Don Balon list 2011: The top 101 youngsters in world football
- Updated: November 9, 2011
For many years Spanish magazine Don Balon would publish their list of the top 100 youngsters in world football at around this time of year.
Due to economic pressure and a scandal that brought about the arrest of their editor, Don Balon is no longer and we have decided to step into the breach to list the best young players currently plying their trade in world football.
There is one rule for this top youngsters run down, and follows the format Don Balon put in place over many years. To qualify for inclusion, the player must be born after January 1, 1990.
(We have also taken the liberty to add one more player to make it 101 to reflect the name of this very website.)
Among the names to be included in last year’s list by the now defunct Don Balon were Gareth Bale, Alexandre Pato and Javier Pastore who are now all too old for this year’s 101 top youngsters in world football. (Last year’s list here.)
The list below is in alphabetical order and includes video evidence where possible, just click on the name of the player.
1. Adryan, Flamengo, 17. Starred in the Under-17 World Cup and has already been linked with Manchester United, forcing his club, Flamengo, to slap a large fee on his head. A diminutive forward with real quality in attacking areas and a bit of a set-piece specialist too.
2. David Alaba, Bayern Munich, 19. Holds the record as the youngest player to appear for the Austria national team as well as Bayern Munich. Alaba continues to be an important squad member for the Bavarian giants and has displayed his versatility in the first team as well.
3. Thiago Alcantara, Barcelona, 20. The heir to Xavi and Iniesta, Thiago forced himself into Pep Guardiola’s reckoning with a starring role in Spain’s Under-21 European Championship success and then Barcelona’s pre-season, last summer. The fact many said Barca didn’t need Cesc Fabregas should tell you everything about Thiago.
4. Jano Ananidze, Spartak Moscow, 19. A big player for Georgia and Spartak, Ananidze has already been linked with a number of major clubs around Europe and has the quality to succeed when Moscow do finally let him leave.
5. Khouma Babacar, Fiorentina, 18. Has struggled for playing time at The Viola this season but has already played over 20 games in Serie A and looks to be a Senegalese striker who could be a physical presence for many years to come.
6. Mario Balotelli, Manchester City, 21. Super Mario has already become a cult hero in England, predominantly for his off-the-field antics, but there is no doubting his all-round ability. Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini believes Balotelli to already be one of the best strikers in world football and the 24 million pound fee paid to Inter Milan could one day be considered a bargain.
7. Yassine Benzia, Lyon, 17. Still yet to make an impression on the Lyon first team, Benzia was a massive player at the Under-17 World Cup and has been tipped to make the grade at OL for quite a few years now.
8. Villiyen Bijev, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Liverpool), 18. An 18-year-old striker considered to be an American “wonderkid.” Yet to make much impression in Germany but his goal scoring record throughout all youth levels suggests he could be a big hit at Anfield.
9. Fabio Borini, Roma (on loan from Parma), 20. Failed to make the grade at Chelsea but did have an impact at Swansea in a loan spell which saw Borini play a part in their promotion to the Premier League. A regular for the Italy Under-21s and is looking to bag a long term deal at Roma.
10. Ryad Boudebouz, Sochaux, 21. Algerian attacking midfielder who has lit up Ligue 1 with some sensational goals and skills and looks set to secure a big move away from Sochaux in the coming years.
11. Joel Campbell, Lorient (on loan from Arsenal), 19. Costa Rica striker Joel Campbell joined Arsenal in August for a minimal fee but was denied a work permit despite seemingly representing his national team at a ton of tournaments, including the Copa America where he came to the fore.Â Campbell was shipped off on loan to Lorient for the season by Arsenal and his introduction to Ligue 1 has come at a steady pace.
12. Sergio Canales, Valencia, (on loan from Real Madrid), 20. A six-month knee injury, picked up recently has stalled Canales’ progress but the class he showed at Racing Santander will not be forgotten for some time. Also struggled to make an impact at Real Madrid but they have clearly seen enough as they would only loan Canales last summer.
