Homegrown youngsters who could save their clubs millions next season

Updated: May 12, 2020

For football clubs, the fix for areas of need can often be found within, as academy products provide a cheaper alternative to big-money additions. That rings especially true ahead of a summer of uncertainty. Here’s a look at one internal solution for each of Europe’s biggest sides, as these youngsters could end up saving their respective clubs millions.

Premier League


  • Player: Folarin Balogun
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 18

If Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaves this summer, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta could promote from within to help Eddie Nketiah back up Alexandre Lacazette under the assumption that Gabriel Martinelli plays out wide. In Balogun and Tyreece John-Jules, Arteta has two options, and while both have their plaudits, Balogun is a clinical finisher with explosive pace. He potted 25 goals for the Under-18s before banging in 10 during 15 matches in the Premier League 2 this year.


  • Player: Billy Gilmour
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 18

Diminutive in size but gargantuan in ability, Chelsea‘s Gilmour burst onto the scene this season with successive Man of the Match displays in a 2-0 cup win over Liverpool and a 4-0 battering of Everton, his first league start. Blessed with immense vision and technical ability, the Scotsman starred at the center of a three-man midfield in Jorginho’s absence. With the Italian being linked to a Serie A return, Gilmour is set to become a cornerstone at Stamford Bridge.


John Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty
  • Player: Neco Williams
  • Position: Right-back
  • Age: 19

In Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, and Williams, Liverpool possess a trident of ready-made options to bolster the squad. The versatile Joe Gomez is set for a first-choice central defensive pairing with Virgil van Dijk, handing Williams a role as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s understudy at right-back. The Welshman has impressed in five cup outings since his senior debut against Arsenal in October, fitting the profile of a traditional, positionally wise full-back.

Manchester City

  • Player: Eric Garcia
  • Position: Center-back
  • Age: 19

Even the upper crust of Manchester City academy products struggle to earn senior minutes – just ask Phil Foden. Even so, center-back could be an area of need. FA Youth Cup-winning duo Garcia and Taylor Harwood-Ellis both got a sniff of first-team activity this term, though the former’s repertoire is more cultured at the moment and is alluringly sophisticated for a player still in his teens. Garcia’s emergence should spell trouble for Nicolas Otamendi.

Manchester United

  • Player: James Garner
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 19

A composed holding midfielder in the mold of Michael Carrick, Garner made his senior debut for Manchester United against Partizan Belgrade in October. Fitness concerns for Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay prevented him from pursuing a beneficial loan in January, and next season, Garner will seek integration into the first team as a show of faith from the Red Devils’ board despite a wealth of midfield talent in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ranks.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Player: Troy Parrott
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 18

Republic of Ireland striker Parrott played just six minutes of Premier League football this season, but that hasn’t stopped supporters from anointing him as Tottenham‘s next big thing. Jose Mourinho has tried to temper those expectations in his trademark irritating fashion, though there’s no escaping the fact that Spurs are short on traditional strikers beyond Harry Kane and his ailing ankles. Parrott boasts a deft first touch, an eye for goal, and a knack for drawing fouls.

La Liga

Atletico Madrid

  • Player: Rodrigo Riquelme
  • Position: Winger
  • Age: 20

Thomas Lemar and Vitolo haven’t done much to endear themselves to Diego Simeone this season at Atletico Madrid, opening the door for Riquelme. The Spaniard nearly scored the match-winner during his 12-minute debut against Eibar in September, and though he hasn’t played for Los Rojiblancos since then, Riquelme might be best suited as a trequartista. He’s drawn comparisons to Antoine Griezmann, and even Griezmann sees the similarities.


  • Player: Riqui Puig
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 20

Claimed by some to be the best La Masia product since Lionel Messi, it seems like Puig‘s name has been on the tip of pundits’ tongues for an eternity. Such is the Catalan youngster’s notoriety, and with Barcelona eyeing opulent additions in attack ahead of a summer that could see the departures of weathered pillars of the old guard, Puig – who’s strikingly elegant on the ball – could finally get his chance on the left side of a midfield three.

Real Madrid

VI-Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty
  • Player: Adrian de la Fuente
  • Position: Center-back
  • Age: 21

Real Madrid‘s future is more than adequately bright due to the likes of Martin Odegaard, Achraf Hakimi, Fede Valverde, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and several others, though the club reportedly remains in the market for an eventual understudy for the aging Sergio Ramos. The solution may very well come from Castilla product Adrian de la Fuente, a prototypical modern defender who’s proficient in possession and technically adept.

Serie A

AC Milan

  • Player: Daniel Maldini
  • Position: Attacking midfielder
  • Age: 18

Maldini is the most famous name in AC Milan history, but that isn’t the sole reason Daniel has received first-team opportunities. Unlike grandfather Cesare and pops Paolo, Daniel is an attacking player who possesses the attributes of both a No. 10 and a second striker. Unsurprisingly, the 18-year-old, who made his senior bow as a 93rd-minute substitute against Hellas Verona in February, is tactically astute and an ardent presser.

Inter Milan

  • Player: Sebastiano Esposito
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 17

Antonio Conte isn’t renowned for relying on blooming talents, though in Esposito, the Inter boss has a wunderkind he can’t ignore, especially amid Barcelona’s feverish pursuit of Lautaro Martinez. The youngest Inter player to appear in both of European club football’s major competitions and the team’s second-youngest Serie A goalscorer, Esposito has gotten a taste of first-team action this season, and his versatility suits a myriad of systems.


Andrea Staccioli / LightRocket / Getty
  • Player: Hans Nicolussi Caviglia
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Age: 19

Italian youth standout Caviglia is capable as both a central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 setup and as the mezzala in a 4-3-3, providing Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri with an off-the-rack fix for his most glaring area of need. A loan to second-tier Perugia this season has helped Caviglia cut his teeth and refine an all-around game noted for strong judgment and passing skills, and his control and decision-making in tight confines are both up to Serie A standards.


Bayern Munich

  • Player: Joshua Zirkzee
  • Position: Forward
  • Age: 18

Angular Dutch striker Zirkzee enjoyed a fairy-tale debut when he scored an added-time goal with his first touch to snatch three points in a pivotal clash against Freiburg in December. Zirkzee would add to that haul in his next Bayern Munich outing at home to Wolfsburg, and despite playing a scant 171 Bundesliga minutes, the former Feyenoord prodigy bagged three league goals and looks to be a mainstay of the Rekordmeister’s youth-oriented takeover.

Borussia Dortmund

  • Player: Leonardo Balerdi
  • Position: Center-back
  • Age: 21

For all the plaudits of Borussia Dortmund‘s attacking virtues, vulnerabilities at the back remain. As such, BVB should have little trouble integrating Argentine defender Balerdi into the first team. There’s no shortage of athleticism and guile in the rangy once-capped senior international’s game, but it’s the former Boca Juniors youngster’s contributions in the build-up that have drawn comparisons to teammate Mats Hummels.

Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain

  • Player: Tanguy Kouassi
  • Position: Center-back
  • Age: 17

With Thiago Silva’s terms in the French capital set to lapse, and with Presnel Kimpembe’s post-World Cup slump enduring, Paris Saint-Germain teen talent Kouassi could feature prominently next season. Thomas Tuchel clearly likes what he’s seen, as he’s given Kouassi a half-dozen opportunities in the league this year. An ability to also anchor the midfield is a symbol of a burgeoning star who’s rife with expertise beyond his boyish years.

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