Revisiting Gazzetta’s 2015 list of the 50 best under-20 stars in world football

Quick Reads

Spotting a footballer with potential is easy. Spotting a football who will fulfil that potential is much more difficult.

In 2015, Gazzetta Dello Sport published a list of the 50 best players in world football aged under 20, and it must be said they did pretty well.

Obviously, there were a couple of stinkers, and we’ve revisited that list to see which players have lived up to the billing.

50. Jean-Kevin Augustin: The French striker went from featuring regularly in Europe for RB Leipzig to being among Leeds United’s least successful loanees of the 16-year stint in the EFL. Ouch.

49. Laszlo Benes: Played in Slovakia at the time the list was published before earning a move to Borussia Monchengladbach. He made 26 appearances for the German club last season but failed to stand out and has since been loaned to FA Augsburg.

48. Dani Ceballos: The midfielder was brilliant at boyhood club Real Betis to earn a move Real Madrid in 2017, but there’s a sense things have stalled a little since. Into a second season-long loan to Arsenal, the jury’s still out.

47. Lee Seung-woo: One appearance for Barcelona B was all Seung-woo had to show for his career at the Nou Camp, and the South Korea international can now be found at Portimonense, on loan from Sint-Truiden.

46. Leon Bailey: Never quite as explosive this season as in his breakthrough 2017-18 campaign, but the Bayer Leverkusen flyer – then of Genk – can be justified in his inclusion in this list.

45. Rodrigo Betancur: The Uruguayan midfielder has since left Boca Juniors for Juventus, making 100 Serie A appearances and winning four Scudetto. Fair enough.

44. Renato Sanches: A revelation with Benfica, relegated with Swansea City, a reject at Bayern Munich. Still only 23, there are hints of him realising that early potential with Ligue 1 title challengers Lille.

43. Jeisson Vargas: Back in his home country of Chile with Universidad Catolica after failing to make a transfer to Bologna work, via a stint with Montreal Impact.

42. Amadou Diawara: The Guinea international is struggling to get regular starts at Roma, following stints with Bologna and Napoli.

41. Olivier Ntcham: Former Man City academy product Ntcham has impressed in recent seasons at Celtic, but evidently not enough for Andre Villas-Boas, who quit as Marseille manager shortly after the midfielder joined – reportedly what tipped him over the edge.

40. Brendan Galloway: The former Everton defender has made a total of three Championship appearances for Luton since joining the club in 2019.

39. Ousmane Dembele: A year after this was published, Rennes sold Dembele to Borussia Dortmund for €15million. A year after that, Barcelona signed the winger in a deal worth up to €147million. Injuries are unfortunately the biggest factor, but in hindsight it wasn’t the wisest way to reinvest the world record €222m received for Neymar.

38. Giovani Lo Celso: Since he was included on this list Lo Celso has moved from Rosario Central to PSG to Real Betis and now to Tottenham. Like Ceballos at Arsenal, it feels like we’re still waiting for a really consistent run of form.

37. Andreas Christensen: The Dane has had his ups and downs over the years at Chelsea, but the appointment of Thomas Tuchel has seen him welcomed back into the fold.

READ: Where are they now? Chelsea’s last 10 Young Player of the Year winners

36. Kelechi Iheanacho: Missed out on a Premier League title with Manchester City by joining Leicester, but has proved a solid squad option for Brendan Rodgers at the King Power, as back-up for Jamie Vardy.

35. Viktor Kovalenko: After making 200 appearances for his boyhood club Shakhtar Donetsk, 25-year-old Viktor Kovalenko joined his Ukraine team-mate Ruslan Malinovskyi at Atalanta in January.

34. Alban Lafont: The France Under-21 international goalkeeper has made close to 150 appearances in major European leagues, now into a second season on loan at Nantes from Fiorentina.

33. Marco Asensio: After returning to Real Madrid from a loan spell with Espanyol, there was a spell in which everything Asensio touched seemed to turn to gold, but the attacker has struggled to reach the heights expected after an ACL injury left him injured for most of the 2019-20 season.

32. Milot Rashica: A Vitesse player who wasn’t on loan from Chelsea, Rashica joined Werder Bremen in January 2018. The Kosovo international has been a regular in the Bundesliga ever since.

31. Antonio Sanabria: Sometimes gets called Tonny Sanabria, so is definitely a gangster. He moved to Torino in January, after spending last season on loan at Genoa from Real Betis.

30. Gedion Zelalem: The only player on this list who was appearing in the Scottish Championship at the time, the former Arsenal midfielder, who was on loan at Rangers, is now in MLS with New York City FC.

29. Borja Mayoral: Still technically a Real Madrid player, albeit having spent the season on loan at Roma.

28. Abdou Diallo: The former France Under-21 defender is now a solid squad player at PSG, having moved to the French capital in 2019 after catching the eye with a season at Borussia Dortmund. We’ll give them this one.

27. Goncalo Guedes: PSG won the race to sign Guedes in a €30million deal from Benfica, but the midfielder lasted only six months in Paris before being shipped off to Valencia. There was a period where he looked one of the most exciting youngsters in La Liga, but he’s failed to really kick on since then.

