Soccer is an ever changing game. New faces are constantly making names for themselves and proving their worth against the game’s elite. Unlike other sports, 25-year-old soccer players are considered veterans and are expected to be major contributors to their squads, demonstrating their talent on a regular basis. By the age of 25, most world class players have emerged, shown their quality, and are preparing to help their teams win. It is rare that elite talents emerge after reaching the age of 25, although some do still sneak through the cracks.
Many of the players on this list have already impressed at this summer’s World Cup, while others have joined new clubs in search of fame and fortune. Some are already considered to be among the very best at their respective positons. Approaching a new cycle of domestic campaigns and Euro 2016 qualification, these players are household names for football fans. Included in this list are World Cup and Champions League winners as well as domestic titles from leagues around the world.
These players represent the future of world football. They are the players to watch for their club and international teams. The combined value of their contracts would total over a one billion Euros. Just this summer, James Rodriguez’s transfer to Real Madrid from AS Monaco cost them €80 million, a sum that the club eagerly paid to acquire his talents. As money pours in from around the world to elite football clubs and their players, these players could soon be setting record transfer fees to contribute to the world’s richest squads.
25 Stephan El Shaarawy - Forward/Winger, AC Milan
Nicknamed "The Pharaoh" because of his father's Egyptian heritage, Stephan El Shaarawy is a veteran contributor to AC Milan at the age of 21. Although El Shaarawy only played nine matches last season due to injury, he returns as a playmaker of top quality. He has earned comparisons to Ballon D'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo because of his versatile skill set. Stephan possesses the ability to beat defenders on the dribble, make spectacular passes in buildup play, and strike shots from distance. If AC Milan are going to return to the Champions League, El Shaarawy will need to be a major contributor.
24 David de Gea – Goalkeeper, Manchester United
At only 23-years-old, David de Gea has already been the starting keeper for Manchester United for three seasons. Approaching his fourth season, the consistent Spanish shot stopper looks to return to Champions League football with a top 4 Premier League finish. De Gea possesses outstanding shot stopping abilities and has a highlight reel of incredible reaction saves. He is the backbone of a rebuilding Manchester United squad that looks to return to form after the club’s worst Premier League finish since 1990.
23 Marco Verratti – Central Midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain
Marco Verratti may not be a physically imposing player, but he makes up for his diminutive stature with precision passing. In the Ligue 1 match against Bastia, Verratti completed 133 passes, a total more than any other player has accomplished in the last six seasons. At 21, he has already earned senior level World Cup appearances with Italy where he featured alongside Andrea Pirlo. Last season he was honored as Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and featured in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year.
22 Isco - Attacking Midfielder, Real Madrid
Francisco Romain Alarcon Suarez, better known as Isco, is a member of the most talented squad in Europe, Real Madrid. Last season, Isco appeared in 53 matches for Madrid and scored 11 goals. Now at the age of 22, he will be a major contributor on one of the deepest attacking sides in the world. Isco has been compared to club legend Zinedine Zidane for his passing ability and vision. His dribbling ability and low center of gravity have led to comparison to Sergio Aguero. If Isco can contribute on a similar level to those players, he will have a long successful career.
21 Lorenzo Insigne - Winger, Napoli
Lorenzo Insigne may not be an intimidating figure in stature, but his versatility and passing skill makes him a nightmare for opposing managers. Insigne is capable of being deployed on either side of the formation and enjoys cutting inside to create passing options. While his finishing still leaves something to be desired, he has contributed 13 goals for Napoli over the last two seasons. At only 19 years old, Insigne still has time to improve and break further into the Italian National Team, as he was only used as a sub in the World Cup.
20 Eliaquim Mangala – Defender, Manchester City
Following his inclusion in France’s World Cup squad, where he did not feature, Eliaquim Mangala moved to Manchester City for a staggering £32 million transfer fee. At 23 years old, Mangala already has six senior seasons under his belt with Standard Liege and Porto. Mangala has great size for a defender and impressive heading ability, which he can use to score from set pieces. In last year’s Europa League, he scored twice against Eintract Frankfurt and once against Sevilla. He also helped Porto go undefeated in the Primiera Liga, earning their third consecutive league title.
19 Julian Draxler – Midfielder, Schalke 04
Entering his fifth season with the Schalke senior squad, Julian Draxler is arguably their most important player. After a summer where he won the World Cup with Germany, the pressure is now on Draxler to help Schalke break into the two horse title race between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Draxler possesses great dribbling skills and excels at shooting from distance. He has also developed a reputation as a top playmaker, with six assists to his name in the last Bundesliga campaign.
