Welcome to Who Ate All the Pies’ list of the best 20 teenage footballers in the world. You will have heard of some of them, but watch out for all these kids â€“ they have the world at their feetâ€¦
20. Sadick Adams
Nationality: Ghanaian, Club: Atletico Madrid, Age: 18
Ghana is now producing some of the finest football talent in the world, and Sadick Adams is one of its most exciting Black Starlets. He was snapped up by Atletico Madrid after his impressive showing for Ghana at the Fifa U17 World Cup last year, when he scored four goals in the tournament, including one against Spain in their semi final. He’s a striker blessed with explosive pace and remarkable athleticism, although his lack of height (he’s 5ft 6in) may put off the biggest clubs.
The rest of the list after the clickâ€¦
Brazilian, Cruzeiro, 19
Guilherme Milhomem GusmÃ£o, to give him his full name, is an elegant attacking midfielder with both a killer pass and an excellent eye for goal. Like so many Brazilian teenagers, he makes the game look easy, as this video compilation shows:
18. John Bostock
English, Crystal Palace, 16
Bostock is only just 16, and made his league debut for Crystal Palace aged 15 years and 287 days. He has already attracted the interest of clubs as big as Barcelona, Chelsea and Man Utd. This Camberwell-born midfielder has all the attributes required to make it in the modern game: natural ball skills, a good range of passing, physical size and strength, and the ability to run all day long. I hope the media hype machine â€“ of which Pies is a part, I concede â€“ doesn’t overegg his talent and expect too much too soon (see Theo Walcott, who doesn’t make this list). Palace surely won’t hang on to him for much longer, but I hope he stays there for at least another two seasons – the last thing I would want to see is him rotting in Chelsea’s reserves.
17. Dean Bouzanis
Greek, Liverpool, 17
Rafa Benitez rates this big (6ft 3in) Greek-Australian as the best teenage ‘keeper in the world, and that’s good enough for me. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s a terrific athlete with the natural size to make it to the very top of the game – and, like most Aussies, he’s not short on confidence. Don’t expect him to displace Pepe Reina at Liverpool just yet, but remember the name. (Another Bouzanis profile)
16. Ransford Osei
Ghanaian, Kessben, 17
Most of Europe’s top teams have taken a shine to Osei, a striker who scored six goals at the 2007 U17 World Cup. He’s devilishly quick and a superb all-round athlete. Right now he plays in Ghana, for Kessben FC, but it won’t be long before he moves to Europe, with Arsenal leading a long line of clubs anxious to secure his signature. Could improve on his finishing and composure in front of goal, but he is raw and has time on his side.
15. Ismail Aissati
Dutch, PSV Eindhoven, 19
PSV have slapped a Â£15m pricetag on Aissati’s head â€“ AC Milan tried to buy him last season, but their Â£11m bid was rejected â€“ which shows how much they value him. Aissati, who is of Moroccan origin (though he has yet to choose between Holland and Morocco at international level), is an attacking midfielder blessed with extraordinary skill and composure, as his wonder goal against Real Madrid shows (see video, above).
14. Fabio (and Rafael)
Brazilian, Fluminese, 17
When Fabio turns 18, he’ll join Man Utd, along with twin brother Rafael. Fabio is a left-back who can also play left wing (he’s the one in the red shirt, btw). Rafael is, you’ve guessed it, a right-back who can also play on the right wing. Fabio is supposedly the better player of the twins, and could turn out to be the natural heir to Roberto Carlos, but I can’t wait to see how they both get on at Old Trafford. Watch them in action
13. Sergio Aguero
Argentine, Atletico Madrid, 19
Aguero is the most established player on this list, but then he has been playing top-level football for more than four years already. He famously broke Diego Maradona’s record to become the youngest ever player to start a league match in Argentina, at 15 years and 35 days (and, for good measure, he’s dating Maradona’s youngest daughter, Giannina). Aguero is extravagantly talented, with both feet, but he needs to work more on his consistency and temperament.
12. Daniel Opare
Ghanaian, Real Madrid, 17
The third Ghanaian on our list has just been signed by Real Madrid, who beat several top clubs to his signature. Opare is a right back who loves to get forward, but he can also do the defensive dirty work with equal aplomb. His pinpoint crossing is a feature of his play. And like so many African footballers, his natural athleticism is a joy to behold. It surely won’t be long before he’s drafted into the senior Ghana side.
11. Alberto Paloschi
Italian, AC Milan, 18
Paloschi clearly knows how to make an entrance. The 18-year-old striker scored just 18 seconds into his Milan debut, coming off the bench to secure a win against Siena (watch the goal above). Italian football has traditionally relied on experience more than youth, but with players like Paloschi coming through the ranks, that could soon change.
10. Macauley Chrisantus
Nigerian, Hamburger SV, 17
Chrisantus top scored at the 2007 U17 World Cup, scoring seven goals for Nigeria, an impressive tally that helped the young Super Eagles win the tournament. The Nigerian is an athletic striker with a mature eye for goal. He has stated a desire to play for Arsenal, and I don’t doubt that Arsene Wenger has beady eyes on him.
