As Europe’s biggest teams increasingly look to snap up the top talents at the earliest possible age, the hype surrounding young players reaches great heights. For many it is impossible to live up to and they fade away, but many go on to prove themselves at a high level.
The Top 50 from 2014 was (along with the clubs they were signed to at the time): 50. CARLOS STRANDBERG (1996, HACKEN), 49. KELECHI IHEANACHO (1996, MANCHESTER CITY), 48. ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN (1997, SAINT-ETIENNE), 47. EMANUEL MAMMANA (1996, RIVER PLATE), 46. NEAL MAUPAY (1996, NICE), 45. PATRICK ROBERTS (1997, FULHAM), 44. EZEQUIEL PONCE (1997, NEWELL'S OLD BOYS), 43. ALBERTO CERRI (1996, VIRTUS LANCIANO), 42. BREEL-DONALD EMBOLO (1997, BASEL), 41. THIERRY AMBROSE (1997, MANCHESTER CITY), 40. MAMADOU TOUNKARA (1996, LAZIO), 39. JACK HARPER (1996, REAL MADRID), 38. VACLAV CERNY (1997, AJAX), 37. DONIS AVDIJAJ (1996, SCHALKE 04), 36. DANIEL CROWLEY (1997, ARSENAL), 35. ROBERT MURIC (1996, AJAX), 34. KEVIN MENDEZ (1996, PENAROL), 33. ANDREAS CHRISTENSEN (1996, CHELSEA), 32. SERGIO DIAZ (1998, CERRO PORTENO), 31. JAIRO RIEDEWALD (1996, AJAX), 30. JOSE ANGEL POZO (1996, MANCHESTER CITY), 29. LEE SEUNG-WOO (1998, BARCELONA), 28. ABDELHAK NOURI (1997, AJAX), 27. MALCOM (1997, CORINTHIANS), 26. GEORGE PUSCAS (1996, INTER), 25. ADAMA TRAORE DIARRA (1996, BARCELONA), 24. ENES UNAL (1997, BURSASPOR), 23. DOMINIC SOLANKE (1997, CHELSEA), 22. ANDRIJA ZIVKOVIC (1996, PARTIZAN), 21. ISAIAH BROWN (1997, CHELSEA), 20. RIECHEDLY BAZOER (1996, AJAX), 19. GONCALO GUEDES (1996, BENFICA), 18. SEBASTIAN DRIUSSI (1996, RIVER PLATE), 17. FEDERICO BONAZZOLI (1997, INTER), 16. TIMO WERNER (1996, STUTTGART), 15. ZAKARIA BAKKALI (1996, PSV), 14. GEDION ZELALEM (1997, ARSENAL), 13. JULIAN BRANDT (1996, BAYER LEVERKUSEN), 12. RICHAIRO ZIVKOVIC (1996, AJAX), 11. SIMONE SCUFFET (1996, UDINESE), 10. RUBEN NEVES (1997, PORTO), 9. ANTE CORIC (1997, DINAMO ZAGREB), 8. YOURI TIELEMANS (1997, ANDERLECHT) 7. ANTONIO SANABRIA (1996, ROMA), 6. GIANLUCA GAUDINO (1996, BAYERN), 5. KINGSLEY COMAN (1996, JUVENTUS), 4. GABRIEL BARBOSA (1996, SANTOS), 3. MARTIN ODEGAARD (1998, STROMSGODSET), 2. ALEN HALILOVIC (1996, BARCELONA), 1. HACHIM MASTOUR (1998, MILAN).
The league which seems to be bringing the best out of that crop is the Bundesliga.
Timo Werner, Julian Brandt, Kingsley Coman and Andreas Christensen are all key players in the German top flight, while Richedly Bazoer is getting chances at Wolfsburg following his January move from Ajax.
Werner has been a key part of surprise-package RB Leipzig’s rise to the top. He has scored 14 goals in 24 Bundesliga games for the newly-promoted side who are chasing a spot in the Champions League. He has been linked with a move to Liverpool recently but expressed his desire to remain at the Red Bull Arena.
Brandt, 20, broke into the Bayer Leverkusen first-team at the start of 2014 and quickly blossomed into a star. He can play on either wing or in support of the striker through the middle. Brandt has two goals and six assists and creates more chances than any other Leverkusen player.
After spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, Coman ended up at Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal which is likely to become permanent. Though Coman has been limited to just 17 appearances in all competitions in his second season due to injury, he is on his way back and is used by Carlo Ancelotti when fit. He is set for a bright future in the game.
On loan from Chelsea, Christensen has proved a hit at Borussia Monchengladbach. A constant presence for a side battling for a spot in the Europa League, the Dane is earning a lot of praise, as well as the attention of those at Stamford Bridge, for his performances and reputation as a reliable defender.
Although he was highly rated at Ajax, who snapped him up as a disgruntled youth from PSV’s academy, Bazoer was stuck on the bench in the Dutch capital this season. After growing frustrated, he joined Wolfsburg for €12 million and has started four games for the struggling side. Now being coached by compatriot Andries Jonkers, he can grow into an excellent midfielder if he does not let frustrations get the better of him again.
