Ranked! The 50 most exciting teenagers in world football

20. Alejandro Garnacho

Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United celebrates scoring a goal which is later disallowed for offside during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on September 03, 2023 in London, England.

Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United celebrates (Image credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Club: Manchester United
Nation: Argentina
Age: 18

He's comfortable dribbling in-field or stretching play, his eye for goal is excellent and his vision is good, too. But where Alejandro Garnacho really thrills – where he's truly a Manchester United player – is in his timing.

It's not just the instinctive runs that he has a superb knack of making behind backlines; it's that he always seems to make them exactly when his team needs them. Garnacho has the clutch gene. He has a solid base to build from as a footballer but more importantly for a young attacker, he's in tune with the rhythm of older team-mates already. He could be unstoppable soon.

19. Rico Lewis

Rico Lewis of Manchester City runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Manchester City and FK Crvena zvezda at Etihad Stadium on September 19, 2023 in Manchester, England.

Rico Lewis of Manchester City runs with the ball against Crvena Zvezda (Image credit: Isaac Parkin - MCFC/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Club: Manchester City
Nation: England
Age: 18

You have to be pretty darn good to step into the team after Joao Cancelo's thrown a wobbly and bowed out of contention, don't you? 

Back in the day, full-backs were famoushly failed wingers, before Pep Guardiola took to the laboratory to convert midfielders. Rico Lewis is a new breed, capable of inverting from left or right, secure in possession and excellent positionally. It's not often that the Catalan drops teenagers into his lineup but the trust that he's shown Lewis is a huge statement about how talented this boy is. 

18. Kendry Paez

Kendry Paez of Ecuador gestures during a FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023 Round of 16 match between Ecuador and Korea Republic at Estadio Santiago del Estero on June 01, 2023 in Santiago del Estero, Argentina.

Kendry Paez of Ecuador gestures during the U-20 World Cup (Image credit: Rodrigo Valle - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Club: Independiente del Valle (joining Chelsea in 2025)
Nation: Ecuador
Age: 16

You've got to hand it to Chelsea: they were clever enough to cut out the middle man and sign Ecuador's next big superstar now, rather than waiting to chuck £150m his way when he bagged a few for Brighton.

Despite the wealth of right-wing options that the Blues have on their books, Kendry Paez looks like one of the smartest bets to reach the top. There's a Mahrez-esque flow to the way he travels down the right flank, he looks assured on the ball and he can deliver the output to back up his considerable talents. It feels like a long 18 months waiting for him to come and tear up the European game. 

17. Roony Bardghji

Roony Bardghji of FC Copenhagen applauds fans during the Danish 3F Superliga match between FC Copenhagen and Randers FC at Parken on August 5, 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Roony Bardghji of Copenhagen applauds fans against Randers (Image credit: Lars Ronbog / FrontZoneSport via Getty Images)

Club: Copenhagen
Nation: Sweden
Age: 17

Famously, we all knew exactly what Arjen Robben was going to do: just nobody could prevent it from happening. Roony Bardghji is similar. 

The Swedish wonderkid is a different kind of watch, able to slide and slalom between full-backs, with a variety of flicks, passes and shots in his locker. Ultimately though, you know he's going to come back onto his left foot. His ball-striking is excellent, his vision is superb and his decision-making is good, too. With Real Madrid linked, too, he's going straight to the top. 

16. Ivan Fresneda

Ivan Fresneda of Sporting controls the ball during the Liga Portugal Betclic match between Sporting Braga and Sporting CP at Estadio Municipal de Braga on September 3, 2023 in Braga, Portugal.

Ivan Fresneda of Sporting controls the ball against Braga (Image credit: Pedro Loureiro/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Club: Sporting
Nation: Spain
Age: 18

Origin stories of how players ended up at full-back tend to be tales of being crowbarred here, not good enough to play there, blah, blah, blah. Ivan Fresneda isn't one of those.

The Spaniard is a superstar full-back in waiting: he is born for the role. Fresneda can underlap, invert and overlap to a high level, he's excellent in possession and he can hold his own defensively. That Arsenal, Dortmund and Barcelona were all interested shows just how good he is – but Sporting might just be the best option for him to continue his development. He makes being a right-back look exciting – and some would say that says something. 

15. Romeo Lavia

Chelsea unveil new signing Romeo Lavia at Chelsea training Ground on August 18, 2023 in Cobham, England.

