De Ligt, Sancho, Vinicius Jr and the top 15 teenagers of 2018

Sancho De Ligt Donnarumma NXGN
Goal ranks the best players born on or after January 1, 1999 in terms of their performances and achievements during the current calendar year

  1. Sandro Tonali (Italy)

    #15 Sandro Tonali (Italy)

    One can only hope that Sandro Tonali is as famously adept at dealing with pressure as Andrea Pirlo because the 18-year-old is currently being touted as the Italian icon's heir. 

    The comparisons are grossly premature but wholly understandable. Not only is Tonali an elegant young regista learning his craft at Brescia, he even sports an eerily similar haircut to Pirlo's!

    Just like Pirlo, Tonali also looks set to move on to one of Italy's elite clubs, with Inter, Juventus and AC Milan all enamoured with the teenager's tremendous talent.

    Italy boss Roberto Mancini is also a fan, having called the Lodi native into his squad for last month's games against Portugal and USA in spite of the fact that Tonali is still plying his trade in Serie B. 

  2. Phil Foden (England)

    #14 Phil Foden (England)

    Pep Guardiola has put together arguably the greatest team in Premier League history at Manchester City. That Phil Foden is now an established member of this stellar squad at just 18 is testament to the Stockport native's immense talent.

    This year alone, the versatile and classy midfielder has become the youngest recipient of a winners' medal in Premier League history, broken into the England Under-21 squad and scored his first goal in professional football. 

    "This guy is so special, a City fan and he loves the club," Guardiola recently said of Foden, who extended his contract until 2024 earlier this month.  "You see it in his behaviour and every single action. He is already a great, great football player."

  3. Ryan Sessegnon (England)

    #13 Ryan Sessegnon (England)

    On October 20, Ryan Sessegnon became the first player born in or after 2000 to score in the Premier League. 

    It capped what has been a fantastic year for the dynamic full-back, who helped propel Fulham to promotion last season with a whopping 15 goals in the Championship.

    Sessegnon has not proven quite so prolific in the top flight, and even he himself has admitted that he has found the going tough at times.

    However, the 18-year-old continues to impress with his pace and versatility (he has already played in four different positions this term) and it still seems only a matter of time before a player former Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic has compared to Real Madrid left-back Marcelo joins a 'Big Six' club.

  4. Diego Lainez (Mexico)

    #12 Diego Lainez (Mexico)

    Club America are doing their utmost to carefully manage both Diego Lainez and the mounting hype surrounding the diminutive 18-year-old.

    The word is already out, though, that 'The Mexican Messi' is a special talent and Roma recently had a bid rejected for a tricky left winger who can also play on the right-hand side, or as a No.10.

    Indeed, even though he has not yet established himself as a regular starter at club level, Lainez has now been capped twice by Mexico's national team, even starting the September clash with USA. 

    "He's a great player, an extraordinary player," Club America boss Miguel Herrera recently enthused "He's going to make the difference for us in the future."

    Raheem Sterling Manchester City 2018-19

  5. Matteo Guendouzi (France)

    #11 Matteo Guendouzi (France)

    When Matteo Guendouzi arrived at Arsenal during the summer, new manager Unai Emery promised that the £7 million signing from Lorient would "play a big part" in his side's 2018-19 campaign.

    However, few believed that a 19-year-old who had been plying his trade in Ligue 2 last season would see much game time at the Emirates. 

    Indeed, even Arsenal attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan admitted that he "had never heard of him. I'd never seen him play."

    The Armenian, though, has quickly become a massive fan, while even Emery has been taken aback by just how quickly the defensive midfielder has adapted to English football, impressing all and sundry with his tenacity, technique and bravery on the ball. 

  6. Alban Lafont (France)

    #10 Alban Lafont (France)

    Alban Lafont is just 19 yet he has been playing professional football since November 2015, when he became the youngest goalkeeper ever to debut in Ligue 1 by lining out for Toulouse at 16 years and 310 days old.

    It was a remarkable feat, one made all the more impressive by the fact that when Lafont arrived in France from Burkina Fast at nine, he was an aspiring striker, which goes some way towards explaining his comfort with the ball at his feet.

    He only picked up his first pair of gloves two years later but, since then, he has excelled at a prodigious pace, nailing down a regular berth in the Toulouse team before earning himself a summer switch to Fiorentina.

    Lafont has proven just as impressive in Serie A, suggesting this is a young man with not only the talent but the temperament to enjoy a long and successful career at the highest level.

  7. Justin Kluivert (Netherlands)

    #9 Justin Kluivert (Netherlands)

    It's been an incredible year for Justin Kluivert, who made his Netherlands debut on March 24 before then being crowned Goal's 2018 NxGn winner just four days later. 

    Since then, the diminutive winger has left Ajax for Roma in a €17.25m transfer and the son of Dutch striking legend Patrick is now showing signs of replicating the form that saw him take the Eredivisie by storm last season. 

    Indeed, while the 19-year-old has been predominantly used as an impact substitute by Giallorossi coach Eusebio Di Francesco, he is being afforded more starts in recent weeks.

    As Kluivert said recently, "I can’t complain, as I feel like I’m growing so much and I feel good at Roma."

  8. Rodrygo (Brazil)

    #8 Rodrygo (Brazil)

    It was clear from a very young age that Rodrygo was destined for superstardom. Indeed, the Santos sensation secured a sponsorship deal with Nike at just 11 years of age.

    Since then, the striker has developed and matured at a remarkable rate, making his professional debut at the end of last year before announcing himself as the real deal in 2018 with a string of sensational performances.

