These guys have all got incredible futures ahead of them

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final – Spain vs England fuelled by FotMob

With the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo firmly entrenched in their twilight years, it won’t be long before that entire generation of world-class stars have hung their boots up for good. For almost 20 years, they’ve been the faces of football, and it’s hard to imagine the sport without them tearing teams apart. With that said, the future of the game is certainly in safe hands.

The next crop of talent looks absolutely fantastic and there are more than a handful of young prospects who will inevitably dominate football for years to come. Specifically looking at players who are 23 and younger at the time of writing, we’ve identified the very best youngsters in the world right now. Bursting with promise, the names on this list are as good as it gets right now and unless something goes seriously wrong, you should expect to see them at the very top for years to come.

15Enzo Fernandez – Chelsea

Enzo Fernandez in action for Chelsea

In a Chelsea team that continues to look unconvincing, Enzo Fernandez has been a bright spark for the club since his arrival in January. The midfielder has looked fantastic going forward and has been influential in linking up play between the team’s forwards and its midfield.

Signed for a British transfer record at the time, it seems inevitable that he will go on to be a major player in the Premier League in the future and if Chelsea can figure things out and start playing like the talent they possess suggests they should, he could reach scary levels of good.

14Josko Gvardiol – Manchester City

Josko Gvardiol

Considering they had the joint-best defence in the Premier League last season, it seemed unthinkable that Manchester City could even improve their back line and yet, that’s exactly what they’ve done by signing Josko Gvardiol.

The 21-year-old emerged as a defensive menace at RB Leipzig and is a striker’s nightmare on the pitch. Whether it’s on the left-hand side or in the centre of defence, his combination of speed and strength makes him a problem for anyone. Given time, his presence in Pep Guardiola’s side should only become more significant and there’s a strong chance he’ll be the best defender in the world somewhere down the line.

13Gabriel Martinelli – Arsenal

Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal celebrates

After initially struggling with injuries, Gabriel Martinelli has now emerged as a serious talent at Arsenal and looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a world-class star. Cutting in on the left-hand side, he’s been pivotal for the Gunners under Mikel Arteta and was key to the club’s title challenge last season.

The sky is the limit for the Brazilian who just keeps getting better and while all the plaudits have been aimed at Bukayo Saka (more on him later) so far, Martinelli is almost as important and as talented as his English teammate.

12Aurelien Tchouameni – Real Madrid

After taking France by storm while playing with Monaco, it seemed everyone and their aunt wanted a piece of Aurelien Tchouameni, but it was Real Madrid who landed his signature in 2022. At 23 years old, the midfielder has slotted into Los Blancos’ midfield seamlessly, and it’s as though he’s been playing for the side for years.

A natural ball-winner, Tchouameni has continuously shown he’s just as effective driving forward through the heart of the pitch and is more than capable of finding the necessary spaces between an opposition defence and Madrid have reaped the benefits. A regular for the club and for his native France now, things will only get better for this impressive talent.

11Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – Napoli

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia gives 'perfect answer' to the Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi debate

Last season, seemingly out of nowhere, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia emerged as a serious talent in Serie A after his move to Napoli. Initially playing fine, but hardly uprooting any trees at Rubin Kazan, his brief spell at Dinamo Batumi convinced Luciano Spalletti to bring him to Italy and it’s been a major success.

With his blistering speed, insane ability with the ball at his feet and his tendency to beat just about anyone in a one-on-one situation, the 22-year-old’s stock has skyrocketed recently, and it seems inevitable that his career trajectory will lead him to one of the biggest clubs in the world sooner rather than later.

10Florian Wirtz – Bayer Leverkusen

Florian Wirtz of Bayer Leverkusen on the ball

It’s a testament to just how talented Florian Wirtz is that it seems as though he’s been around forever, despite the fact he’s just 20 years old. A mainstay in the Bayer Leverkusen side since the age of 17, the German international has caught the eye of just about everyone in the footballing world over the years and seems destined to reach the top of the sport in no time at all.

A serious injury last season threatened to hinder his development, but he’s bounced back in emphatic fashion and whether it’s on the left or his more natural central attacking midfielder role, his relentless work rate and offensive flair will only lead to a bright future.

9Eduardo Camavinga – Real Madrid

Eduardo Camavinga in action for Real Madrid in September 2021

Similarly to Wirtz, it seems as though Eduardo Camavinga has been tearing teams apart for years and that’s largely down to the fact he’s been a top talent in men’s football from the age of just 16. Making his debut in 2019, the now-20-year-old has been electric for first Stade Rennes and now Real Madrid. At his best playing just in front of a defensive backline, he has thrived at the Bernabeu and it’s hard to imagine a future where he isn’t one of the best midfielders in the world.

