Football clubs across the world are forever on the lookout for the next big thing. The most talented youngsters can increasingly be found in the hands of Europe’s elite, but there are a few exceptions in our slideshow counting down the 25 most valuable players aged 21 or under…
Figures supplied by Transfermarkt
21= Matteo Guendouzi, Arsenal (£31.5m+)
Plucked from the relatively obscure confines of the French second division last summer, Guendouzi has quickly become one of the most valuable young players around. The frizzy-haired midfielder made a fine start to his debut campaign at the Emirates Stadium, and although he flitted in and out of the team as the season wore on, Arsenal have high hopes for the 20-year-old.
According to reports, the Gunners don’t have the biggest transfer budget to work with this summer. Finding more gems like Guendouzi, who cost just £7m in July 2018, would serve them well.
21= Lucas Paqueta, Milan (£31.5m+)
Milan’s failure to finish in top four last term means they are facing yet another season outside of the Champions League. The seven-time European champions have now been absent from Europe’s premier competition since 2014, and they are now set to build a team around a core of young players in an attempt to re-join the top table.
Paqueta is perhaps their most promising outfielder, having turned in some impressive performances since moving to San Siro in January. The attacking midfielder is valued at around £31.5m by Transfermarkt – a similar figure to that which Milan paid Flamengo at the start of the year.
21= Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea (£31.5m+)
Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea were not a natural fit, with the club’s supporters failing to warm to the man who was appointed Juventus manager earlier this week. One of their chief gripes concerned Sarri’s unwillingness to hand Hudson-Odoi meaningful first-team minutes for much of the season.
The winger eventually made his first Premier League start in April, and by the end of the campaign had become a regular fixture in Sarri’s side. Bayern Munich are still sniffing around a player who is out of contract in a year’s time.
21= Ryan Sessegnon, Fulham (£31.5m+)
As things stand, Sessegnon is set to embark on another season in the Championship in 2019/20. Tottenham and Juventus have both been linked with the 19-year-old, who will be a free agent upon the expiration of his Fulham deal next summer.
Sessegnon struggled to assert himself in the Premier League at times last term, but he still ended the campaign with two goals and six assists for a dysfunctional club that employed three different managers in a disastrous return to the top tier.
21= Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Crystal Palace (£31.5m+)
Wan-Bissaka is still a Crystal Palace player at the time of writing, but he's reportedly on the verge of signing for Manchester United in a £50m deal. According to Transfermarkt, the Red Devils are overpaying for the young right-back, who's made fewer than 50 senior appearances since turning professional.
United will hope that his value steadily rises in the coming years, and there's no doubt that Wan-Bissaka is a player of tremendous potential. Superb in one-versus-one defensive duels, it's rare to see an opposition winger get the better of him.
17= Rodrygo, Real Madrid (£36m+)
Eden Hazard isn’t the only wide attacker Real Madrid have snared this summer. Their deal to sign Rodrygo from Santos was actually agreed 12 months ago, but the Brazilian will only join up with his new team-mates next month after crossing the Atlantic for a £35.7m fee.
The forward scored 17 goals in 80 first-team appearances for Santos, the club he joined as a 10-year-old in 2011. He will now be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Vinicius Junior, who made a promising start to his career at Madrid after swapping the Brasileirao for La Liga a year ago.
17= Nicolo Zaniolo, Roma (£36m+)
It’s been a turbulent few weeks for Roma, who have appointed a new manager, waved goodbye to long-serving midfielder Daniele de Rossi and, most recently, been forced to watch Francesco Totti walk away from his position as a director.
The departures of De Rossi and Totti represent a break from the past, and Roma’s attention is now very much focused on the future. Zaniolo could be a big part of that, having enjoyed a fantastic first season in the capital following his switch from Inter.
17= Leon Bailey, Bayer Leverkusen (£36m+)
Having repeatedly rejected Jamaica’s overtures in recent years, Bailey finally accepted a call-up from the country of his birth for this summer’s Gold Cup. Having finished as runners-up in the last two editions, the Reggae Boyz will hope that the presence in their side of one of the world’s highest valued youngsters will get them over the line.
Bailey stagnated a little in 2018/19 after bursting onto the scene the previous season, when he scored 12 goals in 34 games for Leverkusen. He’s still an incredibly talented forward who could be a transfer target for Europe’s biggest clubs this time next year.
17= Moise Kean, Juventus (£36m+)
When they acquired Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid last summer, Juventus committed to a win-now strategy; signing the Champions League’s record goalscorer boosted the club’s chances of claiming a third European Cup, and they had to focus their efforts on realising that ambition rather than building for the future.
Kean may be at the start of his career, but the teenage forward has also shown that he is ready to contribute here and now: he scored seven times in 17 outings for Juve last term.
14= Houssem Aouar, Lyon (£40.5m+)
Lyon are no strangers to producing gifted young players, with their excellent academy having blooded the likes of Karim Benzema, Alexandre Lacazette and Samuel Umtiti in recent times. Aouar is one of the latest to emerge from the club’s ranks, with the inventive midfielder having enjoyed a superb season in 2018/19.
