The likes of Sergio Ramos and Marcelo joined Real Madrid as teenagers and continue to be an integral part of their squad. Hence, it is understandable why the best young players in the world are in demand and so, Fox Sports Asia picked out the best Under-21 XI in the world at the moment.
GOALKEEPER – Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan and Italy)
Gianluigi Donnarumma is into his fourth season as Milan’s first choice goalkeeper and he’s still only 19-years-old! The Italian made his debut as a 16-year-old and has kept out more experienced goalkeepers out of the starting XI since.
Donnarumma has already played 133 games for Milan in all competitions and also represented Italy in 10 games.
Standing tall at 6ft 5 in, the Italian has been praised for his agility, physical strength and his composure – all the attributes that are necessary for a top goalkeeper.
RIGHT-BACK – Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool and England)
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top in the last two years.
He made his debut for Liverpool aged 17 and spent the 2016/17 season as an understudy to Nathaniel Clyne. The following season, Alexander-Arnold shared the right-back duties with Joe Gomez following a long-term injury to Nathaniel Clyne.
The Englishman who recently turned 20 years old played a key role in Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final last season and has notably kept the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Leroy Sane at bay.
Happy 20th birthday, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
25/10/16: Liverpool debut
14/12/16: Premier League debut
09/05/17: LFC Young Player of the Season
15/08/17: First Liverpool goal
10/05/18: LFC Young Player of the Season
26/05/18: Champions League final
28/06/18: World Cup debut
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 7, 2018
LEFT-BACK – Kieran Tierney (Celtic and Scotland)
Kieran Tierney, a product of the Celtic Academy, has been linked with a move to multiple Premier League clubs. The 21-year-old Scott made his debut for Celtic in 2014 and has played 150 games for the club so far.
Tierney has all the traits of a modern-day full-back. He’s quick, he likes to get forward and he has a mean delivery. Last season, he racked up four goals and ten assists in all competitions from a left-back position.
CENTRE-BACK – Joe Gomez (Liverpool and England)
Joe Gomez is a versatile defender who is capable of playing anywhere across the backline. Gomez signed for Liverpool in 2015 and debuted for the Reds as a left-back before a serious injury ruled him out for over a year.
Last season, Gomez proved to be a very useful player as he deputised at right-back. This season, he started alongside Virgil van Dijk in the heart of the defence and even outperformed the Dutchman in a few games.
The 21-year-old’s versatility, composure on the ball, reading of the game and athleticism makes him a valuable player for both club and country.
If Joe Gomez continues playing to current standards, there won’t be a better central defensive @premierleague pairing than he and Virgil van Dijk.
— Jim Beglin (@jimbeglin) October 15, 2018
CENTRE-BACK – Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax and Netherlands)
Matthijs de Ligt came to fore during the 2016/17 season when he helped Ajax reach the final of the Europa League. De Ligt’s defensive attributes are fantastic but what makes him a coveted player is his unbelievable composure and ball-playing abilities for a teenage defender.
Still only 19, he has already played 74 games for Ajax, scored 8 goals and he was awarded the Ajax Talent of the Year in 2018.
De Ligt is a key member of the Netherlands team aiming to return to the pinnacle of international football. He has already played 11 times for the Netherlands senior team.
Matthijs de Ligt:
– youngest debutant for Holland since 1945
– youngest player to start a European Final
– 2nd youngest goalscorer in Ajax’ history
– 3rd youngest player in history to earn 10 caps for Netherlands
Generational talent. pic.twitter.com/9lC7bngJYX
— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) October 13, 2018
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD – Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers and Portugal)
Ruben Neves was once the youngest player to start a Champions League game as captain when he played for Porto.
Last season, the Portuguese midfielder made a shock move to Wolverhampton Wanderers when they were in the EFL Championship but he helped them gain promotion to the Premier League and played a crucial role.
The 21-year-old has received praise for his passing ability, passing range, leadership skills and positional sense. He has already impressed for Wolves in the Premier League and has been linked with a move to bigger clubs notably to Manchester City as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho.
What a player Ruben Neves 😱pic.twitter.com/F32uXDxVWL
— BetGOAT (@BetGoatUK) October 17, 2018
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – Tanguy Ndombele (Olympique Lyon and France)
Olympique Lyon only signed Tanguy Ndombele on a permanent deal this summer but he has already been linked with a move to the Premier League with Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs among his potential destinations.
The 21-year-old French international is an athletic figure with immense technical ability. Ndombele’s ability to produce key pass from deep in midfield is exceptional.
He is confident with the ball at his feet and likes to dribble forward with the ball to create space for attackers before producing a defence-splitting pass.
Most key passes by players aged 23 and under in Europe's top five leagues this season — 1⃣8⃣
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 18, 2018
CENTRAL MIDFIELD – Houssem Aouar (Olympique Lyon and France)
The number of talented midfielders available for selection for France is just ridiculous but even with the tough competition for places, Houssem Aouar could soon make his senior debut for the World Champions.
Houssem Aouar is a product of the famous Lyon academy and he enjoyed his breakthrough season in 2017/18. The 20-year-old midfielder has played in 61 games for Lyon and scored 10 times.
Aouar is capable of playing in any midfield position but he notably excels as a box to box midfielder because of his work rate.
Houssem Aouar’s (20) last six games for club and country:
⚽️ vs Slovenia U21
⭕️ vs Paris Saint-Germain
🅰️ vs Shakhtar Donetsk
⚽️ vs Nantes
⭕️ vs Dijon FCO
⚽️ vs Olympique de Marseille
A threat at every level. pic.twitter.com/MoQ9c8sCRG
— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) October 16, 2018
RIGHT WING – Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
A list with the best young players in the world cannot be complete without Kylian Mbappe.
It’s hard to believe that Mbappe is still only 19 years old considering his achievements. The FIFA World Cup winner is easily the best young player in the world and among the top 10 players in the world.
After scoring four goals at the World Cup, Mbappe has already scored 11 goals in eight games this season! In total, he has 59 goals in 112 games at the club level in addition to 10 goals for France in just 26 games.
Mbappe’s ceiling is huge and he has the potential to emulate the individual success of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
— Fgsoccer (@Fgsoccer2) October 22, 2018
STRIKER – Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City and Brazil)
With 11 goals in 24 games for Brazil already, Gabriel Jesus is Brazil’s long-term solution for their striker woes after going years with average players up top. Jesus is also earmarked to replace Sergio Aguero as Manchester City’s main striker. Despite playing second fiddle to Aguero, he has already scored 26 goals in 64 games for City.
Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, Jesus can emulate the success of many former Brazilian strikers and with age on his side, he can even surpass the greats he grew up watching.
Gabriel Jesus for Brazil:
Assists: 5 pic.twitter.com/m9CMWoC69X
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) October 12, 2018
LEFT WING – Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona and France)
Despite a difficult debut season with Barcelona, it’s hard to look past Ousmane Dembele in a best under-21 XI.
Dembele won the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year in 2015/16 after breaking through at Rennes and the following season, he was named the Bundesliga Rookie of the Year in a season where he scored 10 goals and assisted 20 more in 50 games for Borussia Dortmund.
Ahead of the 2017/18 season, Dembele made a €105m move to Barcelona but injuries and the formation used by Valverde has stopped him from unleashing his vast potential.
Dembele, a World Cup winner, is ambidextrous which when coupled with his pace, trickery, dribbling skills and vision makes him a very difficult winger to play against. He has already scored five times in 11 games for Barcelona this season including a sensational winner against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup.
"We expect a lot from him."
— Goal UK (@GoalUK) October 11, 2018