Football is an exciting sport and it is the dream of every player to be crowned as the best in the world. Since 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have turned the Balon d’Or award to a two-horse race before Luke Modric broke the jinx last year. While several stars have risen and fallen in that time, no player has really challenged those two for the best player award.
As the football season nears it’s conclusion, we take a look at ten players who have been impressive in their own rights and shown the potential to one day claim the golden ball. While it is still early to expect any of these players to monopolize the award or even win it, it is exciting to know that the future of the game is bright and should be looked forward to.
10. Luka Jovic -21- Bayern Leverkusen
The wonder kid has been referred to as the breakout star of this Bundesliga season. The striker is one of the main reasons Eintracht Frankfurt made it to the semifinals of the Europa League and are in contention to finish in the Champions League places of the German Bundesliga. Jovic, 21, is the most prolific member of the Eagles’ superb trio of attackers, alongside Ante Rebic and Sebastian Haller.
Jovic isn’t particularly strong or fast, but he has a natural feel for making the right moves in the box and a habit for finishing with calm and precision. He’s also tenacious, happy to hunt down balls, hassle defenders and create opportunities with his relentless work rate. His exploits this season has already attracted interest from Chelsea, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.
9. Marcus Rashford -21- Manchester United
The Mancunian star has now established himself as Manchester United’s main striker at the age of 21, having impressed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since the Norwegian took charge at United. Rashford enjoyed a rapid rise to stardom since scoring twice on an unexpected debut as an 18-year-old in February 2016.
The Manchester-born player repeated his debut heroics with two goals on his Premier League debut against Arsenal and a goal on his England debut against Australia in May 2016. A product of United’s youth system, Rashford is blessed with blistering pace, two quick feet and awareness of those around him. He also has a strong mentality scoring the decisive penalty against PSG. In short, he is a player Solskjaer and United will consider building the team around.
8. Gianluigi Donnarumma -20- AC Milan
The Italian goalkeeper has been on this list for many years and he has been around for a while that it seems surprising that he is still only 20. The Italy’s number 1 is already in his fourth season at Milan and unsurprisingly ranks as the youngest player to make 100 appearances in Serie A, beating other precocious types such as Gianni Rivera, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Mancini and Francesco Totti.
Loads of Italian goalkeepers have been proclaimed the next Gigi Buffon over the years, but Donnarumma is the only one who comes close. Now that Leonardo Bonucci is gone, Donnarumma is Milan’s highest-paid player. The goalkeeper is tall and agile so he makes very difficult saves look easy. His ability to read the game and make big decisions are why he is one of the best in the world.
7. Frenkie De Jong -21- Ajax
Ajax new star is one of the most exciting midfielder in world football today. He can pass the ball, win tackle, and show courage in the tightest of spaces. His dribbling and acceleration, often from deep areas of the pitch, can completely open a game. The Dutch midfielder who has been referred to as the new Johan Cryuff was instrumental in Ajax’s demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu this season where he outclassed Luka Modric.
The midfielder would be joining Barcelona in the coming months and would play with the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets which would probably make him even greater than Cryuff. The hope is that the Barcelona coach would allow him express himself with the kind of creative freedom he has shown at Ajax.
6. Vinicius Jr. -18- Real Madrid
Vinicius is a phenomenal player because he possesses the power and balance of a young Ronaldo de Lima. The Brazilian star has been a revelation in the La Liga this season and his breakthrough has been one of the best things for Real Madrid this season. While he needs to work on a few things in order to improve, the winger already looks ready to unseat Neymar as Brazil’s main man.
Hopefully, we have not seen his full potential yet and he will play a big part in Zidane’s Real Madrid side next season. He is fast on the ball and has the trickery to beat defenders. Although he is injured at the moment, it would be a shame if his career is blighted with injuries like Ronaldo De Lima’s.
5. Samuel Chukwueze -19- Villarreal
The 19-year-old has also enjoyed a phenomenal breakthrough season at Spanish side Villarreal by scoring in La Liga, Europa League and Spanish Cup. One of the main reasons the Yellow Submarines would not be relegated from the top flight this season is because of the performances of Nigerian teenager.
He is the first name on the team sheet featuring in almost 50 games this season and contributing to almost 15 goals. He has attracted interest from big teams in the Premier League including Arsenal and Chelsea and will hope to play a part in the Nigeria’s quest to win the 2019 edition of the African Cup of Nations.
4. Trent Alexander-Arnold -20- Liverpool
The Liverpool right-back, born and raised in the city, has progressed through the club’s youth system since he was spotted by local talent scouts at 6 years old. As a schoolboy, Alexander-Arnold’s talent was singled out by Steven Gerrard, who in his autobiography described the youngster as a star of the future.
The England international defender is blessed with pace, strength and an athletic physique. Alexander-Arnold has established himself as a key figure in Jurgen Klopp’s phenomenal team. He contributed more than 10 assists as Liverpool challenged for the Premier League title. His development the past two years has seen him become a regular in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
3. Matthijs de Ligt -19- Ajax Amsterdam
The Dutch centre-back has been likened to a legend and veteran of the game, Paulo Maldini but he is only 19, and the surprises do not end there. He is the captain of this remarkable side, a teenager with the physique and mentality of a player who has seen and done it all. The teenager has also established himself as a starter with the Dutch national team partnering Virgil Van Dijk.
When de Ligt was younger, he excelled at both tennis and hockey; he is an all-rounder on the pitch too, blessed with exceptional technique and a rare knack for leadership. It is virtually impossible to think of a defender with comparable maturity in the modern era — not to mention an emerging player who simply adores the art of defending.
2. Jadon Sancho -19- Borussia Dortmund
The 19-year-old Londoner was originally spotted by Watford, who had Sancho on their books from the age of 7 before losing him to Manchester City as a 14-year-old. City identified the forward as one of the first players to emerge from their academy, but having grown frustrated by a lack of opportunities at the club, he made the bold move to leave England for Germany by signing for Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017.
Sancho has since taken the Bundesliga by storm, even pushing Pulisic to the subs’ bench. The English international’s pace down the wing and ability to create chances has made him one of the most sought-after youngsters in Europe. He has contributed a considerable amount of goals to the Dortmund team as they challenged for the Bundesliga this season. He has attracted interest from Manchester United.
1. Kylian Mbappe -19- Paris Saint Germain
Mbappé burst onto the scene as a teenager two seasons ago, making a name for himself at Monaco, where he took the Champions League by storm in the second half of the 2016-2017 season. The French prodigy never looked back. He joined PSG in the summer of 2017, like Neymar, and continued his progress in the French capital.
He was one of the stars of the 2018 World Cup, which he won with France and picked up the Young Player of the Tournament award. He has undoubtedly been the best player in Ligue 1 this season as he led PSG to another title. He has frightening pace, incredible skills on the ball and is a finisher too. Mbappe plays wide as a winger for France but more as a centre forward for PSG, and his future is probably as a proper No. 9.
While there are a lot of players aged 21 and under, all of them could not make this list. Special mention to Callum Hudson-Odoi, Henry Onyekuru, Moise Kean, Felix Joao, Phil Foden, and Leon Bailey. Is there any other player who is 21 or under that you think deserves a mention or should be on the list? Join the conversation in the comment section and leave your thoughts.