Who are the best young players in the world?
Growing up is never easy, but these 10 players seem to have taken to the challenge like a duck to water. While most of us were up to no good during our early years as an adult, some youngsters have instead been impressing as footballers on the world stage, scoring goals, competing at an elite standard and earning plenty of plaudits along the way.
Despite them all being aged 21 and under, their performances have been hugely impressive and it's scary to think about just how good they might be in the future, should they continue their soaring trajectories to superstardom.
They might not yet be the best players in their positions, but some of these players are destined to light up the World Cup 2022 this winter. At the very least, they're the kind of wonderkids you'll want to buy on Football Manager 2023 or FIFA 23.
Admittedly, ranking them in a coherent order isn't easy, but we reckon these are the best young players in the world right now.
Best young players in the world: 10. Karim Adeyemi
A winger with lightning pace and an eye for goal, Karim Adeyemi has impressed since moving to Borussia Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg in the summer. While he hasn't yet managed to hit the heights he did in Austria due to a couple of minor injuries halting his progress, the German has clearly shown why Dortmund were so keen to secure his signature, especially in the Champions League.
A goal against Sevilla highlighted his composure in front of goal, while his bravery and direct style of play regularly sees him get past defenders and create chances for his teammates. He also became the first post-war player from Austria’s top flight to receive a call-up for Germany while playing at Red Bull Salzburg last season, and in years to come Adeyemi could provide the solution to Die Mannschaft’s recent striker shortage.
9. Gabriel Martinelli
Martinelli has always been touted as a youngster at Arsenal who could develop into a great since joining the club in 2019, but 2022/23 has been his categoric breakthrough season. A dynamic and explosive wide forward known for his agile and effective movement, Martinelli is capable of dribbling past multiple opponents to create or score goals.
He has certainly earned himself a starting spot in Arteta's XI, and his performances in both the Premier League and Europa League makes it impossible to see how he could lose his place. Martinelli has benefitted from fellow countryman Gabriel Jesus' arrival in the summer, while his link-up play with Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard has produced a fearsome Arsenal attack opposition defences are regularly unable to stop.
8. William Saliba
William Saliba has slotted straight into the centre of Arsenal's defence and is performing at an incredibly high level, his displays almost faultless in the opening part of the 2022/23 season.
Last season's Ligue 1 young player of the year is aggressive in his defending, but maintains composure on the ball in frenetic situations. Just watch his curled goal on his weaker foot against Bournemouth in August for evidence of this.
Still just 21 years old, Saliba is consolidating his spot in France's senior squad, and has represented everything positive about Arsenal's hugely impressive start to their Premier League campaign.
7. Eduardo Camavinga
French fans began falling in love with Camavinga years ago, and it's clear to see why. The then-Rennes’ baby-faced midfielder could do everything effortlessly and was named Ligue 1 Player of the Month before even celebrating his 17th birthday, thanks to a superb performance against PSG as Rennes won 2-1.
Camavinga combines a combative style with sublime skill, and is equally good with and without the ball. His first full season was so good that Didier Deschamps called him up for France, when the starlet became Les Bleus’ youngest player (and scorer) since 1914.
With the departure of Casemiro, and with Kroos and Modric ageing as well, Camavinga is gradually earning more responsibility at Real Madrid. A Champions League and La Liga double winner at just 19, those wins provided Camavinga with even more confidence to hit the ground running in 2022/23. A regular starting berth in Real's midfield is only a matter of time for the Frenchman.
6. Bukayo Saka
Cesc Fabregas won Arsenal’s player of the season award just before his 20th birthday. So did Saka – and the excitement level is similar. The academy graduate is a darling of north London who managed to flourish even when the club lurched from one disaster to another at the beginning of the campaign.
His versatility is also striking. Is he a winger? A playmaker? A right-sided midfielder? A left-back? Maybe a striker? Put him in anywhere and excellent output is almost guaranteed. Although, cutting in from the right-wing is certainly Saka's best position, his displays for Arsenal this season a huge factor in the Gunners' startling beginning to the campaign.
Clever with his movement and with a brilliantly creative mind, Saka is also capable of popping up with a goal in necessary moments. His presence also provides assurances to other players that they can pass him the ball in any situation and expect him to retain possession, and if he is missing from the team the football isn't quite the same.