18 Raheem Sterling – Winger, Liverpool
Raheem Sterling begins his third full season with the Liverpool senior squad as one of the players to watch in the Premier League. Last year he scored 9 league goals and provide 6 assists which helped Liverpool climb to second in the league table. This season, Sterling will be counted on to fill the void left by the transfer of Luis Suarez. Sterling is an extraordinary dribbler with blistering pace. He is also capable of providing killer passes and is always a threat on the counter attack. He was honored as Liverpool Young Player of the Year in 2013-14.
17 Mattia De Sciglio - Full back, AC Milan
21-year-old Mattia De Sciglio is already a full fledged member of the Italian National Team and AC Milan. His pace, skill as a defender, and passing abilities have earned him comparisons to Milan legend Paolo Maldini. There's even been rumors of Real Madrid being interested in him. His solid defensive presence along with his crossing and passing abilities make him a threat on both ends of the pitch.
16 Xherdan Shaqiri – Winger, Bayern Munich
Dubbed the “Alpine Messi,” Xherdan Shaqiri impressed the world with his hat trick against Honduras, which helped Switzerland into the Round of 16. Over the last two seasons with Bayern Munich, he has lifted the Bundesliga trophy twice and earned a UEFA Champions League winners medal. Shaqiri is another diminutive talent that makes up for his lack of size with dazzling dribbling ability and defense dissecting passes. At only 22, Shaqiri is just starting to receive the attention he deserves as one of Europe’s top young talents.
15 Oscar – Midfielder, Chelsea
Oscar is a talented midfield playmaker that has featured regularly for both Brazil and Chelsea over the last couple of seasons. Typically deployed in the center attacking midfielder role, Oscar excels at distributing passes and providing killer balls to his teammates. During the World Cup as part of the host nation, Brazil, he contributed two goals and two assists. He has undeniable quality which led to Jose Mourinho favoring him over Juan Mata, possibly because of Oscar’s willingness to contribute on the defensive side of the ball as well.
14 Andre Schurrle – Forward/Winger, Chelsea
Another member of the German World Cup winning squad, Andre Schurrle had a great tournament full of substitute appearances which earned him the label “super-sub.” His three goals and three assists helped Germany tremendously in the tournament. On top of that, Schurrle’s contributions to Chelsea over the second half of the season were nothing short of spectacular. Schurrle excels at cutting in from the right side of the pitch, allowing him to unleash lethal shots from distance.
13 Mario Gotze – Midfielder, Bayern Munich
After featuring regularly for Borussia Dortmund for three seasons, Mario Gotze made the decision to transfer to rival Bayern Munich. His decision was rewarded with a Bundesliga title, the third of his young career. The 22-year-old then went on to play a crucial role in the German national team where he scored the winning goal in the World Cup Final against Argentina. Last season, he contributed 15 goals and nine assists to Bayern Munich.
12 Paul Pogba – Midfielder, Juventus
After being sold by Manchester United, many questioned whether Paul Pogba would be able to fit in at elite football clubs. Since arriving at Juventus, he has helped the Italian club win their second and third consecutive league titles. He has also excelled internationally for France. During the 2014 World Cup, he earned the Hyundai Young Player Award, given to the World Cup’s best young player. Pogba also won the coveted Golden Boy award in 2013. Pogba is an incredible player capable of scoring spectacular goals, which he has displayed throughout his young career.
11 Romelu Lukaku – Striker, Everton
At the young age of 21, Romelu Lukaku has already scored 65 total goals for senior squads. His recent move from Chelsea to Everton for a club record £28 millon, shows manager Roberto Martinez has the utmost faith in Lukaku’s goal scoring abilities. Lukaku has a wealth of physical gifts at his disposal including size, speed, and superb strength. His two seasons on loan with West Brom and Everton proved that he can score Premier League goals, his first season in the Europa League will showcase his talents against some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
10 David Alaba – Left back, Bayern Munich
Austria has long been aware of David Alaba’s prowess, capping the player at the ripe young age of 17. Now, at the age of 22, David Alaba can be considered one of the world’s best left backs. Alaba has already won the Champions League, earned three Bundesliga titles, and been recognized as Austrian Footballer of the Year three times. Despite being a defender, he has a knack for contributing on the offensive side and was Austria’s leading scorer in World Cup qualifying. With over a decade remaining in his career, there is no limit to what Alaba can accomplish.