8Gavi – Barcelona

Gavi in action for Barcelona

As Barcelona were hit with some serious financial difficulties, it seemed the club were heading for some dark times. Fortunately, out of nowhere, an incredible young talent emerged from their youth ranks and immediately made an impact in the side. Gavi is the first of two sensational young players to have burst onto the scene for the Catalan giants recently, and he has already stamped a claim as one of the best young midfielders in the world.

Whether it’s disrupting the opposition attacks or progressive passing into the final third, the 19-year-old can seemingly do it all in the middle of the park. As Spain’s youngest-ever goalscorer, his future is destined for greatness.

7Pedri – Barcelona

Pedri for Barcelona

While he didn’t come through Barcelona’s academy quite like Gavi, Pedri seemed to burst onto the scene and take the side by storm in a similar fashion. Signed from Las Palmas for just over £4m in 2020, he instantly became one of the club’s most important players and has held onto that distinction ever since.

Playing in the centre of midfield, the 20-year-old has just gotten better with every passing year and his goalscoring numbers continue to rise each season. Alongside Gavi, the two seem destined to become one of the greatest midfield pairings in the world.

6Jamal Musiala – Bayern Munich

 Jamal Musiala of München reacts

Known for his incredible dribbling ability, there are few attackers in the world capable of causing defenders problems to the degree that Jamal Musiala can. In the Bayern Munich side, the 20-year-old has been breathtaking to watch over the last few years and shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, he seems to improve every single time he steps onto a football pitch.

His positioning on the field is second to none and whether it’s on either wing or in an attacking midfield role, he is unstoppable and will undoubtedly become one of the best attackers in the world, if he isn’t already at that level.

5Phil Foden – Manchester City

Phil Foden Manchester City

Playing the patient game and waiting for his opportunity at Manchester City, Phil Foden has emerged as one of the bright attackers in the Premier League and one of the most gifted Englishmen in a generation. It’s a true testament to how impressive he is that he manages to stand out among one of the deepest squads in all of football.

Foden is one of the most decorated players in the game, and at 23 years old, he’s won just about everything there is to win at club level. His career at City has seen his game time limited due to the sheer number of forwards the club has at its disposal, and it’s scary to think just how much better he could be and how much higher he could have ranked on this list if the shackles were taken off, and he was allowed to go all out as some of the other names we’ve discussed have.

4Bukayo Saka – Arsenal

Bukayo Saka

No one makes dancing past defenders look as easy and as effortless as Saka does. The Arsenal winger has made a living of being a defender’s worst nightmare as he regularly tortures them with his dazzling runs and his electric speed. At just 22 years old, the Englishman is already closing in on playing 200 games for the Gunners and if he continues to perform in the manner in which he has already, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine he’ll go on to become one of the best ever players.

Arsenal’s title challenge last year simply doesn’t happen without Saka and the club look as good now as they have in almost two decades and he’s been influential in that remarkable resurgence.

3Vinicius Jr – Real Madrid

Vinicius Jr celebrates vs Man City

While his career at Real Madrid got off to a slow start, it’s safe to say Vinicius Jr has more than found his feet in Spain now and is coming off two incredible seasons at the Bernabeu. The Brazilian is one of the most exciting forwards in football and has made it a habit of tormenting defenders.

Known for his incredible speed, his dribbling ability, but also his exceptional playmaking prowess, he can impact a match in a variety of different ways and as such, is one of the best young players in the world. He’d be the best young player at Madrid too, if it wasn’t for the arrival of a certain midfielder this summer.

2Jude Bellingham – Real Madrid

Jude Bellingham waves

While he was already one of the most impressive young players in the world, Jude Bellingham’s move to Real Madrid has already seen his game rise to a whole new level. The star has gotten off to a blistering start in Spain and has already made a case for being the best player in Los Blancos’ team.

It seems inevitable that Bellingham will eventually be the very best midfielder in the world, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to take him long to get there. The former Borussia Dortmund man is the most promising talent England have had, maybe ever and if anyone’s going to lead the country to glory, it feels inevitable that it will be the 20-year-old. In any other era, there’s no denying that Bellingham would be the best young player in the world, he’s just unfortunate that we’re currently baring witness to one of the most explosive goalscorers in history.

1Erling Haaland – Manchester City

Manchester City's Erling Braut Haaland

We’ve simply never seen a goalscorer quite like Erling Haaland. The City striker has already demolished several records in the Premier League despite only arriving in England last summer.

