FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 30-21
25. Andreas Christensen, 20 (Borussia Monchengladbach, on loan from Chelsea)
If Chelsea are sensible, they’ll put Christensen straight into the starting XI the moment his loan comes to an end. The young Dane has grown into a fine player during his two-year spell at Gladbach, and it’s quickly become clear how smart the 20-year-old is.
Christensen is a ball-playing centre back who boasts a passing success rate (91.2%) that most midfielders would be happy with. After a shaky start, the Bundesliga has proved the perfect place for him to nurture his talent. He throws his body in the way when required, but usually positions himself well enough in the first place that ‘last ditch’ is rarely a term associated with him.
With Gladbach’s defensive ranks suffering from retirement, injuries and a loss of form, Christensen stepped up to become their man man at the back. A very bright future beckons for him – at Chelsea or elsewhere. JH
24. Viktor Kovalenko, 20 (Shakhtar Donetsk)
“He might not be a Brazilian, but we will make him a star," former Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu once said about his talented Ukrainian prodigy. Kovalenko filled the void left by China-bound Alex Teixeira with ease at the beginning of 2016, and proved to be a real star. He is very comfortable on the ball and possesses great vision, but is also strong physically and enjoys a tackle.
Such qualities make the 20-year-old a very versatile player. He can play anywhere – as a holding midfielder, as a playmaker or on the flank. And he has a good eye for goal too – top scorer at the U20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2015, he has netted seven times for Shakhtar in 2016, including four strikes in European competitions.
Not for nothing was he included in Ukraine’s squad at Euro 2016, and left a positive impression in an otherwise very disappointing competition for his country. By the next tournament, Kovalenko could become the ultimate leader. MY
23. Andre Silva, 20 (Porto)
For years Portugal fans have despaired of finding a high-quality striker who can make it to the top of the international game. In 20-year-old Porto goal machine Andre Silva, at last there is hope.
A prolific scorer for the youth teams of club and country plus Porto’s B team, Silva wasted little time in setting his sights at senior level – two clinical finishes in last season’s Portuguese Cup final cemented his place in Porto’s starting XI. Despite his young age the Arsenal-linked hitman has been an ever-present for the Dragons this season and proved Porto’s most dangerous player, bagging six goals in 11 matches in 2016/17.
Strong, skilful, direct and blessed with a poacher’s instinct, it would be no surprise to see Silva maintain or better that goalscoring ratio as he acquires more experience. The Portugal No.9 shirt is surely his for years to come. TK
22. Alex Iwobi, 20 (Arsenal)
Few players make it all the way through an elite club’s youth system at all, let alone having started in it from the age of eight – but then Arsenal have always had high hopes for Iwobi.
Aged 20 he’s now a first-team regular for Arsene Wenger, who looks comfortable playing alongside his far more established team-mates. Meanwhile, unlike most of the young Gunners who’ve tried to graduate since Jack Wilshere did a decade ago, it looks like he’ll be in it for the long haul. Recent stories suggest Iwobi will be given another new contract just six months after signing his last – but really, it’s hardly surprising for a player who Wenger threw in for a first Champions League appearance in Barcelona last season.
“When you look at him at first there is nothing special there,” Wenger told Arsenal.com in September. “But when you look he is always connecting with others at a very high level, and a very high pace. That’s why I think he is improving. He still has a lot of work to do but he has something that is very important at the top level – speed and an understanding of the game.” JB
21. Jonathan Tah, 20 (Bayer Leverkusen)
Few players have had to deal with the footballing upheaval that Tah has endured in his early years. It’s easy to forget that almost he’s three-quarters of the way to 100 professional league appearances, has played for two Bundesliga clubs, spent time on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf and already been to a major championship.
His late call-up to Germany’s Euro 2016 squad as an injury replacement will have only aided his development (even though he didn’t make an appearance), and mean regular time in Jogi Löw's squad is more likely soon enough.
A strong, tall and physical defender, Tah is a superb tackler and interceptor. His play from the back will improve and he could do with scoring a few more goals, but he already looks the best central defender at Bayer Leverkusen. With Aleksandar Dragovic a €17m new signing and Omer Toprak captain, though, the 20-year-old’s toughest test could be yet to come. JH