Ranked! The 50 most exciting teenagers in world football

Ranked! The 50 most exciting teenagers in world football right now
(Image credit: Future)

30 years ago, the most exciting teenagers in world football were made to scrub the boots of their elders. They were given grisly tough love from managers who wanted them to know their places. No one knew their names until they made them on the grass.

Well, those days are over – remember the England youth team who won the World Cup and celebrated with their shirts on backwards, just so you'd remember their names? Kids born in weeks that Beyonce and Arctic Monkeys had number-one singles become famous before you even recognise their faces. Blame Football Manager wonderkids, if you like – the fact of it is, however, that we just can't get enough of new talent. The next big thing is never finished.

Every year, we rank the 50 most exciting teenagers in world football, not by their current talent but by their potential trajectory. This is the half-century we're most excited for – the collection of starlets, the Class of '22, who could redefine the approaching decade of the beautiful game… no pressure, of course, boys. 

The 50 most exciting teenagers in world football right now

50. Ashley Phillips

Blackburn Rovers Ashley Phillips during the Sky Bet Championship between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers at Bramall Lane on August 20, 2022 in Sheffield, United Kingdom.

Blackburn Rovers defender Ashley Phillips during the Championship game between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers (Image credit: Mick Walker - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Club: Blackburn Rovers
Nation: England
Age: 17

Somehow, Ewood Park has turned into a conveyor belt of talent in recent years. Liverpool send their most precocious stars, while Blackburn seem to be churning out solid stars at a rate of knots. Ashley Phillips at centre-back is merely the latest. 

17 years old yet 6ft 4 and assured on and off the ball, it's hard to believe the boy isn't legally allowed to drink until the summer. Having recently signed a new deal until 2025, it'll take a reasonable fee to lure him from Lancashire in the next few years. 

49. Charlie Setford

Young Ajax goalkeeper Charlie Setford during the Dutch Kitchen Champion Division match between Ajax u21 and ADO Den Haag at Sportcomplex De Toekomst on March 7, 2022 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Goalkeeper Charlie Setford during the Dutch Kitchen Champion Division match between Ajax U21 and ADO Den Haag (Image credit: ANP via Getty Images)

Club: Ajax
Nation: England
Age: 19

Born in Haarlem, Holland, yet a custodian of England youth sides, Charlie Setford might just be the next big thing in 'keeping. He's played at every level of Ajax's famed academy and having claimed that he feels "trust" from the England youth set-up, it seems likely that he's on the radar for a senior call-up one day. 

48. Takuhiro Nakai (Pipi)

Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema (L), Real Madrid's French defender Ferland Mendy and Real Madrid's Japanese midfielder Takuhiro Nakai "Pipi" (R) attend a training session at the Ciudad Real Madrid training complex in Valdebebas, outskirts of Madrid, on October 1, 2022.

Takuhiro Nakai trains with French pair Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy for Real Madrid (Image credit: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

Club: Real Madrid
Nation: Japan
Age: 19

When Barcelona lost Takefusa Kubo, Real Madrid swooped in to steal the Japanese starlet. In Takuhiro Nakai, they might have a bigger prospect.

Known as Pipi in Spanish football, the starlet looks raised on a diet of Andres Iniesta compilations, able to 'croquette' his way out of trouble and weave his way from midfield into the final third. Two-footed and elegant, he's maturing at a great time for the Samurai Blue's exciting generation. 

47. Arnau Martinez

Taty Castellanos of Girona FC celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal with his team mates during the LaLiga Santander match between Elche CF and Girona FC at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero on November 08, 2022 in Elche, Spain.

Taty Castellanos and Arnau Martinez celebrate during the La Liga match between Elche and Girona (Image credit: Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images)

Club: Girona
Nation: Spain
Age: 19

He's crystallised into more of a right-back but Arnau Martinez could still become a central defender long-term. His raking long-balls and recovery pace are Kyle Walker-esque – helpful, perhaps then, that Girona are part of the City Football Group. 

46. Shola Shoretire

Shola Shoretire of Manchester United gestures during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Manchester United and Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on July 31, 2022 in Manchester, England.

