The Early Sub: Top 10 Players Under the Age of 22

Manchester City signed a top notch, young winger in Bernardo Silva from Monaco over the weekend. Having made an incredible impression with the current super academy in the south of France. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City were willing to spend 43 million Euros for the services of the young Portuguese man who was being tempted by many clubs to leave Monaco. He’ll form a frightening young attacking trident with Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, and will have a wonderful opportunity to develop into one of the top players on Earth. City’s signing made me think, who are the top players in the world under the age of 22? This is what I came up with.

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10. Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City). Striker, 20 Years Old

One of the multiple, young jewels at the disposal of the genius, Pep Guardiola, Jesus was bought in August after winning a gold medal with Brazil in the Rio Olympics and joined the Manchester club in January. The typical, wonderfully skilled, full of flare Brazilian player. Jesus used his superb dribbling ability to create space for himself which would result in a knifing, dangerous pass or into an almost always dangerous effort on goal. His finishing ability is also well beyond his years, having already been directly responsible for 11 goals in 10 Premier League appearances for the Citizens. Who knows what City could have been capable of with the Brazilian at the helm of the attack, if he hadn’t gotten injured in February. Unfortunately City had to settle for Sergio Aguero when Jesus went on the shelf. What a crisis (that’s complete sarcasm, Aguero is world class if you haven’t heard). Jesus has scored or assisted in 7 consecutive games where he’s played over 20 minutes, while also registering an 81 percent pass success rate, and delivering a key pass and a dribble every game. Already being one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League, he’ll develop into one of the top strikers on Earth before we know it.

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9. Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund). Left Winger. 20 Years Old

Having came from Rennes in France, Dembele showcased just how dangerous he can be this season in both the Bundesliga and more notably in the Champions League. He appeared in 46 games in all competitions for Dortmund and registered an excellent, 9 goals and 18 assists in his first year. Thomas Tuchel was free to use him on either side of the field as he’s equally as dangerous on the right, as he is on the left. A sublime dribbler with absurd skill, Dembele completed over 3 dribbles a game, (more then Alexis Sanchez, Arjen Robben or Sergio Aguero) while getting fouled almost twice a game (more then Sanchez, Riyad Mahrez, or Robert Lewandowski). His passing accuracy could do with some improvement, with 32 percent of his passes finding a defender, but his passes were almost always positive, forward and attacking. as he lobbed in over 2 key passes a game from the wings. Dembele has plenty to improve upon with not turning the ball over, but there’s no doubt that Dortmund has one of the most lethal, attacking players in the world, and he’s only going to improve.

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8. Sebastian Haller (Eintracht Frankfurt). Striker. 22 Years Old

Bet you’ve never heard of Sebastian Haller before. The newly acquired Eintracht Frankfurt forward, will join the Pokal runners up in the preseason, but it was his exploits with FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie that got him on this list. Having not made the grade in France with Auxerre, Haller has kick started his career with Utrecht, netting 43 goals in 86 games since joining the Dutch side in 2015. A killer in the air, Haller wins more then 5 aerial duels a game in the Eredivisie and scored 14 goals while adding 5 assists in 36 league games. He also accumulated a staggering 8 Man of the Match awards this past season, confirming his status as one of the best strikers in Holland. Now looking to continue his development in the Bundesliga, Germany has a long history of developing some of the world’s best, and barring any injuries, there shouldn’t be a doubt that Haller will join that club and develop into a top striker.

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7. Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord). Center Midfielder. 22 Years Old

Dirk Kuyt is receiving much of the praise after ending Feyenoord’s march to the league title with a hat trick while donning the Captain’s armband and finishing his career. But if you want the true engine of the Dutch champions, look no further then locomotive, Tonny Vilhena. Having already been on the radar of some of the biggest clubs in Europe since last summer, Vilhena chose to stay in Feyenoord for one more season, in order to continue his development. His loyalty to the Rotterdam club was rewarded this season with their first Eredivisie championship since 1999, that followed their cup win last year. Now Vilhena is sure to leave Holland, in pursuit of proving himself to some of the largest clubs on Earth. The 22 year old is a presence in the middle of the pitch, executing an excruciating 2.6 tackles a game while also delivering 1.5 key passes a game. An engine like Makalele, with a passing eye like Xabi Alonso, Vilhena developed a ton under Ronald Koeman during his tenure at the club, and a reunion at Merseyside with Vilhena’s former manager just makes too much sense not to happen.

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6. Thomas Lemar (Monaco). Left Winger. 21 Years Old

Another pacey, and skillful winger with wonderful passing ability, Lemar is yet another special player that have the Sharks swimming around Monaco. Having made 51 appearances for the club this season, Lemar checked in at the end of the season with 14 goals and 14 assists while accumulating 6 Man of the Match awards. Along with just about the rest of the Monaco team, Lemar is tipped to leave the south of France this summer, with Tottenham reportedly all over the winger. He’d be an incredible addition to the North of London, with Harry Kane already receiving world class deliveries from Christian Eriksen from the right, Lemar from the left could be the last piece Tottenham need to go that extra step in the league. Lemar averages 2.2 key passes a game while maintaining an 83 percent pass success rate, which would tell you where all of Kylian Mbappe’s goals come from. Having made 101 appearances in the French top flight, Lemar has netted 17 goals and has added 21 assists while lifting the Ligue 1 trophy this season as part of his accomplishments.

