2018 provided us with the rise of young stars such as World Cup champion Kylian Mbappé and Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, but it also gave us a glimpse into the future. We witnessed the arrival of other talented youngsters, ready to make their mark on the global stage. From Man City’s Phil Foden to Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, here are 11 prospects with a growing reputation that could make an even bigger impact in 2019.
Josh Sargent (USA, Werder Bremen, 18)
It was an eventful year for the 18-year-old American forward who earned his first caps and goals for the U.S men’s national team in 2018. After impressing for Werder Bremen II, Sargent was finally called up to the first team earlier this month and with his first touch he scored against Fortuna Dusseldorf, making it the fastest by a debutant in club history. 2019 is a big year as Sargent looks to continue to develop in the Bundesliga and also become a key member of Gregg Berhalter’s plans going forward.
Jadon Sancho (England, Borussia Dortmund, 18)
The English teenager has excelled in the last twelve months for club and country, including this winner for Dortmund against FC Schalke 04 in the Revierderby. Just like Sargent with the U.S, Sancho made his debut for England’s senior side in 2018 during UEFA Nations League. What makes this teenager so intriguing is that he is a perfect combination of style, flair and discipline and at only 18, Sancho’s value and potential has only scratched the surface.
Diego Lainez (Mexico, Club America, 18)
After winning Liga MX’s Apertura final with Club America and receiving his first-call up for Mexico earlier this year, the Mexican prodigy has shown that he is ready for even bigger things. Speaking exclusively to Sports Illustrated earlier in 2018, Lainez expressed his obvious interest to one day continue his career in Europe, and after seeing the success of Hirving “Chucky” Lozano at PSV Eindhoven, there’s no reason why the multidimensional Lainez couldn’t do the same in the future. For 2019, next summer’s Gold Cup will be a great opportunity for his stock to rise.
Phil Foden (England, Manchester City, 18)
There’s no doubt Manchester City’s midfield unit is loaded with talent, but Pep Guardiola values Foden’s potential and sees him as someone he can not only develop, but maybe turn into a star. Despite the competition in the senior team, he has been able to showcase what he can do whenever he’s given the opportunity and Man City noticed and appreciated his services, as the highly rated 18-year-old recently signed a new deal with the club. 2019 is a key year for Foden, as he will look to not just make appearances for Man City but also become an important player for the club.
Vinicius Junior (Brazil, Real Madrid, 18)
Regardless of Real Madrid’s fate this season, 2019 should be a big year for the Brazilian forward. Club duties aside, making Brazil’s squad for Copa America (hosted in Brazil) could be another big step in his career, and if selected, it could be the tournament where he can show what he can do at international level. After Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Madrid, coupled with Santiago Solari’s permanent appointment as head coach, the 18-year-old has taken advantage of his extended presence for Los Blancos, making 11 appearances across all competitions. Vinicius is gifted with overwhelming talent; the key for him is consistency and eliminating impulsive decisions on the pitch. For him, 2019 is the year to be not just a talented wunderkind, but also a productive one.
Alphonso Davies (Canada, Bayern Munich, 18)
Another 18-year-old is ready to make his mark in Europe as the Ghana-born, Edmonton-raised star prepares for life with Bayern Munich after joining the German club from MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps. Bayern paid an initial base fee of $13 million for his services ($22 million when you include performance-related bonuses) making it a record transfer for Major League Soccer. As players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben face the end of their careers, the young attacker comes in ready to make a statement in 2019. Davies, who recently became the youngest male player to win Canada’s player of the year award, will have his eyes set on helping his national team win the Gold Cup for the first time since 2000.
Mallory Pugh (USA, Washington Spirit, 20)
It was an up-and-down 2018 for the 20-year-old forward, whose development was halted in the summer due to injury, which sidelined her for two months before coming back to action and rejoining the national team for CONCACAF’s Women’s Championship. The injury caused a dip in production for club and country (Pugh had to miss eight league matches) but as she gets back to form, the hope is that she becomes a key player for Jill Ellis’s World Cup squad in France next summer. A dynamic winger who can play either side, Pugh is at her best when she is running at defenders from wide areas. But thanks to great timing with her runs, she is also a threat without the ball. Hopefully she can remain injury-free as we look ahead to the women’s World Cup in 2019.
Marie-Antoinette Katoto (France, PSG, 20)
Despite losing in the semifinal of the U-20 Women’s World Cup to Spain this past summer, the French forward is hoping to make more of an impact with the senior team as she prepares for a tricky group of matches against South Korea, Norway and Nigeria. By December, Katoto was joint top scorer with Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg with 12 goals in the French league, and her five goals in the Champions League is only two away from the leader Krystyna Freda. In many ways, Katoto is a classic No. 9 as she loves to live inside the box, but she is good with her feet and as she proved in the French Cup final against Lyon back in May, her trickery makes for a dynamic center forward.
Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands, Ajax, 21)
One of the most highly rated young players in the world right now, de Jong is a main reason why Ajax qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League for the first time in 13 years. At only 21 years old, he plays as if he was a veteran, able to dictate the field as his composed, intelligent passing directs most of Ajax’s work in the final third. Much of this is due to his previous life as a center back, as de Jong also has a knack for escaping difficult situations when the opponent presses the midfield. Giants clubs such as PSG and Manchester City have already shown an interest in de Jong for 2019.
Exequiel Palacios (Argentina, River Plate, 20)
After winning the Copa Libertadores with River Plate, the talented midfielder sees 2019 as his year to make an impact on the European stage. With Real Madrid looking like the eventual destination, Palacios is ready show what he can do in La Liga and the opportunity to play alongside Ballon d’Or, FIFA Best winner and World Cup finalist Luka Modric. As Argentina prepares for Copa America next summer, the versatile star (he can play either in midfield or as a winger) looks to make a name for himself and establish as one of the best prospects in world soccer.
Federico Chiesa (Italy, Fiorentina, 21)
There are many reasons why the 21-year-old Italian star will have a huge 2019. For starters, it’s clear that his national team manager Roberto Mancini sees him as a key player, having taken part in each of Italy’s seven matches under the manager. In addition, his versatility as a winger, attacking midfielder or forward makes him an attractive target for other European clubs as Juventus, Chelsea, Inter Milan are reportedly interested for his services.
There’s still a lot he has to do, however, as his decision-making can come to question but this will improve with more experience. As the European Championship qualifiers begin in March and Italy looks to turn a new page after failing to make the World Cup, Chiesa looks to be part of the future for the Azzurri.