Words: Andrew Gibney, Michael Yokhin, David Cartlidge, Marcus Alves, Jonathan Harding, Adam Digby, Priya Ramesh.
50. Vincent Koziello, 20 (Nice)
There’s very little not to love about Koziello. Nice’s baby-faced assassin looks no older than a GCSE student, but his vision, understanding of the game and sense of control bely first impressions.
The 20-year-old was a huge part of Claude Puel's success last season. He pulls the strings in the midfield as something of a box-to-box player, but with more grace and style than a powerful midfielder like Blaise Matuidi. Koziello glides with the ball and makes link-up play look effortless, but he's no angel – the France U21 star picked up nine yellow cards last term, so don't let his innocent face fool you.
Koziello has already started well again under new boss Lucien Favre, despite the loss of midfield mucker Nampalys Mendy to Leicester. There’s more to come too. Sure, he needs to toughen up to compete with Europe's best, but it’s hard to envisage Nice’s 5ft 6in bundle of energy not taking his game to the next level soon enough. AG
49. Aleksandr Golovin, 20 (CSKA Moscow)
Youngsters rarely get chances to prove themselves in Russia, and that’s why Golovin’s emergence is especially encouraging. At the beginning of 2016, CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky – impressed with what he saw from the midfielder in a training camp – hailed Golovin on a weekly basis and decided to promote him to his starting line-up. The results were positive: Golovin scored a majestic brace in the Russian Cup semi-final against Krasnodar.
As Slutsky combined jobs and worked as Russia coach on a temporary basis at the time, he included the 20-year-old in his squad for Euro 2016. With Alan Dzagoev injured, Golovin started against England and Slovakia in his defensive midfield berth, but that proved to be a step too far.
It’s hard to blame a youngster who’s usually employed much further up the pitch, however, and it will be important for Golovin to find his ideal position – right now he is considered too versatile for his own good. If everything goes smoothly, though, he should star for Russia at a World Cup on home soil in 2018. MY
48. Adam Ounas, 20 (Bordeaux)
After being linked with a move to Manchester United in the summer, it’s a little surprising that Ounas is still with Bordeaux this season. In reality, though, the winger couldn't be in a better place – new boss Jocelyn Gourvennec has an exceptional track record in developing talent and that bodes well for the 20-year-old.
With Eden Hazard-esque ability on the ball, Ounas regularly drags fans off their seats with quick drops of the shoulder and speedy changes in direction. Opposition defenders don’t enjoy it quite so much.
Ounas still has to learn when it’s best to use his skill or when to give the ball up, but it’s important that he doesn’t lose his spark. For now he’s still playing the role of impact sub, but his five goals and two assists last term caught the attentions of some big clubs. It's now on Ounas to prove he’s worth the interest. AG
47. Predrag Rajkovic, 20 (Maccabi Tel Aviv)
The goalkeeper burst onto the scene in July 2013 when Serbia unexpectedly won the U19 European Championship. Rajkovic was just 17 at the time, but showed remarkable leadership skills, saved two penalties in the shootout against Portugal in the semi-finals and kept a clean sheet in the 1-0 win over France in the final, stopping Anthony Martial and chums.
Two years later he was captain of the U20 national team that won the World Cup in New Zealand. He only conceded four goals in seven games, was imperious in the 2-1 extra-time final win over Brazil and deservedly voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper.
Rajkovic then chose a rather questionable path, moving from Red Star Belgrade to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2015. He preferred the Israeli club in order to play in the Champions League, but that adventure ended in six defeats at the group stage, and the keeper's development has stalled a bit recently. He might need a new challenge to get back on track. MY
46. Santi Mina, 20 (Valencia)
After cutting his teeth at Celta Vigo, where he managed to make an impact in the first team, Mina was picked up by an ambitious Valencia who weren’t afraid to spend big (€10m) on the then-teenager.
They'd seen enough from a striker who above all shows brilliant movement in attack. His darting runs make him a pest for defenders to control; he can pick up positions on the wing and stretch defences, but also drop in centrally to show his poaching instincts. In a sense Mina is similar to Luis Suarez in how he reads the game, and uses his movement to deadly effect.
