Revisiting Bleacher Report’s 25 ‘best teenagers in the world’ from 2012

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AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy against Malaga, 24 October 2012, La Rosaleda Stadium

Everyone loves to predict who will be the next footballing great.

Now, seemingly more than ever, youngsters have huge pressure heaped on them even earlier and are expected to maintain a meteoric rise, their progress never-ending.

Of course, that’s not realistic and many of the players we might currently predict will be world beaters in ten years’ time could drift into obscurity.

Ten years ago the Bleacher Report tried their hand at putting together a list of the 25 best teenagers in world football.

Some were good guesses, but others… well, let’s just say you can’t predict the future.

So here are those players, in reverse order of how they were ranked, and where they are now.

Candido Ramirez

In 2012, Candido Ramirez looked set to explode off the back of a successful 2012 Toulon tournament during which he starred as Mexico won the much-lauded youth competition.

He scored the first goal of the final in the tournament and there were expectations of a European club coming in for him.

But no European move ever came for Ramirez who has since had a solid, if not particularly trophy-ladened, Liga MX career. Earlier this year he signed for FC Juarez.

Matthias Ginter

A much more memorable name, the 24th best teenager in the world in 2012 according to Bleacher Report was one Matthias Ginter.

Beyond being a player you should sign for free in Football Manager, Ginter has been a solid centre-back for Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach before his return to boyhood club Freiburg.

At the time he was placed on the list he was 18 and had established himself as a starter at Freiburg. He eventually got a big move to Dortmund but struggled for game time.

Maybe not the 24th best player in the world now, but an extremely solid ball-playing defender nevertheless.

Lucas Piazon

The ultimate Chelsea perennial loanee, Brazillian Lucas Piazon only finally left the club last year after being loaned to seven different clubs in nine senior seasons.

His talent was obvious, coming out of the Chelsea academy where he was considered one of its brightest prospects but he never got a chance to breakthrough for the Blues.

Piazon had some successful loans, helping Fulham get promoted in 2018, but could only find a permanent home when his contract ended.

He eventually joined Braga, scoring in the Taca da Portugal Final last year, before returning to Brazil – on loan, of course – with Botafogo.


Safe to say this was one of the poorer guesses on this list in terms of predicting a future world-beater.

The list claims he was “one of the more underrated young talents in the world game.” So underrated in fact, that no one has even realised 10 years later.

He won the Toulon tournament in 2014 with Brazil, as did Piazon, and even has a single senior cap for Brazil to his name that he got in 2013.

But then he had a stop-start career in Brazil and, with no move to Europe in sight, Leandro then followed the well-trodden path from Brazil to Japan and now plays for FC Tokyo.

He won the J.League Cup in 2020.

Gerard Deulofeu

In 2012, Gerard Deulofeu was still at Barcelona which perhaps contributed to over expectations about his potential.

Ten years later he has had five clubs, a combination of loans and permanent moves which includes two stints at Everton and an unsuccessful return to Catalonia.

But forget all that, because his FA Cup Semi-Final performance for Watford more than justified all the expectations ever heaped on him.

Paul Pogba

We couldn’t find anything online about this guy, so he must have just disappeared from the public eye.

Jetro Willems

Jetro Willems is one of the players on this list who suffers from having huge expectations heaped on him early on.

He was included in the Netherlands 2012 Euros squad despite being just 18 following some solid performances for PSV and therefore everyone expected this was the next big left-back.

Some would therefore call him a flop for not meeting those loft expectations, but that would be foolish.

He has gone on to have a career plenty of players would be jealous of, winning the Eredivisie twice with PSV and the DFB Pokal with Frankfurt.

Willems is now at Bundesliga 2 side Greuther Furth.

Timo Horn

Bleacher Report probably expected Timo Horn to have taken over as Germany’s No.1 by this point, but a decade on Manuel Neuer is still comfortably the guardian of that position.

Horn has never left FC Koln as the article predicted him to, and has been their keeper now for over a decade, racking up over 300 appearances in the process.

Manuel Lanzini

It took him longer than most South American wonderkids, but Manuel “only scores bangers” Lanzini made his way to Europe eventually.

He emerged at River Plate as an exciting youngster for whom “a move to one of Europe’s finest one-day beckons” according to the original article.

Lanzini might not have expected that to be West Ham, but in 2015 he arrived in London by way of Abu Dhabi club Al Jazira which is a testament to the fact that player development is not always linear.

Romelu Lukaku

Alright, a fair shout, this one. Now watch him enrage Chelsea fans by being absolutely brilliant back on loan at Inter.

Juan Fernando Quintero

In 2012, Juan Quintero was considered one of the brightest South American prospects and had just made his Colombia debut at just 19-years old.

At that time he was playing for Pescara but soon moved to Porto where he became a solid player.

His career petered out by 2015, being sent on loan to Rennes, Independiente Medellin, and then River Plate – where he enjoyed a brief resurgence, resulting in a place in Colombia’s 2018 World Cup squad – before eventually moving to the Chinese side Shenzhen.

Now he’s back at River Plate again, but unfortunately won’t be lighting up the Qatar 2022 World Cup as Colombia failed to qualify.

Kurt Zouma

The original article suggests that Manchester United were interested in the then 17-year-old Saint Etienne player Kurt Zouma, but as we know he ended up choosing Chelsea in 2014.

The West Ham man is the third-highest rated centre-back on this list and although certainly not the third-best in the world he has performed consistently well throughout his career.


Brazilian youngsters really don’t have to do much to be considered future superstars and Adryan is a testament to that.

