FourFourTwo's 59 Best Under-21 Wonderkids in the World: 40-31
Words: Tom Kundert, Andrew Gibney, Priya Ramesh, David Cartlidge, Martin Mazur, Jonathan Harding.
40. Gonçalo Guedes, 19 (Benfica)
A product of Benfica’s Seixal academy which proudly polished off Renato Sanches last season, lightning-quick forward Guedes has been tipped for a glittering career ever since making his debut at 17.
He began last season in explosive form and got himself noticed on the wider stage by scoring a fine winner as Benfica grabbed a surprise victory at Atletico Madrid. His level of play fell away over the course of the campaign, although 31 games and four goals proved that he played more than a bit-part role in a successful 2015/16 for the Eagles.
This season, he has taken his performances to another level. A regular starter, Guedes has added more aggression and consistency to his game, and hasn’t passed up the opportunity to make his mark in the Champions League again. His superb goal against Napoli will only intensify the rumors in Portugal of a big-money transfer to Atletico Madrid in January. TK
39. Issa Diop, 19 (Toulouse)
If you’re good enough you’re old enough, and after making his debut at 18 in a struggling Toulouse side that eventually beat the drop, Diop quickly proved he was up for the fight.
The center-back’s debut came in November 2015 and he barely left the team thereafter, starting 21 games and helping Toulouse manage eight clean sheets as they secured survival with an 80th-minute winner over Angers on the final day.
Diop – a tremendous athlete, excellent in the air and quick across the ground – spent his summer teaming up with PSG's Presnel Kimpembe and leading France to the U19 European Championship title. He has matured quite impressively under Toulouse boss Pascal Dupraz. AG
38. Enes Unal, 19 (FC Twente, on loan from Man City)
Unal has been the sensation of the Eredivisie season so far. Seven goals from as many appearances in all competitions is a simplistic way of representing how well the Turkish youngster has taken to life in the Dutch top flight. Let’s start with the fact that on his first start for Twente, the striker scored a 15-minute first-half hat-trick (below) – all the goals worth featuring on a highlights reel.
Unal has long been touted as a top talent, since his Bursaspor days. Expectations rose when Manchester City swooped in 2015, but not everything went to plan at first. A two-year loan agreement with Belgian side Genk broke down, so City went to the counry next door and Unal spent a productive half-season with Eredivisie side NAC Breda. (Four more young City stars followed him there in 2016/17.)
The 19-year-old John Mayer doppelganger has tremendous finishing ability, a splendid first touch and the ability to hold the ball up with his back to goal. Premature comparisons have been made to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, although Pep Guardiola might be a bit keener on the youngster who might be giving the City boss something to think about for next season. PR
37. Maxwel Cornet, 19 (Lyon)
Pinched from FC Metz in January 2015 before he could make a first-team appearance, he soon made his Ligue 1 debut against his old side. Alexandre Lacazette and Rachid Ghezzal proved ideal team-mates: the trio complemented each other perfectly, helping the 20-year-old to eight goals – seven of which came in his last 12 starts.
Despite being an inch and a half under the six-foot mark, it’s likely the France U21 prodigy will develop into a central striker, although he has blossomed on the wing for Lyon so far. His brutal combination of power and pace was a huge factor in Bruno Genesio’s team rescuing their season to finish second in Ligue 1. Their reward was the Champions League, in which Cornet has already scored this season. AG
36. Riechedly Bazoer, 19 (Ajax)
If not for a drop in performances since the new year, Bazoer would be much closer to the top of this list. The Utrecht-born midfielder was a favorite of Frank de Boer’s but has found himself sliding down the Ajax pecking order since Peter Bosz took over. The ex-Vitesse chief is still figuring out his best midfield three, but for the time being Bazoer has had to bide his time on the bench.
There is little doubt that Bazoer has the potential to be a world-class midfielder someday. His future probably lies at the base of midfield, but for now the 19-year-old’s skill set makes him more suited to playing as a box-to-box midfielder.
The former PSV youth star has the fine passing ability to link up with team-mates elegantly and confidently, and despite a tendency to go missing in games, has a handy knack of scoring from mid-range positions. Bazoer is rumored to near the top of De Boer’s wishlist at Inter, and a change of scenery may benefit him in getting his development back on track. PR
NEXT: The mini-Mascherano eyed by both Madrid clubs