Revealed! The world's best teenage XI according to Football Manager 2018
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.