FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 20-11
Words: Michael Yokhin, Jonathan Harding, David Cartlidge, Joe Brewin, Martin Mazur, Marcus Alves.
20. Ante Coric, 19 (Dinamo Zagreb)
Croatian fans hope that the 19-year-old could become the new Luka Modric, and there are chances of that dream coming true. Coric is a very elegant midfielder with good close control and wonderful passing ability, which make comparisons to the Real Madrid star almost inevitable.
The youngster himself, however, aspires to play for Barcelona one day, even though he knows that the road will not necessarily be smooth. For now, he remains at Dinamo Zagreb after interest from Liverpool and Manchester City didn't result in specific negotiations. In the past he’s rejected some of Europe’s biggest clubs – indeed, at Bayern Munich there’s a grading system which determines the potential of young players, and Coric was the first in their history to fully finish all of the tasks and score maximum points. But he turned the Bavarians down.
Having made his debut for Dinamo Zagreb at the age of 17, Coric became a very valued member of their squad, though his slight built means that he is rarely able to play the full 90 minutes. He must be much stronger physically to become a complete player. It’s probably the reason he stayed on the bench in most Champions League matches last season. Coric made Croatia’s squad for Euro 2016 but didn't play a single minute, and will hope to gain much more experience this term. MY
19. Tin Jedvaj, 20 (Bayer Leverkusen)
Losing Dani Carvajal in the summer of 2014 was inevitable for Bayer Leverkusen, and his departure left big shoes to fill. At first, Roma's Tin Jedvaj didn’t look like a suitable replacement. His stunning goal against Werder Bremen might have got a few fans excited, but it quickly became clear that the Croatian was raw defensively.
Since then, though, the right-back’s talent has grown. His reading of the game has drastically improved and his tenacious work rate down the wing suits Leverkusen’s style of play. The battle against even younger team-mate Benjamin Henrichs – one Jedvaj is currently losing – will be great for B04, but pivotal for Jedvaj’s progression.
While most would admit that there is still plenty of work to be done – he even played at centre-back for three matches last season, in which Leverkusen conceded 10 goals – the Croatian is still just 20. The talent is undoubtedly there and the next few years will decide whether he steps up or drifts. JH
18. Marlos Moreno, 20 (Deportivo La Coruna, on loan from Man City)
After arriving at Atletico Nacional as a 14-year-old, Marlo Moreno’s rise has been rapid. It climaxed in 2016 as he played a key role in his boyhood club triumphing in both the Superliga Colombiana and their sensational Copa Libertadores win.
Moreno’s stunning displays – he scored in the first three group games and added five more assists throughout the competition – convinced Manchester City to part with a potential bargain £5m for him, amid interest from clubs including Manchester United, Liverpool, Benfica and Sporting.
He can play anywhere along the frontline but prefers the No.9 role he relished in Colombia. “My game is based on speed and skill. I think one-on-one situations are my strong point,” he told Manchester City’s official site upon signing. At just 5ft 7in Moreno is something of a pocket rocket who packs blistering pace and dribbling skills. He also happens to have scored the quickest goal in Atletico Nacional’s history, after 30 seconds – and it came in last season’s league decider. Catch him if you can. DC
17. Timo Werner, 20 (RB Leipzig)
Towards the end of Werner’s spell at Stuttgart, it looked like his early promise had burned out – after all, he’d been playing in the first team since he was 17. His €10m move to RB Leipzig, however, has proved it was his surroundings that clouded his development.
The transfer was a brave but sensible decision, and the effects are already clear. Werner – part of Germany’s U17 team (with Max Meyer, Julian Brandt) that finished runners-up in the 2012 Euros when he was barely 16 – is showing much-improved movement, his scoring touch is back and he already looks like the player Stuttgart proudly promoted from their academy after hitting 31 goals (in 34 games) for the U17s and then 24 (in 25 games) for the U19s.
Werner’s experience isn’t the problem. He's made over 100 Bundesliga appearances – the youngest player ever to hit that tally in the league’s history. It was his composure in front of goal that was questioned. But with his confidence surging and his surroundings perfect, 2017 will be a big year for him. JH
16. Youri Tielemans, 19 (Anderlecht)
Aged 19, the talented midfielder is way into his fourth season in Anderlecht’s starting line-up. Ever since making his debut in July 2013 and becoming the youngest-ever Belgian in the Champions League, Tielemans has remained a key player in midfield, and it is somewhat surprising that his club have managed to keep him so far despite interest from top clubs.
He could become a complete midfield star thanks to his versatility. Tielemans is two-footed, likes to dictate the tempo from behind, but at the same time packs a fine shot and is astute technically. His passing range can be exquisite, and his scoring record is good, with 22 goals in all competitions (five in 13 games so far this season).
Tielemans isn’t consistent enough yet, and hasn’t had a chance to prove himself for the national team because the Red Devils have such an incredible choice of superstars in midfield. But his time will come. MY