Many of the best young players in the world simply fade away and are forgotten. Many times, careers don’t go as planned. But sometimes, the first instances of brilliance are worth noticing. Because the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is out there, waiting to be discovered and waiting to be given his opportunity to shine among the rest.
Here are the best under 22 football players in Europe:
10. Moussa Dembele - 20, Celtic striker
32 goals in his first season in the Scottish league. That’s all it took for Premier League sides like Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to send scouts to watch him play in the last Old Firm game against Rangers. Now, Serie A giants AC Milan are head over heels over him, determined to sign him in the summer.
A dynamic striker, Dembele was developed at Paris St. Germain before signing with the English side Fulham in 2012 as a 16 year old. While playing for the Fulham U 18 team, he won the Premier Academy League in his maiden season. He signed with the senior team in 2013 and stayed with the club before moving over to Celtic in 2016.
9. Julian Brandt - 21 Bayer Leverkusen winger
Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller called him one of the best players in Germany when Bayer Leverkusen signed him. Julian Brandt didn't disappoint.
While he may not have scored many goals this season, his value goes beyond that. Brandt is a dynamic attacker, exceptional with the ball in his feet and can pick a pass. He can score but more importantly, he creates opportunities. His overall game is excellent that Liverpool is said to be keen on signing him once he is available.
Brandt made over 55 appearances for all of Germany's underage age teams. He was part of the team which won the UEFA European Under-19 championships in 2014. Brandt was also part of the German Men's National team which won the silver medal during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
8. Renato Sanches - 19, Bayern Munich midfielder
The breakout footballer of the 2016 Euro finals was the recipient of the 2016 Golden Boy Award.
Renato Sanches is excellent in his role. He loves to have ball possession and he knows what to with it. From the time he collects the ball in midfield, moves it forward and make passes, he is brilliant.
Sanches is the youngest Portuguese player to play in an international tournament and the youngest player to win a UEFA Euro Finals. He scored one goal in the tournament and was named as Young Player of the tournament. Sanches began his career at Benfica where he won the Premeira Liga and Taca de Liga He then moved to Bayern Munich with what was then the highest fee for a Portuguese player leaving the domestic side.
7. Ousmane Dembele - 20, Borussia Dortmund forward
A star in the making, Ousmane Dembele often gets compared to Cristiano Ronaldo. That may sound as exaggeration, but the Borussia Dortmund forward can dribble the ball with the best in the business. He is efficiency in goals and assists is what many young players struggle with. Dembele has the uncanny ability to pick the most likely goal-scoring pass. That’s special.
Dembele played for Rennes reserves before playing for its first team, scoring 13 goals in 18 games during his first season. Dembele then signed a five year deal with Borussia Dortmund in 2016. He has also appeared six times for the senior French National team.
6. Gabriel Jesus - 20, Manchester City forward
Photo: Sky Sports
One of the world's most exciting young players announced his arrival in England.
It's not easy to take out Sergio Aguero from the Manchester City first squad. But after just two substitutions, Gabriel Jesus was able to do that. When he began to start games, it became clear how good he was and how he fit better in Guardiola's system than Aguero.
Jesus started his career with Palmeiras and voted as Best Newcomer of the 2015 Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A. He also helped his team win the Copa do Brasil that season. He was named as Best Player of the Season the following year as Palmeiras won their first national league title in 22 years. Internationally, he was part of Brazil's gold medal winning team in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
5. Youri Tielemans - 20, Anderlecht midfielder
People often say that the ideal midfielder is one who has passing range and who possesses a good, strong engine. Goal scoring isn't a top criteria but if a player has that too, it's what separates him from being good to great.
Midfielder Youri Tielemans often plays deeper and is scarcely an attacking midfielder. But despite not playing a forward role this season, he scored enough goals an average striker would be happy with. Tielemans is the youngest ever Belgian to play in the UEFA Champions league at 16 years and 148 days. Tielemans was named as Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year in his first two seasons.
4. Kylian Mbappe - 18, Monaco forward
Kylie Mbappe was literally an unknown last year but he has managed to get Europe talking about him. Mbappe’s having a breakthrough season and he’s being dubbed as the ‘next Thierry Henry.
Mbappe began his youth career under his father at AS Bondy. He eventually moved to the popular Clairefontaine academy before ultimately settling at AS Monaco. He made his first team debut for Monaco at 16 years and 347 days, making him the youngest first team player from Monaco and breaking the previous record set by Thierry Henry by 21 days.
Mbappe won the Ligue 1 title with Monaco in 2016-17.
3. Leroy Sane - 21, Manchester City forward
There are a few players in the sport who can be compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Leroy Sane is one of them. He may not be on the level of Messi or Ronaldo but ten years from now, he could be one of the best in the world.
The son of Olympic bronze medalist Regina Weber, Leroy Sane began his football career playing for the team his father Souleymane Sane once played for- SG Wattenscheid 09. He made 2 stops with the Schalke 04 youth team before debuting for its first team in 2014. In August 2016, he joined Manchester City and made his debut in the Manchester Derby. Last April 2017, he was among six names shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
2. Gianluigi Donnarumma - 18, AC Milan goalkeeper
To be a start a game at age 16 for AC Milan is impressive. To do so between the sticks is even more outstanding. Goalkeepers usually peak much later in their careers. Gianluigi Donnarumma is different.
Donnarumma is an excellent shot stopper and commands his territory with the strength of an adult in his peak. If he isn’t the best goalkeeper in the sport in the next five years, it will be a surprise. With these attributes, it may not be coincidence why his first name is Gianluigi. No one in the sport dominated like Gianluigi Buffon. We may be saying the same of Donnarumma ten years from now.
1. Dele Alli 21, Tottenham midfielder
Sky’s the limit for this young midfielder from England. There are no ups and downs with Dele Alli. He just plays very well, all the time. He already has the talent yet he is steadily improving. He has been criticised for being too aggressive but you can forgive those instances because of the spectacular things that he does with the football.
In his first full season at White Hart Lane, Dele Alli was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year. He won the same award in his second season. In 2016, he was named as the top ranked U 21 footballer in the world by FourFourTwo. Alli represented England in the UEFA Euro 2016 and prior to that he played for the U17, U18 and U19 teams as well.
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