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5. Bertrand Traore (Chelsea). Right Winger. 21 Years Old

Traore may be familiar to English fans as a young, skillful and pacey winger who was just another talent, sent out on loan by Jose Mourinho who was armed with a crowded Chelsea squad. Signed at 19 years old in 2014, Traore was sent out to Vitesse in the Eredivisie for a season and a half where he made 42 league appearances and scored 16 goals. When he returned to the club, Chelsea still didn’t have a place for the young Burkinabe winger, so he was once again sent to Holland but this time with Ajax. He recorded his highest average rating of his career with the storied Amsterdam side and has been developing into an immense threat from the right. Netting 13 goals and adding 5 assists in 41 appearances for Ajax in all comps this season, Traore proved just how dangerous he could be to Holland and all of Europe by clocking in a destructive 3 dribbles per game, 2 key passes per game and over 3 shots a game while showcasing his 5 star skills. Traore does tend to wander on defense and can disappear in games not going his way, showing his immaturity, but the ceiling is high for the winger from Burkina Faso. If Chelsea don’t utilize his talent, then another club will with Lyon reportedly already trying to take him off the Blues’ hands.

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4. Santiago Ascacibar (Estudiantes). Defensive Midfielder. 20 Years Old

Here’s a young jewel from this side of the planet. Ascacibar had made his breakthrough with the historical Argentine club last season, making 16 appearances over the course of 2016, notching an impressive 4 Man of the Match honors in that span. A wonderfully gifted defensive mind, Ascacibar’s 5 tackles, and 3 interceptions per game, allows his side to catch many clubs on the backfoot,  and his passing ability takes part in that as well. His superb passing ability allows him to shift the focus of the team from defense to offense in one carefully placed pass. He delivers over 50 passes a game from the middle of the field and completes over 85 percent of those passes. His incredible exploits last season, earned him a call up to represent Argentina at last year’s Rio Olympics where he started all three games. This season has been more of a rough go for the young Argentine who’s enduring a sophomore slump but that still hasn’t stopped some of the biggest clubs from Italy, Germany, and Spain from calling out to him.

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3. Naby Keita (RB Leipzig). Center Midfielder. 22 Years Old

If you’re a Liverpool fan, then you’re very much aware of Naby Keita in the Bundesliga. Having come up through Ligue 2 and Red Bull Salzburg, Keita was sent to Leipzig to play in the Bundesliga last summer. What came after was a storm, as Germany was hit with the next coming of N’Golo Kante and almost saw Leipzig lift the Bundesliga plate in their 1st try for it. An absolute nuisance in the middle of the park, he registers 2.6 tackles and 2.6 interceptions a game, stopping attacks before they begin. With those staggering defensive numbers, he put up offensive numbers that not even Kante can replicate. Pumping in 8 goals including a game winner in the season opener over Dortmund. His passing is very strong as well, delivering 7 assists while completing 82 percent of his passes and sending in 1.3 key passes a game. That’s not all. The aspect of his game that is almost never talked about is his dribbling and even that’s staggering. Dizzying with the ball at his feet, Keita converts over 2 and a half dribbles a game from the middle of the park, which is surely how he gets all the space needed to send scything passes. After making a name for himself this season, Liverpool is willing to drop 50 million Euros to bring the Guinean to Anfield.

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2. Bruma (Galatasaray). Left Winger. 22 Years Old

Perhaps not too many have heard of the young Bruma, terrorizing the Turkish Super Lig with his blistering pace and blinding skill. Having been shown the door by Sporting CP due to contract disputes, the young Portuguese winger was sold to Gala for 10 million Euros and has been developing his craft ever since. Known as a pacey, skillful winger who couldn’t deliver once in a dangerous position (Zaha much?), Bruma has seemed to figure it all out this season in Istanbul after an unsuccessful loan spell at Real Sociedad last season. The dribbling has always been there and this season has been no different as he converted an incredible 4 and a half dribbles a game (more then everyone else on Earth except for Neymar and Adama Traore), and he added goals to his game this season, netting 11 goals in the league for Gala in 29 games. He’s also added 6 assists while sending over 2 key passes a game, making this season his finest to date. His downsides both include immaturity that perhaps a stern, top coach can smooth over. Already having fought out a contract dispute before his 20th birthday, and getting sent off shortly after a new, unpreferred coach took charge, makes it clear that Bruma needs work with discipline. He’s also a complete defensive liability, leaving the left back to fend for himself for much of a match. Even with his weaknesses, Bruma has an incredible ceiling and it’s gotten the attention of Premier League clubs: Southampton and Leicester looking to add his set of skills to their squad.

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1. Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid). Center back. 22 Years Old

Well here he is. In my opinion, the top player under the age of 22 on Earth. Since signing for Atletico in 2013, Gimenez has already won La Liga and represented Uruguay at a World Cup and 2 Copa Americas while finishing Runners up in the Champions League twice. The great apprentice of defensive mountain, Diego Godin, Gimenez is getting instructed by one of the best defensive minds that Spain has ever seen, in addition to his world class manager Diego Simeone who brought him to the club. An out of this world defender, his timing when going in for tackles is first rate, and his presence in the box is more then felt by opposing attackers, it’s cut out. Anything that gets sent into the Atleti box is more then often given a first class ticket out, by the young Uruguayan defender. He’s also well versed at right back and at defensive midfield where he’s been utilized more then once by El Cholo this season. He was a beast playing in Europe as well, averaging over 3 tackles and interceptions a game while adding almost 8 clearances a game. Eight. What. That’s a clearance once every 12 minutes. With the announcement of Simeone staying in Madrid to see out the opening of their new stadium, Gimenez will be sure to stay as well and continue the incredible defense that Atleti continue to build upon.

Just Missed: Kasper Dolberg (Ajax), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Adrien Rabiot (PSG)

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