13. Luc Castaignos, Inter Milan, 19. The all-time top goal scorer for the Holland Under-17s, Castaignos averaged a goal every other game for Feyenoord before his big move to Italy. Yet to really show his true worth at the San Siro but is a consistent member of the Nerazzurri match day squad.
14. Sebastian Coates, Liverpool, 21. Voted the best young player at the Copa America and was an important cog in the Uruguay side that won the tournament. Coates has yet to prove he can fully adapt to English football but it is early days.
15. Diego Contento, Bayern Munich, 21. An unsung member of Bayern Munich’s squad, Contento is still waiting to play for Germany but has shown enough quality to suggest he could play for Germany’s biggest side and the Nationalmannschaft at left back.
16. Douglas Costa, Shakhtar Donetsk, 21. One of countless classy Brazilians to be lured to the Ukraine and Shakhtar to further their football educations. Once billed as the “new Ronaldinho,” Costa has continued to impress in the footballing outpost.
17. Souleymane Coulibaly, Tottenham, 16. Nine goals in four matches at the Under-17 World Cup propelled Coulibaly to stardom and Spurs reportedly beat off competition from Real Madrid to secure the “new Didier Drogba.” Yet to play for the Tottenham first team but has been banging in the goals under Tim Sherwood in the NextGen tournament and in various exhibition matches.
18. Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid (on loan from Chelsea), 19. Courtois is making a name for himself in Spain, with little or no fanfare so far in the English press. Besides the predictable 5-0 hammering at Barcelona, Courtois has been hugely impressive for Atletico with only Radamel Falcaoa’s form keeping the attention on the young Belgian low key.
19. Philippe Coutinho, Inter Milan, 19. Billed for some time as a potential Brazil star at the 2014 World Cup on home soil, Coutinho was a key component in the Under-20 sides success in Colombia and could be a big player for ageing Inter.
20. Isaac Cuenca, Barcelona, 20. Seemingly came from nowhere to emerge in the Barcelona first team in recent weeks. The the 20-year-old 5.11ft Spanish winger is as tricky as they come and Pep Guardiola clearly rates him highly.
21. Kevin De Bruyne, Genk, 20. One of the Jupiler Pro League’s brightest stars, De Bruyne was close to joining Chelsea in the summer before a move broke down. Skilful, intelligent and good on the ball, the major question marks surround whether he is physical enough for the Premier League.
22. David De Gea, Manchester United, 21. A tricky start to life at Manchester United appears to have been overcome and the “new van der Sar” looks set to have a long and successful career at Old Trafford. Had already impressed for Atletico Madrid and Spain’s Under-21 side before illustrating his calmness under pressure and ability in one of the toughest gigs in world football.
23. Gerard Deulofeu, Barcelona, 17. A Barcelona debutant in October, the hype surrounding Deulofeu has been rife for some time. A graduate of the famous La Masia academy, Deulofeu has been at the European champions since the age of nine and it is easy to see from his playing style.
24. Jean Marie Dongou, Barcelona, 16. The Cameroon striker has invited inevitable comparisons with Samuel Eto’o who played a part in bringing him to the Spanish champions during his spell with the club. Dongou is still banging in the goals and is one of many Barca youngsters to be linked with Chelsea.
25. Dudu, Dynamo Kiev, 19. A diminutive attacking midfielder that has already left Brazil after playing less than 40 games in the Campeonato Brasileiro. Sparingly used so far in Ukraine, Dudu was another star in Brazil’s Under-20 World Cup side.
26. Alan Dzagoev, CSKA Moscow, 21. Already a major player for Spartak and Russian national team, Dzagoev oozes class and it will take a fair few roubles to prise him away from Russia.
27. Magnus Eikrem, Molde, 21. Whilst much of the credit for Molde’s title success went to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eikrem was the catalyst in the middle of the park. “The Wolf” also reportedly has a buy-back clause in his contract that could see him return to Manchester United.