Manchester City and Liverpool have both reportedly been keeping tabs on the 20-year-old, who has formed a terrific partnership with Tanguy Ndombele in the centre of the park at Lyon. Les Gones will be desperate to keep hold of him this summer.
14= Declan Rice, West Ham (£40.5m+)
Having primarily been deployed as part of a back three by David Moyes in 2017/18, Rice spent last term as a holding midfielder in Manuel Pellegrini’s side. The West Ham academy product enjoyed a fantastic season in that role, earning a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and his first England call-up.
The £25m Marseille paid for Dimitri Payet in January 2017 is West Ham’s record sale. Any suitors of Rice may have to pay close to double that fee to capture the former Republic of Ireland international.
14= Ibrahima Konate, RB Leipzig (£40.5m+)
Bayern Munich won another Bundesliga title in 2018/19, but it was RB Leipzig who ended the season with the division’s best defensive record. That was in large part down to the wonderful centre-back partnership between Dayot Upamecano and Konate, who will surely be rewarded with a maiden France call-up early next term.
The 20-year-old had only made 12 Ligue 2 appearances for Sochaux when he was snapped up by Leipzig in summer 2017. Arsenal are among the clubs keeping a close eye on Konate, who is worth upwards of £40m according to Transfermarkt.
13. Eder Militao, Real Madrid (£45m+)
Real Madrid have wasted little time in embarking on their latest spending spree, with Militao one of five new recruits secured by the middle of June. The Spanish giants parted with around £44.5m to bring the defender to the Santiago Bernabeu, despite the fact that he has only plied his trade in Europe for a single season.
The Brazilian excelled at Porto in 2018/19, playing 43 times and chipping in with five goals as Sergio Conceicao’s charges finished second in all three domestic competitions.
12. Gianluigi Donnarumma, Milan (£49m+)
You have to be a pretty special goalkeeping talent to make your league debut as a 16-year-old, particularly for a club of Milan’s stature. Yet Donnarumma immediately proved that he fitted the above description after making his first Serie A appearance in October 2015, before establishing himself as the Rossoneri’s No.1 under Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Last season was his fourth campaign as a regular starter at San Siro, but the heir to Gianluigi Buffon is still only 20 years old. It would probably take a bid of at least £50m for Milan to even consider selling the 6ft 5in shot-stopper.
9= Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (£54m+)
With Eden Hazard almost certain to leave for Real Madrid – a deal that was finalised earlier this month – Chelsea moved to acquire a replacement in January, acquiring Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund for £58m.
The United States international slipped down the pecking order at Signal Iduna Park last term, largely due to the emergence of Jadon Sancho. The forward remains a tremendous prospect, though, and he will immediately become a key player at Stamford Bridge in 2019/20 following Hazard’s exit.
9= Federico Chiesa, Fiorentina (£54m+)
Older readers may think ‘Enrico’ when they hear the name ‘Chiesa’, but the former Italy international has been thrust into the shadows by the exploits of his son. Young Federico is the new name on everyone’s lips in Serie A, with Juventus having begun to flutter their eyelashes in the direction of the Fiorentina forward.
New Viola owner Rocco Commisso immediately endeard himself to the club’s fanbase by declaring that he wouldn’t even sell Chiesa – who is valued at around £54m by Transfermarket – for €100m.
9= Luka Jovic, Real Madrid (£54m+)
After hitting 25 goals for Eintracht Frankfurt last term, Jovic was always likely to be on the move this summer. Real Madrid ultimately won the race for the ex-Benfica frontman, paying £53.5m to beat off reported competition from Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.
Jovic’s value could increase further if he makes a positive impact at the Santiago Bernabeu next term, with Real Madrid looking to get back on track following their disappointment of 2018/19.
7= Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid (£63m+)
Vinicius was by no means the first name on Real Madrid’s team sheet last season, but in making 18 La Liga appearances and four more in the Champions League, he was more involved than many expected following a move from Flamengo last summer.
Madrid spent to secure the teenager’s signature, and that could prove to be a bargain if Vinicius fulfils his extraordinary potential in the coming years. The Brazilian forward is already worth around £63m after just one season in the European game.
7= Joao Felix, Benfica (£63m+)
Portugal showed in the Nations League Finals that they will be a force to be reckoned with at next summer’s European Championship, with Felix one of several young talents available to Fernando Santos.
The forward scored 20 goals in 43 games for Benfica last term, a return which has seen Atletico Madrid line him up as a replacement for Barcelona-bound Antoine Griezmann. Transfermarkt value him at around £63m, but Atleti have reportedly submitted an offer of £113m, almost double that amount.
6. Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax (£67m+)
The most in-demand player in world football, De Ligt’s future remains unresolved over a month on from the end of Ajax’s season. Barcelona initially appeared to be in pole position, but their apparent reluctance to match the Dutchman’s wage demands has allowed PSG, Liverpool and Manchester United into the race.
The bulky centre-back has a bright future ahead of him wherever he ends up, but he must still think carefully about his next move. Whatever happens, Ajax can expect to receive a hefty fee for the 19-year-old.