They are by far the best known and most successful footballers on the planet, but as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo enter the twilight years of their record-breaking careers, many are beginning to wonder who will take their mantle as the best in the world, once they eventually decide to hang up their boots.
Every year a new crop of youngsters burst onto the scene, and are inevitably labelled as ‘ones to watch’ or ‘wonderkid’ talents who are set to take the game by storm. Not all make the grade, as the pressures and the rigours of the modern game take hold. However, these are a few attacking oriented players who are already making great strides towards global stardom.
1. Marco Asensio – Real Madrid
Considering he was signed from RCD Mallorca for a transfer fee of just €3.9 million plus modest add-ons, Real Madrid certainly bagged themselves a bargain. After remaining with his formative club for the remainder of the 2014-15 season, Asensio enjoyed a successful loan at RCD Espanyol to get his first taste of top-flight La Liga football in Spain. In the subsequent 2016-17 campaign, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane put his faith in the talented young attacking player, which was duly repaid, as Asensio helped the team win both La Liga and the Champions League. Already an established international with Spain, Asensio’s progress has been so impressive with Los Blancos, that he is widely regarded as the long-term successor to Cristiano Ronaldo.
2. Kylian Mbappe – Paris Saint-Germain
In Spain, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were both reportedly in hot pursuit of Kylian Mbappe, following two phenomenally impressive debut seasons with Monaco. Nevertheless, it was Paris Saint-Germain who ultimately swooped to sign a then 18-year-old superstar in the making, in a move rumoured to be valued at around €145 plus a further €35 million in add-ons, making him the most expensive player in the world after his PSG teammate, Neymar. After turning 19 in December 2018, Mbappe continues to make great progress in Ligue 1 and the Champions League, and is already a permanent fixture in the French national team.
3. Ousmane Dembele – FC Barcelona
Enjoying a remarkable rise to prominence over the last few years, Ousmane Dembele will turn 21 in May 2018 and already has three top-flight European clubs under his belt. After his Ligue 1 performances at Rennes dazzled crowds and just one season in their first team, Dembele was packing his bags and heading to the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. He continued to excel in Germany and with absolutely no hesitation, FC Barcelona splashed out €105 million plus an estimated €40 million in add-ons, just after they’d sold Neymar. However, despite being rated amongst the top five of L’Equipe’s annual wonderkid list in 2017, injuries and the stellar form of his attacking teammates have meant only fleeting appearance during his first season with Barcelona.
4. Gabriel Jesus – Manchester City
Boasting a Brazilian Serie A Championship winners medal earned during his debut season with Palmeiras, and exquisite displays of his talent that quickly established Gabriel Jesus regular call-ups to the national team squad, it was inevitable the leading European clubs would soon come calling for this rising star. Manchester City were the first to pounce, and a deal valued at over £50 million was concluded in January 2017. After a promising start, an unfortunate metatarsal limited his appearances to just 11 games, in which he still managed to achieve an impressive 7 goals and 4 assists. During the 2017-18 Premier League season, the form of the 20-year-old has been exceptional as Pep Guardiola’s side march towards silverware on all fronts.