The 'next Ozil,' United target Kluivert, plus Aouar, Lafont tipped for stardom
While Kylian Mbappe and Gianluigi Donnarumma have both become household names over the past two seasons, there are plenty of other teenage talents lighting up the biggest leagues in Europe. Here are five to look out for in 2018...
Kai Havertz -- 18, Bayer Leverkusen
The Bundesliga is packed with talented young footballers, but Havertz is arguably the most gifted of them all. With a languid style that has drawn comparisons to Mesut Ozil, the attacking midfielder possesses the balance and technique to effortlessly drift away from defenders. He caught the eye with four goals in a 5-1 victory for Germany Under-19s against Belarus in October, which immediately led to reports that Jurgen Klopp will add the teenager to his growing former Bundesliga cohort at Liverpool. As a 17-year-old, Havertz became Leverkusen's youngest ever top-flight debutant last season and youngest goal-scorer when he cracked home a left-footed drive against Wolfsburg in April. He also made three appearances in the Champions League, but was forced to miss the round-of-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid to sit his school exams. Havertz has found the net just once this term, but has claimed five assists to help Leverkusen command a Champions League qualifying spot at the halfway stage of the campaign. With a host of scouts tracking his progress, manager Heiko Herrlich faces a struggle to hold on to his top talent.
Justin Kluivert -- 18, Ajax
If Kluivert is feeling the pressure of following in his father's footsteps, he certainly hasn't been showing it at Ajax. The 18-year-old made headlines in November with a stunning hat trick in a 5-1 win over Roda JC -- a feat his father never achieved in the Eredivisie -- as his reputation as one of Europe's hottest prospects continues to grow. Kluivert Jr. isn't a conventional striker, instead lining up on the left wing from where he looks to drive in-field to slide teammates through on goal or bend shots towards the far corner. With lightning pace, quick feet and the odd trick to evade defenders, he has claimed five strikes and two assists this season as Ajax seek to rein in PSV Eindhoven at the top of the table. Although he was left on the bench in Ajax's Europa League final defeat to Manchester United in 2017, a video emerged after the game of Jose Mourinho apparently telling the forward that he wanted him at Old Trafford. Tottenham have also expressed an interest, with Kluivert tipped to be a top target for Europe's leading clubs next summer.
Houssem Aouar -- 19, Lyon
A wonderfully versatile midfielder, Aouar has appeared in a deep-lying central position and on the left flank for Lyon after emerging from the club's famed youth academy. With balletic technique and the vision to carve open opposition defences, the 19-year-old has played a key role in Lyon's impressive start to the season as they bid to continue a four-match winning streak in Ligue 1 and apply pressure on leaders Paris Saint-Germain. Aouar helped maintain that run with a pair of composed finishes in December's 2-1 victory at Amiens, adding to his goals against Dijon and Everton, in the Europa League, earlier in the campaign. The youngster has also contributed three assists, two coming in 5-0 routs away to Nice and Saint-Etienne, to earn a first call-up to the France U21 squad. Links to Barcelona, Arsenal and Liverpool have followed, but it may be difficult to prise Aouar from Lyon after he revealed in an interview with L'Equipe that he is fulfilling his childhood dream to play for his local club.
Alban Lafont -- 18, Toulouse
It is rare to see goalkeepers command so much faith at a young age but, as with Donnarumma at AC Milan, Lafont's performances for Toulouse have belied his years. The towering 18-year-old holds the record for being the youngest keeper ever to play in Ligue 1 after making his debut in 2015 aged 16 years and 310 days. Lafont was thrust into a relegation battle, but kept eight clean sheets in 24 appearances to help Toulouse survive on the final day of the season. He added a further ten clean sheets in 2016-17, including home and away fixtures against Paris Saint-Germain, as Toulouse recorded the fourth best defensive record in the French top flight despite finishing 13th. Lauded for his concentration and ability to claim crosses by France U17 coach Bernard Diomede, Lafont is also comfortable with the ball at his feet and has produced a string of eye-catching saves this season. There has been talk of the Burkina Faso-born shot-stopper replacing Petr Cech at Arsenal as he continues to impress in Ligue 1.
Dayot Upamecano -- 19, RB Leipzig
Upamecano's rise has largely slipped under the radar outside Germany, but it won't be long before Europe's biggest clubs come calling. After making the breakthrough at Red Bull Salzburg, the 19-year-old moved to RB Leipzig for €10 million in January 2017, quickly establishing himself in the first team as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side finished second in their debut Bundesliga season. A strong, speedy centre-back who reads the game well, Upamecano is adept with the ball at his feet and can drive out of defence to initiate attacks. He played alongside Ousmane Dembele in the youth ranks at French club Evreux, where he was described by one of his former coaches as "not a natural talent". Upamecano's work ethic outshone that of his peers, however, and his development accelerated when he joined Salzburg. With experience of playing in the Champions League group stage this season, the France U19 international is set for a lengthy career at the top of the game.
Matthew Stanger covers European football for ESPN and is the editor of The Set Pieces. Twitter: @MatthewStanger