Ten teen wonders who could illuminate Qatar
We spotlight ten youngsters who could dazzle at Qatar 2022
All will be teenagers when the 22nd FIFA World Cup kicks off
Argentina, England, Germany, Ghana, Mexico, Spain and USA are represented
Ghana 19 years old 2 caps; 0 goals It's startling to think that, 18 months ago, Afena-Gyan was leading the line for Berekum Presbyterian Senior High School in his native Sunyami. Now, following a meteoric rise, he’s starring for Roma and destined to represent Ghana at the World Cup. Despite his slight stature, Afena-Gyan’s strength and balance enables him to win balls he has no right to, shake off challenges and stay on his feet. He boasts electric pace, skill, and can also score tap-ins, long-range thunderbolts and goals from seemingly impossible angles.
Ghana boast the highest-scoring African in World Cup history in Asamoah Gyan, and other legendary attacking players such as Karim Abdul Razak, Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah. Afena-Gyan has the talent and time to swagger his way into the pantheon they decorate.
Stat At 18 years and 306 days, Afena-Gyan rose from the bench to score his first Roma goals – his second was a sensational strike – and secure a 2-0 win at Genoa in November. Consequently, he became the third-youngest foreigner to score multiple goals in a Serie A game after Alexandre Pato (18 years and 147 days) and Valeri Bojinov (17 years and 337 days). Did you know? After his opener against Genoa, Afena-Gyan raced to the touchline to remind Jose Mourinho he’d promised him a pair of designer trainers if he scored in Serie A. The following day, the Portuguese coach presented the then 18-year-old with an €800 pair of Balenciaga sneakers. Quote “He’s a diamond. He’s 19 years old – it’s hard to believe. He’s so creative, his movement is great, and defensively he gives it his all.” Otto Addo
England 18 years old 12 caps; 0 goals Physically indomitable and technically brilliant, Bellingham has been likened to two of the greatest midfielders of the last 30 years in Patrick Vieira and Steven Gerrard. Another of them, the notoriously difficult to impress Roy Keane, has uncharacteristically waxed lyrical about the Borussia Dortmund midfielder on multiple occasions. The Bellingham bandwagon just keeps getting bulkier. A who’s who of the sport’s most prestigious clubs are reportedly desperate to seize the signature of a player Gareth Southgate believes can function as a No6, a No8 or a No10.
Stat 140 years had passed since a 17-year-old played the full 90 minutes for England until Jude Bellingham did against Austria last year. He later became the youngest player in UEFA EURO history – a record Poland’s Kacper Kozlowski nonetheless broke six days later. Did you know? Despite only playing one season for the Birmingham City first team – he had become, shortly after turning 16, their youngest-ever player – the club incredibly retired Bellingham’s No22 jersey when he left for Dortmund in 2019. Quote “The potential for this kid… it is scary. He is a good size, he looks like a footballer, he looks like a boxer. He is a strong, powerful boy and Gareth must be rubbing his hands together. He’s an amazing talent.” Roy Keane
Mexico 18 years old 1 cap; 0 goals Wondering how someone who has never even made a top-tier appearance at club level has an international cap to his name? It’s because Flores is really special. Besides, Mexico coach Tata Martino witnessed Javier Mascherano do the same, and ‘El Jefecito’ (The Little Chief) went on to have an outstanding career. Flores, who has been unstoppable for Arsenal’s youth sides, chose Mexico over Canada and England. After electrifying in their 2-1 win over USA at U-20 level in November, the jet-heeled dribble wizard was promoted into the senior squad and made his debut in a 2-2 draw with Chile. Nicknamed ‘The Mexican Messi’ – he grew up idolising ‘La Pulga Atomica’ – Flores has been infatuating Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain and has ambition in abundance. “I want to star at the World Cup and go on to become the best player in the world,” he declared.
