The U-17 World Cup is a huge event for soccer’s future, and the world of football has been blessed with some of the best players in their respective age groups. Here are 10 of the top teenagers from this year’s tournament.
Bukayo Saka is a Nigerian footballer who plays for Spanish club Real Madrid. He is one of the world’s top teenagers in football.
Mason Greenwood of Manchester United is one of the world’s most experienced under-20 players, according to the CIES. Jon Super/AP Photo
After the Barcelona and Spain midfielder’s prolonged 2020-21 season evolved into an adventure, Pedri has been named the most experienced teenager in global football.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, Pedri is far and by the most experienced professional men’s player yet to turn 20. He played 73 competitive games for club and nation last season.
Total minutes played in senior matches for club and nation from the start of 2021, weighted by the level of the different tournaments involved, are included in the CIES statistics.
Given that Pedri has played in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League for Barcelona, as well as World Cup qualifiers, international friendlies, Euro 2020, and the Olympics for Spain, it’s no surprise that he’s in first place, with Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood and Ajax’s Ryan Gravenberch trailing in second and third, respectively.
Giovanni Reyna, an 18-year-old offensive midfielder for Borussia Dortmund, is barely outside the top 10, in 13th position overall.
Here’s a deeper look at the top of the chart, which is based on the CIES Top 100 footballers under the age of 20, who were rated in terms of total minutes/appearances and goals in official senior matches up to Aug. 16, 2021.
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Pedri Gonzalez is number one (Barcelona)
🇪🇸 Pedri had another perfect effort in the semi-finals.
What is your opinion of the young Spaniard? pic.twitter.com/w4yCe6hk0r @FedExEurope | #EUROPZ | #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/w4yCe6hk0r
— July 8, 2021, UEFA EURO (@EURO2020)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 49 Goals: 2 Minutes: 3,827
In his first season at Barca, Pedri quickly established himself as a mainstay before starting on a punishing summer schedule that comprised not one, but two big tournaments for Spain. To begin with, the midfielder became the youngest player to ever represent Spain at a European Championship, and he played every minute of his country’s run to the semifinals, with the exception of 60 seconds of rest given to him at the end of their extra-time win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Pedri then joined the Spain under-23 team for the Olympics, making six further appearances until losing to Brazil in the gold medal match, putting his 310-day season to an end. Pedri had had the briefest of vacations before his 2021-22 season started only eight days later, when he played the whole 90 minutes of Barca’s first league match of the season (a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad).
Mason Greenwood is number two (Manchester United)
Year of Birth: 2001 Matches: 26 Minutes: 2,327 Minutes: 2,327 Minutes: 2,327 Minutes: 2,327 10 objectives
Greenwood, the highest-scoring youngster in the Top 20 with 10 goals in 2021, had been on the verge of breaking into the United first team since making his Champions League debut against Paris Saint-Germain in March 2019, scoring 12 goals the following season. Greenwood scored two goals in United’s first two games of the season, playing all 180 minutes. It seems that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer is willing to entrust his youthful striker with a more important role in 2021-22.
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 27 Minutes: 2,167 0 goals
Mendes, a 19-year-old left-back, was played higher up the side by Sporting in 2020-21 as the club won the Primeira Liga for the first time since 2002, owing to his outstanding flexibility and work rate. In early 2021, the teenager got his first senior international cap for Portugal, and he was later chosen for Euro 2020 assignment, but he did not play in the championships.
Ryan Gravenberch, No. 4 (Ajax)
43. Ryannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn #Ajalee #PreSeason pic.twitter.com/PzLD1hYCj3
August 4, 2021 — AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 37 Minutes: 2,790 Minutes: 2,790 Minutes: 2,790 Minutes: 2,790 4 objectives
Gravenberch is technically proficient and positionally active, with a blockbuster of a long-range shot in his arsenal, conjuring memories of former Ajax center midfielders. Gravenberch broke the record for the youngest Ajax player to play in the Eredivisie when he made his debut at the age of 16 in September 2018, surpassing the legendary Clarence Seedorf.
Matheus Martinelli, No. 5 (Fluminense)
Year of Birth: 2001 2,898 minutes 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins 36 mins Goals:3
Martinelli, a 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder, is the highest-ranked youngster on the CIES list who does not play in Europe, but that is unlikely to remain the case for much longer given the intense interest in his skill. In 2021, the deep-lying master has established himself as a regular for Flu, having previously been a key part of the club’s renowned under-17 team, which dominated Brazilian youth football.