He scores goals at a rate we’ve never really seen before and if he continues to perform like he has throughout his entire career so far, he’ll continue to break records. Haaland isn’t just the best young player in the world right now, he’s the best striker on Earth, period.

How would the Premier League table look if VAR wasn’t being used this season?

A look at how the Premier League table would look if VAR wasn’t being used this season…

Remember when the Premier League didn’t have VAR? Life was so much easier, less stressful and quite frankly, much more enjoyable. One of the most divisive introductions to football, the technology has split the football fan-base far and wide, and it doesn’t look like winning everyone over anytime soon.

Even after a few years of working on it, and refining some of the edges, the use of VAR still happens to cause much controversy, and even with the Premier League only being four games in, there have already been a number of incidents that have left fans, players and managers alike scratching their heads and wondering what on earth is going on.

As with anything, there are always a handful of winners and losers, and we’re now taking a look at just how different the Premier League table would be, if VAR simply didn’t exist this season…

21Burnley

Burnley midfielder Josh Brownhill

Sadly for Burnley, whether VAR was here or not, Vincent Kompany’s side would still be rock bottom of the Premier League table. The Clarets have endured a miserable return to the top-flight thus far, shipping in at least three goals in every game they’ve played, including letting in five against Tottenham just this past weekend. With 11 goals conceded, Burnley have the worst defensive record in the Premier League, and quite frankly, would have been absolutely desperate for VAR to somehow get involved and rule some of them out.

20Luton

Luton Town player Mads Andersen applauds supporters after defeat.

Just like Burnley, newly-promoted Luton also find themselves stuck where they are irrespective of VAR, with the Hatters’ win-less start to the season seeing them just one place above the drop zone right now. The two goals they have scored in their first three top-flight games means that unsurprisingly they are bottom of the goals scored list, and have their work cut out to ensure their return to the Premier League isn’t a short-lived one come the end of it.

19Everton

Sean Dyche Everton manager

With just one point to their name, Everton round off the Premier League’s bottom three heading into the international break, and once again, VAR is not to blame for where they are right now. Sean Dyche’s side would have been point-less had it not been for Arnaut Danjuma’s goal against Sheffield United in the second-half of their 2-2 draw on Saturday, and face a run of challenging fixtures after the international break, with Arsenal and Liverpool among their next five.

18Sheffield United

Sheffield United's George Baldock, William Osula and Jack Robinson

The third promoted team from the Championship, Sheffield United have had a tricky start to the season, suffering three defeats on the bounce before securing their first point of the campaign with a dramatic 2-2 draw at home to fellow strugglers Everton. The Blades haven’t been on the wrong end of any VAR calls as of right now, and Paul Heckingbottom will no doubt be hoping that continues over the course of the season. It certainly feels like the bigger teams in the Premier League get the rub of the green, so United will need to be keeping their fingers crossed they don’t fall afoul of any howlers that might cost them their place in the top-flight.

17Bournemouth

 AFC Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola

No changes as things stand just yet, with Bournemouth another side to have come through unscathed in these opening four games of the Premier League season. The Cherries have been one of the teams to watch after a quietly impressive and shrewd transfer window, while Andoni Iraola’s appointment as manager is certainly one that could absolutely take off or really spin out of control. Four games in, it’s been relatively steady, and with VAR keeping away, Bournemouth are outside the drop zone right now.

16Wolves

Mason Mount in action for Man Utd vs Wolves

This is where the real controversy begins. An opening day defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford may not be the worst result in the world, but after what happened at the end, you could forgive Wolves fans for absolutely steaming with the technology. Andre Onana completely took out Sasa Kalajdzic when coming for the ball in the final stage of the game, but VAR decided not to intervene, much to the shock of everyone watching. It was of little consolation when Howard Webb would then later admit the officials did get it wrong with VAR not stepping in. When it rains, it pours if you’re a Wolves supporter.

15Newcastle

Newcastle United's Sven Botman and Fabian Schar

Perhaps the biggest under-performers of the season thus far, Newcastle find themselves in 14th, and that despite hammering Aston Villa 5-1 on the opening day. The Magpies were involved in a number of VAR incidents last year, but for now, they have been relatively untroubled by it. The right decision seemed to be made in the club’s late defeat to Liverpool at home, with Virgil van Dijk sent off in the first-half of that contest. Despite the man advantage, Newcastle couldn’t make it count, and Eddie Howe will be hoping that his side can make more out of it if they do find themselves playing against ten anytime soon.