Down the final stretch of last season, in a poor team, the young striker still managed to score important goals. With Paco Alcacer sold on to Barcelona, Mina’s time has already come and he’s shown enough to suggest that he’s ready. DC
45. Jorge, 20 (Flamengo)
Flamengo’s fans call him Jorge ‘Alba’ in reference to Barcelona left-back Jordi. To them, though, the 20-year-old promising youngster is much better – and one of the main reasons why the Rio de Janeiro side are fighting for the Brazilian Serie A title against Gabriel Jesus’s Palmeiras.
He was included in a pre-list for the Rio 2016 Olympics and a call-up for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers is surely only a matter of time. Jorge’s phone hasn’t rung for a European move just yet, but Pep Guardiola is reportedly keeping tabs and there has already been talk of an offer from Manchester City in the next transfer window.
Jorge has had a breakthrough season in 2016 and shown a great maturity playing for Brazil’s most popular side. He’s definitely not a typical Seleção left-back, though – excellent in attack but also boasting fine defensive skills. Marcelo’s successor awaits his turn. MA
44. Kylian Mbappe, 17 (Monaco)
Monaco don’t exactly struggle to find new players. In summer 2015, for example, they brought in 12 new faces after the likes of Anthony Martial, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Dimitar Berbatov had moved on.
In exceptional circumstances, though, they also like to give youth a chance – and that’s how forward Kylian Mbappe came into the picture. His debut in October 2015 involved setting up a consolation goal for Monaco at Spurs in the Europa League, before he broke Thierry Henry’s record by becoming their youngest-ever goalscorer in a 3-1 win over Troyes. This summer the 17-year-old scored five times for France as they won the U19 European Championship. His performance against Portugal in the semi-final was particularly exceptional, featuring two goals and assist.
Mbappe can play out wide, but he boasts the physique to move inside too. With dazzling skills, power and directness, he’s difficult to pin down – and his potential is frightening. AG
43. Oliver Burke, 19 (RB Leipzig)
Jumping at the chance to play regular top-class football rather than become another Brit loaned out for experience, Burke is already showing signs that he’s worth the £13m Leipzig will pay Nottingham Forest for his services. The 19-year-old’s physical strength has taken Bundesliga defenders by surprise, and his sheer determination and awareness has helped him score and assist in his first three games.
Despite Burke’s excellent attacking potential, his new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has acknowledged that the teenager’s defensive hard drive is somewhat empty. The Scot’s inefficient running is evidence of that, but it’s something he’s hoping to improve.
In Leipzig, Burke has the perfect club to become a more effective winger who will soon be capable of basketball-like steals and purposeful runs. Inevitable comparisons are being made with another winger from a certain home nation, but they’re premature and Burke knows it. In five years, though, that may not be the case. JH
42. Franck Kessie, 19 (Atalanta)
Atalanta might not stir senses like other Serie A clubs, but the Bergamo-based northerners boast one of Italy’s finest youth academies that has earned them a fearsome reputation for producing quality players. The likes of Gaetano Scirea, Antonio Cabrini, Roberto Donadoni and Giacomo Bonaventura all developed with the Orobici, and Franck Kessie seems to be the next big hit to emerge from the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia.
The 19-year-old grabbed headlines with two goals against Lazio on the first day of the 2016/17 campaign; since then the Ivorian midfielder has netted twice more and added an assist. The central midfielder’s excellent distribution and ability to skilfully trick his way past opponents have caught eyes – not least those at Arsenal, who have sent scouts to watch him.
Kessie has much to improve – indeed, he looks quite immature at times – but it seems Atalanta have yet another gem on their hands. Their track record shows he is likely to reach his full potential quickly. AD
41. Bart Ramselaar, 20 (PSV)
One of last season’s Eredivisie revelations was then-Utrecht midfielder Ramselaar, who was duly snapped up by defending champions PSV. He provided the perfect quotient of creativity and energy for Utrecht, demonstrating an ability to make a notable impact in the final third.
The 20-year-old compares himself to Isco, who is a similar type of midfielder; fast, excellent in possession and capable of picking out a good shot from the edge of the box.
One of the criticisms long levied at the Dutch national team is its dearth of creative midfielders, despite the fact that PSV boast two excellent ones in Davy Propper and Ramselaar. The latter’s capability of functioning out wide might mean that if the Netherlands were to go for a non-traditional winger role in future, he would offer a good option. PR
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