28. Kyle Ebecilio, Arsenal, 17. Despite being a midfielder, he ended the European Under-17 Championships as joint top goal scorer. A powerful midfielder compared to the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Ebecilio should get his chance sooner or later in the Arsenal first team.
29. Lorenzo Ebecilio, Ajax, 20. An Ajax winger in the true traditions of the club, Ebecilio emerged in 2010/2011 under Frank De Boer and seems set to star for the Amsterdammers and eventually the Holland national team.
30. Stephan El Shaarawy, AC Milan, 19. Emerged at Padova in Serie B last season, the health problems afflicting Antonio Cassano could see the Egyptian sounding Italian emerge as a key player for the Rossoneri.
31. Christian Eriksen, Ajax, 19. The Danish schemer was this week voted his country’s player of 2011 and has been hugely impressive for Ajax this season. Appears to be getting better and better with a host of Premier League clubs reportedly circling.
32. Ioannis Fetfatzidis, Olympiakos, 20. Nicknamed the “Greek Messi,”Â Fetfatzidis is a diminutive attacking midfielder who has already shown his quality for club and country. Unsurprisingly Olympiakos have also slapped a 12.5 million euro release clause on his head as well.
33. Gueida Fofana, Lyon, 20. Captain of the France team that won the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship on home soil, the comparisons with Patrick Vieira, as a defensive midfielder, are rife. Over the last year Fofana has also made progress at Lyon – a regular starting berth cannot be too far away.
34. Giuliano, Dnipro, 21. Awarded the the Bronze Ball Award at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup and was part of the Internacional side that won the Copa Libertadores in 2010. A move to Dnipro is somewhat of a risk.
35. Julian Draxler, Schalke, 18. Famously came to the fore with a winning goal against Nurnberg in the DFB Pokal in January. Draxler continues to make progress at Schalke.
36. Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund, 19. Franz Beckenbauer has compared Gotze to Lionel Messi whilst his performance against Brazil in August, where he scored his first international goal, was sensational.
37. Clement Grenier, Lyon, 20. One of a raft of young players at Lyon that promises much but has still to make the grade, Grenier has been a regular at France youth level and big things are expected.
38. Antoine Griezmann, Real Sociedad, 20. A French winger that has been one of Real Sociedad’s best players in recent seasons. A move to a bigger club in Spain appears to be an inevitability.
39. John Guidetti, Feyenoord (on loan from Manchester City), 19. The Swedish striker has a huge ego but may well have come through the Manchester City ranks at just the wrong time. Extremely gifted, a season in the Eredivisie could be the making of Guidetti.
40. Lukman Haruna, Dynamo Kiev, 20. Haruna is a defensive midfielder with caps at international level and vast experience from his spell with Monaco. True captain material where he has been successful with the Nigeria Under-17 side, winning African and world titles.
41. Eden Hazard, Lille, 20. Led Lille to the Ligue 1 title in 2010/2011, Hazard is arguably the hottest young property in Europe at the current time. His next move, set to come in the summer, will be massive but there is little doubting his class, ability on the ball and temperament.
42. Abel Hernandez, Palermo, 21. Set to be the long term heir to Sebastian “El Loco” Abreu in the Uruguay squad, Hernandez still needs to add more goals to his game but has all the necessary attributes.
43. Markus Henriksen, Rosenborg, 19. One of the biggest prospects in Norwegian football although had a more difficult season in 2011. A full international with many scouts keeping an eye on Rosenborg.
44. Son Heung-Min, Hamburg, 19. The latest Asian star of the Bundesliga,Â Heung-Min has already been amongst the goals in Germany and is tipped for big things.
45. Lewis Holtby, Schalke, 21. Well known in England as he qualified to play for Three Lions, Holtby has been impressive for Mainz, Schalke and the Germany Under-21 side. Jogi Low was quick to include him in a Euro 2012 qualifier to ensure he represents the German national side.
