Top 20 Young Footballers for 2008

Also See: Top 20 Young Footballers to Watch in 2009.

Few years, like 2007, can claim to have served as the launching platform for many of the talented youngsters football has to offer.


From Cristiano Ronaldo to Cesc Fàbregas, passing by Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic, through to Karim Benzema and Alexandre Pato, not forgetting of course Lionel Messi: while some have used 2007 to confirm expectations and firmly establish themselves as the stars of today (and many many tomorrows), others have just recently exploded onto the football scene, with good promise that 2008 will be even more exciting to follow as the previous year.

Well-known and popular tabloid newspaper The Sun takes a look at the ‘Ones to watch in 2008’, a Top 20 of the Best Youngsters on the football scene. Who knows… in a short time, most of these players might very well deserve their own individual article (some of them already do). Let’s have a look…

The past 12 months have seen the emergence of some of the brightest young talents in world football.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fàbregas and Lionel Messi transformed themselves into world-class performers during 2007. Ronaldo, 22, and Messi, 20, were named as runners-up to Kaká in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards and Fàbregas, 20, has helped turn Arsenal in to genuine Premier League title contenders.

But who will be the stars of 2008? SunSport profiles 20 players who are set to make their mark on the beautiful game.

Note that this is NOT a ranked list; the players have been listed in alphabetical order for simplicity.

Also note that there undoubtedly are players who deserve to be on this list, but who have been forgotten by The Sun‘s authors. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments section. I’ll get you started: Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María… or even Ezequiel Garay, Markel Susaeta, Yoann Gourcuff (suggested by Hugo Steckelmacher)… or Jozy Altidore, Anderson (suggested by Ahmed Bilal)… have your say!

You can also check out our World Soccer Magazine’s Top 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers article here on Soccerlens.
.

