AC Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy has been named as the best teenage soccer player in the world by Bleacher Report's Max Towle. Photo Credit: goatling/Creative Commons License
Soccer News: The World’s 25 Best Teenage Players – One Man’s Opinion
What does it take to be considered a “Top Player” in soccer? Obviously on-field skills are part of the mix, as are game smarts and passion. Experience is frequently an added element, as it can take years to fully develop raw talent to the point that a player can be called “world-class.” So how does a young player make it to the top on the world stage? Max Towle of Bleacher Report has compiled his list of the 25 best teen players in the world, and not surprisingly they come from all parts of the globe.
What might be a surprise, however, is that the majority of players come from Europe – and from Northern Europe, at that. While South America, particularly Brazil and Argentina, are often touted as soccer star factories (Messi, Ronaldinho or Pele, for example), only four of the 25 on the list hail from those countries. Both France and Germany have as many players on the list as Brazil (three), and only one non-European player makes the Top Ten – Morocco’s Zakaria Labyad. However, it is Italy that places the most players in the Top 10.
As far as age goes, Towle points out that 16 to 19 marks the most important period of a player’s life as far as development. The athletes on this list top out at 19 (the majority of players), with two at the tender age of 17 (France’s Kurt Zouma at No. 14 and England’s Raheem Sterling at No. 11). The youngest player in the Top 10 is Croatia’s Mateo Kovacic at the age of 18.
As Towle admits, this is one man’s list and open to interpretation and comment – and undoubtedly debate. Rather than discuss all 25, who are the Top 10 and what is it about each that puts him at that level? What does Towle see in each player that puts him above and beyond the rest of his peers?
Number 10: Zakaria Labyad, Morocco
Towle ranks the Moroccan at the base of the Top 10 for his “knack for finding the back of the net.” The left winger recently moved from PSV to Sporting Lisbon and will see if the move helps to take him to the next level in his career.
Number 9: Adam Maher, Netherlands
AZ Alkmar’s center midfielder has put in nearly 50 appearances for his club in the Eredivisie. Towle gives him the nod for his “delightful ball skills and composure,” and notes his ability to “make the type of runs into space that torment opposing defences.”
Number 8: Matija Nastasic, Serbia
The Serbian center back made the move from Fiorentina to Manchester City this year, and Towle expects him to play an important role in the backfield. According to Towle, Nastasic is a “capable tactician in possession” and a perfect player for manager Roberto Mancini.
Number 7: Julian Draxler, Germany
The Schalke 04 left winger has already earned two caps for the German National Team and has UEFA Champions League experience on top of all that. Towle touts him for his “experience and maturity” and likes his “great crossing abilities and a dynamite long shot.”
Number 6: Mateo Kovacic, Croatia
The “baby” of the Top 10 at just 18, the Dinamo Zagreb attacking midfielder gets the nod as a “diamond in the rough.” Towle considers his ability to read the midfield tactically as “well beyond his years” and believes “his passing and movement would suit any of the best clubs in world football down to a tee.”
Number 5: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, England
Arsenal fans are hoping the left winger returns soon from a recent injury. Towle believes playing for Arsene Wenger has done wonders for Oxlade-Chamberlin’s game, and calls him “tricky, technically proficient, with a balance and passing range that has seen him already capped nine times for country.”
Number 4: Raphael Varane, France
Towle has high expectations for the Real Madrid center back, whom he calls a “brand-spanking new-ish Rolls Royce.” Towle calls the French product a “mature-beyond-his-years central defender” and believes that he can become a world-class player with improvement in his air game.
Number 3: Marco Verratti, Italy
Verratti rates high on Towles list after his “unbelievably prodigious performances” at central midfield for PSG in the UEFA Champions League. Towle calls him “technically masterful with a turn of pace to break ankles” and feels comparisons to Andrea Pirlo are “not undeserving.”
Number 2: Iker Muniain, Spain
Athletic Bilbao’s left winger makes the No. 2 slot based in part on his history with the club, where he has put in over 100 La Liga appearances since debuting at age 16. Towle calls him “another young sensation” and vaunts his ability to move past defenders and “bury a subsequent shot past an unfortunate keeper with clinical precision.”
Number 1: Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy
AC Milan’s phenomenal teen striker has, in Towle’s words, “been a saving grace for the Serie A behemoths at times this season.” With six goals in 10 games so far, El Shaarawy has made a strong statement for inclusion in the top ranks. Towle describes him as “pacy, skillful, possesses two great feet, an accurate shot and an endless energy.”
Max Towle’s Top 25 Teenage Soccer Players
25. Candido Ramirez, Mexico (19). Santos Laguna
24. Matthias Ginter, Germany (19). SC Freiburg
23. Lucas Piazon, Brazil (18). Chelsea
22. Leandro, Brazil (19). Gremio
21. Gerard Deulofeu, Spain (18). FC Barcelona
20. Paul Pogba, France (19). Juventus
19. Jetro Willems, Netherlands (18). PSV
18. Timo Horn, Germany (19). FC Köln
17. Manuel Lanzini, Argentina (19). River Plate
16. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium (19). West Bromwich Albion (on loan from Chelsea)
15. Juan Fernando Quintero, Colombia (19). Pescara
14. Kurt Zouma, France (17). Saint-Etienne
13. Adryan, Brazil (18). Flamengo
12. Stefanos Kapino, Greece (18). Panathinaikos
11. Raheem Sterling, England (17). Liverpool
10. Zakaria Labyad, Morocco (19). Sporting Lisbon
9. Adam Maher, Netherlands (19). AZ Alkmaar
8. Matija Nastasic, Serbia (19). Manchester City
7. Julian Draxler, Germany (19). Schalke 04
6. Mateo Kovacic, Croatia (18). Dinamo Zagreb
5. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, England (19). Arsenal
4. Raphael Varane, France (19). Real Madrid
3. Marco Verratti, Italy (19). PSG
2. Iker Muniain, Spain. (19). Athletic Bilbao
1. Stephan El Saarawy, Italy (19). AC Milan