FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 10-1
4. Gianluigi Donnarumma, 17 (Milan)
It’s difficult to explain just how good Gianluigi Donnarumma actually is. Common wisdom tells us that goalkeepers get better with age, yet the Milan star doesn’t celebrate his 18th birthday until the end of February and has still only played 30 games in Serie A, having made his first-team debut aged 16 last season – a Serie A goalkeeping record.
Yet watching him between the posts for the Rossoneri is to see a fully accomplished player making very few mistakes thanks to his excellent positioning. He’s already confident enough to verbally blast any errors from his veteran team-mates.
Given the current state of Milan’s side, those are plentiful and yet they continue to win games thanks to Donnarumma’s brilliance. He’s often compared to Gigi Buffon, yet is much more reminiscent of a young Edwin van der Sar; accomplished and intelligent enough to be in the right place but athletic and so tall (6ft 5in – what on earth did his parents feed him?) that he can recover if he ever gets his footwork wrong.
With Mino Raiola as his agent and Milan in a clear period of decline, it remains to be seen how long ‘Gigone’ will remain at San Siro once some of his older peers need replacing. Someone else could be getting an exceptional goalkeeper for a very long time. AD
3. Renato Sanches, 19 (Bayern Munich)
The term ‘meteoric rise’ is vastly overused in football (and also just plain wrong: who ever saw a meteor rise? – Ed.) – but there’s no doubting how Renato Sanches has rocketed onto the European footballing scene this year.
The teenager was given his full Benfica debut in the Champions League in November 2015 against Astana. One week later he scored a 30-yard wonder goal against Academica on his home debut in the Primeira Liga. He was never out of the first team again.
Exhibiting power, stamina and maturity beyond his years, Sanches played a leading role in helping the Eagles win a thrilling Portuguese title race and also looked anything but a rookie in the Champions League as Benfica’s commendable run only ended in a narrow quarter-final loss against Bayern Munich. So impressed were the German giants with the 19-year-old that they promptly paid a staggering €35 million (with a potential €45m in add-ons) to sign him.
But Sanches’s appetite for making a big impact on elite-level football was not sated. He played in all but one of Portugal’s seven matches at Euro 2016, was named Young Player of the Tournament and picked up a winner’s medal. All before his 19th birthday. TK
2. Kingsley Coman, 20 (Bayern Munich)
Of all the wingers in this list, Coman is surely the most complete. While his dribbling isn’t as YouTube-friendly as Ousmane Dembele’s, his slender frame still helps him leave opponents behind with deft drops of the shoulder. It’s his delivery that separates him, though, just one of the fine technical abilities that the 20-year-old boasts.
Last season, his performance in Bayern Munich’s thrilling Champions League last 16 extra-time win against parent club Juventus was a turning point. It was then that Coman showed he could deliver right when it mattered. His cross in the final moments of the game was pinpoint. His goal in extra-time iced the cake.
Gazelle-like when speeding down the wing, Coman is a fascinating player to watch. He poses a dual threat by being able to play on either wing, crossing comfortably off one or darting inside off the other.
His work has already yielded success too. Although PSG fans will dispute the true value of his contribution, Coman has already won league titles in France, Italy and Germany. With his two-year loan in Munich due to end this season, it’s hard to imagine Bayern won’t exercise the option to buy the French wizard permanently. JH