Did you know? Flores was discovered by chance by while visiting his father in the Cayman Islands, where the latter worked as the women’s national team coach. An Ipswich Town scout was amazed by Marcelo’s talent and the rest is history. Stat Ruben and Susan Flores have three kids, and all three are footballers at different London clubs. Arsenal prospect Marcelo’s sisters Silvana and Tatiana play for Tottenham and Chelsea respectively. Quote “He’s a huge talent. He’s very skilful and he always demands the ball. It’s very exciting for Mexicans to have this player.” Tata Martino
Spain 17 years old 6 caps; 0 goals Gavi is a quintessential La Masia product, a Xavi-Andres Iniesta hybrid who seems destined to become of the finest players on the planet. With extrasensory vision, impeccable control, an exorbitant footballing IQ, and exceptional passing and dribbling, he is a dream offensively, but the ferocious tackler is also wowing with his defensive output, with Dani Alves lauding his “competitive madness”. Gavi became the youngest player in the 101-year history of the Spanish national team in October, responding by dazzling as Luis Enrique’s men ended Italy’s world-record 37-game unbeaten run. He is now a firm fixture in the Roja midfield.
Stats In October 2021, at 17 years and 80 days, Gavi became the youngest player to start El Clásico in 80 years. In February, he became the second-youngest player to score against Atletico Madrid in La Liga. The youngest remains Raul, whose first professional goal came in El Derbi Madrileño in 1994. The forward had, ironically, only joined Real when Atleti shut down their youth academy. Did you know? Gavi, who will be 18 years and 110 days when Spain kick off their campaign, will eclipse Cesc Fabregas and become the youngest player to appear for Spain in a World Cup if he plays in Qatar. If he finds the target during the tournament, the Los Palacios y Villafranca native will become the youngest European to score. The record currently belongs to Michael Owen, who was 18 years and 191 days when he netted for England against Romania in 1998. Quote “He’s spectacular. He plays like he’s in the schoolyard or the backyard. He’s the future and the present of the national team.” Luis Enrique
USA 19 years old 16 caps; 0 goals Gareth Southgate made a personal plea to sway Musah into committing his senior international future to England, but the NYC native chose to be part of the most exciting USA generation ever. The Valenica man, who often plays on the right of a midfield three, boasts power, sprinter’s pace and electrifying dribbling. He has taken inspiration from N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Christian Pulisic, reportedly interested Barcelona, and delivered a magnificent, man-of-the-match performance in a 0-0 in Mexico last month that pushed USA towards the line in Qatar 2022 qualifying.
Stat At the age of 17 years and 337 days, Musah became the second-youngest player to score for Valencia in La Liga. The youngest was Juan Mena in 1941. Did you know? Musah was born in New York City to Ghanaian parents. He grew up in Italy and England, where he was on the books at Arsenal before joining Valencia. Musah won over 30 caps for the Three Lions at youth level. Quote “Stopping him is a big problem for any team. He constantly drives at defences. He’s so fast, agile, mobile and keeps the ball close to his feet.” Gregg Berhalter
Germany 19 years old 11 caps; 1 goal Germany have registered some pivotal defeats of England over the years. Securing the senior future of this wunderkind, who wore three blue lions on his badge at U-15, U-16, U-17 and U-21 level, could prove one of their biggest. An excellent dribbler boasting illimitable energy and a rasping shot, the question is where Musiala will attempt to write his legacy. He says he prefers to operate in behind a striker, but he can also play out wide, up front and as a box-to-box midfielder. Already a key player for Bayern Munich, he is a forerunner for the Best Young Player award won by Lukas Podolski at Germany 2006 and Thomas Muller at South Africa 2010.
