The Wonderkid Power Rankings: Jude Bellingham ban debate as Man City & Man Utd pair storm into top ten
Ranking the ten best young players in world football - can Jude Bellingham hold on to top spot as Manchester City and United youngsters get involved?
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Welcome to The Wonderkid Power Rankings, 3 Added Minutes’ weekly rundown of the most in-form young players in the global game – this week based on their showings for their various national teams.
A few top ten regulars missed out either due to injury (like Lamine Yamal) or simply because their countries had no immediate need of their services (it’s tough for even a teenager as talented as Mathys Tel to get in the France squad) so we get a few new and returning faces on the ladder this week – but plenty of the staples of the rankings played rather superbly in their national colours, so the top of the table still looks pretty familiar…
10. Rasmus Højlund – Manchester United (new entry)
The young Dane has had an up and down start to life at Old Trafford, impressing in the Champions League but struggling to find the net in the Premier League – but he has been a consistent performer for Denmark and his country were grateful for him once more after he helped to bail them out in two games that should have been comfortable but ended up rather tense.
He set up a key goal against Kazakhstan in a 3-1 win and scored the opener against San Marino, which wouldn’t normally count for much but given that the Danes needed a late winner to get out of the microstate with a win, it has to go down as a key contribution. Not quite the five-goal haul he managed in two international matches back in March, but still a pair of solid performances that underlined his gradual development into a quality player.
9. Xavi Simons – RB Leipzig (⬆️ from 10)
Simons has had a quiet couple of weeks after a flying start to life at Leipzig, and that looked set to continue after he was kept conspicuously quiet in the Netherlands’ defeat to France – a game in which Simons played tidily and made very few mistakes, but was unable to get the ball down and attack the French defence.
Things took an upturn, however, when the Netherlands beat Greece 1-0 to keep their Euro 2024 qualification bid on track, with Simons at the heart of more or less everything the Dutch did well, bringing team-mates into attacking play with something more like his usual élan – and although he wasn’t responsible for winning either penalty his side earned (one missed by Wout Weghorst and the other scored in injury time by Virgil van Dijk) it was still a much more encouraging showing following a quiet period.
8. António Silva – Benfica (new entry)
The Benfica centre-back has spent the last year slowly building a reputation that extends beyond Football Manager and has recently been linked with Liverpool – and showed us why some of the bigger teams in Europe might be interested with a hugely impressive display against Slovakia.
Portugal scraped a 3-2 win to keep their 100% qualification record up and while he may have been involved in the defence which shipped their first two goals of the campaign, he was an immense presence at the back and made several key interventions – only to be mysteriously dropped for the more routine win over Bosnia & Herzegovina in the next match. Football seems very unfair, sometimes.
7. Kendry Páez – Independentiente del Valle (re-entry)
The Ecuadorian youngster has already sealed a lucrative move to Chelsea which will see him move to Stamford Bridge when he turns 18 – still nearly two years away – and had already become the youngest player ever to represent Ecuardor after playing in a World Cup qualifier against Uruguay during which he assisted the winning goal.
Now he’s gone one better, scoring a brilliant goal to open the scoring against Bolivia, racing onto a ball down the channel with lightning pace and leaving defenders trailing in his wake before sliding the ball home – making him the youngest goalscorer in the history of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Some talent.
6. Joško Gvardiol – Manchester City (re-entry)
The most expensive defender in the history of the game (in euros, at least – sinking conversion rates mean that Harry Maguire cost more in pounds, believe it or not) lived up to his billing in Croatia’s 1-0 win over Turkey, putting in a rock solid performance that offered nothing up to the opposition and earned his own team plenty of good-quality possession.
Unfortunately for his country, they fared rather worse against Wales, losing 2-1 and putting their qualification campaign in some danger – not that the defeat can be put down to anything Gvardiol did wrong, really, although he couldn’t influence the game as much as he so often does from defence.
5. Alejandro Balde – Barcelona (⬇️ from 2)
It wasn’t the best international break for Balde – the left-back was solid enough in the first half against Scotland and passed the ball around as neatly as ever, but was hoicked off at half-time and didn’t see the pitch again, either against the Scots or in Spain’s win over Norway a few days later.
He’s been consistently excellent for Barcelona for a long time now, but apparently stands a risk of losing his spot in the national team to Real Madrid’s Fran García based on Luis de la Fuente’s selections this weekend – it would certainly be a surprise if he took that lying down.
4. Florian Wirtz – Bayer Leverkusen (⬆️ from 5)
Sometimes players get nudged up the rankings more because of failures of others around them than because they’ve done brilliantly in their own right, and that’s very slightly the case for Wirtz, who played just over an hour in both of Germany’s friendlies against Mexico and the USA and did well enough – but hardly set the world on fire.
That was especially true against Mexico, when he failed to impact the game substantially from the left wing, but he was certainly better against the States, offering up three key passes and creating some of Germany’s better chances in a 3-1 win – although it wasn’t his chances that were put away.
3. Gavi – Barcelona (⬆️ from 4)
Gavi was impressive enough in the crucial 2-0 win over Scotland, racking up a 90% pass completion as he ran the midfield for large parts of the match, but it was in the narrow 1-0 victory over Norway that he really made his mark.
His running of the midfield was not only even better – pushing that completion rate all the way up to 95% - but he also scored the winning goal, showing impressive composure to control a left-footed effort with a bouncing ball after some goalmouth ping-pong. Barcelona look half the side without him these days, and that’s starting to become true of Spain as well.
2. Jamal Musiala – Bayern Munich (⬆️ from 3)
Musiala was excellent in both of Germany’s friendlies, with the full range of driving runs, technical excellence, smart passing and dangerous shooting on display in the draw with Mexico and the win over the USA.
Admittedly, his goal owed a little to lady luck – Musiala miscontrolled a one-two on the edge of the area allowing an American defender to stick a leg in and deflect the ball up and away from him, only for it to fall kindly for Nicklas Füllkrug to square it back to Musiala, who tapped into an empty net. Still, it was Musiala who got the ball there in the first place…
1. Jude Bellingham – Real Madrid (non-mover)
We may just have to ban Bellingham for these rankings eventually, simply to make it fair on everyone else. He’s been number one every single week this season, and was so brilliant in England’s 3-1 win over Italy that he can’t be placed anywhere else. Some players are simply too good for others to keep up with.
It was Bellingham’s sudden burst of acceleration which earned England their equalising penalty, and a combination of his industry, technique and raw pace that took the ball from one end of Wembley to the other to give Marcus Rashford the chance to fire into the bottom right-hand corner. Every time he touches the ball, something happens, and he is already one of England’s most important players. The kind of player who wins games on his own.