46. Phil Jones, Manchester United, 19. The undoubted young star of the Premier League so far and with every passing game looks like an absolute steal for a fee believed to be around 16.5 million pounds.
47. Vaclav Kadlec, Sparta Prague, 19. A goal scorer throughout his international career, including on his debut for the Czech national team. Still yet to hit double figures for his club.
48. Maksym Koval, Dynamo Kiev, 18. Highly-rated keeper that has impressed when called upon and also been part of Ukraine’s full national team squad.
49. Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich, 21. Player over 50 times for Bayern Munich and with more than 20 caps for the German national team, Kroos is an experienced youngster with genuine all-round quality. Expect him to explode at one of the next few international tournaments.
50. Bojan Krkic, Roma, 21. Frustration at Barcelona overshadowed the genuine goal scoring quality possessed by Bojan. The move to Roma could be the making of the Spanish striker who has already shown his eye for goal in Serie A.
51. Sergiy Kryvstov, Dynamo Kiev, 20. An eastern European defender that ticks all the boxes, made a big move to Dynamo after impressing for Metalurg and the Ukraine Under-21 side.
52. Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon, 20. Scored the winning goal against Spain in the Â 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship and has been a regular for France’s youth sides.
53. Erik Lamela, Roma, 19. There are big hopes for Lamela despite the fact he was part of River Plate’s relegation. An attacking midfielder that lives up to the stereotypes of an Argentine and has a big opportunity at Roma.
54. Manuel Lanzini, Fluminense (on loan from River Plate) 18. Shares many similarities with Lamela (above). Moved on after River’s demotion but could return toÂ BuenosÂ Aires on their return to the top flight after an education in Brazil.
55. Adem Ljajic, Fiorentina, 20. Most famously dropped by Manchester United after it appeared Ljajic was heading for Old Trafford. Made little progress under Sinisa Mihajlovic but still got what it takes to make an impression in Serie A.
56. Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea, 18. A beast of a young striker who looks to have adapted well to life off the pitch at Chelsea but still yet to fully break through into the first team. An impressive goal scoring record at Anderlecht and double figures in caps for Belgium speaks for itself.
57. Adam Maher, AZ Alkmaar, 18. Almost coming from nowhere this season to lead AZ to the top of the Eredivisie thanks to a blistering start and linked with Barcelona in recent weeks. Maher isÂ outrageouslyÂ gifted and has very quick feet in tight areas.
58. Eliaquim Mangala, Porto, 20. Impressive defender, poached by Porto in the summer from Stand Liege, Mangala has also produced some fine performances for the France Under-21 side.
59. Emmanuel Mayuka, Young Boys, 20. Zambian international striker that had a fine scoring record at Maccabi Tel Aviv and appears to be adapting well to life in Switzerland.
60. Alexander Merkel, Genoa, 20. Co-owned by Genoa and AC Milan, Merkel looks to be a fine prospect following a fine schooling at Stuttgart and German youth sides.
61. Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid, 19. Already made his debut for Real Madrid’s first team after banging in the goals for the Castilla side. Morata may well struggle for a first team spot but will find the back of the net and offer a physical presence when given the opportunity.
62. Ravel Morrison, Manchester United, 18. The star of Manchester Unitedâ€™s FA Youth Cup victory last season. Morrison is known for both his immense ability as well as his off the field troubles which have already been documented in the back pages and may well need some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s paternal mentoring.
63. Iker Muniain, Athletic Bilbao, 18. Part of the victorious Spanish Under-21 European Championship side in the summer, the Bart Simpson look-a-like has been a crucial part of the Marcelo Bielsa revolution in the Basque country.
64. Marc Muniesa, Barcelona, 19. Unlike most of the La Masia graduates on this list, Muniesa is a defender and a regular for the Barcelona B side. The Catalan giants have slapped a 30 million euro buyout clause on Muniesa who will look to emulate the likes of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique.
