big (€10m) on the then-teenager.
They'd seen enough from a striker who above all shows brilliant movement in attack. His darting runs make him a pest for defenders to control; he can pick up positions on the wing and stretch defences, but also drop in centrally to show his poaching instincts. In a sense Mina is similar to Luis Suarez in how he reads the game, and uses his movement to deadly effect.
Down the final stretch of last season, in a poor team, the young striker still managed to score important goals. With Paco Alcacer sold on to Barcelona, Mina’s time has already come and he’s shown enough to suggest that he’s ready. DC