Chelsea unveil new signing Romeo Lavia (Image credit: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Club: Chelsea
Nation: Belgium
Age: 19

Romeo Lavia announced himself with a strike against Chelsea to stun the Blues while at Southampton last season. As a riposte, they launched a cheeky deadline day move for him, just weeks after he'd landed on the south coast. The world thought they had gone mad. Those who knew, knew it would've been superb business.

12 months later, he's at Stamford Bridge after all – and ready to take over. The passing range is excellent but his dribbling out of tight spaces is something else: while Moises Caicedo has struggled in London early on, Lavia could be the key to a renaissance in west London. He looks about 10 years older than he is – and as he's proved in the past, he can shine, even in struggling sides.

14. Valentin Barco

Valentin Barco of Boca Juniors looks on during a match between Defensa y Justicia and Boca Juniors as part of Group B of Copa de la Liga Profesional 2023 at Estadio Norberto Tomaghello on September 15, 2023 in Florencio Varela, Argentina.

Valentin Barco of Boca Juniors looks on against Defensa y Justicia (Image credit: Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

Club: Boca Juniors
Nation: Argentina
Age: 19

Valentin Barco apparently told coaches that he doesn't want to play in a midfield role, where he could affect the game further forward, such is his commitment to becoming the best left-back in the world. No wonder Europe's superclubs are on alert.

Barco is phenomenal in full throttle like a freight train – and with his considerable ball-striking ability, there have been obvious parallels made to Roberto Carlos. He's one of the most complete full-backs in world football already: the sky is the limit. 

13. Youssoufa Moukoko

Youssoufa Moukoko of Germany poses during the official FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 portrait session on November 17, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Youssoufa Moukoko of Germany poses during the official World Cup portrait session (Image credit: Buda Mendes - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Club: Borussia Dortmund
Nation: Germany
Age: 18

Youssoufa Moukoko knows such thing as impossible. He burst into the Borussia Dortmund team as a 16-year-old when Erling Haaland was king and got fans off seats just as often, with his lightning speed captivating onlookers. He will look for the shot even when the angle is ever-closing, like a shutter in Mission Impossible. He can receive wherever, whenever and drive. 

Germany have an, a-hem, interesting recent history with forwards – and so do Dortmund, signing Niclas Fullkrug on deadline day to complement Sebastian Haller, Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen. Moukoko might be the naturally gifted of the lot, looking South American in his low centre of gravity and intensity: he has no problem with being the man to rely on, either.

12. Antonio Nusa

Antonio Nusa (32) of Club Brugge and his teammates of Brugge celebrating after winning the Jupiler Pro League season 2023 - 2024 match day 7 between Club Brugge and Sporting du pays de Charleroi on September 16 , 2023 in Brugge, Belgium.

Antonio Nusa of Club Brugge with his teammates after playing Charleroi (Image credit: Isosport/MB Media/Getty Images)

Club: Club Brugge
Nation: Norway
Age: 18

No one does a wonderkid like Norway these days. The Norwegian Neymar may seem like a bit of a stretch – but the comparisons are obvious.

Antonio Nusa himself says that he admires the Brazil record scorer's penchant for chaos, though there's far more to his game than just taking players on and stretching play. Nusa's vision belies his age, with the ability to pick a lock from the left wing – and he's versatile enough to switch up his game if he moves to the right. Playing in a team with Haaland and Odegaard can only be good for you, right?

11. Vitor Roque

Vitor Roque of Athletico Paranaense celebrates his goal during Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A match between Athletico Paranaense and Fluminense at Ligga Arena on August 27, 2023 in Curitiba, Brazil.

Vitor Roque of Athletico Paranaense celebrates his goal against Fluminense (Image credit: Heuler Andrey/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Club: Athletico Paranaense (joining Barcelona in 2024)
Nation: Brazil
Age: 18

Henry vs. van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo vs. Messi, Haaland vs. Mbappe… Roque vs. Endrick? Barcelona and Real Madrid have signed arguably Brazil's two most exciting forward – and while the internet went into overdrive upon seeing the 15-year-old Endrick weaving his way through defenders, Vitor Roque might just have gone a little under the radar. 

He's everything that his elders brought over from Brazil to Catalonia: he's explosive, tenacious and an excellent ball striker. There are shades of R9, of course, in the way that makes the square foot of space around defenders' ankles his playground – but Roque is his own man and watching him pick apart defences in La Liga (not to mention face Endrick) is going to be a hell of a ride.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1