65. Ezequiel Munoz, Palermo, 21. Was a regular for Palermo last season and also been called up to Argentina squads.
66. Yann M’Vila, Rennes, 21. Heavily linked with Arsenal in the summer, physically, he has everything to succeed in English football but it is often his accurate passing in the middle of the park that is the highlight of his performances. Now a key member of Laurent Blanc’s first XI for France.
67. Neymar, Santos, 19. Quite simply the Santos forward is the great talent of world football at the moment and the walking showboat regularly pulls out flicks, tricks and skills that have been nicknamed by some bloggers as “Neymar porn.”
68. M’Baye Niang, Caen, 16. The man-boy striker was linked with a fair few big clubs in the summer including PSG and Spurs but his progress continues at Caen.
69. Sotiris Ninis, Panathinaikos, 21. Highly-rated Greek schemer tipped for big things and has put in some big performances for club and country.
70. Nicolas N’Koulou, Marseille, 21. Already a mainstay at the back for Marseille and Cameroon, linked with a host of big sides after leaving Monaco last summer.
71. Tommy Oar, Utrecht, 19. An Australian midfielder making an impression in Holland and looks destined for a bigger club as well as a greater role at international level.
72. Joel Obi, Inter Milan, 20. A versatile player, predominantly a midfielder but used in a number of positions at Inter. Yet to fully establish himself for the Nerazzurri but Obi has already featured impressively for Nigeria.
73. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18. Chamberlain has scored goals against Shrewsbury and Olympiakos to suggest he could be another former Southampton youth product with plenty of pace but also the finishing to go with it.
74. Dani Pacheco, Rayo Vallecano (on loan from Atletico Madrid – owned by Lverpool), 20. The Golden Boot winner at the 2010 European Under-19 Championship, Pacheco did not make an impact on the first team at Liverpool but has a great opportunity at Rayo Vallecano, one of the big surprises in Spain this season.
75. Marc Pelosi, Liverpool, 17. The Merseyside giants signed Pelosi this week, beating off competition from Everton and Leeds. The midfielder was captain of the US Under-17 side.
76. Lucas Piazon, Chelsea, 17. Piazon has been compared by many to his illustrious compatriot Kaka who also began his career at Sao Paulo (both stand at 5ft 11 inches). They possess a similarly languid running style and are most dangerous on the counter attack, Piazon can officially play for the Blues in January.
77. Paul Pogba, Manchester United, 18. Pogba, lured from Le Havre, has been featured on this website a number of times for scoring cracking goals for United’s youth team. He is arguably the midfielder best equipped to be the long term successor to Paul Scholes at Old Trafford and has already made two appearances for the first team.
78. Miralem Pjanic, Roma, 21. A total of 18.5 million euros has already been spent on Pjanic and after performing well for Metz and Lyon a true test awaits at Roma. Pjanic is a classy attacking midfielder.
79. Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal, 20. The Welsh playmaker has returned from a horror injury to cement his place in the Arsenal midfield. Has also, as captain of his national side, proved his ability at international level.
80. James Rodriguez, FC Porto, 20. A Colombian winger who played a bit-part role under Andre Villas-Boas but has an excellent scoring record at the Portuguese giants. Named man of the match in his debut and sole appearance for the Colombia national team.
81. Jack Rodwell, Everton, 20. After making his debut two seasons ago, the hype surrounding Rodwell has been constant despite a true lack of consistency. Comfortable on the ball, with the physical attributes to play in defence or midfield, the departure of Mikel Arteta has been of great benefit to Rodwell this season.
82. Mamadou Sakho, PSG, 21. Much like Micah Richards at Manchester City, Sakho was the bright young prospect linked with a big move away until money came to Paris. Sakho is the youngest player to ever captain a Ligue 1 club and possesses all the physical attributes and ability on the ball to suggest he can live up to his billing as the “new Lilian Thuram.”
83. Yaya Sanogo, Auxerre, 18. A 6.3ft striker who has impressed for France at youth level and is becoming a regular at Auxerre.
