April 24, 2024


Exercise makes you strong

Pedri, Greenwood, Saka, Reyna among world’s football’s top teenagers

Pedri has been ranked as the most experienced teenager in world football after the Barcelona and Spain midfielder’s extended 2020-21 season turned into something of an odyssey.

According to a study by the CIES Football Observatory, Pedri — who played 73 competitive games for club and country last term — is far and away the most seasoned professional men’s player yet to celebrate his 20th birthday.

The CIES data takes into account total minutes played in senior matches for club and country from the start of 2021, weighted against the level of the various competitions involved.

Given that his appearances came in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League for Barca as well as World Cup qualifiers, international friendlies, Euro 2020 and the Olympics for Spain, it’s perhaps no surprise to find Pedri leading the way, with Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood and Ryan Gravenberch of Ajax some way behind in second and third place, respectively.

United States prodigy Giovanni Reyna has a berth just outside the top 10, with the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder occupying 13th place in the overall ranking.

Here’s a closer look at those players at the top of the table, taken from the CIES Top 100 footballers aged under 20, who have been ranked in terms of accumulated minutes/appearances and goals in official senior matches prior to Aug. 16, 2021.

– ESPN+ guide: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, more (U.S.)
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
– Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access

1. Pedri Gonzalez (Barcelona)

Born: 2002
Minutes: 3,827
Matches: 49
Goals: 2

Pedri rapidly established himself as a staple for Barca in his breakthrough season before embarking on a gruelling summer schedule that included not one but two major tournaments for Spain. Firstly, the midfielder became the youngest player ever to represent Spain at a European Championship and played every single minute of his nation’s run to the semifinals, barring the 60 seconds of rest he was granted at the very end of their extra-time win over Switzerland in the quarters. Just 16 days later, Pedri joined up with the Spain under-23 side to take part in the Olympics, making another six appearances before losing to Brazil in the gold medal match — thus bringing his mammoth 310-day long season to an overdue conclusion. The very briefest of holidays was enjoyed before Pedri’s 2021-22 campaign began just eight days later, when he played all 90 minutes of Barca’s opening league fixture of the season (a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad).

2. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United)

Born: 2001
Minutes: 2,327
Matches: 26
Goals: 10

The highest-scoring teenager in the Top 20 with 10 goals to his name in 2021, Greenwood had been on the cusp of the United first team since making his debut against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League back in March 2019, before scoring 12 goals the following season. However, it looks like Ole Gunnar Solksjaer may be ready to entrust his young striker with a more prominent role come 2021-22, with Greenwood scoring two goals in United’s first two games of the season, playing all 180 minutes of action so far.

Born: 2002
Minutes: 2,167
Matches: 27
Goals: 0

Mendes is a 19-year-old left-back whose impressive versatility and work rate has seen him also deployed further up the flank by Sporting in 2020-21 as the club wrapped up the Primeira Liga title for the first time since 2002. The youngster also earned his first senior international cap for Portugal in early 2021 and went on to be selected for Euro 2020 duty, though he didn’t make an appearance at the finals.

4. Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax)

Born: 2002
Minutes: 2,790
Matches: 37
Goals: 4

Conjuring images of Ajax central midfielders of old, Gravenberch is technically adept and positionally dynamic, while also boasting a blockbuster of a long-range shot in his arsenal. Gravenberch became the youngest Ajax player to play in the Eredivisie when he made his debut aged 16 back in September 2018, breaking a long-standing record that previously belonged to the great Clarence Seedorf.

5. Matheus Martinelli (Fluminense)

Born: 2001
Minutes: 2,898
Matches: 36

Brazilian 19-year-old midfielder Martinelli is the highest-ranked teenager on the CIES list who plays outside of Europe, though given the fervent interest in his talent that is unlikely to be the case for much longer. The deep-lying maestro has become a regular for Flu in 2021, having previously been a central member of the club’s vaunted under-17 side that dominated Brazilian youth football.

Born: 2001
Minutes: 1,681
Matches: 20
Goals: 1

Another young star of Sporting’s title-winning heroes, former academy graduate Inacio has garnered a reputation as a stylish and dependable centre-back despite being just 19 years old.

Born: 2001
Minutes: 2,470
Matches: 33
Goals: 6

One of very few reasons for optimism among Arsenal fans is the continued progress of Saka, who is already comfortably ranked as one of the most exciting young stars in world football. Effervescent, fearless and versatile, the 19-year-old winger has excelled for club and country since making his professional debut in 2019-20, proving a popular figure among neutrals — even Tottenham supporters, who afforded him a heartwarming ovation after his tribulations with England over the summer.

8. Fabricio Diaz (Liverpool FC, Uruguay)

Born: 2003
Minutes: 2,478
Matches: 30
Goals: 1

An 18-year-old defensive midfielder with nearly 60 games for Liverpool tucked away under his belt already, Diaz is one of the few players born in 2003 to make the CIES rundown.

Born; 2002
Minutes: 2,042
Matches: 27
Goals: 3

Rennes winger Doku is undoubtedly one of the most exciting attacking talents in European football at the moment, with several elite Premier League clubs reported to be extremely interested in his progress following a couple of blistering cameos for Belgium at Euro 2020.

Born: 2003
Minutes: 2,169
Matches: 34
Goals: 3

Another member of the 2003 brigade, Dortmund star Bellingham has already had his shirt number retired at former club Birmingham City despite being younger than “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. You suspect a glorious future awaits though that’s not to say the present isn’t impressive in its own right, with the composed central midfielder already racking up plenty of senior international caps.

Born: 2003
Minutes: 1,719
Matches: 23
Goals: 5

Wirtz became the first 17-year-old ever to score five Bundesliga goals when he reached that tally with a header against Stuttgart back in February. The latest Leverkusen wunderkind off the production line scored five goals and made five assists in 29 Bundesliga appearances in 2020-21, as the records tumbled and toppled all around him.

12. Lucas Calegari (Fluminense)

Born: 2002
Minutes: 2,040
Matches: 25
Goals: 0

A Brazilian right-back with a penchant for an overlapping charge, Calegari has already been tipped to make a big move to European football sooner rather than later having locked down a regular place in the Flu starting XI.

13. Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)

Born: 2002
Minutes: 1,794
Matches: 32
Goals: 7

Another young star in Dortmund’s first team, Reyna burst onto the Bundesliga scene as a 17-year-old by scoring a truly memorable solo effort against Werder Bremen. A generational U.S. talent, Reyna recently pledged his future to Dortmund until 2025 and has inherited Jadon Sancho’s No. 7 jersey following the winger’s transfer to Manchester United.

Born: 2002
Minutes: 1,657
Matches: 25

One of the hottest prospects in French football after his all-action performances in midfield for Rennes last season, Camavinga is said to be close to taking the next step up the ladder, with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain all interested. He also scored on his first senior start for France by converting a cheeky overhead kick against Ukraine in 2020, becoming Les Bleus’ youngest goal scorer in over a century in the process.

15. Octavian Popescu (FCSB)

Born: 2002
Minutes: 2,326
Matches: 32
Goals: 6

Popescu is already being mentioned in the same breath as Gheorghe Hagi and Adrian Mutu among Romanian football fans, such is the expectation that the FCSB starlet has the potential to be the country’s next great footballing talent. The fleet-footed forward has started the new Liga 1 season in fine form, scoring two goals in his first six league outings.