9 players who could make the leap to superstardom this season

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Updated: September 4, 2019

Even footballing legends like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face the indiscriminate perils of aging. Combine that with extraordinarily brief careers, and the climaxes of celebrated tenures allow for a new generation of stars to be introduced.

With that in mind, here’s a look at nine players whose accomplishments and potential for growth could lead to superstar status during the 2019-20 season:

Jadon Sancho

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Borussia Dortmund
  • International: England (6 caps)

Sprightly wideman Sancho was among the emerging stars of club football last season. The south London teen recorded 14 league assists for Dortmund – the highest total in Europe’s top-five leagues – and bagged a dozen goals. Sancho’s displays got the attention of England boss Gareth Southgate, who handed the youth international his first senior cap in October 2018 against Croatia.

With Dortmund slated to give Bayern Munich a run for domestic honors and progress beyond the group stages of the Champions League, and with Sancho certain to play a pivotal role in England’s six autumn Euro 2020 qualifiers, the star-to-be could soon approach storied status for his club and country.

Joao Felix

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  • Age: 19
  • Club: Atletico Madrid
  • International: Portugal (1 cap)

If there were any doubts that Felix would face obstacles while acclimating to Diego Simeone’s notoriously demanding Atletico Madrid set up, the Portuguese teen has dispelled that skepticism swiftly. A great start in the league has come after a stellar preseason, with Felix justifying a hefty €120-million fee while playing each minute of Los Colchoneros’ trio of wins, putting the team atop La Liga’s table.

With former focal point Antoine Griezmann off to Barcelona, Felix can ascend at the Wanda Metropolitano and earn celebrity status if Atletico collect silverware domestically or on the continent. Felix is also the heir apparent to Ronaldo as the leader of Portugal‘s international efforts.

Frenkie de Jong

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Dutch international De Jong‘s footballing rise has followed a near-infallible path. From a key cog of Ajax’s shock Champions League semifinal run last season to being a marquee summer signing at Barcelona, the visionary passer is set for stardom due to a varied skill set that allows him to play as a defensive bulwark, a holding midfielder, a playmaker, or a box-to-box runner.

With Ivan Rakitic suddenly out of favor, De Jong has snatched a starting spot in the Blaugrana XI, which pairs nicely with an apparent affability and camera-ready smile, putting him on a path to become a future luminary. Dutch football is again on the rise, and De Jong is at the center of it.

  • Age: 22
  • Club: Barcelona
  • International: Netherlands (9 caps)

Matthijs de Ligt

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Juventus
  • International: Netherlands (17 caps)

Like De Jong, Juventus newcomer De Ligt was a jewel in the crown of Ajax’s stunning continental run. And in a similar vein to his international brethren, the 20-year-old central defender has been thrust into the spotlight after a noteworthy summer switch. The former Golden Boy winner is a melange of a traditionally robust central defender and a slick-passing distributor.

A starring role in the Netherlands‘ pursuit of a return to major international tournaments will boost De Ligt’s standing, as will starting for Scudetto favorites Juventus, which has been prematurely bestowed as a result of Giorgio Chiellini’s season-ending ACL tear.

Kai Havertz

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Bayer Leverkusen
  • International: Germany (3 caps)

Outside of German footballing circles, few are aware of just how complete and well-rounded Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Havertz has become. Blessed with elite technical skills and the ability to play a pinpoint pass with either foot, Havertz has been coined an Alleskonner (Jack-of-all-trades), and he’s destined for an eventual move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Matches against Leverkusen’s unenviable Champions League group-stage foes Juventus and Atletico should provide a platform to boost Havertz’s profile, as could a regular spot in Joachim Low’s rebuilt Germany squad, with the 20-year-old poised to snatch Toni Kroos’ spot in the starting XI.

Christian Pulisic

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Chelsea
  • International: United States (31 caps)

Ask anybody who’s invested in American football about Pulisic, and the response will be that he’s a sporting deity certain to eclipse Landon Donovan as the USMNT‘s most celebrated hero. Prod the impartial, and the Chelsea newcomer’s pedigree comes into question. Despite last season’s limited action at Dortmund under Lucien Favre, Pulisic is a dribbling whiz who routinely puts himself in dangerous positions.

Pulisic will be given ample opportunity to quiet his critics this season at Stamford Bridge amid a transfer ban that’s hamstrung Frank Lampard’s first-team choices. Superstardom awaits if he can add scoring to his game while papering over the club’s cracks after Eden Hazard’s departure.

Matteo Guendouzi

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  • Age: 20
  • Club: Arsenal
  • International: France (0 caps)

Tireless Frenchman Guendouzi has put together quite the year. After Arsenal plucked him from second-tier Lorient last summer for a relatively paltry £7 million, the midfielder immediately became a fan favorite at the Emirates. Just this week, Guendouzi won Man of the Match honors in a north London derby draw against Tottenham and earned a first call-up to France‘s senior squad.

Paul Pogba’s injury necessitated Guendouzi’s Les Bleus inclusion, though a versatile skill set and ever-expanding game should see him claim a spot for years to come. And with a starring role at Arsenal, the precise-passing midfield metronome has become one of the Premier League’s unassuming young stars.

Houssem Aouar

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  • Age: 21
  • Club: Lyon
  • International: France Under-21 (14 caps)

Lyon have witnessed Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele, and Nabil Fekir seek greener pastures, shifting the limelight to Aouar. Previously linked with Liverpool and Manchester City, among others, Aouar is a technically astute player who’s dependable in possession and can play anywhere in the midfield.

Aouar’s eventual move to a massive club and Les Gones’ current participation in the Champions League should raise his profile, as should a promotion to France’s senior squad, a call the player would have received if not for a recent groin injury. Stardom beckons for the likable Aouar.

Duvan Zapata

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  • Age: 28
  • Club: Atalanta
  • International: Colombia (13 caps)

The oldest player to make this list by a decent margin, industrious forward Zapata produced a career year last season for Atalanta while guiding La Dea to a club-record third-place Serie A finish and a maiden Champions League berth. A bona fide late bloomer, Zapata’s 23 league goals were second only to Fabio Quagliarella in Italy’s top flight, and 12 better than his previous best.

Zapata was a late cut from Colombia‘s stacked-in-attack 2018 World Cup lot, but he became Los Cafeteros’ leading scorer at the 2019 Copa America. With Atalanta set for a bigger share of the spoils following a continental quartet that could gift shock progression, Zapata might become a celebrated underdog.

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