21 in 21: Breakout stars to watch out for this year

A raw diamond exploding on to the scene for the first time is one of the most exciting aspects about football, and when a potential world beater emerges and immediately holds their own among more battle-hardened peers, supporters understandably start to get a little giddy.

In 2020, Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies were among the players to announce themselves as club football’s newest superstars – but every new year brings with it new opportunities – and as we enter 20201, a fresh generation of wonderkids will be hoping to make a major splash in football’s already overflowing talent pool.

Below, we’ve taken a look at some of the emerging starlets that are expected to do big things this year in our 21 in 21 feature.


Romeo Lavia (Manchester City)

Age: 16

Position: Midfielder

Manchester City beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United to Romeo Lavia’s signature last year, when the Citizens wrangled the promising youngster away from Anderlecht, and the combative midfielder – who has already drawn comparisons with compatriot and former City star Vincent Kompany – has the potential to make a swift transition to first team football.

Amad Diallo Traore (Manchester United)

Age: 18

Position: Winger

Man Utd raised plenty of eyebrows when they sanctioned a big money over for former Atalanta starlet Amad Diallo Traore, though those in the know will tell you that the Red Devils have signed one of the most exciting young wingers on the continent. Blessed with explosive acceleration and thrilling close control, the Ivorian attacker could make the right wing at Old Trafford his own in 2021.

Sergio Arribas (Real Madrid)

Age: 19

Position: Winger

Arribas was a key member of the Real Madrid squad that won the UEFA Youth League last season, and the gifted wide midfielder made his Champions League bow for Los Blancos against Borussia Mönchengladbach on matchday six last year. The diminutive midfielder is only 5’7” tall, though Arribas’ low centre of gravity makes him a nightmare to mark.

Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)

Age: 17

Position: Midfielder

Born in Germany and raised in London, Musiala swapped Chelsea for Bayern Munich in 2019, where the schemer’s development from youth football to Die Roten’s first team set-up has been rapid. The 17-year-old is already well into double figure appearances for the Bundesliga champions this season, and his involvement is set to increase even further in 2021.

Pedri (Barcelona)

Age: 18

Position: Winger

Pedri signed for Barça in the summer of 2020 after making the breakthrough with boyhood club Las Palmas and the flying winger has already forced his way into Ronald Koeman’s plans at the Camp Nou. Pedri already has 10 La Liga and four Champions League starts under his belt for Los Cules, and the Spanish starlet is certain to add consistency to his flashes of brilliance with more first team exposure.

Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)

Age: 17

Position: Midfielder

Florian Wirtz is already turning heads in the Bundesliga with his ability to beat his marker and his creative distribution. The versatile 17-year-old – who can be deployed in any number of positions – already looks a match winner for Leverkusen, and it won’t be long before Wirtz forces his way into German national team contention.

Hannibal Mejbri (Manchester United)

Age: 17

Position: Midfielder

Hannibal Mejbri was signed from Monaco in France back in 2019 for a huge fee that could reach up to €10m if targets are met, though the fiery midfielder has looked every inch a Man Utd first team player in the making since. Wielding a fantastic passing range and an ability to carry the ball through the lines, the 17-year-old has been holding his own at Under-23 level and he could be offered a sniff of first team football before the end of the 2020/21 campaign.

Illia Zabarnyi (Dynamo Kyiv)

Age: 18

Position: Defender

Centre-half Illia Zabarnyi started all six of Dynamo’s Champions League group games at the back end of 2020 and his impressive performances against some of Europe’s elite also earned him a call-up to the Ukraine national team, where he played four times between October and Christmas. Zabarnyi’s career is on a steep upward trajectory, so don’t be surprised to see his name filling transfer gossip columns soon.

Youssoufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund)

Age: 16

Position: Attacker

One of the most promising members in Dortmund’s stable of wonderkids, Moukoko became the youngest ever player to appear in the Champions League following his Matchday 6 debut against Zenit aged just 16 years and eighteen days, and the pacey forward broke another record when he became the Bundesliga’s youngest ever goalscorer in December when he notched against Union Berlin.

Andrew Omobamidele (Norwich City)

Age: 18

Position: Defender

Norwich City have been churning out plenty of top-quality youngsters in recent seasons, and Irish defender Andrew Omobamidele could the next one of the Carrow Road production line. Right on the periphery of the first team picture at the Canaries, Omobamidele has the skills to earn a starting berth in 2021 and from there, the sky is really the limit for the Dublin-born centre-back.

