Even though the planet’s greatest male players are getting younger, according to Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden and Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, it’s time to anoint Messi and Ronaldo’s heirs. These players we are going to discuss should also influence your four fold accumulator as any one of them and transform the game.
Who has made a splash on the major stage already? Who has done enough to make the grade, what are their specific skills, and how can they strengthen them?
The Top 5
1. Bukayo Saka, FW
Club/Country: Arsenal / England
Estimated transfer value: €50m
Over the last year or two, Saka has shown nothing short of perfection in his profession, from a thrilling left-back to an inventive inverted winger on the right. In 2018, despite not making it to the top 5, he was the youngest player on the list; this year, at 19 years old, he earns his place as a more seasoned player.
Saka is a tenacious and driven stopper with a skill set that includes back-heels, flicks, and changes of direction (back-heels, flicks, switches of direction) (back-heels, flicks, switches of direction). Despite being a trained defender, he has the attacking incisiveness and inventiveness of a natural winger. He has a strong work ethic and is an energetic kid with a great balance. He’s proved to be a good crosser since moving to his new spot in the final third.
How can he improve: The difficulty, as Arsenal’s most important key player and difference-maker, is how he responds to being manhandled by opponents.
2. Vinicius Junior, FW
Club/country: Real Madrid / Brazil
Estimated transfer value: €40m
Many are captivated by his great speed and straightforwardness, while others are terrified of his poor judgment and the propensity to become too worked up in high-stakes situations. He has already appeared in 100 official matches for perhaps the world’s best club at the age of 20, which is fantastic going. He has, however, fallen from fourth to fifth position in recent weeks.
He comes alive when the game begins, with his diagonal runs and movement across the front. He has a modest build, yet he is dangerous with his pace and dribbling abilities, allowing him to outrun defenders on counter-attacks. There’s a reason why Zidane is hanging on to him: he’s unpredictable and tricky, in addition to being an underappreciated tactical or polished player desired by top sides like Real Madrid.
How he can improve: With his exceptional dribbling skills, he can enhance his defensive positioning and set-piece scenarios, but despite all of his talent, he is unable to finish.
3. Joao Felix, FW
Club/Country: Atletico Madrid / Portugal
Estimated transfer value: €95m
When he moved from Benfica to Atletico Madrid for £126m two years ago, he was billed as the world’s most expensive teenager. He didn’t fit in completely at first (much alone Diego Simeone’s demanding brand of play). He’s been in excellent form since the start of the campaign, and his influence has decreased recently.
His first touch and the way it lays him up for his next move are almost unrivalled. He understands the game and has a keen eye for detail regarding his teammates on the field. Through flicks, lay-ups, and clever combination play, Felix can be a pleasure to watch whether the ball is in his hands or not.
How he may be improved: Nobody expects him to pick fights with centre backs, but in attacking duels, he might still make a bigger nuisance of himself.
4. Pedri, FW
Club/Country: Barcelona / Spain
Estimated transfer value: €70m
You might be forgiven for thinking that Pedri is a La Masia product. He has all of Barcelona’s youth players’ talents, including a superb touch, vision, and passing ability. He arrived from Las Palmas in 2019 before being loaned back to the Canary Islands club for a year, after which he signed with Catalonia. The comparisons are obvious for anyone to see: he aspired to play like Andres Iniesta, and the parallels are there. He’s young, and he’ll be getting more opportunities to play in the future. He’s already got three caps with Spain at the senior level and has only just begun his career as a newcomer.
Pedri was moved to the centre of the park by Ronald Koeman, who recognized his fantastic technical skills and vision. He is already well-versed in Barca’s style of playing with the ball. Pedri is an extremely strong and tricky attacker with excellent technical abilities, wonderful vision, and a keen eye for goal. He can thread a precisely weighted ball through the opposition’s defensive line and is also hardworking in getting on the ball, as seen by his high work rate.
How he can improve: The next stage for Pedri will be to improve his defensive commitment and attempt more goals, owing to his talent and skill, he may score 12-14 goals each year from midfield.
5. Jude Bellingham, MID
Club/Country: Dortmund / England
Estimated transfer value: €70m
The story of Bellingham, a club that went from battling relegation with Championship side Birmingham City at the age of 16 to becoming a major player in the latter stages of the Champions League just twelve months later, is unbelievable. Before he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history, his skill had never been disputed; he outran opponents at a young age. Deportivo Coruña’s Bellingham, who was called up to the England senior squad earlier this month, appears to be on the verge of becoming a generational star.
He’s quickly becoming the ideal contemporary “No. 8” in the middle of the park; Bellingham has excellent ball control and technique to trick defenders and drop into the appropriate areas to receive a pass, which is something few 18-year-olds have. He’s great at catching late in the box, and he also has a fantastic passing game and an excellent sense of collaboration.
How he can improve: Bellingham has already made significant progress in the last year and it’s a question of seeing how much further he can go. It is unjust to demand more from a 17-year-old at this time in his career.