While the world around us has drastically changed over the past 12 months, football has been a constant, with the game overcoming a short pause to keep competitions running in spite of the most challenging social circumstances most of us have seen in our lifetimes.
Major trophies are still being won, VERSUS continues to drop the hardest captions in the game, and football’s best young players continue to set new levels.
With Euro 2020 scheduled to finally go ahead this summer, and clubs eagerly anticipating the return of fans after more than a year away, 2021 will be one of the most memorable football years in recent history. With those targets in mind, a whole wave of young ballers will be working hard to get their chance to shine on the biggest stages.
Times are tough, but some things never change. New talent always gets us gassed. We’ve compiled the ultimate list of 20 young ballers who are going to take over in 2021.
1. Michael Olise
Already one of the most dangerous and skillful players in the Championship, Olise reportedly has a number of elite clubs following his progress after a series of eye-catching performances for Reading this season. 2021 will be the year that he really introduces himself to the masses following an amazing Championship campaign, which has seen the French youngster notch four goals and eights assists from midfield so far. Growing in confidence every single week, the former Chelsea academy player has natural ability and is capable of real magic. A pleasure to watch.
2. Joshua Zirkzee
Club: Bayern Munich (on loan at Parma)
Being a striker in a squad alongside Lewandowski would be an amazing education for any young striker, but Joshua Zirkzee has opted to contine his develop away from Bayern Munich for the second half of this season. Now on loan at Parma in Serie A, Zirkzee is a striker who can play across the front line and impressed in his breakthrough season at Bayern last year. Scoring four goals in nine Bundesliga games, Zirkzee has shown he can already contribute to a high-performing team at the top of the game, but the next few months will tell us whether he’s good enough to excel in more difficult circumstances. Don’t bet against him.
3. Xavi Simons
Sharing his name with one of the greatest midfield players of all-time, Xavi Simons has attracted attention since he first started balling out at La Masia as a 12-year-old in the prestigious La Liga Promises tournament. Now at PSG and fresh from his professional debut in the French Cup, XS will believe this is a year in which he starts to realise his potential. The versatile midfielder loves to play the game with the ball at his feet and should slot seamlessly into a PSG team that is entering a new era under Mauricio Pochettino. The four-time Youth Ballon d’Or winner is not a player to be slept on.
4. Yari Verschaeren
Hyped as the new Eden Hazard by Belgian football insiders, Verschaeren is the latest big creative talent to emerge for the Red Devils. Having already been capped by his nation six times and scoring once, the attack-minded midfielder is making waves for RSC Anderlecht at club level. Despite missing part of the campaign with injury, the 19-year-old has notched four goal contributions in just 12 games and is developing fast. This baller is going places and is an outside bet to make Belgium’s final squad for Euro 2020.
5. Karim Adeyemi
Club: RB Salzburg
Many big things are expected from this German-Nigerian youngster as his career progresses, but one thing we already know is that he knows where the back of the net is. Adeyemi has already scored in the Austrian Bundesliga, Austrian Cup and the Champions League, and has 12 goals contributions in 31 senior games for Salzburg. His current club have built quite a reputation in the past few years for developing talented young players, and Adeyemi is the next baller expected to be subject to some major transfer interest over the next year. Haaland, Minamino and Szoboszlai laid down the blueprint for this guy to follow.
6. Adil Aouchiche
After coming through the youth development ranks at PSG, Adil Aouchiche joined Saint-Ettiene on a free transfer this past summer in search for first team football and he hasn’t looked back since. The 2020 Golden Boy nominee is the second-youngest player to ever score for PSG and he’s carried that instinct over to his new club, scoring two goals so far in his debut season. Highly-hyped since scoring a record-breaking 9 goals in the U17 Euros in 2019, Aouchiche is a technically-gifted midfielder that can pass, dribble, create chances, and find the back of the net. Total package.
