Young talent is a valuable commodity in world football and clubs are willing to pay premium prices to secure the signature of youngsters to long-term contracts. By purchasing these players ahead of their fully realized potential carries certain risks, such as injury, derailing a promising career. However, by taking a risk on a young talent clubs can be rewarded with years of faithful service for a price that is often below their true market value. They can also avoid excessive transfer fees, which are growing to record levels with every transfer window.
Many of these young players have already undergone the transfer process at least once in their careers. These players are making decisions that will affect the rest of their career in football and possibly their lives. The pressure from agents and surrounding figures to sign gigantic contracts to cash in on their talents is enormous. Every day these players risk injury in training and matches. This creates additional internal pressure for these players to consider when they are making long term decisions.
In recent years, some of the largest transfers of all time have involved players just three or four years older than the players on this list. A few of these players could be candidates to join the list of the most expensive transfers of all time. Whether they are youngsters with attacking flair or defenders with poise beyond their years, these players represent the future of the sport. In this list are future household names and others that will fade into obscurity. Familiarize yourself with them now.
*All figures taken from transfermarkt.com
20 T18. Maximilian Arnold – Wolfsburg - €10 million
Maximilian Arnold enjoyed his first season in the first team at Wolfsburg during the 2013-14 campaign. At the age of 20, Arnold featured prominently in a central attacking midfield role and rewarded Dieter Hecking’s decision to play him with 7 goals. He helped Wolfsburg to a 5th place Bundesliga finish and qualify for the Europa League. He also received his first call up to the German National Team in May, but was not included in the World Cup winning squad. If Joachim Low calls upon Arnold in the future, look for his value to continue to rise and increased attention from Europe’s major clubs.
19 T18. Kurt Zouma – Chelsea - €10 million
Chelsea purchased the services of Kurt Zouma on the final day of the January 2014 transfer window. During his three seasons with St. Etienne, Zouma displayed excellent shot blocking and aerial abilities. After featuring prominently in preseason matches, he is still waiting for Jose Mourinho to call him into the lineup at Chelsea. When he does eventually break into the first team, he will be another piece in one of the most formidable defenses in the world. With the opportunity to learn from proven stars like John Terry and Gary Cahill, Zouma should grow into a quality Premier League defender.
18 T18. Adnan Januzaj – Manchester United - €10 million
Last season, Adnan Januzaj participated in 27 matches for Manchester United, scoring four goals and contributing three assists. At only 19-years-old, he has a tremendous amount of potential and an ability to provide crucial passes in build-up play. Januzaj was eligible to play for four different nations, but decided to play for Belgium and participated in their tune-up matches prior to the World Cup. He has not yet started a match for Manchester United this season, due to the wealth of attacking talent at the disposal of Louis Van Gaal, but should feature prominently as a substitute.
17 T11. Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven - €12 million
Memphis Depay announced his presence to the world at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. His goals for the Netherlands against Chile and Australia helped his team to third place finish at the tournament. Depay was named to the shortlist of the Best Young Player, but lost out to Paul Pogba. Depay has carried over his spectacular form to PSV Eindhoven this season, netting eight goals in eight matches. If he continues at this rate, it will only be a matter of time before he is lured away to one of Europe’s giants.
16 T11. Gerard Deulofeu – Sevilla - €12 million
Many football fans are likely familiar with Gerard Deulofeu from his time spent on loan at Everton. Although still owned by Barcelona, he is currently playing on another loan spell at Sevilla. He has been spectacular this season, already tallying five assists and earning man of the match honors during their Europa League match against Feyenoord. Deulofeu is a quality right winger that whips in crosses with pace and accuracy. In the near future, he could be a member of both the Barcelona and Spanish National Team squads.
15 T11. Timo Werner – Stuttgart - €12 million
Timo Werner played a major role in helping Stuttgart avoid relegation from the Bundesliga last season. He scored four goals and assisted on five more during his 30 league appearances, making a serious first team contribution at only 18 years of age. While he has the ability to score from distance and provide killer through balls, Werner is sometimes wasteful with his scoring opportunities. As he becomes a more experienced, cultured player, these instincts should develop.
14 T11. Youri Tielemans – Anderlecht - €12 million
Youri Tielemans is the latest emerging talent from the youth system at Anderlecht. He has been involved in the youth setup since he was five-years-old. Now, at the age of 17, he is a first team player. Thielemans has scored three goals and eight assists in his 46 appearances. He has displayed excellent passing ability and has represented Belgium at several youth levels including U-21. Thielemans holds the honor of being the youngest Belgian to every play in the UEFA Champions League.
13 T11. Calum Chambers – Arsenal - €12 million
Calum Chambers was part of the exodus of talent from Southampton during the summer transfer window. The central defender joined Arsenal for an undisclosed sum, which could rise to as much as €16 million. Much is expected from the young defender, who has displayed somewhat questionable judgment in his matches with Arsenal this season. Chambers did not earn a yellow card in 22 matches with Southampton, but has earned five in seven appearances with Arsenal. Chambers is already featuring regularly for the England National Team in their Euro 2016 qualifiers.
12 T11. Matthias Ginter – Borussia Dortmund - €12 million
Matthias Ginter was named to the German National Team for the World Cup in Brazil, but did not play in a single match of their triumph. During the summer transfer window, he signed a five-year contract with Borussia Dortmund. Ginter excelled in a variety of roles while playing for Freiburg, including central defender and defensive midfielder. Now that he has joined a major club, he plays under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp, who has a reputation for developing elite central defenders such as Mats Hummels.
