Project 2000: The latest update in our definitive list of Europe's 30 best young players

·13-min read
Project 2000: The latest update in our definitive list of Europe's 30 best young players
Project 2000: The latest update in our definitive list of Europe's 30 best young players

Across the continent, young footballers born since 2000 are making their mark. Telegraph Sport’s ‘Project 2000’ provides a definitive list of the 30 best young players who are currently playing in European leagues.

From the goalscoring machines to the defensive prodigies, this is the third instalment in our series analysing the stars who look set to dominate the game for the next decade. Only those who were born after January 1, 2000 have been considered.

30. Curtis Jones (Liverpool and England) - new entry

Age: 20
Position: Midfielder
One of the great young talents in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. Jones has shown regular flashes of his ability in recent seasons, and made 24 appearances in the Premier League last year. A creative midfielder with superb technical skill, Jones has benefited from the unfortunate injury to Harvey Elliott this season and started four of Liverpool’s last five games before this international break.

29. Bryan Gil (Tottenham Hotspur and Spain) - down from 20th

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Gil was dubbed the “little Johan Cruyff” in Spain as he became one of the most thrilling players in La Liga while playing for Eibar last season. His performances earned him a move to Tottenham this summer, for a fee of around £20m, and the early signs are promising. He is being eased into English football but the talent is there for all to see.

28. Wesley Fofana (Leicester City and France) - down from 11th

Age: 20
Position: Defender
A revelation for Leicester last year, following his £30m move from Saint-Etienne. Fofana already appears to be the complete defender and he adjusted seamlessly to Europe’s most competitive league. A broken leg has unfortunately ruled him out for months of this campaign, and it is clear that Leicester are missing him.

27. Rodrygo Goes (Real Madrid and Brazil) - down from 25th

Age: 20
Position: Winger
It is a measure of Rodrygo’s talent that Real Madrid agreed to pay Santos around £40m for his services when he was just 17. The Brazilian has not yet made himself indispensable for his club, although there have been more than enough moments of quality to suggest he has a big future in the Spanish capital. He scored a late winner in a Champions League match at Inter Milan earlier this season.

26. Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal and England) - up from 30th

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
A key part of the Arsenal team who was handed both a new contract and the No 10 shirt before the start of this season. Smith Rowe is on the verge of a call-up to the England senior side and he continues to impress for Mikel Arteta’s side. He brings the best out of his team-mates for Arsenal, who often rely on the youngster’s creativity.

25. Jonathan David (Lille and Canada) - new entry

Age: 21
Position: Striker
A return of six goals from the opening nine league games means that David is the joint-top scorer in Ligue 1 this season. The Canadian played a key role in Lille’s unexpected title triumph last season, scoring 13 times in the league, and he has notched an impressive 16 goals in 19 appearances for his country. David was signed by Lille from Gent in August 2020, for a reported fee of around £25m.

 Jonathan David of Canada battles for possesion with Jesus Gallardo of Mexico during the match between Mexico and Canada as part of the Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Azteca Stadium on October 07, 2021 in Mexico City, - GETTY IMAGES
Jonathan David of Canada battles for possesion with Jesus Gallardo of Mexico during the match between Mexico and Canada as part of the Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier at Azteca Stadium on October 07, 2021 in Mexico City, - GETTY IMAGES

24. Sergiño Dest (Barcelona and United States) - down from 19th

Age: 20
Position: Full-back
A product of the Ajax youth system, Dest made his first-team breakthrough in the Netherlands in the 2019/20 season before earning a move to Barcelona in a deal worth around £24m. The attacking right-back grew in influence last season and is set to be a key part of Barcelona’s rebuild.

23. Jeremy Doku (Rennes and Belgium) - new entry

Age: 19
Position: Winger
There are few players in world football who can keep up with Doku when the Belgium winger hits his stride, and his electric running provided some of the most exciting moments of his country’s European Championship campaign in the summer. A hamstring injury has slowed his progress at the start of this season.

22. Nuno Mendes (Paris Saint-Germain and Portugal) - new entry

Age: 19
Position: Left-back
Mendes was hardly the most high-profile summer arrival at PSG but he is beginning to have a significant impact for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. The teenager started four of the last five matches before this international break, having joined the club from Sporting on loan with an option to buy for a reported £34m.

