U-20's Class of 2017 making the grade

Graduates from the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 are finding themselves at the heart of some of Europe’s biggest sides, according to analysis by the CIES Football Observatory.

Still shy of their 22nd birthdays, and less than 18 months since the title was handed to England in Suwon, some of the future stars who cut their teeth in east Asia have become pivotal club components.

An U-20 World Cup trio of Ruben Dias (Benfica, Portugal), Santiago Ascacibar (Stuttgart, Argentina) and Paul Bernardoni (Nimes, France) have played every minute of the league season so far, in a study of the players born since 1 January 1997 to have featured most in England, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain*.

The ever-presence of Dias, who captained Portugal in Korea Republic and was thrust further into the spotlight having been selected as part of Fernando Santos's squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, is actually even more impressive.

The up-and-coming centre-back, championed by Selecoes veteran Bruno Alves as a future star, has played every minute for the Lisbon giants since 7 January. A substitution nine minutes from time in the opening match of the year – against cross-city rivals Sporting – is the only blip throughout his 2018 in the league. An impressive 99.7 per cent attendance for the Águias.

Paul Bernardoni, Santiago Ascacibar and Ruben Dias at Korea Republic 2017
NameClub/CountryPositionMinutes (%)
Santiago AscacibarStuttgart/ArgentinaMidfielder100
Paul BernardoniNimes/FranceGoalkeeper100
Ruben DiasBenfica/PortugalDefender100
Nicolo BarellaCagliari/ItalyDefender99
Allan Saint-MaximinNice/FranceMidfielder95

Bernardoni, meanwhile, leads the way in showing that Russia 2018 winners France potentially have plenty of talent in their midst from the side that reached the Round of 16 last year. The likes of Nice’s Allan Saint-Maximin, Ibrahima Sissoko of Strasbourg and Nantes’s Enock Kwateng have been on the field for more than 82 per cent of the French Ligue 1 season so far.

It's a figure matched by Issa Diop at West Ham United in the English Premier League, with Alban Lafont of Fiorentina spending 77 per cent of the time between the Serie A sticks in Italy, completing a Bleuet sextet.

Italy is also where you’ll find the only two medallists who can claim to be serious regulars at their teams this season. Namely Italian bronze winners Nicolo Barella and Rolando Mandragora, of Cagliari and Udinese respectively.

However, Serie A lags third behind Ligue 1’s collective youthful ranks – with 14.4 per cent of minutes across the league being played by those aged 21 or younger – and the German Bundesliga, on 14.7 per cent, where Ascacibar – who wore the captain’s armband for Argentina at Korea Republic 2017 – has duly been benefiting.

*Statistics correct as of 8 November 2018