7. Ryan Gravenberch
The youngster is already a fully fledged member of the Ajax first team and 2021 is about to be a movie for Gravenberch. His growing responsibility in the team is yielding top performances on the biggest stage and it’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, he makes a senior debut for Holland. On top of this, displays in the Europa League could be another opportunity to show why he is one of the best youngsters in Europe whilst exciting potential suitors. The most impressive thing about Gravennerch is his maturity beyond his age. A real controller of the game, he really is a throwback player.
8. Tyler Adams
Club: RB Leipzig
A leader in America’s golden generation of talent, Tyler Adams has been causing shockwaves since he moved from the United States to Germany. Still so young, the midfielder has become a key part of RB’s team and continues to showcase why he has a bright future. 2020 was hampered by injuries but 2021 will be the year the world really sees what Adams can really do. One of his greatest attributes is his ability to play in different positions. Adams has not only been amazing in defensive mid, he has played very well at both right mid and right-back too.
9. Jens Petter Hauge
Club: AC Milan
AC Milan boast the youngest squad in Europe’s top five leagues and Hauge is one of the ballers who will be hoping to really deliver in 2021. Able to play on both flanks, Hauge has shown his quality already and will play a key part in AC Milan’s title push. He has already played a key part in their best start to a season for some time with four goals so far this season. With experienced hitmen Ibrahimovich and Mandzukic beside him. Hauge could easily enter ‘How can I assist you?’ mode and put down serious numbers this calendar year.
10. Louie Barry
Club: Aston Villa
Louie Barry broke Football Twitter with a stunning debut goal in this season’s FA Cup 3rd round tie against Liverpool, but this baller is much more than an overnight success story. The Birmingham Baggio spent six months at Barcelona in 2019/20 before returning to his boyhood club, where he’s been ripping it up in the development squads. To date, Barry has scored nine goals in 10 PL2 games this season playing as Villa U23’s central striker and his goal against Liverpool was further evidence that when it’s time to make the step up to senior football permanently, he has all the assets required to be an elite hitman.
11. Youssoufa Moukoko
Club: Borussia Dortmund
This bagsman’s breakthrough has been prophesied as far back as the 17/18 season, when he scored 37 goals in 25 games as a 13-year-old playing for BVB’s U17 side. This record-breaking form carried over to every level since, racking up 34 goals in 20 Bundesliga U19 games last season. Since becoming the club’s youngest ever player and youngest ever goalscorer this season, Moukoko has become a regular squad player and currently has two goals in 10 Bundesliga appearances. Now playing with talents like Haaland, Sancho and Reus on a daily basis in training, this player is going to keep on progressing and his potential is sky high. There’s no better place for him to develop in 2021 than BVB.
12. Kaide Gordon
Derby’s academy system is renowned as one of the best centres of development in the English game, so when their biggest talent joined Liverpool for £1 million this January, it was a real statement. Kaide Gordon is still a schoolboy but has already made his senior debut – making a sub appearance in the Championship – after scoring three goals in five games for Derby in the U18 Premier League. A creative and technical left-footed player with bags of pace and dribbling ability, Gordon is expected to work his way through Liverpool’s U18s and U23 set up over the coming 12 months where he’s likely to establish himself as one of the most promising young players in Europe. The way Klopp treats the cups, a Carabao Cup game and debut for Liverpool at the end of 2021 looks likely.
13. Kwadwo Baah
Kwadwo Baah first burst onto the scene as a heroic 13-year-old ball boy for Crystal Palace, who took it upon himself to stop time wasting by placing the ball down for Adrian’s goal kicks. Five years on, he’s no longer an Eagle but flying high. After playing one game for non-league Whyteleafe in 2019, Baah signed a scholarship at Rochdale and has developed this season as a confident and skilled forward with an eye for the spectacular. He’s scored three goals in 14 games for the League One side this season and has balled so hard he’s already signed a pre-contact agreement with Manchester City, joining Pep’s side next season. This kid has got the world at his feet.