Stats At 17 years and 115 days, Musiala outranked the likes of Toni Kroos, David Alaba and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to become the youngest player to represent Bayern in the Bundesliga – a record he since lost to 16-year-old Paul Wanner. At the UEFA EURO last year, Musiala became the youngest player to appear for Germany at a major tournament. Did you know? Musiala attributes his footballing intelligence to playing chess in his youth, and his agility to training in the Korean martial art Hapkido. Quote “He has unbelievable potential. It's extraordinary. He has great finishing qualities. Unbelievable attacking qualities also in his dribbling with the ball. He has the basis for an outstanding career.” Julian Nagelsmann
Spain 19 years old 12 caps; 0 goals Pedri is probably the most-hyped teenager on planet football – and, boy, is it justified. His indecipherable dribbling and palatial passing – he has patented the back-heeled through-ball – have made him the protagonist in the rejuvenation of Barcelona and Spain. Pedri’s ability to retain possession when it looks like the ball is lost is constantly compared to that of Lionel Messi, although it is with Andres Iniesta that the Canarian is most often juxtaposed. And if people may presently debate whether Juan Roman Riquelme, Ronaldinho, Luis Suarez or Messi is the 21st century nutmeg king, there may be a rare footballing consensus by the time Pedri hangs up his boots.
Stat At 18 years and 215 days against Croatia in the Round of 16, Pedri broke Wayne Rooney’s record to become the youngest players to appear in a knockout game at the UEFA EURO. Did you know? Pedri is the holder of the Golden Boy, an award given to the best youngster in Europe. Previous winners include Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Pedri could become the first player to win the Golden Ball, which was first awarded in 2003, twice. Quote “He reminds me a lot of Andres Iniesta. If we’re talking about pure talent, Pedri is the best in the world.” Xavi
USA 19 years old 11 caps; 3 goals The Stars and Stripes look to have finally settled on a spearhead. Pepi is strong, accomplished at holding the ball up and bringing others into play, moves elusively and can finish. His recent move to Augsburg in the Bundesliga will certainly aid his ascent. Inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gabriel Jesus, can the man they call ‘El Tren’ (The Train) wreak havoc on defences in Qatar? Stat The then FC Dallas forward became, at just 18, the youngest player to score an MLS hat-trick last year. Did you know? Pepi is an accomplished golfer who also enjoys playing FIFA. Quote “Ricardo Pepi is probably the best natural finisher that the US has ever had. When you watch Pepi score, his goals are similar to a Lewandowski. He scores in every single way, from everywhere on the pitch.” Heath Pearce
Argentina 17 years old 0 caps He may be the only uncapped player on this list, but Romero’s spectacular ascent underlines why he’s in with a shot at becoming the youngest Argentinian to play in a World Cup. The then Mallorca gem became the youngest player in La Liga history in 2020, the youngest to represent Lazio last year, and was recently called into the senior Albiceleste squad by Lionel Scaloni. A little, left-footed playmaker with exceptional dribbling who is hard to knock off the ball, it’s another Lionel to whom Romero is often compared. ‘The Mini Flea’ apparently wowed the daddy flea, ‘La Pulga Atomica’ himself, in Argentina training last month. Can Romero join Messi on the flight to Qatar?
Did you know? Romero was born in Mexico but moved to Spain as a three-year-old due to his father, a defensive midfielder, going to play in the lower leagues there. Stat Romero, who will turn 18 the day Qatar 2022 kicks off, could become the eighth-youngest player to play in the World Cup. Quote “I have never seen a kid of his age with such talent or such determination. He trains ferociously.” Maurizio Sarri
Germany 18 years old 4 caps; 0 goals Playing north of Wirtz is a striker’s dream, as Patrik Schick has attested. A through-ball emperor, the pride of Pulheim has quick feet and ostrich’s stamina. Wirtz was recently devastated by an ACL tear, but Germany coach Hansi Flick is determined to take him to Qatar. “I'm utterly convinced that he will be back in time,” said general manager Oliver Bierhoff. “He has a World Cup to aim for, he's young and he's nimble. We will offer him as much support as we can.” Stat The Bayer Leverkusen playmaker, just one month after his 17th birthday, became the youngest marksman in Bundesliga history in June 2020. Youssoufa Moukoko went on to break that record. Did you know? His sister Juliane helped Germany finish runners-up at the UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship in 2019. Florian went one better last year, inspiring the nation to UEFA U-21 EURO glory. Quote “Florian is outstanding technically. He loves to play, is very creative, has a powerful shot, never stops running and is quick. He’s the total package.” Hansi Flick