It’s like with bands. We’re all dying to see the biggest acts, but we’re always on the lookout for the next big thing.
The same goes for football. People buy Premier League tickets in their droves to see Ronaldo and Salah, and Champions League tickets to catch a glimpse of Messi. But what fans really want to see is the next up-and-coming star. To be able to turn to their friends and say “I saw him as a kid, I knew he’d be good.”
It’s why we all glance at the Ballon d’Or results, but pore over the NXGN list of the fifty most promising prospects in football. We want to see tomorrow’s stars just as much as we want to enjoy today’s.
Here are NXGN’s top five youth prospects of 2022. They’re the players you definitely need to keep an eye on in the coming season.
#5: Harvey Elliott (Liverpool)
What could have been? People with Liverpool tickets have been keeping an eye on Elliott since he became the league’s youngest ever player back in 2019. 2021/22 should’ve been his coming-out party. It should have seen him top this list. Then a tackle from Leeds’ Pascal Struijk (a 22-year-old defender who’s definitely not on this list) led to a broken ankle and five months on the sidelines.
Harvey Elliott is back ahead of schedule. He’s ready to break into Klopp’s midfield. And if he hits the ground running, the sky’s the limit. Domestic glory, and an England career beckon. He might even make it into his country’s 23 for the 2022 World Cup.
#4: Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
Bayern Munich is a title-winning machine. With 10 Bundesliga crowns in a row, only the very best make it into their team. So for a 19-year-old to pick up nearly 60 appearances, he has to be something very special.
Musiala is very special. He’s already caused international controversy, going from an England youth player while at Chelsea to representing Germany as a full international, but he’s got all the makings of a German legend. He scored the goal to hand Bayern a tenth straight title. What odds on him having a similar impact on his country at the upcoming World Cup?
#3: Gavi (Barcelona)
Comparisons carry weight in football. The mid-table teams and lower leagues of Europe are littered with dozens of “next Ronaldos” and “new Messis” who never made the grade (Adnan Januzaj, anyone?). So being labeled “the new Xavi” is a heavy weight to bear.
Gavi is carrying it just fine. His first touch and amazing passing have seen the 17-year-old break into both the Barcelona squad and the Spain team. Barca and Spain know a lot about Xavi. So if they’re comfortable making the comparison, maybe we are seeing a generational talent in the making. The rest of world football just needs to hope they can’t unearth a new Iniesta too.
#2: Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)
60 appearances. 13 goals. 4 Germany caps. 19 years old. The numbers speak for themselves, and while Wirtz is recovering from a ligament injury, he’s expected to be back stronger than ever for the upcoming season.
And if he reaches his predicted ceiling, the sky’s the limit for the youngest ever player to make 50 Bundesliga appearances. His contract is up in 2023, and the sharks are already circling. When Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Manchester United are gearing up for a bidding war, you know you’ve got a once-in-a-generation talent on your hands.
#1: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund)
How everyone laughed in 2020 when Birmingham City retired the number 22 shirt of a teenager who’d played less than 50 games for the team.
They’re not laughing now. They’re begging. Begging Gareth Southgate to build his England team around this 18-year-old midfield maestro. Begging Chelsea, Liverpool, and City to pay Dortmund whatever they ask so that Tuchel, or Klopp, or Guardiola can build their midfield around him. It’s easy to see why.
Jude Bellingham is very, very good. And he’s only 18 years old. Whisper it, but England might have a player who’ll rise to become one of the best players in the world.
That’s worth the price of World Cup tickets on its own.