26. Adalberto Penaranda: The Venezuela international is currently at CSKA Sofia, his fifth loan away from Watford.

25. Richairo Zivkovic: The forward was on loan at Willem II from Ajax at the time but he has since moved to Belgium and now China, which doesn’t sound too promising.

24. Sebastian Driussi: An Argentine striker who left River Plate for Zenit St Petersburg, Driussl more than doubled his goal tally in his second season in Russia, and is now looking to help deliver a third successive league title.

23. Julian Brandt: The man Jurgen Klopp wanted instead of Mo Salah, Brandt eventually left Bayer Leverkusen for Borussia Dortmund in 2019. But he hasn’t been too prolific this season, with just one goal in 20 Bundesliga appearances.

22. Dominic Solanke: It’s strange to think the striker has been capped by England, with his record of four goals in 63 Premier League appearances. It looks like Championship football has been good for him at Bournemouth this year, with 10 goals for the promotion-chasing Cherries.

21. Riechedly Bazoer: While Bazoer has hardly had a bad career to date, of all the young Ajax players to pick from, the 24-year-old defensive midfielder probably wasn’t the right one. He’s currently at Vitesse.

20. Marko Grujic: Liverpool pulled off something of a coup when signing the midfielder from Red Star Belgrade but, given the Reds’ embarrassment of riches in that area, Grujic’s future does not appear to be at Anfield – this season at Porto is his fourth loan move away.

19. Martin Odegaard: It’s crazy to think the Norway international is still just 22, such is his career path so far. Early signs are promising for his Arsenal loan.

READ: 7 stages of Martin Odegaard’s career: Teenage prodigy to Arsenal-bound

18. Gabriel Jesus: Jesus has never been quite as prolific as Sergio Aguero, with 45 goals in 118 Premier League appearances at the time of writing, but he’s nevertheless a useful asset in Pep Guardiola’s project at Man City.

17. Andrija Zivkovic: The youngest player to ever appear for Serbia and Partizan Belgrade’s youngest ever captain, the attacker spent four years at Benfica but struggled to stake a regular place and moved to PAOK last summer.

16. Reece Oxford: West Ham’s youngest debutant, aged 16 back in 2015, is continuing is development in the Bundesliga, with FC Augsburg.

15. Almamy Toure: One the fringes of Monaco’s Ligue 1-winning squad back in 2016-17, the right-back never quite established a regular starting spot before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt in January 2019.

14. Ante Coric: Formerly linked with a number of Europe’s biggest clubs while at Dinamo Zagreb, Coric moved to Roma last summer but struggled to make an impact, and is now on loan at Olimpija Ljubljana.

13. Danilo Barbosa: A curious career, in which he has impressed enough to join both Valencia and Benfica on loan from Braga but ultimately failed to earn a permanent move to either. The defensive midfielder is now on the fringes of Nice’s first team.

12. Gabriel Barbosa: It’s probably best for all concerned to forget about Gabigol’s Inter stint, but don’t write him off just yet…

READ: Could a second Brazilian title earn Gabigol another shot in Europe?

11. Mahmoud Dahoud: Perennially linked with the Premier League, Dahoud made an encouraging start to his Borussia Dortmund career after leaving Borussia Monchengladbach only to fall out of favour.

10. Kenedy: One good loan spell at Newcastle, one bad loan spell at Newcastle, which is better than most Chelsea loanees. The Brazilian is now doing pretty well at Granada – yes, still on loan.

9. Gerson: The attacking midfielder showed the odd flash at Roma and subsequently on loan at Fiorentina, but his Serie A odyssey ended in 2019 with a return to Flamengo.

8. Dele Alli: Remember when he scored 22 goals (18 in the Premier League) in one season as a 20-year-old? Someone ought to remind Jose Mourinho.

7. Ruben Neves: We doubt anyone saw Neves joining Wolves when this list was published, although they probably did predict he’d be tearing it up in the Premier League.

6. Alen Halilovic: Halilovic’s CV reads permanent moves to Barcelona, Hamburg and Milan, yet he has only played regularly out on loan. He’s currently on Birmingham City’s books, fighting relegation from the Championship, which probably isn’t what Gazzetta had in line.

5. Breel Embolo: Once the most sought-after young striker in Europe, Embolo has not kicked on as expected, partly due to a nasty injury, scoring just 12 times in three years at Schalke. He’s now doing a bit better at Gladbach.

4. Gianluigi Donnarumma: Still only 21, with over 250 appearances for Milan and Italy. We may genuinely have another 20 years of him.

3. Youri Tielemans: The midfielder may not yet have joined one of Europe’s elite clubs as expected, but he’s proven a very dependable player at Leicester City.

2. Leroy Sane: Frighteningly good at his best, things have stalled a little after serious injury, Guardiola being a bit weird, and a bedding-in period at Bayern. We wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes one of the best forwards in the world (again).

1. Kingsley Coman: A winner of titles in France, Italy and Germany and the scorer of a Champions League-winning goal. Fair enough.


More from Planet Football

Revisiting World Soccer’s list of the 50 most exciting teenagers of 2007

Fábio Paim: The wonderkid Chelsea and Jorge Mendes couldn’t save

Whisper it quietly, but there are suddenly loads of ace kids in Serie A

Can you name every member of England’s U21 squad for Euro 2009?