14. Florian Wirtz
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Get to know the new young king of German football. Wirtz broke Kai Havertz’s record as Bayer’s youngest player last season and has taken his game to a whole new level in the 2020/21 campaign, leading local press to call him the club’s greatest talent for 30 years. A goal from the halfway line at U17 level shot him to national fame, and in his first full season of senior football he’s scored seven goals – including two in the Europa League, proving this young baller can mix it at the higher levels of the game. Typically playing in the No. 10 role, Wirtz has an elite blend of dribbling ability and vision, making him a real game-changer in the final third. Bayer are a huge team – but he could be destined for even bigger thing this summer.
15. Amad Diallo
Club: Manchester United
Amad Diallo became the first player born in 2002 to score in Serie A on his debut for Atalanta, putting the world on notice at the first opportunity. In between sporadic Serie A appearances, Cote d’Ivoire talent Diallo tore it up at development levels, scoring 37 goals, making 24 assists, and winning youth leagues and cups in Italy. His potential led Man United to secure his services for a reported £20 million in January and he’s started his career as a Red in fine style, with three goals and three assists in his first 2 PL2 games. The dynamic attacker has now been named in United’s Europa League squad, leading many to believe a first team bow is just around the corner.
16. Ilaix Moriba
Ilaix Moriba completed a lifelong dream when he made his senior debut for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey earlier this season, finally stepping out for the team he joined as a seven-year-old. Born in Guinea but capped for Spain at youth level, Moriba is a central midfield player built in the classic Barca mould: extremely comfortable in possession, technically gifted, and capable of controlling the game from his position. Earmarked as a potential successor to Sergio Busquets, Moriba made 39 successful passes and won the ball back seven times in his senior debut. Big future.
17. Nuno Mendes
This 18-year-old baller has already been linked with a move to the biggest clubs in Europe on the back of his breakthrough with Sporting CP over the last year. Described as the prototypical modern full back, Nuno Mendes is blessed with speed, work-rate, and “skills to rival Ronaldinho”. Initially deployed as a No. 10 growing up, Mendes eventually converted to defence and has been tipped for a Euro 2021 call-up for Portugal later this year. After making nine appearances for Sporting last season, he’s now a first choice pick and has chipped in with one goal and one assist this season. Expect that number to grow quickly as 2021 unfolds.
18. Dane Scarlett
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
This 16-year-old hitman is another Young Lion whose reputation is set to explode in 2021. Dane Scarlett is one of the few young talents to earn the trust of Jose Mourinho, with the experienced manager giving the London-born baller two senior appearances so far this season as reward for his phenomenal performances in the development ranks. The England U17 star has scored 18 goals in 14 youth games, including five in a single game against Newport County. Scarlett has all the attributes needed to be an asset at the top level, possessing enough skill to be dangerous with the ball at his feet, and enough physicality to be a threat in the air or running behind defences. His progress will be fascinating.
19. Marc Guehi
Club: Chelsea (on loan at Swansea)
In his first full season in senior football, Marc Guehi has helped Swansea to one of the best defensive records in Europe. The Swans have conceded just 15 goals in 27 league games and the form of Chelsea loanee Guehi has been a huge factor in that. With outstanding positional awareness and an always-ready mentality, the 20-year-old has the makings of an elite level centre back. The Championship is a notoriously difficult league but this baller has made it look like lightwork and we should expect to see him playing Premier League football next season.
20. Dominik Szoboszlai
Club: RB Leipzig
Hungary’s biggest talent was one of the best kept secrets in the game until he exploded into action during the group stages of this season’s Champions League. Having now swapped RB Salzburg for RB Leipzig, Szoboszlai will be relishing the chance to test himself at an elite level every single week. A powerful goalscoring midfielder, the 20-year-old single-handedly dragged Hungary to Euro 2020 and is widely tipped to have a breakout tournament if it finally goes ahead this summer.