21. Gavi (Barcelona and Spain) - new entry

Age: 17
Position: Midfielder
A player few outside of Barcelona would have known a few weeks ago, but now one of the most talked-about names in the footballing world. What a start to the season it has been for Gavi, who last week became the youngest player in Spain’s history. He did so against the mighty Italy, and he was brilliant. “We are talking about a case that is not normal,” said his national team manager, Luis Enrique. Gavi will no doubt fly up this list as he plays more games.

20. Aurélien Tchouaméni (Monaco and France) - up from 24th

Age: 21
Position: Midfielder
A star of the Ligue 1 campaign last year, Tchouaméni is arguably the standout player of an exciting Monaco team. He broke through at Bordeaux before joining Monaco in January 2020 for a fee that could rise to £17m. Energetic off the ball and composed with it, he is now a full France international.

19. Sandro Tonali (Milan and Italy) - up from 26th

Age: 21
Position: Midfielder
Tonali has been frequently compared to Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, who last year described his heir apparent as the best midfielder in Serie A. Tonali broke through at Brescia before joining Milan in September 2020. After a difficult first campaign, he has been in terrific form for his club this season.

18. Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina and Serbia) - new entry

Age: 21
Position: Striker
An asking price of around £50m this summer was an indication of how highly Fiorentina rate Vlahovic, their powerful and prolific young striker. The Serbia international scored 21 goals in 40 appearances for his club last season, and has already scored six times in eight matches this time around. Tottenham have shown interest and he seems destined for a big move soon.

17. Dominik Szoboszlai (RB Leipzig and Hungary) - up from 27th

Age: 20
Position: Attacking midfielder
Szoboszlai registered 26 goals and 35 assists in 83 matches for Red Bull Salzburg before moving to RB Leipzig for £23m. A wonderful late goal against Iceland secured Hungary’s place at Euro 2020 and he is now rediscovering his form after a long-term injury ruled him out for the second half of last season.

16. Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund and United States) - down from 15th

Age: 18
Position: Attacking midfielder
Reyna has already made 69 appearances for Dortmund, despite only turning 18 in November. A return of four goals in nine appearances for his country is another indication of his abilities in the final third of the pitch. When fully fit, there are few more exciting young attackers in the world.

15. Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich and Germany) - down from 13th

Age: 18
Position: Attacking midfielder
The one that got away from England. Musiala spent most of his childhood in England and represented them at youth level before choosing to play for Germany instead. The teenager has the potential to be one of Bayern’s most important players for the next decade at least, and has already scored four goals in 10 club appearances this season.

14. Ferran Torres (Manchester City and Spain) - up from 16th

Age: 21
Position: Winger
Signed by Manchester City from Valencia last summer for £21m, Torres has offered a regular goal-threat for arguably Europe’s best team. When he plays, he tends to score. The challenge now is for him to find a way of playing more regularly in a team of City’s attacking depth. He is deadly in front of goal for Spain.

13. Ansu Fati (Barcelona and Spain) - down from ninth

Age: 18
Position: Forward
If it were not for a serious knee injury last season, Fati might well have been fighting for the top spot in this list. Such is Fati’s quality that Barcelona handed him the No 10 shirt when Lionel Messi left for PSG this summer. For a club in turmoil, Fati offers hope for the future. If he can fulfil his potential, he could be one of the world’s best.

12. Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax and Holland) - no change

Age: 19
Position: Midfielder
The biggest clubs in Europe are queuing up to sign Gravenberch, who became Ajax’s youngest league debutant when he was only 16. A powerful and imposing midfielder with great technical skill, he is often compared to Paul Pogba. He made 47 appearances for Ajax last season and is growing in stature with the national team.

11. Eduardo Camavinga (Real Madrid and France) - down from seventh

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Camavinga, an all-action midfielder, became the youngest player in Rennes’ history when he made his debut at 16, and then became the youngest player to score for France in more than 100 years — doing so with an overhead kick. He joined Madrid this summer, for a fee of around £35m.