Breel Embolo is also in the Bundesliga with Schalke after his €20m move, but has been out through injury after a bright start of three goals in 10 games. Gianluca Gaudino, meanwhile, has not been able to build on his appearances for Bayern and is on loan at St. Gallen in Switzerland.
One big example of a success story is Youri Tielemans – a talent destined for great heights long before he broke through at Anderlecht at 16. Now 19, he is the undisputed star and leader for the Belgian giants. Talk of a €30m move intensifies as Europe’s biggest teams continue to be linked with a remarkably prolific midfielder of immense skill and technical ability.
South America is always brimming with talent and is well represented on our list from 2014. Many of those Goal highlighted two and a half years ago are coming along nicely.
Argentine centre-back Emanuel Mammana was tipped for big things even before he made his debut for River Plate and is living up to the hype. He joined Lyon ahead of the 2016-17 season and has been a first-team regular when fit, though injuries kept him out for a spell. “He is a playmaker who plays as a central defender,” as one of his former River coaches said, and he is proving a steal at €9m.
Brazilian winger Malcom is also a regular in Ligue 1, having swapped Corinthians for Bordeaux in January 2016. He was immediately put into the first team and remains a starter for the Europa League hopefuls.
Gabriel Barbosa, better known as ‘Gabigol’, had his pick of teams in Europe when he chose to leave Santos. Passing up the chance to join Barcelona, he moved to Inter to follow in the footsteps of Brazil legend Ronaldo, but he has not found it easy so far as he is yet to start a Serie A game and is below the outstanding Antonio Candreva in the pecking order.
Hailed as a child prodigy from an early age, Sebastian Driussi is still going strong at River Plate. He is seen as a new Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero and has been tipped for a big move in the future, with Tottenham named as a suitor. He has 10 goals in 15 games in the Primera Division this season and has been around the first team since 2013 before becoming the star striker.
Ruben Neves has been in and out of the Porto side throughout the last three seasons but is a defensive midfielder they clearly believe in. A Portugal international, he has been linked with Chelsea and Liverpool.
His compatriot Goncalo Guedes earned his chance at Benfica a year after Goal named him in the list and was a key player in his role as a second striker. A €25m January move to Paris Saint-Germain followed and he has so far made five appearances for Unai Emery’s side.
Many others from our list are first-team regulars at respectable levels.
Perhaps no other teenager has seen as much hype surround him as Martin Odegaard. After Real Madrid won a long battle with some of Europe’s most powerful teams to his signing, the Norwegian has been sent on an 18 month loan at Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, where he is looking decent but not outstanding. This came after he was unready to make his mark at Madrid.
Adama Traore moved from Barcelona to Aston Villa but is now doing well at Middlesbrough, despite their struggles in the Premier League. Also in England, Kelechi Iheanacho has shown promise at Manchester City and has made appearances off the bench – scoring four Premier League goals - although his future at the Etihad looks in doubt. Meanwhile, Thierry Ambrose remains in the reserves at the club.
After making his debut just two days after his 17th birthday, Ante Coric has been a constant presence at Dinamo Zagreb. The versatile attacker has already faced Arsenal, Bayern, Juventus, Sevilla and Celtic and is regularly named as one of the best players of his age group. He remains loyal to his team, but a move to a bigger league will come eventually.
Fellow Croat Alen Halilovic is a lesson for Coric to time his move correctly, as he went from Barcelona to Hamburg and now finds himself on loan at Las Palmas but is mainly used off the bench.
Andrija Zivkovic swapped Partizan Belgrade for Benfica in 2016 and has broken into the first-team in the second half of the current campaign. Turkey international Enes Unal is the star of the show at Twente, looking to impress his parent club Manchester City, while Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria is leading the attack for Real Betis. Patrick Roberts has been bright in the Scottish Premiership with Celtic during his loan from Fulham and Allan Saint-Maximin is playing all across the attack at Ligue 1 strugglers Bastia.
On the other side, Hachim Mastour has failed to live up to the expectations surrounding him as a teenage and social media phenomenon at AC Milan. He was our No.1 talent back in 2014 but is now on loan at PEC Zwolle where he has been used sparingly having made no impact.
He’s not the only player who appeared on the 2014 list playing in Netherlands. Excitement around Ajax’s Abdelhak Nouri has been building for some time in the Dutch capital and he is now breaking through in the senior team. He has looked bright, but Ajax are likely to be patient with a talent they believe is special. Meanwhile, Daniel Crowley is contributing a lot to Go Ahead Eagles but his fellow Arsenal loanee Gedion Zelalem is yet to break through in the second tier at VVV.
The likes of Sergio Carlos Strandberg – once tipped as the Swedish Balotelli - Jack Harper, Alberto Cerri, Vaclav Cerny, Kevin Mendez, Gedion Zelalem, Simone Scuffet, George Puscas and several others are advancing at slower rates and pushing for their chance in the first-team at lower levels, though each still has a long way to develop.
All in all, a large number of the class of 2014 look set for fine careers - although it is interesting that the four most hyped teenagers are the ones struggling the most; Hachim Mastour, Alen Halilovic, Odegaard and Gabigol. Still, they have plenty of time to get back on track.