FUTURE BALLON D'OR: 5 YOUNG PLAYERS HAVING THEIR BREAKOUT SEASON THAT ARE STILL IN EUROPE
As European football returns to our screens this week, we’ve prepared this ranking of young players still in the running for those competitions, who are making a name for themselves this season.
They are ranked in order of how much effort you should make to watch them on the big stage over the next few months.
5. Jamal Musiala (17) - Bayern Munich
When one of the best teams in the world wants to change a game, who do they turn to? Bayern boast a squad filled with quality, experience and Eric Choupo-Moting, but when they need a lift, it’s teenage Musiala who appears on the touchline to make an impact.
His stats for this season aren’t spectacular, but his job isn’t to rack up numbers, it’s to wrestle control back in a game when Bayern are on the back foot, and he does that very well, showing maturity in his play that is well beyond his years. Don’t expect him to start in many of the remaining UCL games but look out for him in the last half-hour.
So much so that he now faces a decision. Musiala is eligible to play for two footballing giants; England and Germany. Most of his youth appearances have been for the England youth teams, but Jaochim Low, the German Head Coach has offered him a call up in the next few months, if he commits to playing for Germany. Does he choose England, joining the ranks of young talents lining up for the Three Lions, but competing with Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, James Maddison and more for a place, or does he play for Germany, and be a part of the regeneration of an aging squad left over from their World Cup win in 2016?
4. Edmond Tapsoba (22) - Bayer Leverkusen
When Bayer Leverkusen step onto the pitch, there is just one thing on their minds: attack. Their free-flowing, chaotic brand of football makes for entertaining viewing, but it’s made possible by Tapsoba’s defensive brilliance.
Keen Bundesliga fans will be familiar with his work from the end of last season, but in his first full campaign in Germany, he has continued his solid performances at the back. He is strong in the tackle, a commanding presence in the air, and comfortable in possession, which is a quality many top teams now look for in a centre-back.
Leverkusen are a dark horse in the Europa League this season, but if they want to make any progress in the competition, Tapsoba will be crucial.
3. Antony (20) - Ajax
Antony has settled into European football very nicely in his debut season. Sixteen goals and assists in his first 20 games is a very pleasing haul. Although he plays in a lower quality league than the other players in this list, there is no question over Antony’s ability on the right wing.
Ajax are famous for their young players, and after the famous Champions League run a few years ago, they have been looking for the next generation of talents to lead them. In players like Antony, Lassina Traore and Ryan Gravenberch, they are in very good hands.
Ajax bought Antony for around £15m. In a few years time, you can bet on him leaving for around double that, to one of Europe’s elite in need of a tricky winger who has a habit of scoring some wonderful goals. Just another day in the Dutch profit machine.
2. Pedri (18) - Barcelona
Barcelona have been having a very up-and-down season so far, but two players have been a constant positive presence in the team, carrying them through good times and bad. Lionel Messi is obviously one of the pair, particularly in the last few months as he has really come on song. But the other, no-one would have predicted at the beginning of the season.
Pedri made his debut in September, but hit the ground running, and started to impress almost instantly. Unbelievably, the teenager has made more appearances than any other player in the side this season, demonstrating just how important he has become for Barcelona in such a short space of time.
Pedri orchestrates the midfield in ways that few players can, and he has drawn comparisons to Iniesta. Arguably, Pedri is showing more quality at 18 than Iniesta did at the same age. That’s not to say that Pedri will have the same impact as Iniesta, but there are similarities.
In recent seasons, there have been worries from Barca fans about the ageing squad, but if the rise of Pedri and Ansu Fati is anything to go by, then the regeneration of Barcelona is certainly underway.
1. Florian Wirtz (17) - Bayer Leverkusen
When Bayer Leverkusen opted not to replace their star talisman Kai Havertz in the summer, eyebrows were raised in German football. But manager Peter Bosz had one thing to say when he was asked about it. “We already have Florian Wirtz in that position.”
At the time, Wirtz was a 17-year-old prospect who was gently working his way into the first team. Many people didn’t consider him a regular starter anytime soon, but this season Peter Bosz has been true to his word and given WIrtz an important role in the first team.
And Wirtz has repaid that faith by quickly becoming one the most promising teenagers in world football. 13 goal contributions this season is an impressive haul, but Wirtz’s influence is greater than his statistics. When he gets the ball, something is going to happen.
If Tapsoba is Leverkusen’s defensive rock, Wirtz is the creative spark. With payers like Diaby and Nkunku around them, Leverkusen are up there with the best teams to watch in the world. Absolute chaotic brilliance.