FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 40-31

Words: Tom Kundert, Andrew Gibney, Priya Ramesh, David Cartlidge, Martin Mazur, Jonathan Harding. 

40. Gonçalo Guedes, 19 (Benfica)

A product of Benfica’s Seixal academy which proudly polished off Renato Sanches last season, lightning-quick forward Guedes has been tipped for a glittering career ever since making his debut at 17.

He began last season in explosive form and got himself noticed on the wider stage by scoring a fine winner as Benfica grabbed a surprise victory at Atletico Madrid. His level of play fell away over the course of the campaign, although 31 games and four goals proved that he played more than a bit-part role in a successful 2015/16 for the Eagles.

This season, he has taken his performances to another level. A regular starter, Guedes has added more aggression and consistency to his game, and hasn’t passed up the opportunity to make his mark in the Champions League again. His superb goal against Napoli will only intensify the rumours in Portugal of a big-money transfer to Atletico Madrid in January. TK

39. Issa Diop, 19 (Toulouse)

If you’re good enough you’re old enough, and after making his debut at 18 in a struggling Toulouse side that eventually beat the drop, Diop quickly proved he was up for the fight.

The centre-back’s debut came in November 2015 and he barely left the team thereafter, starting 21 games and helping Toulouse manage eight clean sheets as they secured survival with an 80th-minute winner over Angers on the final day.

Diop – a tremendous athlete, excellent in the air and quick across the ground – spent his summer teaming up with PSG's Presnel Kimpembe and leading France to the U19 European Championship title. He has matured quite impressively under Toulouse boss Pascal Dupraz. AG

38. Enes Unal, 19 (FC Twente, on loan from Man City)

Unal has been the sensation of the Eredivisie season so far. Seven goals from as many appearances in all competitions is a simplistic way of representing how well the Turkish youngster has taken to life in the Dutch top flight. Let’s start with the fact that on his first start for Twente, the striker scored a 15-minute first-half hat-trick (below) – all the goals worth featuring on a highlights reel.

Unal has long been touted as a top talent, since his Bursaspor days. Expectations rose when Manchester City swooped in 2015, but not everything went to plan at first. A two-year loan agreement with Belgian side Genk broke down, so City went to the counry next door and Unal spent a productive half-season with Eredivisie side NAC Breda. (Four more young City stars followed him there in 2016/17.)

The 19-year-old John Mayer doppelganger has tremendous finishing ability, a splendid first touch and the ability to hold the ball up with his back to goal. Premature comparisons have been made to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although Pep Guardiola might be a bit keener on the youngster who might be giving the City boss something to think about for next season. PR

37. Maxwel Cornet, 19 (Lyon)

There was surprise when Lyon didn't try harder to hold onto the Tottenham-bound Clinton N'Jie in summer 2015. Part of the reason, though, was Maxwel Cornet.

Pinched from FC Metz in January 2015 before he could make a first-team appearance, he soon made his Ligue 1 debut against his old side. Alexandre Lacazette and Rachid Ghezzal proved ideal team-mates: the trio complemented each other perfectly, helping the 20-year-old to eight goals – seven of which came in his last 12 starts.

Despite being an inch and a half under the six-foot mark, it’s likely the France U21 prodigy will develop into a central striker, although he has blossomed on the wing for Lyon so far. His brutal combination of power and pace was a huge factor in Bruno Genesio’s team rescuing their season to finish second in Ligue 1. Their reward was the Champions League, in which Cornet has already scored this season. AG

36. Riechedly Bazoer, 19 (Ajax)

If not for a drop in performances since the new year, Bazoer would be much closer to the top of this list. The Utrecht-born midfielder was a favourite of Frank de Boer’s but has found himself sliding down the Ajax pecking order since Peter Bosz took over. The ex-Vitesse chief is still figuring out his best midfield three, but for the time being Bazoer has had to bide his time on the bench.

There is little doubt that Bazoer has the potential to be a world-class midfielder someday. His future probably lies at the base of midfield, but for now the 19-year-old’s skill set makes him more suited to playing as a box-to-box midfielder.

