Some players don’t come into their own until late in their careers. Look at what a 28-year-old Jamie Vardy did last year in the Premier League while leading Leicester City to the most improbable title of all time. But most of the game’s top players have been destined for greatness since they were knee-high. The Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world didn’t burst on the scene in their late 20s; they were stars before they could drive.
The world’s two best players aren’t teenage prodigies anymore. They’re grown ass men. And there’s a wave of players in their mid-20s – Neymar, Pogba, Griezmann – ready to challenge for the Ballon d’Or if Messi or Ronaldo show any signs of weakness.
But the most intriguing players are the stars of tomorrow. Young players with limitless potential who are just starting to make names for themselves on the world stage.
Here are the 10 best players in the world under 21:
Dele Alli had a breakout year for Tottenham last season, tallying 10 goals. The 20-year-old will soon cement his place in England's starting XI, having earned 9 caps in 2016.
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
19-year-old Renato Sanches had his coming out party at the Euros, where he was the best Portuguese player not named Cristiano Ronaldo. Bayern Munich are looking like geniuses for buying him from Benefica before the tournament.
Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, 19-year-old Breel Embolo represented Switzerland during Euro 2016. German side Schalke 04 snapped him up from FC Basel in June 2016 for a reported €20 million.
Gerson Santos da Silva Mosqueda, known simply as "Gerson" is a Brazilian attacking midfielder currently with Roma in Serie A. The Italian club paid Brazilian side Fluminense around €15 million for the 19-year-old in early 2016.
(Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
19-year-old Youri Tielemans has over 100 appearances for Belgian side Anderlecht and became the youngest Belgian player ever to play in the Champions League at just 16 .
Manchester City paid Schalke 04 a whopping £37 million to acquire Leroy Sané this past offseason. The son of rhythmic gymnastics champion Regina Weber and Senegalese international footballer Souleyman Sané, the 20-year-old truly has championship lineage.
Born in Amuda, Syria near the Turkish border, Mahmoud Dahoud was taken to Germany as an infant by his parents to escape the Assad regime. Currently with Borussia Mönchengladbach, the 20-year-old has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool.
Hailing from Paris, 20-year-old Kingsley Coman is currently with Bayern Munich in the second year of a 2-year loan from Juventus. Bayern paid €7 million per year for Coman's services, with an option to buy him for €21 million after two years.
Still just 17 years old, Christian Pulisic is the best young player the U.S. has ever produced. Currently with Borussia Dortmund, he is the youngest foreign player ever to score in the Bundesliga and the youngest American to score in a World Cup qualifier.
(Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Standing 6'5, Gianluigi Donnarumma is the heir to Gianluigi Buffon's throne. Now 17 and a fully capped Italian international, this precocious man-child made his debut for Milan at just 16, making him the youngest keeper to ever start in Serie A.