14Fulham

Fulham-Bernd-Leno
Fulham’s Bernd Leno has played well this season

Now here’s where things get even more controversial. Fulham were locked level at 1-1 with Premier League champions Manchester City at the weekend, when arguably the clearest mistake of the season involving VAR was made. Manuel Akanji was standing in an offside position when he appeared to make a play for the ball following a goal-bound header from Nathan Ake, and despite Bernd Leno seemingly hesitating because of the movement, VAR allowed it to stand. In fact, the VAR audio that explains how the officials reached their decision is certainly an eye-opening one.

Following the controversy, referees’ chief Howard Webb did admit that it was a “clear situation of offside” and that the goal should have been disallowed. Of course, Fulham would then go on to be beaten 5-1 by Pep Guardiola’s side so whether City taking the lead with that Ake goal really affected the eventual outcome of the match is up for debate. Given the Cottagers lost by more than just the one goal disallowed, there would be no points difference if VAR did not exist.

13Chelsea

Cole Palmer playing for Chelsea

If VAR could do checks on summer signings, then there might be a long, hard look at Chelsea’s eye-watering signing of Moises Caicedo, who’s endured a nightmare start to life at Stamford Bridge. After giving away a penalty against West Ham that saw the Hammers seal all three points against their London rivals, to being caught in possession to allow Anthony Elanga to score the winner for Nottingham Forest at the weekend, it’s been a hugely disappointing couple of weeks for the Ecuador international, much like Chelsea’s overall start to the season.

12Brentford

Brentford-Mark-Flekken
Brentford’s Mark Flekken in action

And now we get to the first team this season who would have been adversely impacted if VAR wasn’t around. An opening day clash against Tottenham was a roller-coaster ride, with Cristian Romero putting the away side in front. Then, it was time for VAR to step in and really prove its worth. After Matthias Jensen fell down under the challenge of Heung-min Son – the South Korean man protesting his innocence straightaway – the referee initially waved play on before being instructed by VAR to go look at the monitor himself. Inevitably, the decision to not award a penalty was reversed, and Bryan Mbuemo stepped up in Ivan Toney’s absence to covert the resulting spot-kick. Given the intervention from VAR allowed for a Brentford equaliser, they would have one less point if the technology wasn’t in place. Bees fans will no doubt be buzzing with that one.

11Aston Villa

Aston Villa player Emiliano Buendia striking the ball.

VAR or not, Aston Villa under Unai Emery have been a consistently dangerous team for any side in the Premier League, and with six points on the board from their opening four games, are gearing up for another European push this season too. If they can steer clear of any VAR controversies, then a top seven finish is on the cards for Villa, and Emery will be hoping and even dreaming of finishing in the Europa League if things go well.

10Nottingham Forest

Nottingham-Forest-Matt-Turner
Nottingham Forest’s Matt Turner is doing well at his new club

Also on six points, and with no VAR interventions either, Nottingham Forest are in the top half on merit. The stunning win at Stamford Bridge at the weekend thanks to a strike from Anthony Elanga was the perfect way to send Steve Cooper’s side into the international break. A home clash against promoted Burnley is on the horizon right after the internationals are done, and the hope, and even expectation will be that Forest move themselves up to nine points from their opening five matches this season.

9Manchester United

Man Utd vs Arsenal

Another controversial one here. After a quite mental finish to their game against Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon, a lot of Manchester United fans will no doubt be ruing the day VAR was even invented. The Red Devils thought they had won it at the death thanks to a breakaway goal from Alejandro Garnacho, only for VAR to intervene and rule that the Argentine was leaning offside when he made his run beyond Gabriel. To make matters worse for Erik ten Hag and co, the Gunners would then go on to score from a corner that Jonny Evans in particular tried to dispute, before Gabriel Jesus wrapped things up for the home side with a very nicely taken goal. United did however get the rub of the green with the overturned penalty that Kai Havertz was initially awarded by referee Anthony Taylor, but that is of little comfort to fans after what happened at the end.

8Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace goalkeeper Sam Johnstone

No changes here with Crystal Palace still estimated to be on seven points from their opening four games even if VAR wasn’t being used this season. The Eagles have been soaring high under Roy Hodgson this campaign, and the 3-2 win over Wolves heading into the international break means they are just three points off second right now. After a summer that saw them lose Wilfried Zaha but keep both Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze at the club, things are looking a lot rosier than what some Crystal Palace fans might have feared a few weeks ago.