Year of Birth: 2001 Matches: 20 Goals: 1 Minutes: 1,681
Despite being just 19 years old, former academy graduate Inacio has established himself as a stylish and reliable centre-back for Sporting’s title-winning heroes.
Putting rivalries aside. What a wonderful day that was.
August 8, 2021 — Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial)
Year of Birth: 2001 Matches: 33 Minutes: 2,470 6 objectives
The continuing development of Saka, who is already regarded as one of the most intriguing young talents in global football, is one of the few grounds for hope among Arsenal supporters. Since making his professional debut in 2019-20, the 19-year-old winger has thrived for club and nation, becoming a popular figure among neutrals — including Tottenham fans, who gave him a heartfelt ovation following his trials with England during the summer.
Fabricio Diaz, no. 8 (Liverpool FC, Uruguay)
Year of Birth: 2003 Matches: 30 Minutes: 2,478 Minutes: 2,478 Minutes: 2,478 Minutes: 2,478 1st goal
Diaz, an 18-year-old defensive midfielder who has already played almost 60 games for Liverpool, is one of the few players born in 2003 to reach the CIES list.
Who are the best young talents in your country?
@BelRedDevils | @JeremyDoku Jéremy Doku versus Belarus = #WCQ pic.twitter.com/iXJVP4h1ON
— April 5, 2021, UEFA EURO (@EURO2020)
Born in the year 2002, with 2,042 minutes played in 27 matches and three goals scored.
Doku, a winger for Rennes, is arguably one of Europe’s most intriguing offensive prospects at the moment, with many top Premier League teams reportedly keen on monitoring his development after a pair of scorching cameos for Belgium at Euro 2020.
Year of Birth: 2003 Matches: 34 Minutes: 2,169 3 objectives
Despite being younger than The White Stripes’ song “Seven Nation Army,” Dortmund star Bellingham has already had his jersey number retired at his previous club Birmingham City. You get the feeling there’s a bright future ahead of him, but that’s not to say the present isn’t remarkable in its own right, with the calm central midfielder already having earned a slew of senior international appearances.
The first 17-year-old in Bundesliga history to score five goals ⚽
Remember the name Florian Wirtz: pic.twitter.com/o31lIqIGAn
— February 13, 2021, Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga EN)
Year of Birth: 2003 Matches: 23 Goals: 5 Minutes: 1,719
Wirtz made history by becoming the first 17-year-old to score five Bundesliga goals with a header against Stuttgart in February. In 29 Bundesliga games in 2020-21, the newest Leverkusen wonderkid scored five goals and added five assists as records fell and toppled all around him.
Lucas Calegari (#12) (Fluminense)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 25 Goals: 0 Minutes: 2,040
Calegari, a Brazilian right-back known for his overlapping charges, has already been touted to make a major transfer to European football in the near future after securing a regular spot in the Flu starting XI.
Giovanni Reyna (#13) (Borussia Dortmund)
The opening goal for @BlackYellow was scored by Giovanni Reyna.
He’ll have to work hard if he ever gets a better one. pic.twitter.com/iNDZDIP1Mb
February 11, 2020 — Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga EN)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 32 Minutes: 1,794 Minutes: 1,794 Minutes: 1,794 Minutes: 1,794 7 objectives
Reyna, another young Dortmund first-team player, made his Bundesliga debut as a 17-year-old by scoring a spectacular solo goal against Werder Bremen. Reyna, a generational American talent, just signed a contract extension with Dortmund until 2025 and has taken over Jadon Sancho’s No. 7 shirt after the winger’s move to Manchester United.
Eduardo Camavinga (Eduardo Camavinga)
🎂 #HBD | @FrenchTeam | @ecama10 pic.twitter.com/5yDAv9vohX #HBD | @FrenchTeam | @ecama10 pic.twitter.com/5yDAv9vohX
— 10 November 2020, UEFA EURO (@EURO2020)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 25 Minutes: 1,657 Minutes: 1,657 Minutes: 1,657 Minutes: 1,657 Goals:0
Camavinga is believed to be close to take the next step up the ladder following his all-action displays in midfield for Rennes last season. Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Paris Saint-Germain are all said to be interested. In 2020, he scored in his first senior debut for France, converting a clever overhead kick against Ukraine, becoming the team’s youngest goal scorer in almost a century.
Octavian Popescu (number 15) (FCSB)
Year of Birth: 2002 Matches: 32 Goals: 6 Minutes: 2,326
Popescu is already being compared to Gheorghe Hagi and Adrian Mutu among Romanian football fans, such is the belief that the FCSB prodigy has the potential to become the country’s next great player. The quick-footed striker has made a strong start to the current Liga 1 season, scoring two goals in his first six league appearances.