One solid season with Flamengo at 18 and the assertions that he was the next Pele flooded in.

You remember him even if you don’t realise it because he was that one wonderkid on FIFA who looked like he was 13.

Loans to Europe, including a totally forgettable stint (aside from his prestigious Fallon d’Floor award) with Leeds, were fruitless and as the hype disappeared so too did his chances.

He’s now a bit-part player with Swiss side Sion. We’ll be stunned if this fish-out-of-water dive isn’t the defining moment of his career.

Stefanos Kapino

Another one of those “who?” players on this list.

Kapino became the youngest ever Greek international in 2011 at the age of 17, but he last played for the national side in 2017.

His early emergence at Panathinaikos saw him linked with big clubs like Manchester United, yet such a move never came and he eventually left Greece in 2014 for Mainz.

Yet he struggled to cement himself in the squad and returned to his home nation with Olympiakos where several mistakes in high-profile games was released on a free in January 2018.

He has since had stints for several clubs, mainly in Germany, but Nottingham Forest fans might remember his short sting at the end of the 2018-19 season.

Raheem Sterling

Not sure anything came of this guy either.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, that they won 1-0. Saturday December 11, 2021.

READ: A breakdown of the stats behind Raheem Sterling’s 100 Prem goals

Zakaria Labyad

Sometimes players suit a certain league, be it for footballing, personal, or just psychological reasons.

Moroccan Zakaria Labyad is one such player. In 2012 he had just finished bursting onto the scene at PSV and moved to Sporting, but it never quite worked for him.

He had a brief loan at Fulham which went poorly as well, and so it was back to the Eredivisie where he reestablished himself at Utrecht such that Ajax came calling in 2018.

Adam Maher

Another ghost of FIFA career modes past and yet another on this list who made his name in the Eredivisie, Dutchman Adam Maher never made the move to an elite club that was expected.

He emerged at AZ Alkmaar and was considered one of the Netherlands’ most exciting youngsters, winning the much craved Johan Cruijff Trophy given to the country’s most exciting prospect.

Yet after winning the 2012-13 KNVB Beker with AZ he opted to move to PSV rather than abroad.

The midfielder has since had a solid career in the Dutch top flight, winning it twice with PSV and spending only one season away from the Netherlands when he went on loan to Turkish club Ankaraspor.

He now plays for Saudi Professional League club Damac FC.

Matija Nastasic

Much was written about how Nastasic was the young exciting centre-back that would grow with Manchester City to become a world-beater.

He started out as if he would be, winning City’s young player of the season honour in 2012-13, but injury in his second season derailed his progress.

The Serbian was sold to Shalke in 2015 and last year returned to where it all started with Fiorentina.

Julian Draxler

It honestly feels strange that Draxler is still at PSG after his headline move from Wolfsburg in 2016, and yet the German is still in Paris.

We are a long way from the era when Draxler was considered the next big thing in Europe but at 28 he is still a squad player in one of the best sides in the world.

He became a World Cup winner in 2014 and almost won the Champions League with PSG in 2020, but generally drifts in and out of significance for the French giants and no longer gets called up for the national side.

Mateo Kovacic

We will once again remind you that Kovacic has won the Champions League four times. FOUR.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

There might have been just a smidge of Premier League and English bias in the inclusion of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at number four in the list.

He was an undeniably exciting talent when he emerged out of Arsenal’s academy, but he was one of so many who emerge for the Gunners and get unfairly weighted with the label of world class.

The original article said his career as “one of the world’s best” was a certainty, but the truth is he’s been a good player hampered by injury.

The Ox has matured into a good utility player at Liverpool and won the lot, but even now injuries prevent him being more than a squad player.

Still got a rocket of a shot, mind.

Raphael Varane

At the time the original article was written, Varane had already made his big move and had already become a Real Madrid regular at 19.

Now, more than a decade on from when Fergie visited him, he has finally arrived at Manchester United, four Champions Leagues in hand.

It might be his greatest challenge yet to put in maintain the same standards at Old Trafford, which appears to be a graveyard for elite-level footballers.

Marco Verratti

Still at PSG just as he was when he was a 19-year-old starlet in 2012, Verratti in top form remains an impressive sight.

The Bleacher Report piece talks of his breakthrough performances in the Champions League, a competition the Italian has still not won with PSG despite the fact it would have felt like a sure bet a decade ago.

He likely won’t leave anytime soon and his technical primacy means his career probably won’t either.

Iker Muniain

The Basque Messi, the modern peak of Athletic Club’s academy and the captain of one of Europe’s most unique clubs.

Iker Muniain has never left Athletic Club and at 29 has now made over 475 appearances for the club.

He was one of the hottest prospects in Spain as a teenager and whilst he never quite hit the heights some expected, he has constantly been one of Athletic Club’s best performers.

It doesn’t matter that his career isn’t as trophy ladened as maybe it should have been, to a loyal Athletic Club player there are some achievements worth more.

Muniain debuted for the club at 16 and will almost certainly never leave. By the time he retires, he may have become the club’s highest-ever appearance maker but still needs over 100 games to get there.

In full flow, he remains a truly brilliant player to watch.

Stephan El Shaarawy

Yes, number one on BR’s list and supposedly the best teenager in the world in 2012 was Stephan El Shaarawy.

We think the author might have been playing too much Ultimate Team where the Italian’s mohawk terrorised players for a couple years.

He was most certainly an exciting youngster, but the best? That was a stretch even then.

After breaking through with AC Milan in 2012-13 the Italian struggled and his career nosedived eventually leaving Italy for Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua.

He is back with Roma now and is back to playing regularly again.

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