9. Jozy Altidore
US, Red Bull New York, 18
Altidore will probably be the first superstar to emerge from America and break through into one of Europe’s top leagues. It was supposed to Freddy Adu, and whilst I won’t write Adu off just yet (he is still only 18, after all), Altidore looks like a much better bet to make it big. ‘He’s now considered one of the best American soccer players ever,’ New York teammate Juan Pablo Angel said recently, which is a classic example of the sort of hype that has hampered the career of Adu – but there is some truth in Angel’s bold statement. Altidore became the youngest player to score for the U.S. in the modern era when he scored in the U.S’s 2-2 draw with Mexico on 6 February 2008. He could be the real deal, but unless he moves to Europe, the anti-MLS sceptics will remain unconvinced of his true ability.
Brazilian, Bayern Munich, 18
Breno has a mannish face that makes it hard to believe that he’s just 18. Legend has it that Real Madrid tried to sign the young defender, but Breno said no after the Spanish giants wanted to take a bone sample to prove his real age; Bayern were happy for him to simply pass a medical. Breno has captained Brazil at U23 level, and I would not bet against him taking the armband one day at senior level. He has all the ability to become one of the best central defenders in the world, but he is skillful enough to play in any outfield position. How many English defenders could you imagine scoring a goal like this?
7. Mario Balotelli
Ghanaian, Inter, 17
Inter head coach Roberto Mancini has so far been very protective of Balotelli, a striker who was born in Italy but retains Ghanaian citizenship – he can’t keep Balotelli a secret for much longer though. When Mario turns 18 this August, he can choose to become an Italian citizen, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes. According to reports, Inter are set to offer him a new, improved contract, which will keep him at the club at least until 2013. What makes him special? Well, he’s mature beyond his years, and can score pretty much every type of goal, from Pirlo-eqsue free kicks (see embedded vid, above), to overhead scorchers.
6. Giovani dos Santos
Mexican, Barcelona, 18
This kid has been wrapped in cotton wool by Barca since they signed him in 2006, but he’s now ready to be unleashed on the world. He has all the skills to pay the bills, and many judges believe he’s good enough to replace Ronaldinho as Barca’s star playmaker – in fact, watching Gio ghost past defenders, you might swear you were looking at a young Ronaldinho.
5. Micah Richards
English, Man City, 19
Unlike many of the teenagers featured here, Richards has already played for his country at senior level. There is no limit to how far this young colossus can go in the game. He’s very comfortable at full-back and centre-back, and he should, fitness permitting, be an England regular for the next decade. The two immense performances he put in for Man City against Man Utd in the league this season show that he relishes the big occasion, although he needs to improve his concentration levels in lesser games. England and City are lucky to have him. (Shame about his dancing though)
4. Toni Kroos
German, Bayern Munich, 18
Kroos was voted the tournament’s best player at the Fifa 2007 U17 World Cup, and looks set to be a fixture for Bayern and the German national team for many years to come. He’s a midfield playmaker with great vision and intelligence beyond his years. He may not be the most inspiring player on this list, but I bet he has a longer, more successful career than most of his peers – something to do with the old cliche about Germans and reliability.
3. Bojan Krkic
Spanish, Barcelona, 17
The livest livewire in the box, Krkic is one of the most dynamic young strikers you could wish to see. He made his full Barca debut this season; when, in October ’07, he scored against Villareal on his first La Liga start for the club, he broke a certain Lionel Messi’s record for the youngest player to score for Barcelona in a league match. Krkic is a different beast to Messi – less refined, more direct â€“ but he is potentially no less effective. Above all, it’s his amazing confidence that shines through – he knows he is destined to succeed. (More Krkic magic)
2. Alexandre Pato
Brazilian, AC Milan, 18
The Duck – was there ever a less-fitting nickname? Ducks are graceless and awkward, at least on dry land, but Pato is a player who appreciates the aesthetics of football more than most. It is so rare to see a striker who combines blistering pace and mesmerising ball control with such maturity and composure on the ball. No wonder that he has been compared so often to Ronaldo (his compatriot, not Cristiano). And Pato could turn out to be even better than Ronaldo, a truly tantalising prospect.
Brazilian, Man Utd, 19
Anderson can be whatever he wants to be, which makes it hard to judge how good he really is. Suffice it to say that I’ve seen enough already to rate him as the most talented teenager in the world right now. It’s scary how quickly he has adapted to the English game, much faster than any foreign teenager to come to this country. If Alex Ferguson asks him to deputise for Paul Scholes in central midfield, he’ll do that and you won’t even notice that Scholes, one of the greatest English creative midfielders, is missing – in fact, United have looked at their strongest this season with Anderson in the middle of pitch. The Brazilian seems to know instinctively when to play it simple and when to go for the killer ball; he can tackle and harry too. I have watched him outplay Cesc Fabregas twice this season, and that takes some doing. He can also play out wide, and it’s easy to forget when you watch his controlled, mature perfomances in the centre, that he has astounding skill. But unlike team-mate Nani, he chooses to use it when it counts. I’ll stop raving now, but it’s hard to curb the hyperbole when it comes to such an obviously special player.
Anyone missing from the list – or would you have changed the order? As always, I’d love to know your thoughtsâ€¦