Following the Man of the Match performance from 21-year-old Bukayo Saka in England’s 6-2 win over Iran on Monday, it seems as if this World Cup will be taken over by the next generation. The Arsenal starboy bagged a brace in his first ever World Cup appearance, surpassing the Three Lions’ all-time top-scorer Wayne Rooney’s entire goal tally at the biggest tournament in football. Saka’s performance encouraged us to take a look at other wonderkids set to carry their nation at the World Cup. Let’s get into it!
Nuno Mendes – Portugal
Nuno Mendes has been a revelation since joining PSG at the start of the 2021/2022 campaign from Sporting Lisbon. The left-back has been widely touted since his early teenage years, as one of the best players in Portugal’s current golden generation of young talent. Now 20-years-old, Mendes is already to further announce himself, this time on the biggest stage of all.
Mendes has been an integral part of the PSG defence that has only conceded 16 goals across Ligue 1 and the UCL this season, and a side that is yet to taste defeat this season. Furthermore, the former Sporting player has already contributed to six goals this campaign from left-back. He’s ready to explode!
William Saliba – France
Awarded Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year in 2021/2022, William Saliba has adapted to life in England and the Premier League with ease. And it’s almost a guarantee he’ll take to life with the French national team just as effortlessly.
Saliba has been a mainstay in Arsenal’s defence since returning from his loan to Marseille last campaign. The Gunner’s backline currently has the joint-best record in the PL, along with Newcastle, having only conceded 11 goals in 14 fixtures. This has been off the back of countless stunning performances from the Frenchman to the extent of being widely regarded as the best defender in the league thus far.
Saliba’s elegance in defending is what strikes most that watch him. He makes defending truly look like an art, one which he does almost nonchalantly.
France do have an abundance of talented central defenders, but none more deserve to start based on form this season than Saliba. If Didier Deschamps does entrust the Arsenal centre-back to start in his backline, Saliba will almost certainly repay his manager’s faith.
Jamal Musiala – Germany
This campaign has seen Jamal Musiala really announce himself as one of, if not the best wonderkid in Europe. The German bided his time since joining Bayern Munich from Chelsea in 2020 but has hurled himself towards the verge of superstardom at the tender age of 19.
Not only has the signing of Sadio Mane helped fill the void left by Robert Lewandowski at Bayern, but Musiala’s increased game time and output has gone a long way to somehow cover the output lost due to the Pole’s departure.
Musiala is often deployed in the heart of midfield or behind the striker in the playmaker role. However, his outrageous output suggests he is more likely to be Thomas Müller’s long-term replacement, netting an astounding 12 goals and laying on a further 10 assists in just 22 appearances across all competitions. From midfield!
The Chelsea academy product has already put in stellar performances in this year’s UCL, so he has already put his name among the lights. However, Qatar could be the tournament that truly shows the world that Musiala is here to dominate for the next decade, at least.
Xavi Simons – Netherlands
PSV star Xavi Simons has been spoken about as the next big superstar for years. It came as a shock to many when he left FC Barcelona’s academy La Masia to join PSG in 2019, given the reputation the Club has in terms of embedding in youngsters from their youth setup. However, his time in PSG also proved to be tough for the 19-year-old, who only began to shine since making the switch to Eredivisie side PSV this summer.
Simons has been instrumental to PSV’s title push this campaign, as they sit just three points off first-placed Feyenoord. The midfielder has already notched up 10 goals and 4 assists in just 22 appearances across all competitions for the Dutch side.
Simons is a very forward-thinking midfielder with a great engine and technical quality. Given the lack of creativity and attack-minded midfielders available to Louis Van Gaal, Simons will be a valuable option to drive his team forward, and serve as the connection of the defence to the attack.
Simons’ form this season has already triggered reports suggesting PSG are exploring exercising their buy-back option on the player, such has been the caliber of his performances. Should he replicate his club form in Qatar, more than one club will undoubtedly be rivalling PSG for his signature next summer.
Jude Bellingham – England
Okay with this one we have cheated a bit considering Bellingham put in an outstanding shift in England’s win over Iran on Monday, but it’s impossible not to talk about Jude Bellingham’s bags and bags of talent.
The Borussia Dortmund star plays with a maturity well beyond his years, which ushers him up towards the top of the list of the most exciting young players in the world, given his rare ability to dictate midfield by himself at such a young age.
The 19-year-old has really stepped up this season for Dortmund in the absence of Erling Haaland, bagging 9 goals and setting up a further 2 in 22 appearances for the Bundesliga outfit this term across all competitions. But it’s not the stats that will indicate how good Bellingham is, it’s the eye-test. His composure, strength, technical quality, engine and footballing IQ is already among the best in the world. It’s truly quite frightening how good he can become given the world-class levels he’s exhibited in his fledgling career thus far.
If England go far in this World Cup, Bellingham will have undoubtedly played a massive part in in.
Eduardo Camavinga – France
France’s injury crisis in midfield may lead to them giving Eduardo Camavinga a proper chance in the World Cup. Both Pogba and Kante miss the tournament through injury, and Camavinga would slot in perfectly next to his Real Madrid teammate Aurelien Tchouameni.
Camavinga joined Los Blancos in the summer prior to the 2021/2022 campaign, but found himself on the bench for the majority of the season. However, impressive cameo performances in the league resulted in Carlo Ancelotti showing more faith in the Frenchman, and turning to him off the bench in many of Madrid’s Champions League games, on their way to a 14th triumph.
The former Rennes starlet is capable of doing everything in midfield, putting up insane defensive numbers prior to his move to Madrid, where his role as a destroyer changed. Instead, Camavinga was then able to display his sound technical quality, as seen in his game-changing appearances off the bench against PSG, Man City and Chelsea in the UCL last season. The Camavinga-Tchouameni partnership could be the long-term succession plan to Kante and Pogba, who have both been mainstays in the French midfield since the mid-2010s.