Ranked! The 50 most exciting teenagers in world football
It's time for FFT's yearly ranking of the most exciting teenagers in the world right now – the kids are alright, all right…
20. Lucas Gourna-Douath
Club: Liefering, on loan from Red Bull Salzburg
Saint-Etienne's relegation was the gain of Red Bull Salzburg who made Lucas Gourna-Douath the most expensive signing in the history of Austrian football. So few teenagers are able to play as a lone No.6 but the Frenchman has strength and speed alongside composure and positional awareness to perhaps master the position.
When he ramps up the gears and charges through midfield, there's no stopping him. He seems a likely DM buy for an ambitious 4-3-3 outfit, like a Brighton or a Brentford.
19. Florian Wirtz
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
It's so cruel that Florian Wirtz was stopped in his tracks. Out for the best part of a year when a World Cup split the calendar, Germany needed a talent like this to call upon.
In any phase of the pitch, Wirtz is sublime – every touch is a special moment. It's like he's bewitching the ball under his spell, while the end product isn't bad, either. The Bundesliga arguably hasn't produced a playmaker as pretty to watch as Mesut Ozil. Here's hoping he returns to full vigour when he comes back from injury.
18. Xavi Simons
Xavi Simons seems to have gone the long way round, starting at La Masia, going to Paris Saint-Germain before winding up at PSV. But this season, he has 14 goals and assists in 22 games, stripping his game down to output. He's gone up another level – and surely the big clubs will come back in for him again.
17. Andreas Schjelderup
Just about every forward out of Norway raises an eyebrow these days – and yes, you can blame you-know-who. But Andreas Schjelderup isn't the next Haaland by our guesses.
Similarly to the big man, his game looks refined to taking as few touches as he needs to find the back of the net – but he's smaller and adept at zooming in from the touchline, while he contributes to build-up. He blasts the ball less and loves to cut in on his right foot – and Schjelderup will look for the pass a lot more than a conventional No.9.
Suitable as a left-winger in a Premier League side? Maybe – it would be lazy yet not too untrue to see him as the midpoint between Haaland and Martin Odegaard.
16. Arda Guler
The responsibility of a playmaker can be split into two. Make the pitch as big as possible. Always put the ball in a better place than where you received it. It can take time, patience and maturity to realise both facets of that role.
Arda Guler already has both. Left-footed with velvet touch, the field seems to sweep into the 8K when he gets possession. His vision is astounding for such a young player and his technical level is superb. There isn't enough of a dataset yet – but he plays like a pure output machine in the mould of Kevin De Bruyne.
Comparatively, he's not played too much football yet. It would be wise for a big club to sign him before he does and everyone wants him.
15. Warren Zaire-Emery
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Eduardo Camavinga's bow for Rennes against Paris Saint-Germain was some way to introduce yourself on the world stage – but pertinently, it highlighted a strange black hole of the superclub's dominance. How had they never produced nor acquired a homegrown defensive midfield wonderkid of this stature?
Camavinga's gone to Madrid, now – Warren Zaire-Emery is the future. He has the assured nature of a man decades into football, yet he's 16. He can dictate games already: he can split a team with a slight of his shoulders to wriggle through or with a vertical pass. That he's already integrated into PSG's senior set-up is a testament to how much potential he really has.
Tempo-setters who can't legally buy pints are essentially unicorns in football. WZE might just be the most exciting player PSG have produced in a long time.
14. Mathys Tel
Club: Bayern Munich
Mathys Tel is 17 years old, at Bayern Munich and talked about as a reason that the club should not go for Harry Kane. Yet he's still going under the radar in some respects.
Most forwards learn to use their physicality like he has later in life – but though he's powerful when he bursts down the lefthand channel, he still looks elegant when he runs. Tel is good at holding the ball up too – so while he could become yet another inside forward, he might yet be the lone No.9 to fill Robert Lewandowski's sizeable boots.
He just needs time, patience and to learn how to stay switched into the game for 90 minutes. But the prospect of Bayern moulding a centre-forward for themselves out of a player with the best bits of Anthony Martial and Nicolas Anelka is a fascinating project, indeed.
13. Charlie Patino
Club: Blackpool, on loan from Arsenal
It didn't take long for him to get either a chant or to start running senior football games. Charlie Patino has constantly been described at Arsenal as the most exciting prospect they've ever seen – and watching him at Blackpool, it's easy to see why.
He contributes to every phase of play even at such a young age. With the build of an British No.10 and the technicality of a Spaniard – he's eligible for both, y'know – he's not afraid to call for the ball and he constantly looks for the forward pass. He's effortless in possession, astute out of it and he can arrive late in the box, too.
Are you reading this, Mr Southgate? He's essentially got the Jude Bellingham toolkit without the Bundesliga experience. Patino might be a star of English football for the next decade, too.
12. Garang Kuol
Club: Newcastle United
Australia were 2-1 down to Argentina and it felt a surprise that even a lead so slight was the gulf. The ball arrived at the feet of the recently subbed-on Garang Kuol and he couldn't adjust in time. In reality, the pass was made roughly four years too soon.
The 18-year-old is the anti-Guimaraes, in that he's a statement of Newcastle's intent; the Brazilian for the present, Kuol for the future. But where Bruno is a midfield warrior, Kuol is a slight attacker to get onto his balls. There has never been a footballer from Down Under with this hype – not even the all-conquering Tim Cahill. He's quicksilver when he glides away from defenders and explosive enough to find space away from them. His final ball is excellent, too.
He looks primed to move on loan in January. He'll be watched carefully by Newcastle fans.
11. Antonio Silva
When Antonio Silva was born, fellow Portugal defender Pepe was older than Silva is now. That's how oddly contrasting Fernando Santos's backline options were in Qatar.
Silva will likely assume Pepe's throne. He's a juxtaposition of a footballer, all right – leggy and powerful, yet deft and graceful in possession; smart enough to know exactly when to throw his body in the way, yet with a handy knack of popping up with goals. He's aggressive in stepping out but calm in a high line. He looks like the perfect right-sided partner to a more mature left-sider he can learn from.
And goal-getting, play-readers like Antonio Silva often make leaders in a side. Van Dijk and De Ligt comparisons are apt, for sure.
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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.
By Ryan Dabbs