9 Daniel Sturridge – Striker, Liverpool
Daniel Sturridge has already featured for three of England’s biggest clubs at the age of 24. After stints at Manchester City and Chelsea, Sturridge re-emerged on the scene with Liverpool, helping them to a second place finish last season. His 21 league goals were enough to finish second in the race for the Golden Boot, only behind teammate Luis Suarez. Now with the departure of Suarez, Sturridge will be counted on to supply the majority of goals for the Reds. The longtime favorite of football hispters has now emerged as one of the world’s best strikers under 25.
8 Toni Kroos – Midfielder, Real Madrid
Toni Kroos can be considered one of the best passing midfielders in the world. At the World Cup in Brazil, he was a central figure in the winning German squad. Kroos contributed two goals and four assists in the seven match tournament. Kroos is a technically excellent player that is capable of playing passes with pinpoint accuracy. Kroos recently moved from Bayern Munich to Real Madrid for a €25 million and will feature prominently among the club’s growing list of superstars.
7 Mario Balotelli - Striker, AC Milan
Few players have attracted the cult following that Mario Balotelli has been able to during his career. Stories of Balotelli's exploits on and off the pitch explode on social media sites around the world. On the pitch, Balotelli is a striker capable of the most spectacular goals, as he showed during Euro 2012. He is one of the world's best penalty takers, only ever having missed one during his entire career. Off of the pitch, Balotelli has also been a voice against racism, which he has been a victim of several times. He is also rumored to have commissioned statues of himself, given thousands of pounds to a homeless man, and drive a camouflage Bentley. He is soccer's most interesting man.
6 Raphael Varane – Defender, Real Madrid
As Raphael Varane enters his fourth full season with the Real Madrid senior squad, he will be a central figure for the defending Champions League winners. Varane earned criticism for kicking a ball at opposing manager Diego Simeone in the Champions League Final last May and even following the incident, Simeone complimented Varane saying, “He’s a young guy with a bright future.” Varane featured in central defense for France during their World Cup campaign. At only 21 years old, Varane will be an elite defender for years to come.
5 James Rodriguez – Midfielder, Real Madrid
James Rodriguez showed the world what he was capable of at the World Cup in Brazil. While featuring for Colombia, he scored the goal of the tournament by chesting down a ball before striking a beautiful left footed volley into the net. The move displayed James’ exquisite technical ability and enticed Real Madrid to sign him for the outrageous sum of €80 million. Since arriving he has been awarded the #10 shirt, an honor that has led to comparisons between James and legends Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, and Ferenc Puskas.
4 Thibaut Courtois – Goalkeeper, Chelsea
Thibaut Courtois is the undeniably talented Chelsea keeper that made his competitive debut with the club after two seasons on loan with Atletico Madrid. During his loan spell, he helped Atleti capture a La Liga title and the Europa League title. He fell just short in the Champions League, falling to crosstown rivals Real Madrid. This season, he has ousted the stalwart Petr Cech as the starting keeper for Chelsea. Courtois is also the center of an internet phenomenon known as “Thibauting,” where participants photograph themselves diving at full stretch like Courtois does during his saves.
3 Eden Hazard – Attacking midfielder, Chelsea
Eden Hazard has made a name for himself as one of the top attacking midfielders in the world. Last season, he scored 14 goals for Chelsea in the league, contributing dazzling dribbling ability and lethal finishing. His creative influence on the team is undeniable. During the 2014 World Cup with Belgium, Hazard assisted two game winning goals. He has been recognized as a member of the PFA Team of the Year twice and as the PFA Young Player of the Year last season. Going into Chelsea’s 2014-15 campaign, he is arguably the most important player in the squad.
2 Thomas Muller – Forward, Bayern Munich
Thomas Muller earned the Silver Boot as the second leading scorer in the World Cup, contributing five goals to Germany’s World Cup winning effort. In the 2010 World Cup, he earned the Golden Boot and World Cup Best Young Player Award. At the age of 24, Muller has already won the three Bundesliga titles, a UEFA Champions League title, three DFB Pokals, and the World Cup. Muller is a central figure in the Bayern Munich squad and will be a fixture in world football for years to come. Muller may become one of the most decorated footballers of all time should he continue with this pace.
1 Neymar – Forward, Barcelona
Neymar is a controversial, yet undeniable talent. This summer during his World Cup campaign with Brazil, he scored four goals, which earned him the Bronze Ball award. Unfortunately, his tournament was cut short due to a fractured vertebrae, which he suffered thanks to a Juan Zuniga flying knee. After moving to Barcelona for a fee of €57 million, he attracted controversy because of the circumstances surrounding his move from Santos. His first season with Barcelona he contributed 15 goals, but it was not enough to earn them a title. At only 22 years of age, he still has a long time to recoup Barcelona for their considerable investment.
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