Haaland, Vinicius, Pedri, Saka: Who is the best player aged 21 or below?

In the modern football era the best stars often blossom at a younger age than they have done in generations gone by.

Maybe it’s the better standard of coaching in youth football or the more scientific approach to training and dieting which allows players to reach their peak physical state sooner, maybe it’s both.

Whatever the reason, the sheer depth of quality young talent littered throughout European football is genuinely immense right now.

So, it must have been a tricky proposition for our friends at over ESPN when they decided to embark upon writing up their annual piece that ranks the globe’s greatest football players aged 21 or younger.

Previous headliners have been the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joao Felix to name a few, all of which have now become ineligible.

Which means it’s time to see how the next crop of youngsters got on – Football Manager loyalists get your notepads out, this one could be useful.

Check out the full list below:


39. Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea)

38. Tino Livramento (Southampton)

37. Sergino Dest (Barcelona)

36. Jeremy Doku (Rennes)

35. Fabio Vieira (Porto)

34. Brenden Aaronson (Salzburg)

33. Eric Garcia (Barcelona)

32. Piero Hincapie (Bayer Leverkusen)

31. Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)

Tino Livramento

First things first, let’s run over a couple of notable omissions: Curtis Jones, Wesley Fofana, Harvey Elliot – and don’t blow your head off when you read this – Ansu Fati, all miss out due to either having sustained serious injuries that kept them out for the majority of the season or through lack of game time.

Harsh but fair, given they are being judged on this seasons’ performances.

Sneaking onto the back end of the list we have several Premier League representatives in Hudson-Odoi, Livramento and Guehi. We also have former Man City centre-back Garcia, who’s career is yet to take off in Catalonia.


30. Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa)

29. Karim Adeyemi (Salzburg)

28. William Saliba (Marseille on loan from Arsenal)

27. IIya Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv)

26. Hugo Ekitike (Reims)

25. Pierre Kalulu (AC Milan)

24. Nico Gonzalez (Barcelona)

23. Charles De Ketelaere (Club Brugge)

22. Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig)

21. Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Giovanni Reyna

Whilst most of this list have been hot prospects on the European scene for quite a while, it could be argued Ramsey is rather a surprise package. He’s gone from strength to strength under the watchful eye of Steven Gerrard and will be looking to push on after establishing himself as a key part of the Aston Villa set up.


20. Dominik Szoboszlai (RB Leipzig)

19. Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal)

18. Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain)

17. Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal)

16. Yeremi Pino (Villarreal)

15. Sandro Tonali (AC Milan)

14. Rodrygo (Real Madrid)

13. Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)

12. Jurrien Timber (Ajax)

11. Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid)

Gravenberch of Ajax runs with ball
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – MARCH 11: Ryan Gravenberch of Ajax in action during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 First Leg match between Ajax and BSC Young Boys at Johan Cruijff Arena on March 11, 2021 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Sporting stadiums around Europe remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Now we’re getting to some real world class talent.

You could make an argument that Martintelli and Smith Rowe have been the Gunners’ best players this season – along with another man that occupies a spot slightly further down this list.

Whilst Tonali, Gravenberch and Camavinga represent the next generation of elite central midfielders making their way into the game.

Tonali, long dubbed to be the next Andrea Pirlo, might have been expected by most to comfortably breach the top five when in his late teens, but a dip in form last season saw the Italian dropped by Roberto Mancini ahead of Euro 2020 and it’s been a case of re-establishing himself ever since.

Given he is now back in the Italy squad and has been a staple in Milan’s charge towards a first Scudetto in 10 years – he has probably done exactly that.


10. Gavi (Barcelona)

9. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)

8. Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)

7. Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)

6. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)

5. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)

4. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)

3. Phil Foden (Manchester City)

2. Pedri (Barcelona)

  1. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)
Erling Haaland
DORTMUND, GERMANY – DECEMBER 15: Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund celebrates after scoring their sides second goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and SpVgg Greuther Fürth at Signal Iduna Park on December 15, 2021 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Number one had to be inevitable didn’t it? The form Haaland has been in when not sidelined through injury has been frightening. God help the rest of the Premier League if Pep Guardiola gets a similar tune out of him, presuming the reported deal goes through that is.

Elsewhere, the magnificently impressive Pedri seizes number two. No complaints there, what a talent.

Then maybe surprisingly, we have Vinicius at number five. We think he ought to be coming in higher than the 18-year-old Bellingham, although, the Brummy is an elite baller.

Whilst the remainder of the top 10 has Saka in sixth, with Bayern Munich’s Davies in at merely nine. Again, we think it’s a questionable call ranking the Canadian just ninth given the integral role he plays in the German winning machine.

But all in all, we think ESPN have done a pretty respectable job there. Touche.

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