84. Stefan Savic, Manchester City, 20. Was rejected by Arsenal after a trial but made a 6 million pound move to Manchester City in the summer. Is a crucial member of the Montenegro side and scored two goals against Albania in August.
85. Georgi Schennikov, CSKA Moscow, 20. Classy left back with plenty of experience both domestically and in European competition.
86. Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal, 21. The Pole in goal has firmly established himself as Arsenal number one, dismissing anyÂ criticismÂ of Arsene Wenger over this position in one fell swoop. His confidence and bravado belies the fact that he is already physically imposing and is capable of making match winning saves.
87. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool, 16. The hype surrounding Raheem Sterling has been rife for a over a year now since his big money move from QPR to Liverpool. Five goals in an FA Youth Cup match and a stunner for England Under-20s v Rwanda at the World Cup has only added fuel to the fire.
88. Lucas Silva, Sao Paulo, 19. Whilst the hype surrounding Neymar knows no bounds, Lucas is quietly going about his business and scoring goals for club and country. A ridiculous transfer fee will be needed to prise him from Sao Paulo.
89. Xherdan Shaqiri, Basel, 20. Made an indelible impression on world football in September when he scored a hat-trick for Switzerland in a 3-1 win over Bulgaria in Euro 2012 qualifying. More recently has been banging in awesome free-kicks for Basel.
90. Brek Shea, FC Dallas, 21. The 21-year-old can play on either wing or up front but has also been used as a defender on more than a few occasions. Shea is a player with good pace who can beat men on either wing and has stood out for FC Dallas and recently brought in to Jurgen Klinsmann’s Team America.
91. Lacina Traore, Kuban Krasnodar, 21. Even whilst at CFR Cluj, Traore was hailed as the “new Emmanuel Adebayor.” At 6.8ft the physical attributes have never been in doubt – the Ivorian striker is now banging in the goals for an unfashionable club in Russia.
92. Raphael Varane, Real Madrid, 18. It has been a rapid rise for the Real Madrid centre back who was prised from Lens as an unknown to most of Europe. A stunning back heel flick goal against Rayo Vallecano, making him the youngest foreign player to score for Real Madrid, has only added to the hype.
93. Kyle Walker, Tottenham, 21. Plucked from Sheffield United and impressive in loan spells at QPR and Aston Villa, Walker has been one of the revelations of the Premier League season. Quick and eager to join the attack, Walker is making a name for himself as the regular Spurs right back.
94. Georginio Wijnaldum, PSV, 20. Made a controversial summer move from Feyenoord to PSV but will likely leave Eindhoven for significantly more than the 5 million euro fee they paid. An all-action midfielder who could well prosper in any of the big leagues.
95. Connor Wickham, Sunderland, 18. Came to the fore at Ipswich before transferring to Sunderland in the summer forÂ eightÂ million pounds. Billed as the “new Wayne Rooney” after first coming through at the Tractor Boys.
96. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal, 19. Missing through injury right now, but is the current great hope for both Arsenal and England. Comfortable on the ball and able to pick a pass, Wilshere’s stand out game came against Barcelona in the Champions League last season and he could be England’s Xavi.
97. Granit Xhaka, Basel, 19. Young midfielder who has impressed for Basel and the Swiss national team, gaining three caps so far.
98. Samed Yesil, Bayer Leverkusen, 17. One of the stars of the Under-17 World Cup and a goal scorer at every level he has played at so far. Compared to Miroslav Klose there is much hype surrounding him even before an appearance for Leverkusen’s first team.
99. Sercan Yildirim, Galatasaray, 21. Scored goals for Bursaspor and at every level for Turkey now has to show he can do it at Galatasaray.
100. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace, 18. The Crystal Palace conveyor belt of talent may well have unearthed their best yet. The forward has prospered under Dougie Freedman and is just as comfortable providing goals as scoring them.
101. Enzo Zidane, Real Madrid, 16. Just the thought of another Zidane taking football by storm is enough to set pulses racing. Trained with the Los Blancos first team in September.