An unknown 17-year-old kid named Pele in 1958, Toto Schillachi in 1990, Michael Owen in ’98, Asamoah Gyan in 2010 – every football World Cup sees young stars explode into the popular consciousness and Qatar 2022 will be no different.
There simply isn’t enough space to talk about all the rising stars here, take a look at France’s squad alone with the likes of Aurelien Tchouameni (22), Eduardo Camavinga (19), Kylian Mbappe (23), William Saliba (21) , Jules Kounde (23).
Then there’s Spain’s dazzling duo of Gavi and Pedro or Brazil’s attacking treasure chest that includes Vinicius Jr (22), Antony (22), Rodrygo (21), Matheus Cunha (23), all potentially playing alongside a certain Olympic champion called Neymar.
Unfortunately we won’t see certain superstars on football’s greatest stage like Haaland, Dybala, and Odegaard, but most of the world’s next-gen will be in Qatar.
Here are 10 young players to watch at FIFA World Cup 2022many of whom were born after January 1, 2001 and could therefore win the official FIFA Young Player Award in Qatar.
10. Takefusa Kubo – Japan
Club: Real Sociedad
It feels like Such has been around far too long to still only be 21, but 21 he is and he’s heading to Qatar with a point to prove.
Hailed as the ‘Japanese Messi’ when he was coming through Barcelona’s famed ‘La Masia’ academy as a teen prodigy, Kubo ended up signing for Real Madrid in 2019, but failed to force his way into the team.
After loan spells at Mallorca, Villarreal, Getafe, and Mallorca again, he finally went on a permanent move to Real Sociedad in 2022.
With sackloads of skills, searing pace, and dribbling ability that reminds you of a young Messi, Kubo has the talent to both decide games and delight fans.
He scored Japan’s first goal against South Africa at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and went on to net in their first three games but was disappointed not to win a medal at home as they lost their semi-final to Spain after a Marco Asensio extra-time screamer and then the bronze medal match to Mexico.
But Take’s performances proved that he is a leader in this team and capable of doing it on the world stage.
Now at 21, with years of pro football to his name, Kubo could make this World Cup his own and take on South Korea’s Son Heung-min as the biggest Asian name in the game.
9. Alphonso Davies (Canada)
Club: Bayern Munich
Alphonso Davies‘ incredible story started in war-torn Liberia from where his parents fled to Canada as refugees in 2005.
Football, or soccer as they call it in Canada, was his first love and at just 14 years of age he joined the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency.
That was in 2015 and by 2018 he was a Bayern Munich player and blew everyone away with his 2019-20 Champions league performances against Barcelona (In the famous 8-2 semi-final) and PSG in the final.
Davies became the first Canadian men’s national team player to win the Champions League, inspiring a generation of young Canadian football fans, and subsequently helping take his nation to their first World Cup finals in 36 years.
The definition of a modern-day wing-back, Davies is a joy to watch in full flight and has the kind of attacking ability and defensive nous to control a game from the left wing-back position.
If Canada is to get out of a tough group that includes Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, then their big name will have to be on it.
8. Pape Matar Sarr – Senegal
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Senegal has given the world a host of quality football players of the dimension of El Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop, with global names like Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibali currently ruling at Bayern and Chelsea.
And Pope Matar Sarr is a name growing in resonance after an impressive 2020-21 season for Ligue 1 side Metz earned him a move to Antonio Conte’s Tottenham.
Loaned back to Metz to help him continue his development, the 19-year-old impressed once more despite playing for a side that suffered relegation.
Now fighting to get into the Spurs team, Sarr hasn’t had much game-time but could find his feet at the World Cup with the Lions of Teranga in Qatar.
Already an African champion, he featured in Senegal’s AFCON victory in 2022 and definitely has the talent to become a breakout star in Qatar.
Watch this space.
7. Aurelien Tchouameni – France
Club: Real Madrid
What? Sell Casemiro?
The world gasped as Real Madrid’s iconic midfield trinity of Kroos-Casemiro-Modric was broken up with the Brazilian’s big-noise move to Manchester United.
Carlo Ancelotti remained unflustered as he knew who was stepping up behind him, the supremely calm Aurelien Tchouameni.
A defensive midfielder who came up at Bordeaux and then Monaco, it looks like Real Madrid’s defensive midfield duties are in safe hands for another 10 years with Tchouameni.
Tactical awareness, technical brilliance, a natural instinct for positioning and an eye for goal, Tchoumeni has helped Real Madrid to the top of La Liga and of their Champions League group with the kind of quietly confident football that you need from a world-class DM .