The former PSV youth star has the fine passing ability to link up with team-mates elegantly and confidently, and despite a tendency to go missing in games, has a handy knack of scoring from mid-range positions. Bazoer is rumoured to near the top of De Boer’s wishlist at Inter, and a change of scenery may benefit him in getting his development back on track. PR

NEXT: The mini-Mascherano eyed by both Madrid clubs

35. Mikel Oyarzabal, 19 (Real Sociedad)

They’ve been waiting for a young player to emerge at Real Sociedad since Antoine Griezmann flew the nest, and now they’ve got one. Oyarzabal burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion last season, notching important goals – including the only net-rippler in la Real's 1-0 win over Barcelona – and assists along the way.

At 19 he’s already shown Griezmann-like ability to thrill fans at Anoeta with his individual quality. He boasts a fine creative touch from his wide berth – three assists in seven La Liga games this season is testament to that – plus a powerful shot that helps him change games in an instant.

Oyarzabal’s ability to step up when his team requires him most is arguably his best quality – and at such a young age it’s even more impressive. Mikel Arteta, Xabi Alonso and Griezmann have gone before him at Real Sociedad, and he looks worthy of being mentioned in the same breath. DC

34. Santiago Ascacibar, 19 (Estudiantes)

Over the decades, Estudiantes have earned a reputation for being warriors – and that’s why Ascacibar only needed a handful games to become a fan favourite. In less than a season in Argentina’s Primera Division, the defensive midfielder has been constantly compared with Javier Mascherano. It’s not just the way he performs as anchorman, or his diminutive stature (5ft 5in), but also his maturity on and off the pitch.

The 19-year-old, who admires Mascherano and Atletico Madrid’s Matias Kranevitter, would like to start studying anthropology at university. He still lives with his parents and brothers. He has no car and is very careful about diets. Still, he’s not perfect – his harsh tackle in the derby against Gimnasia triggered an epic pitch battle at La Plata.  

“Sadly, Ascacibar is a player that we won’t enjoy for long,” admitted manager Nelson Vivas, former assistant of Diego Simeone. “Last time we had dinner, El Cholo already asked me about him.” He isn’t the only manager in Madrid who’s reportedly interested. MM

33. Lucas Hernandez, 20 (Atletico Madrid)

They like them rough and tough at Atletico Madrid, and Lucas Hernandez fits in that policy perfectly. The French defender, who is capable of playing at both centre-back and left-back, has carved himself out a reputation as not only fitting the Atleti mould but also being a big-game player.

He’s been thrown in at the deep end several times by Diego Simeone, pitching up in important games at short notice, yet never let his side down. Simply, Lucas accomplishes his defensive basics well: his aerial ability is strong, and he’s not afraid to clear his lines in emphatic fashion. The speedy 20-year-old is a powerful presence who refuses to be intimidated by any striker.

It takes a lot for Simeone to trust a player, but Lucas is someone he can bank on. DC

32. Thomas Lemar, 20 (Monaco)

Lemar was still a relative unknown outside of France when Monaco faced off against Tottenham at Wembley in the Champions League – but the young Frenchman showed why he has accomplished so much in a short space of time.

After scoring the second goal as the Monegasque club beat Mauricio Pochettino's side 2-1, he's no longer a secret. With pace and the ability to play across various positions in midfield and attack, his wonderful left foot has been causing Ligue 1 defenders problems for a few seasons now.

Like N'Golo Kante he broke through at Caen, but did enough in 32 league games to earn a move to the principality. He wasn't the highest-profile signing in the summer of 2015 (for around €4m), but after eight games he'd conjured three goals, two assists and was quickly establishing a place in Leonardo Jardim's first team. Now, European eyes are watching – including those from Liverpool. AG

31. Mahmoud Dahoud, 20 (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Once Dahoud figured out he didn’t need to be just at the base of the diamond or behind the strikers, he flourished. Last season the Syria-born German U21 star showed he has what it takes to be one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the years ahead.

A strong tackler who works hard to use the ball quickly in transitions, Dahoud is a dual threat. He has a fast-growing reputation for his long shots, while his vision helps him change matches at pivotal moments. Crucially, he seems to have left his injury woes behind him too.

In a move seemingly designed to push Dahoud to even greater heights, Gladbach head coach Andre Schubert has often left his midfield starlet on the bench this season. Dahoud’s response was to deliver a fantastic display against Barcelona in the Champions League. Given the current football climate, it only seems a matter of time before he takes the next step. JH

59-51 • 50-41 • 40-31 • 30-21 • 20-11 • 10-1

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