GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma
When Donnarumma was thrown into Milan’s first team 242 days after his 16th birthday in 2015, it seemed to demonstrate how desperate and dysfunctional the Rossoneri had become.
But it soon became clear that the giant goalkeeper was something special, and Donnarumma is now firmly established as Italy’s heir to Gianluigi Buffon.
The 18-year-old has always stood above the rest – quite literally. Donnarumma was 6ft 2in by the time he was 11 – his mother used to have his birth certificate at junior matches to prove his age – and now, four inches taller, uses that giant frame to stop efforts most other keepers couldn’t. His reflexes are outstanding, and he’s always quick to get back on his feet after making a stop.
Buffon may be almost done, but Italy are in very safe hands – for a long time.
RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold
There was something particularly special about Alexander-Arnold’s terrific free-kick in the away leg of Liverpool’s Champions League play-off with Hoffenheim in August: not only did the 19-year-old convert the set-piece with aplomb, but showed strong character in stepping forward to take responsibility ahead of more experienced team-mates.
The teenager has had to bide his time for opportunities since then, but he’s already shown great promise in his 20 appearances for the Reds.
Attack-minded and technically gifted, Alexander-Arnold has a bright future ahead of him.
CB: Matthijs de Ligt
It’s not easy being a young centre-back, since many managers are wary of throwing a teenager into such a high-risk role. So the fact that former Ajax manager Peter Bosz handed a then-17-year-old De Ligt 23 appearances last season – including one in the Europa League final against Manchester United – says everything about his talent and temperament.
Measured and elegant, the Dutchman’s standout quality is his distribution from deep, but he’s also willing and able to fulfil more traditional defensive functions. “Matthijs is what I call a modern central defender,” Wim Jonk commented last year. “He's big and strong and is a complete player.”
CB: Timothy Fosu-Mensah
Currently on loan at Crystal Palace, Fosu-Mensah has largely been deployed at right-back since Roy Hodgson took the reins in September. He’s still played five Premier League games at centre-half this season, though, and his long-term future surely lies at the heart of defence.
The Manchester United loanee is extremely quick, which allows him to keep pace with even the most rapid frontmen. As well as his athletic qualities, the Dutchman is comfortable in possession and has the intelligence to read play well.
LB: Toni Lato
Jose Gaya made the successful transition from Valencia academy to Valencia first team back in 2012, and fellow left-back Lato is now looking to follow in his colleague’s footsteps.
Speedy, dynamic and keen to get forward at every opportunity, the 19-year-old is a thoroughly modern full-back who will be looking to add to his tally of 15 La Liga appearances in the rest of 2017/18.
Lato was brilliant in Valencia’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid earlier this season, providing an assist and generally looking at ease in the high-pressure environs of the Bernabeu. With Los Che taking La Liga by storm this year, he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
DM: Manuel Locatelli
Locatelli made his Milan bow back in 2015/16, but it was last season when he really made the breakthrough at senior level. The teenager played 28 matches in all competitions and was a rare bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Rossoneri, who missed out on Champions League qualification for the fourth year running.
Milan’s summer splurge has made first-team opportunities harder to come by this term, and Locatelli has made just a single Serie A start at the time of writing.
The deep-lying midfielder, who’s been likened to Sergio Busquets for his range of passing and technical quality, nevertheless has plenty to offer and is likely to force his way back into contention over coming weeks.
CM: Douglas Luiz
Douglas only ever played 39 matches for Rio de Janeiro-based outfit Vasco da Gama, but they were enough to convince Manchester City of his potential. The Brazilian signed a five-year deal at the Etihad Stadium back in July and is currently on loan at Girona, the La Liga side who now fall under the City Football Group umbrella.
A box-to-box midfielder, Douglas has the stamina to get up and down the pitch for 90 minutes, contributing in both the defensive and attacking phases of play.
An excellent ball-carrier who’s adept at evading challenges, the 19-year-old also has an eye for a pass and isn’t shy to pull the trigger from distance.
CM: Kai Havertz
Bayer Leverkusen have a good reputation for blooding young players, but few have impressed as much as Havertz. The midfielder became the German side’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant when he featured in the 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen last October; six months later he broke another record, becoming the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Wolfsburg.
Havertz’s box-to-box running and repertoire of midfield skills have earned him comparisons with Michael Ballack, but it’s another of his compatriots that the 18-year-old looks up to most. “Mesut Ozil is my role model... I think our playing styles are similar and that's why I’m trying to learn as much from his game as I can,” Havertz said earlier this year.
LW: Marcus Rashford
So yes, Rashford is 20 now – but was a teenager for our cut-off point when making this list of the world’s 100 best teenagers.
After making his first Manchester United appearances as a centre-forward, Rashford has spent much of his time under Jose Mourinho on the left. The England international has shown himself to be adaptable while stationed out wide, using his speed, touch and nimble footwork to give full-backs headaches.
He hasn’t lost his eye for goal, though, and is likely to move back into the middle at some stage – remember, he scored on his first appearances in each of the Champions League, Europa League, Premier League and League Cup (and for England too, just to cap it off).
Many questioned whether Rashford would be involved regularly under Mourinho, who tends to prefer experience to youth, but 53 outings in all competitions last term – and 18 so far in 2017/18 – underlines the academy product’s importance to this United side.
RW: Christian Pulisic
The United States’ failure to qualify for World Cup 2018 suggests there’s plenty of room for improvement – but Pulisic’s growth in the last couple of years has provided plenty of promise for the future.
The Borussia Dortmund forward became the youngest non-German to score a Bundesliga goal in April 2016 – aged just 17 years and 212 days old – and has gone from strength to strength since.
Capable of playing on either flank or as a No.10, Pulisic is quick, direct and never afraid to run at an opponent. The 19-year-old is a superb dribbler who’s particularly dangerous in transition, a creative passer and clinical finisher.
FW: Kylian Mbappe
Take a step back and consider Mbappe’s astonishing rise: around this time last year, the Frenchman had made only four Ligue 1 starts for Monaco and was hardly known outside of his home country.
The forward’s career took off in late 2016, however, and his 15 top-flight goals helped the principality club to a Ligue 1 title under Leonardo Jardim.
Mbappe’s exploits in both domestic and European competition earned him worldwide recognition and a big-money move to PSG; when his current loan deal becomes permanent next summer, the 18-year-old will become the second-most expensive player in football history.
Likened to Thierry Henry for his pace, technique and finishing ability, Mbappe’s prospects are staggering.
Get the list:
FourFourTwo's 100 Best Teenagers in the World 2017
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.