11 T11. Emre Can – Liverpool - €12 million
Last year, Emre Can signed a four year deal with Bayer Leverkusen. He only made it through one year of that contract before Liverpool came calling, with the Reds shelling out enough to trigger his minimum fee release clause. Can is a two-way midfielder that is typically deployed in a central or defensive midfielder role, but has also featured at left back earlier in his career. He is a talented dribbler and more than capable of putting in a challenge. He recently earned his first appearance in Liverpool’s starting XI, and earned praise from a satisfied Brendan Rodgers.
10 T6. Hakan Calhanoglu – Bayer Leverkusen - €15 million
Hakan Calhanoglu has played for three different German clubs in the past three seasons, but looks to have settled in spectacularly at Bayer Leverkusen. The talented attacking midfielder has performed well in Bundesliga play, with 2 goals and 2 assists in 10 matches. Despite being born in Germany, Calhanoglu has decided to play his international football for Turkey. After appearing at several youth levels, he earned his senior team call up last year, and has earned five caps so far. However, his future with the Turkish National Team could be in doubt, following an incident where teammate Gokhan Tore allegedly put a gun to Calhanoglu’s knee.
9 T6. Max Meyer – Schalke 04 - €15 million
Max Meyer is the latest product of the Schalke youth system. After joining the club at the age of fourteen, Meyer represented the club at several levels, before making his senior debut in 2013. Now at the age of 19, Meyer is a central figure in the Schalke midfield. He excels at dictating tempo utilizing quick passes, but has shown difficulty when faced against physical opposing defenders. Schalke have secured his services for the next five years, but may have to fend off transfer offers from major clubs like Chelsea.
8 T6. Aymeric Laporte – Athletic Club (Bilbao) - €15 million
Aymeric Laporte is only the second French player to ever play for the historically Basque team Athletic Club. At only 20 years of age, Laporte already plays the center back position like a seasoned veteran. He has 61 caps at this stage of his young career and has helped Athletic Club to another Champions League appearance. His call up to the French National Team could also happen in the near future, where he will learn from fellow talents like Raphael Varane and Eliaquim Mangala.
7 T6. Domenico Berardi – Sassuolo - €15 million
Domenico Berardi’s performances for Sassuolo over the last several seasons have been so spectacular that league rivals Juventus decided they had to get in on the action. Juventus became co-owners of the player, but he continues to play for Sassuolo. Berardi already has 18 Serie A goals to his name at the age of 20. He is typically deployed as a right winger, and he excels at cutting inside on attacking runs before delivering lethal finishes. He could be earning his first Italian National Team call up in the near future.
6 T6. Ross Barkley – Everton - €15 million
Last season, Ross Barkley truly signaled his arrival on the world football scene. After a fantastic Premier League campaign with Everton, where he helped lead them to a 5th place finish, Barkley was called up to the England National Team for the World Cup. Barkley is an attacking midfielder that has drawn comparison to the legendary Frank Lampard. Barkley has already begun to fill those massive shoes, by returning from a knee injury with an assist in his first match of the season.
5 Mateo Kovacic – Inter Milan - €19 million
Mateo Kovacic had already won two Croatian league titles at the age of 18. Following these triumphs, he moved to Inter Milan, where he has accumulated over 50 appearances in the midfield. He racked up three assists in a single match last season. In September, he recorded his first goal with the club. Kovacic seems to be playing a more important role with the club in recent weeks, and can now be considered a regular starter for Walter Mazzarri.
4 T3. Lazar Markovic – Liverpool - €20 million
Lazar Markovic is another talented youth purchased by Liverpool this summer in an effort to replace Luis Suarez. Liverpool purchased Markovic from Benfica for a sum of £20 million, with their eyes on securing his services for the future. He has already featured in several matches for Brendan Rodgers club, playing at his preferred right midfield position. The Serbian winger looks to be a future star, but he also carries the pressure of a large price tag.
3 T3. Raheem Sterling – Liverpool - €20 million
Raheem Sterling has drawn plaudits from around the world, as he helped Liverpool to a Premier League title challenge last season. Sterling is a versatile player that can be deployed in a variety of attacking and wide midfield roles. He possesses world class pace and dribbling ability, which allows him to break down opposing defenders almost at will. Sterling has already scored three goals and contributed two assists in Liverpool’s 2014-15 campaign. He is a central figure at the club, and his continued success will be crucial to both Liverpool and the English National Team.
2 Luke Shaw – Manchester United - €22 million
The battle for Luke Shaw’s signature was one of the most intriguing transfer stories of the summer window. After lengthy negotiations, Manchester United finally secured his services for the price of £30 million, a record for Shaw’s former club Southampton. Last season, he was honored as a member of the PFA Team of the Year at only 18 years of age. He was also included in England’s World Cup squad, where he was the youngest player at the tournament. Now the 19-year-old left back will be a mainstay at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.
1 Marquinhos – Paris St. Germain - €25 million
Paris St. Germain currently has a wealth of Brazilian center back talent at their disposal. Marquinhos will learn from two of the best, with David Luiz and Thiago Silva being the perfect role models for the 20-year-old center back. Last season, Marquinhos helped PSG to another Ligue 1 title, and featured in 22 matches for the club. He was omitted from Brazil’s 2014 World Cup squad by ousted manager Luiz Filipe Scolari, but has since been recalled by Dunga. Marquinhos appears to be one of the world’s elite young central defenders and has a bright future ahead of him.