Looking at the best young talent in Europe.
There have been some spectacular individual performances during the 2021/22 season culminating in a high-quality race for the 2022 Ballon d’Or award, which will be announced in October.
While experienced players such as Lewandowski, Benzema and Modric will be amongst the favourites, several younger players have enjoyed outstanding seasons and will be looking to join the pantheon of youngest Ballon D’Or winners.
Kylian Mbappe seems to have been at the top of the game for years already, and at the age of 23, he outshone his illustrious attacking teammates to lead PSG to another Ligue 1 championship win. Real Madrid made good on their long-term intention to sign the French star this summer. However, Mbappe has chosen to extend his contract with the French Champions and try and lead them to the holy grail of the Champions League.
He bounced back from the disappointment of missing a penalty in France’s disappointing European Championships exit in a refined style, scoring 39 goals in all competitions for his club, including half a dozen in another underwhelming European campaign for PSG.
Indeed, Mbappe’s influence on PSG’s campaign was outweighed by that of the Brazilian wunderkind, Vinicius Junior. He enjoyed a real breakthrough season with Real Madrid, proving influential in the Spanish side’s La Liga and Champions League double.
Not yet 22, Vinicius had never scored more than six goals in a season in the famous white shirt. Still, he smashed that barrier during 2021/22 with 22 goals in all competitions for Real, including the winner against Liverpool in the Champions League final, helping him be named the Champions League Young Player of the Season.
As well as dovetailing brilliantly with Benzema to provide a cutting-edge for the European Champions that they’ve struggled for since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Vinicius also scored his first goal for the Brazilian national team.
An outside bet for the award would be Portuguese striker Rafael Leao, who at the age of 22 stepped into the gap left by the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic to link with Olivier Giroud and lead AC Milan to their first Serie A scudetto in 11 years.
Scoring 14 goals in all competitions and creating more than a dozen more, Leao was named Serie A Most Valuable Player and made the breakthrough into the Portuguese national team with half a dozen appearances to become one of the hottest properties in world football.
Of course, although there was to be no English winner of the Champions League, the duopoly of Liverpool and Manchester City led the charge at home and abroad, with two young Englishmen at the forefront of their sides’ impressive campaigns.
Although his influence on England’s superb run to the European Championship Final was minimal, Phil Foden stepped up again for Manchester City to become a key member of Pep Guardiola’s armoury. Scoring three times in City’s run to the Champions League semi-finals while breaking double figures for goals and assists, Foden’s contribution to a fourth Premier League title before turning 22 illustrates his remarkable talent and increasing levels of maturity.
Meanwhile, a few miles down the road in Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold has shaken off the disappointment of missing out on England’s summer success with a superb contribution from right-back for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Keeping 24 clean sheets as The Reds finished the season with two trophies and two near-misses, Alexander-Arnold’s vision and effortless striking of a ball led to countless assists from his wide-right berth and the occasionally sizzling long-range strike.