Shola Shoretire gestures during the preseason friendly match between Manchester United and Rayo Vallecano (Image credit: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Club: Manchester United
Nation: England
Age: 18

It's not pronounced "shaw-tyre". Having left Manchester City's academy for the red side of Manchester, Shola Shoretire already has Premier League minutes under his belt and is tipped to become a game-changing attacker one day, thanks to his close control and decision-making in transition. He may get the nod from Erik ten Hag sooner rather than later. 

45. Matheus Nascimento

Matheus Nascimento (L) of Botafogo competes for the ball with Romulo of Juventude during the match between Botafogo and Juventude as part of Brasileirao Series A 2022 at Nilton Santos Stadium on May 01, 2022 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Matheus Nascimento of Botafogo (right) competes for the ball with Romulo of Juventude (Image credit: Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images)

Club: Botafogo
Nation: Brazil
Age: 18

Nascimento is a big name in Brazil: just ask anyone in Brazil what Pele's full name was. 

Namesake Matheus similarly plays up front. He's leggy but intense on the ball, with ferocious drive and great strength for a teenager. He's not one of the more talked-about youngsters in his homeland but his all-round forward play is very mature for his tender age. 

44. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens

Jamie Bynoe-Gittens of Borussia Dortmund celebrates scoring their side's first goal during the Bundesliga match between Sport-Club Freiburg and Borussia Dortmund at Europa-Park Stadion on August 12, 2022 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.

Jamie Bynoe-Gittens of Borussia Dortmund celebrates scoring his side's first goal against Freiburg (Image credit: Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Club: Borussia Dortmund
Nation: England
Age: 18

Jadon Sancho walked so that the rest could run. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens has already been in Chelsea's, Reading's and Manchester City's academies and now he's followed that now-common path from London to the Bundesliga.

He terrifies defenders, too, at only 18. Slight in figure and able to dance away from his marker, he lacks the kind of explosiveness that maybe Jude Bellingham has bursting through midfield but his creativity when cutting in on the left is reminiscent of Sancho himself. It'll be fascinating to see what happens next for JBG. 

43. Julio Enciso

Julio Enciso of Brighton & Hove Albion is challenged by Ezri Konsa of Aston Villa during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Aston Villa at American Express Community Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Brighton, England.

Julio Enciso of Brighton & Hove Albion is challenged by Ezri Konsa of Aston Villa (Image credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Club: Brighton
Nation: Paraguay
Age: 18

Julio Enciso might just be the brightest thing in Paraguayan football had Miguel Almiron not have activated his own God mode this season. The ball just sticks to the Brighton star's feet: he's a nuisance in the final third and watching him blossom under Roberto De Zerbi could be very exciting indeed. 

42. Marquinhos

Marquinhos of Arsenal scores their team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League group A match between FC Zürich and Arsenal FC at Kybunpark on September 08, 2022 in St Gallen, Switzerland.

Marquinhos of Arsenal scores scores away to Zurich in the Europa League (Image credit: Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images)

Club: Arsenal
Nation: Brazil
Age: 19

He seems tailor-made for Mikel Arteta's football. Marquinhos has 'la pausa' in his game already to stop-start when taking on players and seems unfazed with going either inside or outside of his man. Sao Paulo were reportedly devastated that he left for as little as £3 million – it's easy to see why when he's essentially replaced club record signing Nicolas Pepe for Europa group stage outings. 

41. Rico Lewis

Rico Lewis of Manchester City celebrates scoring the 1st goal during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Manchester City and Sevilla FC at Etihad Stadium on November 2, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Rico Lewis of Manchester City celebrates scoring the first goal during the Champions League match against Sevilla (Image credit: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Club: Manchester City
Nation: England
Age: 18

Manchester City have a weird relationship with full-backs – perhaps stranger still is that they seem to have produced a Joao Cancelo regen in the academy. Rico Lewis can play on both sides and has already netted in the Champions League – he's the all-time youngest scorer on a first start and not bad defensively, either. He'll go from strength to strength. 

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.