Don’t be surprised to see him underpin a successful title defense for the reigning world champs.
6. Ricardo Pepi – USA
Club: FC Groningen (On loan from Augsburg)
With US production lines pumping out star players like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Giovanni Reyna, could we see them upset the footballing world order in Qatar?
If young gun Ricardo Pepi gets firing then we could watch Team USA cause a scene at the World Cup.
With 16 goals in 2020/21 with FC Dallas in the MLS, German side Augsburg brought him to the Bundesliga in January 2022.
But when the 19-year-old striker failed to score in 15 Bundesliga appearances after his move to Europe there was some concern.
Sent out on loan at Groningen in the Netherlands, he found his scoring touch again, notching four goals and one assist in his first five games in the Eredivisie.
A purple patch of form that’s come right on time for Qatar.
5. Jamal Musiala – Germany
Club: Bayern Munich
Forever candidates to lift the World Cup, the four-time winners Germany always have a young ace in the pack who steps up to the big one.
Directly involved in nine goals in the first nine matches for Bayern this season – five goals and four assists – there’s no wonder there’s so much hype around Jamal Musiala.
19 years old and with the world at his feet, he’s excited about Germany’s chances in the Middle East.
“We’re on a good way,” Musiala said in September after a 1-1 draw with England that the Germans dominated.
“The game against England in the Nations League showed that we developed. I think we would be ready for England at the World Cup. It won’t be easy to beat us in Qatar.”
4. Antony – Brazil
Club: Manchester United
After a record-breaking move to Manchester United, Brazilian superstar Antony is in sharp focus as we approach football’s showpiece event.
Three goals in four games isn’t a bad start for the Brazilian at United, particularly when one of them is a debut beauty in a 3-1 victory over old rivals Arsenal.
Playing as an inverted winger in Manchester, he cuts on to his favored left foot from a right-wing position, but is versatile enough to play across the front line.
His main barrier to becoming the 2022 World Cup’s breakout star might be the competition he faces from his own team.
3. Vinicius Jr – Brazil
Club: Real Madrid
Competition that includes Vini Jrthe man who scored the winning goal at the most recent Champions League final.
His 22 goal haul for los blancos last season he was second only to Karim Benzema, and he was named Champions League young player of the season by UEFA.
Not bad for a 22-year-old, and Vini doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon either: Five goals and one assist in his first nine games this season, his all-round play has put Madrid on a winning path again this term.
While he hasn’t been quite as prolific with Brazil – just one goal in his last seven matches this season – Vini Jr is part of a Brazilian setup that hasn’t tasted defeat in three years.
While it’s difficult to call Vini a ‘breakout star’ with everything he’s achieved, this could be his World Cup.
2. Jude Bellingham – England
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Four goals in four matches in the Champions League so far this season for Dortmund, Jude Bellingham is definitely in the conversation as a potential breakout star in Qatar.
Youngest-ever first-team player at Birmingham City aged 16 in the 2019/20 EFL Cup, the youngest Borussia Dortmund goalscorer in history at the time (Aged 17 years, 2 months), youngest Englishman (17 years and 113 days) to start a Champions League match and the second youngest (17 years and 281 days) to score in the competition.
Bellingham is in a rush to the top.
A dynamic midfielder who drives a team forward, he could be the key in a seriously talented England team in Qatar.
“We don’t even know how good he is. We’re trying to figure out where his limit is going to be,” says his current coach Edin Terzic.
1. Gavi – Spain
One of Xavi’s prodigies rebuilding Barca right now, there is so much expected of this exciting young talent.
Already receiving recognition for his work, Gavi was awarded the Kopa trophy at the 2022 Ballon d’Or gala in October 2022 – the best player in the world under the age of 21 for 2022 according to the judges.
At 18 he’s already a fixture in the Blaugrana midfield and has his coach Xavi (Who knows a bit about bossing the middle) isn’t surprised at all that he is where he is.
After a Gavi-inspired 3-0 win over Sevilla in September Xavi said:
“It doesn’t surprise me, I see him train every day. It’s down to hard work, discipline and heart. He was the best player in the game, because of his intensity, fight, passing, high pressing – he has heart in his legs.”
Gavi won’t be the only young Spanish star vying for the young player award, his teammate and fellow teenager Pedro could light it up too.
Pedri is already an Olympic silver medalist, unable in the end to match Messi and Guardiola, but could he and Gavi inspire a next-gen World Cup victory for Spain?
We can’t wait to see.