7Arsenal

Arsenal's Declan Rice

The most recent winners of VAR being in effect, Arsenal saw their Sunday afternoon go from absolute despair and heartbreak to pure relief and joy. In the most incredible scenes, Gunners fans resigned themselves to a damaging defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Manchester United at the Emirates when Alejandro Garnacho raced away to slot home past Aaron Ramsdale. However, VAR and its use of offside lines meant that when everything was all drawn up and analysed, it was deemed the United forward had just started ahead of Gabriel in the back-line and the goal was chalked off. Of course, the north London side would then go on to win it, but had VAR not intervened, the one point they originally thought they would be getting with the draw, would have turned into zero with defeat. Mikel Arteta’s side will be celebrating the fact the technology did exactly what its job is this past weekend.

6Brighton

Brighton & Hove Albion striker Evan Ferguson

Much like Aston Villa, regardless of whether VAR intervenes or not, you would back Brighton to enjoy another successful season. The Seagulls finished in a Europa League spot last year, and their performances to start off this campaign indicate they are set to be a force to be reckoned with. Roberto de Zerbi’s men brushed aside fellow top-four hopefuls Newcastle off the back of a quite superb hat-trick from Evan Ferguson, and if the Republic of Ireland international can keep growing over the course of the year, Brighton will be a dangerous team to come up against.

5West Ham

West-Ham-United-Michail-Antonio-Alphonse-Areola
West Ham United’s Michail Antonio and Alphonse Areola celebrate after beating Brighton

What a start to the season West Ham have had. After winning the Europa Conference League at the back end of last season, and then waving goodbye to Declan Rice, it’s been a summer of mixed emotions for the Hammers. But, after a rather successful transfer window in which a number of high-profile signings were made, David Moyes’ side are looking at bigger and better things than just the Conference League. Thankfully for them, VAR has not yet decided to get involved, so it’s as you were with West Ham. 4th in the Premier League, ten points on the board, and looking good for now.

4Liverpool

Mohamed Salah warms up for Liverpool

While Liverpool might not have been cost any points from VAR just yet, Jurgen Klopp will no doubt be raising his eyebrow at the decision to not intervene when referee Thomas Brammall decided to send Alexis Mac Allister off for a high challenge in the Reds’ 3-1 victory over Bournemouth at Anfield earlier in the season.

Klopp himself weighed in on the situation after the game, saying: “We’ve seen harsher challenges that weren’t red cards that should’ve been. I think we should talk about it. If he said it was a yellow, the VAR wouldn’t have upgraded to a red card.” Despite VAR deciding to not get involved on the day, the Reds were successful in overturning Mac Allister’s red card on appeal.

3Tottenham

Tottenham boss Angel Postecoglou in pre-season

The biggest would-be beneficiaries on this list, Tottenham would have a spotless record if VAR didn’t exist this season. Ange Postecoglou’s side are on ten points out of twelve, but they would be right up there with Manchester City if it wasn’t for the game against Brentford. After taking the lead through Cristian Romero, Spurs were on the wrong end of a VAR overturn when it was adjudged Heung-min Son did clip the heels of Matthias Jensen in the box. Brentford would duly equalise from the spot-kick through Bryan Mbuemo, and while there was another goal each to make it 2-2, that initial VAR overturn is what sees Tottenham be the biggest winners so far if the technology wasn’t in place this year.

2Manchester City

Sheffield-United-Wes-Foderingham-Manchester-City-Erling-Haaland
Sheffield United’s Wes Foderingham saves from Manchester City’s Erling Haaland

Involved in one of the biggest controversies with Nathan Ake’s goal against Fulham standing despite Manuel Akanji being in an offside position, Manchester City are top of the Premier League with 12 points from a possible twelve. Whether that goal being ruled out against the Cottagers would have really changed the result of that game is up for debate, but given how dominant Pep Guardiola’s side are, you probably would have fancied them to go on and win somehow. Even still, City did benefit from an absolute howler from VAR and that can’t be denied, but ultimately their points total would have remained the same even if it didn’t exist.

How the Premier League table would look if VAR wasn’t being used this season…

Position Team Points Without VAR Points Difference Without VAR
1st Man City 12 0
2nd Tottenham 12 +2
3rd Liverpool 10 0
4th West Ham 10 0
5th Brighton 9 0
6th Arsenal 9 -1
7th Crystal Palace 7 0
8th Manchester United 7 0
9th Nottingham Forest 6 0
10th Aston Villa 6 0
11th Brentford 5 -1
12th Chelsea 4 0
13th Fulham 4 0
14th Newcastle 3 0
15th Wolves 3 0
16th Bournemouth 2 0
17th Sheffield United 1 0
18th Everton 0 0
19th Luton Town 0 0
20th Burnley 0 0

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