    On March 1, the 17-year-old became the youngest Santos player ever to appear in the Copa Libertadores. Two weeks later, he became the youngest Brazilian ever to score in the competition.

    It was clear that Santos had unearthed another very special talent, so it came as no surprise in June when Real Madrid agreed to pay €45m to bring Rodrygo to the Santiago Bernabeu next year.

    Raheem Sterling Manchester City 2018-19

  9. Vinicius Junior (Brazil)

    #7 Vinicius Junior (Brazil)

    Before the end of September, former Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado argued that while Vinicius Junior was "a great investment for the future", the €45m signing should be sent out on loan in order to secure first-team experience away from the glare of the Santiago Bernabeu spotlight.

    Just three months on, though, nobody now doubts whether the 18-year-old Brazilian with the phenomenal dribbling skills is ready to make an impact on the Blancos senior squad. 

    In fact, he already has, and a pretty significant one too, as it was Vinicius' late, deflected strike during a lively cameo against Valladolid that set Santiago Solari on his way to a first Liga win as Real coach.

    The rest is now history, with the Argentine having subsequently been handed the job on a permanent basis, and few would back against Vinicius playing a major role in Madrid's future, with Solari set to afford the youngster even more chances to shine over the course of the current campaign.

  10. Gedson Fernandes (Portugal)

    #6 Gedson Fernandes (Portugal)

    Gedson Fernandes only broke into the Benfica first team at the start of the season but, by September 1, he was penning a new five-year contract with the club, with a reported buy-out clause of €60m.

    It was easy to understand why. By that stage, the 19-year-old had already locked down a regular starting berth in midfield, even scoring a crucial away goal in Benfica's Champions League third qualifying round tie with Fenerbahce

    Then, just five days after renewing with the Eagles, he made his first appearances for Portugal, in the September 6 friendly with World Cup finalists Croatia

    Unsurprisingly, Europe's top clubs are already circling and if Fernandes continues at his current rate of development, Benfica may well have to increase that buy-out clause before the season is out.

  11. Reiss Nelson (England)

    #5 Reiss Nelson (England)

    Just like fellow Englishman Jadon Sancho, Reiss Nelson felt a move overseas would help him develop as a player. And just like Sancho, Nelson is tearing up the Bundesliga.

    The on-loan Arsenal attacker has already scored six times in Germany's top-flight for Hoffenheim, prompting calls among the Gunners faithful to cut short his season-long stay so that he can return to the Emirates in January to fill the void left by the injured Danny Welbeck.

    However, Nelson, buoyed by his rapid rate of development thanks to regular first-team football, says he won't be going back to north London until he is ready to challenge for a starting berth in Unai Emery's side.

    "I want to be an Arsenal legend," he declared. On the evidence of his performances for Hoffenheim to date, Nelson has the talent to realise that dream.

  12. Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

    #4 Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

    AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma has certainly had his ups and downs in 2018.

    From denying Napoli a last-gasp winner at San Siro in April with a sensational save from Arkadiusz Milik, to his failure to cut out the cross that Mauro Icardi headed home to decide October's derby in Inter's favour, the goalkeeper has experienced the full range of emotions that football can generate. 

    Donnarumma is clearly not yet the finished article but the fact remains that, at just 19 years of age, he is first-choice for both club and country, having already lived up to his billing as Gianluigi Buffon's heir by succeeding the legendary shot-stopper as Italy's No.1.

    He is likely to continue to make mistakes as he grows but as Buffon said, the prodigiously gifted Donnarumma clearly "still has 20 years ahead of him" at the highest level.

    Raheem Sterling Manchester City 2018-19

  13. Jadon Sancho (England)

    #3 Jadon Sancho (England)

    Not many players turn down Pep Guardiola. Those that do usually regret doing so. Not Jadon Sancho, though.

    A year after going back on an oral agreement to stay at Manchester City, the 18-year-old winger is a star at Borussia Dortmund and a full England international, with an impressive debut against USA already under his belt.

    City claim they did everything they could to hold on to Sancho and were understandably frustrated by the loss a player that Guardiola had repeatedly described as "a huge talent" for just £8m.

    Indeed, the attacker is already worth so much more money, having taken the Bundesliga by storm in 2018, and has already been awarded a new four-year contract by Dortmund, with club CEO Michael Zorc enthusing: "He's brutally good! He can do things I have rarely seen."

  14. Kai Havertz (Germany)

    #2 Kai Havertz (Germany)

    Having previously had the likes of Michael Ballack and Toni Kroos on their books, Bayer Leverkusen are supremely confident that they have another midfield maestro on their hands in Kai Havertz.

    Club captain Lars Bender says he has "never seen such a complete player" at the age of 19, while goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky says, "It's an honour to play with him."

    The excitement generated by Havertz at the BayArena is certainly understandable. 

    In April of this year, the talented all-rounder became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to rack up 50 appearances, while he made his Germany debut, against Peru, in September before being handed his first start in last month's win over Russia.

  15. Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands)

    #1 Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands)

    Ajax centre back Matthijs de Ligt is just 19 yet, as Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar told Goal in March, "He looks like he’s been [playing professional football] for six or seven years.

    "Matthijs is very mature for his age and he has the physique of a 24-year-old.

    "He is also strong with both feet, has an extremely good range of passing, can head the ball, scores goals and is a real leader at the back already."

    Given his many attributes, then, it's hardly surprising that Barcelona and Manchester City are battling to sign the Netherlands international, who is almost certain to leave Ajax next summer after a year in which he has shone for club and country.