Predicting the next set of starlets to make the grade can leave any writer with egg on their face – as those hyping the likes of Francis Jeffers and Freddy Adu in years gone by will testify. But this golden group of five has already achieved plenty in the game, and they look set for big things in 2016.
If Jurgen Klopp rates you, then the chances are you are going to do well in the beautiful game. And this is exactly the position Jordan Ibe finds himself in, with the German manager happily throwing the youngster into his Liverpool starting line up as the side improves to become a tempting outside punt for the title.
Of course, Ibe had already made his mark at the Reds with a man of the match performance in the Merseyside derby in February, and given his stature and confidence on the ball it is easy to forget that he is still only 19 (he actually made his league debut at the ripe old age of 15 for Wycombe Wanderers).
That mesmeric solo goal against Rubin Kazan back in November highlights just what a precocious talent Liverpool have on their hands, and Klopp is very much aware of this. “He is a good lad and a big talent, a very skilled player,” he said following that Europa League tie.
“He has a really good base and he feels good at this moment but he has to work on things and he has a lot to learn. If he is prepared for this then everything will be good,” he continued in typically pragmatic German fashion.
So the world is at Ibe’s feet it seems; now it’s up to him to take it.
Whisper it, but there’s something of the Michael Owen about Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore. Short in stature and with a low centre of gravity, the 21-year-old possesses a dazzling turn of pace and the ability to drop his shoulder and beat a man almost at will. It is perhaps no wonder that the Black Cats faithful have dubbed him the ‘Ginger Messi’.
The England Under 21 international’s performance against Arsenal at the weekend was particularly eye-catching. In only his second Premier League start, he won the free kick which led to his side’s opener and also wriggled free of the Gunners defence before firing tamely at Petr Cech. That end product will improve as he enjoys more game time, and Sunderland might just need him in their starting eleven as they look to avoid the dreaded drop.
The good news for Black Cats fans is that Watmore clearly has an eye for goal: he has netted three times in eight games for the senior side – one of which was in the 2-0 win against Stoke recently in which he was directly responsible via his direct play for the two bookings accrued by Ryan Shawcross, and in the summer he represented England at the Toulon event and was named in the official Team of the Tournament. This strawberry blonde winger clearly has a bright future.
What were you doing at the age of 16? This writer was frantically trying to keep his pet Tamagotchi alive. Gianluigi Donnarumma is in the AC Milan starting eleven and keeping clean sheets. There are no prizes for guessing which of those two feats is the more impressive.
What makes his elevation all the more incredible is that he is a goalkeeper; a position in which the assumed logic is that the incumbent improves with age. But Donnarumma has taken his chance with aplomb to become the youngest ever shot stopper to appear in Serie A.
It’s unbelievable to think he isn’t old enough to even drink or drive at the moment given his tall frame and rather world weary facial expressions, and yet he has the confidence to bark out orders to experienced defenders like Philippe Mexes and Alex on a weekly basis. For a country looking for a long-term successor to the irreplaceable Gigi Buffon, Donnarumma’s ascension is particularly promising news.
With 71 senior appearances, 14 goals and 17 assists to his name, not to mention a career-threatening heart tumour, it would be easy to presume that Angel Correa was something of a veteran. But at just 20 years old, he is the latest talent off the Argentinean production line of diminutive attackers with Bostik-like dribbling ability.
The frontman has appeared 12 times for Atletico Madrid already this season, netting in their Champions League tie against Benfica and firing his first La Liga goal against Eibar. Both footed and with the ability to play anywhere in attack, there is no surprise he is being compared to another legendary Argentine who was pretty handy with the ball at his feet (and on the end of his hand) too.
A return of 24 goals in 64 senior appearances is always going to get an 18-year-old noticed, and so Breel Embolo can expect plenty of column inches to be devoted to him as he continues his development at FC Basel.
The tall striker has all the attributes we associate with young talents: pace, good feet and a certain fearlessness, but Embolo boasts many traits that we expect from players with years of experience in leading the line; guile, intelligence and a willingness to play with his back to goal and bring others into the game being just three.
He’s already scored in the Champions League and for his adopted Switzerland, and in reality it seems only a matter of time before he secures a big money move to a more prestigious home.