Dejan Tetek (Reading)

Age: 18

Position: Midfielder

Dejan Tetek has only been given a small taste of first team action with Reading this season, though the clever passer has already long been on the radar of a list of Premier League clubs, with Arsenal and Chelsea believed to be among his biggest admirers. Eligible to play for both Serbia and England, Tetek should have decisions to make about his club and international futures in 2021.

Nuno Mendes (Sporting CP)

Age: 18

Position: Left-back

Schooled on the same training pitches as Luis Figo, Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo, Nuno Mendes is considered the brightest prospect to come out of Sporting CP in a decade. The marauding full-back combines speed with flawless technique down the flank he tends to dominate, and the 18-year-old could command a massive fee if he decides to fly the nest in 2021.

He is an agile left-back with an incredible attacking capability whose speed and versatility are his key weapons. Equally at ease is part of a four-man defence or in a more advanced role as part of a 3-5-2.

Wesley Fofana Leicester City

Wesley Fofana (Leicester City)

Age: 19

Position: Defender

19-yearold French centre-half Wesley Fofana has been a revelation for Leicester City this season, and the exceptionally gifted defender has looked right at home in the Premier League following his move to England from Ligue 1 last summer. Armed with precise tackling skills and an ability to snuff out danger before it develops, Fofana looks set to add to his already burgeoning reputation in 2021.

Yusuf Demir (Rapid Wien)

Age: 17

Position: Midfielder

Yusuf Demir is considered Austria’s hottest prospect, though the attacking midfielder already looks confident enough to deal with such lofty praise and heavy pressure to perform. The 17-year old has already scored his first Champions and Europa League goals despite his tender years, and Demir is expected to go from strength to strength in 2021.

Kaide Gordon (Derby)

Age: 16

Position: Attacker

With quick feet, a keen positional sense and real eye for goal, Kaide Gordon is the jewel the crown at Derby County’s academy, but even though the 16-year-old has only just made his first team bow with the Rams, he has been tipped to move to a Premier League big hitter in the summer. Gordon will have his pick of clubs should he move up a level, and both Man Utd and Liverpool are thought to be vying for his signature.

Jeremy Doku (Rennes)

Age: 18

Position: Winger

Already considered the heir apparent to Eden Hazard, Belgian winger Jeremy Doku has already made four appearances for Roberto Martinez’s team, and after a somewhat subdued start with his new club Rennes in Ligue 1 this season, the 18-year-old is starting to show why he is so highly thought of.

Radu Dragusin Juventus-min

Radu Drăgușin (Juventus)

Age: 18

Position: Centre-half

Towering defender Radu Drăgușin has already made his Serie A and Champions League debuts for a Juventus team notoriously reluctant to throw youngsters in at the deep end, and his inclusion in the Old Lady’s plans highlight just how much potential the young defender possesses. Drăgușin has said that he models his game on Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, and you can certainly see elements of the Dutchman’s game in the Romanian defender’s displays.

Rico Richards (West Brom)

Age: 17

Position: Forward

Richards, who lives three miles from the Baggies training ground, has been at the club since the age of seven, and the quick, creative forward could offer Sam Allardyce a selection problem or two before the end of the current campaign. The England youth international has all the ability required to make it as a Premier League player, now all he needs is a platform to shine.

Amine Gouiri (Nice)

Age: 20

Position: Striker

Moulded in Lyon’s famous academy, Gouiri has scored an eye-watering 45 goals in 52 appearances for France’s youth teams from U16 to U21 level, and the 20-year-old has looked just as deadly since joining Nice last summer. Gouri found the net four times in Europa League group stage games before the turn of the year, and the polished performer should push well into double figures by the end of the season.

Jamal Baptiste (West Ham)

Age: 17

Position: Defender

Tipped to follow in the footsteps of Rio Ferdinand, Irons prospect Jamal Baptiste has been training with the West Ham first team for quite a while now, and the defender – who only signed his first pro deal in November – could well feature for the Hammers before the end of the current campaign.

Daniel Maldini (AC Milan)

Age: 19

Position: Midfielder

As the son of Paolo Maldini’s son and grandson on Cesare Maldini’s grandson, Daniel has plenty of high-class footballing pedigree, though the latest chip off the block plays his game further up the pitch than his famous forebearers. The attacking midfielder still has work to do to fully establish himself, though 2021 should be the year where the Maldini legacy fully lives on through Daniel.


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