1. Phil Jones, Manchester United, 19. The undoubted young star of the Premier League so far and with every passing game looks like an absolute steal for a fee believed to be around 16.5 million pounds. Whether at right back or in central defence, Jones has been imperious defensively and his forays forward have been both exciting and effective. Comparisons with Busby Babe Duncan Edwards and call-ups to the full England squad have added to the allure and at this early stage of the campaign Jones is an absolute shoo-in for Young Player of the Season.
2. Xherdan Shaqiri, Basel, 19. With five days to go until his 20th birthday, Shaqiri only just makes the list but made an indelible impression on world football last month when he scored a hat-trick for Switzerland in a 3-1 win over Bulgaria in Euro 2012 qualifying. The Kosovo-born attacking midfielder has also played his part in Basel’s solid start to the campaign and there must be a number of clubs that are kicking themselves for not taking the plunge during the summer transfer window.
3. Mario Gotze, Borussia Dortmund, 19. However well the young German plays this season, it was 2010/2011 where he made his breakthrough as Dortmund won the Bundesliga but there have been further signs that Gotze has the talent to be a major player for club and country. Franz Beckenbauer has compared Gotze to Lionel Messi whilst his performance against Brazil in August, where he scored his first international goal, was sensational.
4. Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace, 18. The Crystal Palace conveyor belt of talent may well have unearthed their best yet. It could be paper (or agent) talk but there is a reason Zaha has been linked with the likes of Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich in recent weeks. The forward has prospered under Dougie Freedman and is just as comfortable providing goals as scoring them. Zaha’s stand out performance came at bitter rivals Brighton where he scored one and assisted one in a stunning late Palace comeback win.
5. M’Baye Niang, Caen, 16. The man-boy striker was linked with a fair few big clubs in the summer including PSG and Spurs but his progress continues at Caen. Niang has already played 326 Ligue 1 minutes this season, 12 shy of his total in 2010/2011. His first goal came at the end of September against Evian and Niang also notched for the France Under-21 side against Latvia at the beginning of last month. In the long term Caen have no chance of holding on to their young star but the amount of game time Niang is getting now should bode well for the future.
6. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal, 18. The Gunners may have had a woeful start to their Premier League campaign, but some things will always remain consistent under Arsene Wenger: a youngster has taken their chance in the cup competitions. Chamberlain has scored goals against Shrewsbury and Olympiakos to suggest he could be another former Southampton youth product with plenty of pace but also the finishing to go with it. Fabio Capello’s recent hint that Chamberlain could be part of his Euro 2012 squad only confirms his rapid ascent.
7. Iker Muniain, Athletic Bilbao, 18. Since this is Muniain’s third full season as a first team player it is easy to forget how young he is. Part of the victorious Spanish Under-21 European Championship side in the summer, the Bart Simpson look-a-like has been a crucial part of the Marcelo Bielsa revolution in the Basque country and scored a delightful “Sombrero” goal against Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League.
8. Lucas Silva, Sao Paulo, 19. Whilst the hype surrounding Neymar knows no bounds, Lucas is quietly going about his business and scoring goals for club and country. A significant feature of almost all his goals are lung bursting runs where he beats a number of opponents followed by calm unerring finishes. His recent goal for Brazil against Argentina also showed how devastating he can be on the break. A ridiculous transfer fee will be needed to prise him from Sao Paulo.
9. Thibaut Courtois, Atletico Madrid (on loan from Chelsea), 19. Whilst the likes of Josh McEachran, Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu have received limited playing time at Stamford Bridge, Courtois is making a name for himself in Spain, with little or no fanfare so far in the English press. Besides the predictable 5-0 hammering at Barcelona, Courtois has been hugely impressive for Atletico with only Radamel Falcao’s form keeping the attention on the young Belgian low key. Four clean sheets in his opening six matches speaks for itself.
10. Raphael Varane, Real Madrid, 19. Twelve months ago the giant Real Madrid defender was appearing in the Lens youth team. On the advice of Zinedine Zidane Los Blancos took the plunge and five appearances for the Spanish giants later and the comparisons with Fernando Hierro don’t look far fetched at all. A stunning back heel flick goal against Rayo Vallecano, making him the youngest foreign player to score for Real Madrid, has only added to the hype.
11. Neymar, Santos, 19. Quite simply the Santos forward is the great talent of world football at the moment and the walking showboat regularly pulls out flicks, tricks and skills that have been nicknamed by some bloggers as “Neymar porn.” Constant rumours of a move to Real Madrid have not prevented Neymar producing the goods for Santos on the pitch, despite many high profile appearances off it. A move to Spain is a certainty, the pressure on home soil during the 2014 World Cup will be absolutely immense.