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Ranking the best young players in world football right now

Who are the players set to define football for the next decade? The talents who, in the infancy of their careers, have already shown the promise to become the best of their generation.

We’ve attempted to rank the best young players in world football right now, considering only starlets aged under 21.

Ranking the best young players in the world football right now:

5. Lamine Yamal – Barcelona

Lamine Yamal has broken records since his emergence at Barcelona, where the teenager became the youngest debutant for the Catalan club in over a century when making his first-team bow aged just 15 years, nine months, and 16 days old.

Yamal spent last summer starring to finish as top scorer at the u-17 European Championship, before breaking into the Barcelona team this season. At just 16, he has become a first-choice option for Xavi, for whom he has scored seven goals in 45 appearances across all competitions. He’s added nine assists, and alongside Pau Cubarsi and Gavi, can be the La Masia-produced core to lead Barça through an economically challenging era.

After scoring on his Spain debut in September, he became the youngest-ever debutant and goalscorer for La Roja. The teenager has netted twice in six caps for the national team and will feature prominently at Euro 2024.

A reminder, he’s just 16.

4. Warren Zaïre-Emery – Paris Saint-Germain

Watching Warren Zaïre-Emery in action, it’s easy to forget this is a footballer who only celebrated his 18th birthday in March. In an era of excessive spending in Paris, the long-term heartbeat of Paris Saint-Germain might just have been produced from their own ranks.

Zaïre-Emery has made 72 appearances for the French champions across the last two seasons, winning back-to-back Ligue 1 crowns. He’s almost immaculate in possession with his 91.3% pass completion ranking the teenager in the 97th percentile of midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues over the last 12 months, while he’s also among the elite (90th percentile) for progressive carries.

Luis Enrique has used the Paris-born prospect at full-back on occasion this season, a move that has helped develop his game and tactical understanding.

Even in a team as talented as the French national side, he will hope for a regular role at Euro 2024. The youngest debutant for Les Bleus since 1914, he marked his first appearance with a goal against Gibraltar in November.

3. Gavi – Barcelona

Gavi’s season has been decimated by an ACL issue though his absence should not detract from a huge talent. Still just 19, his achievements to date include 27 caps and five goals for Spain, including becoming the third-youngest scorer at a World Cup, last season’s La Liga title, and the 2022 Golden Boy and Kopa trophies.

Slick and stylish on the ball, he boasts the hallmarks of a traditional La Masia graduate, though has a spikiness and competitive edge to match.

Barcelona will hope he can return to fitness in time for pre-season, after the knee problem that has curtailed his campaign.

2. Florian Wirtz – Bayer Leverkusen

Florian Wirtz is the jewel in the crown of a Bayer Leverkusen team who have conquered German football. The 20-year-old’s impact on the club’s first-ever Bundesliga title will not be forgotten, with Wirtz having scored 18 goals and laid on 19 assists in all competitions this season.

He sealed the club’s maiden title success with a hat-trick against Werder Bremen, a fitting performance on the big occasion from a player with sky-high potential. After breaking Bundesliga records during his initial emergence, Wirtz has battled back from an ACL injury to re-cement his status as one of the world’s most exciting young talents.

His first touch is adhesive and he is inventive with his passing, doing simple things effectively with neat one-twos in tight areas and the release of the ball at the right time. Able to wriggle through congested traffic and pick passes between lines, he’s perhaps the perfect number ten in an era when the traditional luxury playmaker has become almost extinct.

Wirtz leads the Bundesliga for through balls, passes into the penalty area and goal-creating actions while ranking second for assists and fourth for both progressive passes and successful take-ons.

If or when he leaves Leverkusen, it will be for an astronomical fee.


1. Jude Bellingham – Real Madrid

Jude Bellingham’s show-stopping performances have been one of the narratives of the season.

Bellingham, however, has always been a player for whom maturity has come naturally. After making the brave decision to turn down English clubs for the Bundesliga as a teenager, he established himself as one of the best in German football, before again rejecting the Premier League in favour of Real Madrid.

The 20-year-old was named the Bundesliga’s Player of the Season in 2022/23 and is the odds-on favourite to claim La Liga’s equivalent after a stunning debut season. He has scored 22 goals in all competitions and claimed the Golden Boy Award in 2023.

Bellingham’s brilliance has already come to the fore in the biggest games with a catalogue of clutch moments in a white shirt. Stoppage-time winners in both league Clásico contests have made him a Madrid favourite regardless of what happens from here, and he will be a driving force in the club’s bid for La Liga and Champions League success.

Should those trophies materialise, alongside a successful summer with England at Euro 2024, his argument for the Ballon d’Or will be compelling.

Read – Six brilliant stories from the European football season

See more – The longest ever unbeaten runs from Premier League players

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