Mikel Arteta trusts Saka implicitly, too, and it was hardly surprising that Gareth Southgate used him frequently at Euro 2020. Forget the shootout miss – Saka is key for club and country.
5. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia
A relatively unknown quantity prior to his switch to Napoli in the summer of 2022, 21-year-old Kvaratskhelia has announced himself on the world stage through blistering performances in Serie A and, most notably, the Champions League against Liverpool, Ajax and Rangers.
Kvaratskhelia is a rangy winger who has chipped in with both plenty of goals and assists this season, and is a large factor in Napoli's storming start to the campaign. He loves to attack his opponents directly, challenging to 1v1s that he invariably wins - or is fouled for after knocking it past the defender.
While the Georgian has displayed his ability to use both feet, he does prefer cutting in from the left wing onto his right foot to strike at goal or feed Napoli's runners in on goal. Despite his tendency to focus on intensity, both in attack and defensively, Kvaratskhelia is also clever in his play and knows when to change the tempo of the game.
Picture the scene: You turned 17 just 24 days ago, and instead of hanging around with your mates in the height of summer, you're coming off of Barcelona's bench to play at the Nou Camp in a 2-1 victory over Getafe in August 2021. Not only that, but fast forward to the end of the season and you've featured in a further 33 La Liga games for Barca - yet you're still not old enough to legally buy a pint.
Gavi's remarkable 2021/22 season is truly extraordinary, and the diminutive Spaniard doesn't show any signs of slowing down. A regular in Xavi's starting XI, Gavi has repaid his manager's faith through some excellent performances. His intelligence and control in tight areas is especially impressive, while the passing range he possesses also enables Barcelona to attack quickly, directly and through the lines.
A recent winner of the Kopa Trophy, awarded to the best player in the world under the age of 21, Gavi has also broken into the Spanish national team, with his potential continuing to exponentially rise in the process.
3. Jamal Musiala
In June 2020, months after his 17th birthday, Musiala became Bayern’s youngest ever Bundesliga player – and soon after, their youngest goalscorer. Tall, graceful and an effortless dribbler, the teenager has drawn comparisons with a young Dele Alli, and can play as either a No.9 or a No.10. The prodigious playmaker is seen as a long-term successor to Thomas Muller in Die Roten’s attack – and he’s already off the mark with Germany for good measure.
Musiala clearly has Julian Nagelsmann's trust, too, starting Bayern's most important fixtures this season as he begins to imprint his quality on the side. After just ten league games in 2022/23, Musiala also managed to match his previous best goals total of six - he'll no doubt bag plenty more during the rest of the campaign.
Barcelona's squad rebuild in the summer of 2022 focussed around keeping one player at the centre of thinking: Pedri. Still only 19-years-old, Pedri has led the Balugrana midfield since joining from Las Palmas in 2019, and has now become one of the first names on Xavi's team sheet for each game.
Understandably earning comparisons with Andres Iniesta, Pedri could come to define an era at Barca alongside fellow teenager Gavi, and it's clear to see why. The Canary Islander is blessed with remarkable vision, passing precision and technical skills, and constantly keeps the ball ticking in Barca's attacks.
A hamstring injury kept him out of the majority of last season, but Pedri is now back to his best and highlighting why he is touted as one of the best young players in the world.
1. Jude Bellingham
Jude Bellingham anchored Borussia Dortmund's midfield 90 times across his first two seasons in Germany, including 18 Champions League outings, and has since become an indispensable member of BVB's starting XI.
Despite still only being 19, the midfielder also captained Dortmund during October's Champions League clash with Sevilla. He became the youngest ever captain to score in the competition when he bagged in the 41st minute, with his leadership role in the team apparent through his performance that night.
A player who is wise beyond his years, Bellingham plays with innate intelligence that allows him to play expertly timed passes, beat opponents physically and cover every blade of grass on the pitch. Indeed, he is like an old school box-to-box midfielder who is just as comfortable in attack as he is defending, emphasising just why he is among the most highly touted players in the world right now.
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Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.
- Conor PopeOnline Editor