10. Jadon Sancho (Manchester United and England) - down from third

Age: 21
Position: Winger
A slow start to life at United has caused Sancho to fall down this list, although it is surely only a matter of time before he rediscovers his best form. The £73m move from Borussia Dortmund this summer brought immense pressure for the winger, who scored 50 goals and registered 57 assists in 137 appearances in Germany.

 Jadon Sancho of England looks on during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Andorra and England at Estadi Nacional on October 09, 2021 in Andorra la Vella - GETTY IMAGES
Jadon Sancho of England looks on during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Andorra and England at Estadi Nacional on October 09, 2021 in Andorra la Vella - GETTY IMAGES

9. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United and England) - up from 10th

Age: 20
Position: Forward
Deadly with either foot and capable of playing across the front line, Greenwood is fast becoming one of United’s most important players. The arrival of Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo at United has done nothing to slow down Greenwood, who has struck three goals in seven Premier League appearances so far this season.

8. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid and Brazil) - up from 14th

Age: 21
Position: Winger
Expectations have always been high for a player who was signed by Madrid when he was just 16, in a deal worth £38.7m, and the Brazilian is starting to prove he was worth the hype. Only two players have scored more goals in this season’s La Liga, with Vinicius proving to be a driving force in the Madrid attack with five goals in eight league appearances so far.

7. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal and England) - up from eighth

Age: 20
Position: Winger
One of the leading youngsters in the Premier League continues to go from strength to strength for club and country. Saka played a key role in England’s run to the final of the European Championship this summer and is consistently the best player in an Arsenal team which regularly relies on him to produce something special.

6. Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany) - up from 18th

Age: 18
Position: Attacking midfielder
Originally seen as Leverkusen’s replacement for Kai Havertz, Wirtz is already doing enough to suggest he might surpass his countryman. It has been a quite remarkable start to the campaign for the 18-year-old, who has scored four goals and registered five assists in six Bundesliga matches so far this season. The biggest clubs in the world will be scrambling for his signature soon enough.

5. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund and England) - up from sixth

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
In his first season at Dortmund, following his £25m move from Birmingham City, Bellingham made 46 senior appearances and proved himself to be one of the world’s most gifted young midfielders. He has looked at home in the Champions League, seemingly getting better with each game, and never seems out of place when playing for England.

4. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich and Canada) - no change

Age: 20
Position: Full-back
Arguably the world’s most exciting full-back, irrespective of age. Davies played an important part in Bayern’s treble success in 2020 and continues to impress for Germany’s most powerful team. Davies, who was born in a refugee camp, is also growing in stature off the field. This year he became the first footballer (and the first Canadian) to become an ambassador for the United Nations refugee charity UNHCR. He is the first footballer to ever be named Canadian athlete of the year.

3. Phil Foden (Manchester City and England) - down from second

Age: 21
Position: Attacking midfielder
Left wing, right wing, false nine, central midfield. Wherever Foden plays, he impresses. The rising star of English football is already one of the most watchable players in the world. It is frightening to think that there is still so much more to come from a youngster who has long been seen as one of the most gifted youngsters to come through the English youth system. Described by Pep Guardiola as “the most talented player” he has ever seen, Foden has the potential to become one of the English game’s most decorated stars.

2. Pedri (Barcelona and Spain) - up from fifth

Age: 18
Position: Midfielder
Teenagers should not be doing what Pedri was doing for Spain in the European Championships this summer. He was one of the stars of the competition, playing with a composure and vision well beyond his years as he was named the young player of the tournament. His stunning performances for Spain came after a season in which he played an incredible 52 matches for Barcelona, where he quickly earned the respect of Messi. Now that Messi is gone, Pedri will be expected to lead the club into a new era.

1. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund and Norway) - no change

Age: 21
Position: Striker

If the ideal goalscorer could be produced in a laboratory, it would look something like Erling Haaland. The Norway striker is nothing short of a biological freak, a 6ft 4in athlete with blistering pace, a huge leap and that precious knack for being in the right place at the right time. This season he has continued where he left off for Dortmund, scoring 11 goals in eight matches for his club so far. The big question is not whether he will continue to score goals, but where he will do so. Who will win the race for his signature?

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