04 September 2019, by: Zach Lowy

WHO ARE THE BRIGHTEST PROSPECTS IN WORLD FOOTBALL UNDER-18?

Last season saw the likes of João Félix, Jadon Sancho and Moise Kean burst onto the world scene despite being merely teenagers. This season will be no different, as über-talented prospects get set to break into mainstream footballing circles.

Here are three prospects (18 or younger) to keep an eye on this season:

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William Saliba - Arsenal

Arsenal added much-needed quality in weak spots with the arrivals of Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pépé, whilst also adding a promising young forward in Gabriel Martinelli. But their most exciting summer signing won’t be arriving at London Colney until next summer, and that player’s name is William Saliba.

While he’ll likely be out of action until October after undergoing surgery to rectify an adductor muscle injury, Saliba will slide into Ghislain Printant’s starting line-up upon his return, where he’ll need to add defensive fortitude to a side that’s conceded six goals in their first four matches, descending to 16th in the league at the moment.

The muscular injury caused him to withdraw from this summer’s U-20 World Cup, where he’d have likely started over Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara, who gave a calamity of a performance during the Round of 16 elimination to the U.S. Looking at David Luiz and Sokratis’ performances this season, though, Arsenal probably need him just as much as Les Bleuets and Les Verts, the latter of whom refused to sell their Bondy-born prospect without the provision that he would remain on loan at the club for the coming season.

At 18, the young Frenchman is already one of the best defensive prospects in Europe. He won the trust of the now-retired Jean-Louis Gasset, winning several starts despite his precocious age. He blends top-notch positioning with impressive recovery speed and aerial dominance. Last season, he compensated for the ageing Loïc Perrin and Neven Subotić’s lack of mobility in Gasset’s back three, but this season, he’ll form a solid partnership alongside new arrival and fellow Bondy native Harold Moukoudi, as Les Verts look to push for a Champions League spot.

Eduardo Camavinga -Rennes

On September 1, Eduardo Camavinga returned to high school to start a new year of studies. For a player who’s currently on cloud nine, this was his turn to come back to Earth.

You wouldn’t think it by watching his performances, but Camavinga doesn’t turn 17 until November. His age has hardly bothered manager Julien Stéphan, who, at 38, is also a step ahead of his agemates. Camavinga has started every single match this season for Rennes, currently 2nd in Ligue 1, including the Trophée des Champions in Shenzhen, China.

While the Brittany club signed Strasbourg captain Jonas Martin on deadline day to replace their former captain Benjamin André, who departed for Lille this summer, Martin will likely either be backing up Camavinga and playing in Europa and domestic cup matches, rather than benching him.

Camavinga has all the tools to become one of the best midfielders in football. Currently operating in a holding role between the more attack-minded Benjamin Bourigeaud and Clément Grenier, the Angola-born player controls the rhythm of each match, escaping pressure with his long legs, quick instincts, and tidy dribbling. Apart from his offensive characteristics, he’s also a phenomenal ball-winner, coming off as the victor in most of his duels.

Don’t be surprised if Camavinga is playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid by 2021.

Sergiño Dest - Ajax Amsterdam

The right-back and left-back spots have long proved areas of weakness for the U.S. Men’s National Team, but it appears they’ve finally found their knight in shining armour.

Following his performance for the U.S. in this summer’s U-20 World Cup, in which the American team advanced to the quarterfinals, Dest has been fast-tracked from youth team action to a first-team spot. Both his managers for club and country, Erik Ten Hag and Gregg Berhalter respectively, have taken notice of his progression and rewarded him; Ten Hag has made him a regular for Ajax, whilst Berhalter has called him up for this month’s friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay.

Dest has all the characteristics to thrive as an “inverted fullback” in Berhalter’s system. While he usually plays on the right, he is capable on either flank, and given the fact that the U.S. already boasts Tyler Adams (a midfielder by trade but who can pull a shift at right-back), Reggie Cannon (impressive in this summer’s Gold Cup) and DeAndre Yedlin (currently injured but a regular squad member when fit), Dest’s future might be at left-back.

After an impressive preseason, Dest started on the left in a 2-0 win against PSV in the Dutch Super Cup, whilst starting on the right in three of Ajax’s last four matches. He came in for the suspended Noussair Mazraoui in a do-or-die Champions League qualifier against APOEL Nicosia and put in a Man of the Match performance. He combined with teammates in attack, delivered accurate crosses, and nullified APOEL’s attacking attempts down the left. What’s more, he played a vital role in Dušan Tadić’s goal, which sealed Ajax’s passage into the Champions League group stage.

Born in the Netherlands to a Surinamese-American father and a Dutch mother, Dest played for Netherlands’ youth teams during his early years, but fell off their radar, causing the U.S. to take advantage. The Ajax youth product has quickly risen through the national team’s ranks, starting out at the U-17 World Cup in 2017, before earning his first call-up to the senior team this month.

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