Every year, the football world looks on in awe of the newest talents breaking through the ranks and starting their road to stardom. Using the market valuations calculated by Transfermarkt, this is a breakdown of the five most valuable teenagers in the football world right now.
Despite the hype and the whirlwind of big money transfer rumours, neither Marcus Rashford nor Kylian Mbappe have done enough to raise their market value to break the top five of this most valuable teenagers list.
Now, both of them are incredibly talented players who have proven themselves at the professional level and may be better players than some on this list, but this is derived from the highest market values, not a subjective look at who the best footballing teenagers are.
5. Christian Pulisic
Although it is rising in popularity, football isn’t on the same level as the likes of basketball, American football, baseball, or ice hockey in the USA when it comes to popularity, and yet, one of the most valuable young footballers in the world right now is an American.
Christian Pulisic, at only 18, has been a regular feature for Borussia Dortmund this season and has already racked up 13 caps, four goals, and six assists for the USA national team. He is, by a long way, the most talented American prospect and has come around at just the right time.
The USA national team is easing through a time of change, with the already legendary names of their old guard edging toward retirement. This leaves space not only for Pulisic to get into the team, as he has done, but also for him to become the star of the team, the same way that Clint Dempsey has. He has a huge future ahead of him and, for now, he’s one of the most valuable teenagers in football.
Playing the majority of his football on the right-wing for Dortmund, Pulisic possesses incredible pace and dribbling – as you would expect from a young winger, particularly one who plays for BVB. But he’s also a very team-orientated, smart player, who won’t just charge at the defence but will be aware of, the teammates who are around him.
4. Leon Bailey
Another young star from a country not traditionally known for its footballing talents comes into this list of the most valuable teenagers: Leon Bailey hails from Jamaica but has been making his mark on the European scene for the last couple of seasons. Signing for Genk in the summer of 2015 for just over £1 million from Phoenix All Stars Football Academy, Jamaica, 17 months later – this January – Leverkusen forked out nearly £12 million to acquire the young star.
Now 19, Bailey hasn’t smoothly fit into the Bayer Leverkusen side, with signing in the winter window not being ideal for squad integration, especially for such a young player.
Leverkusen didn’t have much choice if they wanted to sign him, with the likes of Manchester United, Roma, Everton, and Ajax reportedly after the winger. Nevertheless, he has dipped into the first team, with him showing signs of brilliance along the way.
Bailey has everything that you look for in an exciting young winger: impeccable close control, quick feet, even quicker pace, a strong shot, and he plays like he’s playing street football. He’s very exciting to watch.
3. Amadou Diawara
They may have lost lead striker Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus in the summer, but Napoli spent their earnings well, bringing in a few young talents fit to play first team football, one of which was Amadou Diawara. Signing from Bologna for just over £12 million, he has managed to spend decent spells in the first team – especially in the Coppa Italia and the Champions League.
Diawara – who before signing for Bologna was signed by San Marino Calcio of Serie D from FC Sequence of his home country, Guinea – has proven to be a solid defensive-midfielder for Napoli this season, starting in games against big name clubs. The 19-year-old has often been the team’s first line of defence, sitting behind Marek Hamsik and his central midfield partner for that game.
The defensive-midfielder has all of the raw skills to become a one of the best in the league at the position. The Guinean is strong in every physical aspect of the game, such as pace, aerial ability, strength, agility, as well as being a tenacious tackler who won’t stop working until the final whistle or his number is called. His reputation has grown immensely over the 2016/17 season and he’s now one of football’s most valuable teenagers.
His position does require a certain amount of experience to master, with it being so defensive and yet crucial as a base for the team to attack from. Luckily, the learning experience for Diawara will be sped up by having accomplished defensive-midfielder Jorginho in the team, as well as one of the best central-midfielders in the world, team captain Marek Hamsik.
2. Gianluigi Donnarumma
In the summer of 2013, AC Milan signed a 14-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma from Club Napoli. Four years later, he’s their first choice goalkeeper aged 18. Donnarumma’s development has gone far quicker than anyone could have expected, this season, he played every single game for AC Milan.
The Italian giants put full faith in their young goalie after giving him the majority of starts last season, now he’s one of the most valuable teenagers in the world of football. During this campaign, Donnarumma simply compiled impressive game after impressive game, stifling Juventus in the Supercoppa Italiana and Serie A.
Now standing at 6’5’’, the teenage Italian goalie looks to continue to get better and better. He’s already very quick on his feet, athletic, has lightning reflexes, and, as you could tell by his big frame, is a great shot stopper from all distances.
He will serve as a strong base for this AC Milan team to build upon to return to their former glory unless one of the bigger clubs snatch him up. Unfortunately for AC, Donnarumma’s rise to stardom is coinciding with Gianluigi Buffon’s gradual departure. ‘Superman’ still has another couple of campaigns left in him, you’d suspect, but you can bet that Juventus have Donnarumma in their sights as his successor – even though Neto has performed admirably when called upon.
1. Renato Sanches
The 19-year-old midfield pitbull comes in as the most valuable teenager in world football right now, with his value likely being heavily bolstered by his strong performances in Euro 2016 – a tournament which he won with Portugal – and his big money move from Benfica to Bayern Munich in the summer.
Renato Sanches has found starts to be few and far between in his first season with Bayern Munich, but given his tender age and the stack of central midfielders already at the club, it’s no wonder. Oddly enough, manager Carlo Ancelotti’s choice to rotate him in and out of the team would have done him some good.
Having such a lofty transfer fee (£29.75million) can cause struggles with young players trying to live up to that fee immediately, having the media and fans piling on pressure whenever their performances don’t match the fee. Using Sanches somewhat fleetingly would have given him time to integrate with the team, work on his skills behind closed doors, and become more accustomed to both the Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga style of play.
Over the next few seasons, Renato Sanches will develop into the finished article, becoming one of the best, if not the best, defensive midfielders in the world, terrorising the opposition with his dogged determination, tenacious tackling, and tireless work rate.