Sergio Agüero Age 19 Striker .
Atletico Madrid
.
Yet another Argentine youngster who has been tagged “the next Maradona”. Aguero joined Atletico Aged just 17 in June 2006 from Independiente for a club-record fee of £15.75m. Struggled to cope with the pressure in his debut season but has already scored 12 goals in 22 games this term.
.
Ever Banega Age 19 Midfielder .
Boca Juniors
.
Classy holding midfielder who has been linked with moves to some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Took over the holding role for Boca when Fernando Gago joined Real Madrid last year and formed a strong partnership with Juan Román Riquelme as the Argentine giants won the Copa Libertadores — South America’s answer to the Champions League.
.
Karim Benzema Age 20 Striker .
Lyon
.
Came through the ranks at Lyon and has caught the eye of Arsenal, Real Madrid and Juventus after scoring 12 goals in 16 matches this season. Made his international debut for France in March and has netted three times for Les Bleus in eight games. Arsene Wenger described him as “an immense revelation”.
.
Breno Age 18 Defender .
Bayern Munich
.
Brazil Under-20 skipper who will join the German giants on January 1. Bayern paid São Paulo around £8.5million for the skillful central defender. Ex-Brazil and Bayern striker Giovane Élber described Breno as “an absolutely stunning prospect” after he agreed his big-money move.
.
Macauley Chrisantus Age 17 Striker .
Hamburg
.
Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City were all interested in signing Chrisantus after his exploits at this year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The scintillating striker fired seven goals in seven games and was the top scorer as Nigeria won the competition. Joined Hamburg in November 2007.
.
Denilson Age 19 Midfielder .
Arsenal
.
Brazilian star who is a regular fixture in the Gunners’ youthful Carling Cup sides. Bought from São Paulo in August 2006 for £3.4m despite just four starts for the club. All-round midfielder who is comfortable going forward but also a tenacious tackler.
.
Lorenzo De Silvestri Age 19 Defender .
Lazio
.
Talented full-back who has been tipped as a future Italian international. De Silvestri will be a target for Roma, Juventus and Arsenal in January as he will be available on a Bosman when his contract expires in the summer. Made his Champions League debut in August and has made 12 appearances so far this season.
.
Franco Di Santo Age 18 Striker .
Chelsea
.
Argentine wonderkid who will join the Blues in January for £3.4m from Chilian side Audax Italiano. Like Lucas Leiva at Liverpool, he holds an Italian passport and will be able to play for the Blues immediately. May struggle to break into Avram Grant’s star-studded team but should earn a few run outs in cup competitions in 2008.
.
Giovani dos Santos Age 18 Striker .
Barcelona
.
Came to prominence in 2005 when he was one of stars of the Mexico team that won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Has been a regular feature for Barca this season and has managed to keep Ronaldinho out of the starting XI. Already has four caps for Mexico.
.
Stevan Jovetic Age 18 Striker .
Partizan Belgrade
.
A £7m target for Manchester United after becoming the top scorer in the Serbian league with 11 goals. Was named captain of the Montenegro Under-21 side aged just 17 and has already made his full international debut. A creative striker who likes to drop deep and run at defenders. He is also a deadly-accurate finisher.
.
Bojan Krkic Age 17 Striker .
Barcelona
.
Hailed as Spain’s answer to Lionel Messi by Barca fans after scoring over 800 goals in the Catalan club’s youth teams. Broke the record as the youngest ever player to feature in a Champions League match in September 2007. A month later, he became Barcelona’s youngest La Liga goalscorer.
.
Toni Kroos Age 17 Midfielder .
Bayern Munich
.
Named player of the tournament at the 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and has already made his Bundesliga and European debuts for Bayern. A creative, goalscoring midfielder, Kroos shone at youth level for both club and country. Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness has already earmarked him for the revered No10 shirt.
.
Lucas Leiva Age 20 Midfielder .
Liverpool
.
Signed for the Reds in the summer from Copa Libertadores finalists Gremio after winning the Brazilian Footballer of the Year award. Likened to Steven Gerrard before his move to England, the box-to-box midfielder has already featured heavily in Rafa Benitez’s side and should be a key player in 2008.
.
Lulinha Age 17 Midfielder .
Corinthians
.
Transfer target for Italian champions Inter Milan after starring for Brazil’s Under-17 side. Scored 12 goals in seven matches during the South American U-17 Championships before being one of the stars of the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup. The tricky attacking midfielder has an eye for goal and is already being touted as the long-term successor to Ronaldinho.
.
Alexandre Pato Age 18 Striker .
AC Milan
.
Known as ‘the duck’, Pato shot to fame when AC Milan shelled out £15m for his services in the summer — despite rules stopping him from playing until January 3. Milan have high hopes for Pato, with president Silvio Berlusconi claiming he expects the youngster to score 30 goals between January and the end of the season. Brazil coach Dunga has dubbed him “the new Ronaldo”.
.
Gerard Piqué Age 20 Defender .
Manchester United
.
Returned to United this season after a successful loan spell with Real Zaragoza. The ex-Barcelona youth product showed huge potential during his year in Spain and is expected to feature regularly for the Red Devils in 2008. Has played nine times this season, including the Champions League matches with Roma and Dynamo Kiev.
.
Ivan Rakitic Age 19 Midfielder .
Schalke
.
Niko Kranjčar and Luka Modrić may have ended England’s Euro 2008 qualifying hopes but new Three Lions boss Fabio Capello will have to watch out Rakitić in 2008. The Swiss-born attacking midfielder is the latest Croatian star to catch the eye and was snapped up by German champions Schalke in the summer.
.
Adel Taarabt Age 18 Midfielder .
Tottenham
.
Young French midfielder who has established himself as a regular member of Spurs’ match-day squad. Compared to Zinedine Zidane before his move to North London, the left-footed trickster has already wowed the White Hart Lane faithful with his ambitious runs and long-range strikes.
.
Carlos Vela Age 18 Striker .
Arsenal
.
The Gunners snapped up Vela after he finished top scorer in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2005 — a feat that Cesc Fabregas achieved two years earlier. The Mexican has been on loan in Spain for the past two seasons and will return to North London in January. An exciting prospect who should make his Arsenal debut this term.
.
Theo Walcott Age 18 Striker .
Arsenal
.
Joined the Gunners from Southampton for £5m in January 2006 and shot to fame when he was called up to England’s 2006 World Cup squad aged 17. Scored the opening goal in last season’s Carling Cup final and is a regular at Under-21 level for the Three Lions. Should return to the Fabio Capello’s England squad in 2008.

.
Marco Pantanella writes for the mCalcio blog