Meet the 12 most exciting under-19s in world football
1. Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid)
There aren’t many talented prospects who have become household names across the football world by the tender age of 16, but then again Martin Odegaard isn’t your average young star.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich were all linked with the Strømsgodset academy graduate before he signed for Real Madrid at the start of 2015, with reports in the Spanish media suggesting that his first contract with los Blancos is already worth a cool £80,000 per week. A left-footed attacking midfielder who can dribble, pass and shoot, Odegaard has already won eight full caps for Norway.
2. Lee Seung-woo (Barcelona)
It’s often said that exporting players to Europe’s major clubs is a vital step for African and Asian countries looking to further their development. Park Ji-sung helped that process in South Korea when he joined Manchester United in 2005, but there’s now significant hope that Lee – who moved to Barcelona from Incheon United four years ago and was the subject of an approach from Real Madrid this summer – can become his nation’s first bona fide world-class footballer.
3. Krystian Bielik (Arsenal)
Bielik made his senior Arsenal debut in the 3-0 Capital One Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last month, playing the final 30 minutes in central midfield. That was the position in which he made his breakthrough at Legia Warsaw last season, but it could be that Arsene Wenger sees his long-term future at centre-back: the 17-year-old has spent most of the current campaign in the heart of the backline for the Gunners’ under-21s. Composed on the ball and never afraid to put a foot in, Bielik is expected to earn a call-up to the full Poland squad ahead of the European Championship next summer.
4. Ruben Neves (Porto)
What were you doing at 18? Probably not captaining your boyhood club in the Champions League, right? That’s the pleasure Neves was afforded in October, when the gifted holding midfielder was handed the armband for Porto’s group stage clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv. The teenager has already become an essential part of Julen Lopetegui’s side, winning plenty of admirers for his neat passing, astute positional sense and all-round understanding of the game.
5. Dayot Upamecano (RB Salzburg)
With Manchester United and PSG among the elite European outfits tracking Upamecano earlier this year, it was something of a surprise to see the Frenchman pitch up at Red Bull Salzburg from Valenciennes in July. A strong and speedy central defender, the 17-year-old is also a fine reader of the game and comfortable with the ball at his feet. Currently enjoying regular football with Salzburg’s feeder club FC Liefering in Austria’s second division, Upamecano has a big future ahead of him.
6. Fabian Benko (Bayern Munich)
What is it about Croatia and technically sound playmakers? As if Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Alen Halilovic and Mateo Kovacic weren’t enough, the Vatreni could soon have Bayern Munich’s Benko – born in Bavaria to Croatian parents – to call upon too. An attacking midfielder who can play centrally or on either flank, the 17-year-old has already caught the eye of Pep Guardiola, who brought him along for the first team’s pre-season tour of China in the summer. “Fabian Benko is a very young player,” the Catalan said at the time. “He’s only 17 years old, but we think that he is very good... he still has to improve in all areas of the game, but we’re very satisfied with his performances and his attitude in training.”