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