With football as profitable as it is, clubs often look to sign the next big thing to either secure glory or make a hefty profit on the player in question. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Saviola, Alexandre Pato and Sergio Agüero transferred in their teenage years for millions of pounds, despite the risk of spending big on a player so young.
Some live up to their billing, while others simply fail to handle the pressure of performing on the grand stage at their age as a result of the large fee paid to secure their services. Nevertheless, a number of teens have exhibited their quality to the watching world this season as they strive to reach their potential.
Using WhoScored’s unique rating system, of every performer to have made at least 5 appearances, we look at the top 5 rated teenagers in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season.
Raheem Sterling (7.31) - Liverpool
Having been handed the chance to showcase his talents by Brendan Rodgers last season, Raheem Sterling has become a key member of the Reds starting XI this term, making 21 league appearances, 15 of which have been starts. Alongside Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge in the attack, the 19-year-old has come on leaps and bounds as Liverpool look to secure a top 4 finish.
Bagging a brace against Arsenal in Saturday’s 5-1 win took his Premier League tally for the season to 5, with another 2 assists to his name thus far. In a World Cup year, Sterling is coming into form at just the right time as he looks to force his way into Roy Hodgson’s 23-man squad for Brazil 2014.
The winger is currently averaging 2.6 dribbles per game, accumulating a matching WhoScored strength in turn, with his figure bettered only by Suárez (2.9) of every Liverpool player. Such is his ability with the ball that Sterling has also won the most penalties (3) in England’s top tier this term, highlighting how he’s able to draw fouls in dangerous positions for the benefit of the team. His average rating of 7.31 emphasises how key he has been in the Reds’ pursuit of a return to the Champions League.
Aymeric Laporte (7.24) - Athletic Bilbao
Under the stewardship of Ernesto Valverde, Athletic Bilbao have emerged as favourites to land a top 4 berth in La Liga this term. Having conceded just the 28 goals in Spain’s top tier, part of their success has been down to their defence, with Aymeric Laporte in particular impressing in his second full season at San Mamés.
The defensive solidity of Athletic was often compromised during Marcelo Bielsa’s tenure, shown by Laporte’s average rating (6.97) in La Liga last term, which has risen to 7.24 as Los Leones look to book a Champions League place. Valverde’s influence on the young defender is evidently having a positive effect, with the Frenchman averaging a notable 2.2 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game.
Moreover, the teenager has utilised his height in the Primera Division this term, netting 2 headed goals. He's collected a style of play from WhoScored of ‘indirect set-piece threat’, with the headers coming as a result of deadball situations, highlighting how effective he is at both ends of the pitch.
Max Meyer (7.2) - Schalke
Schalke’s ability to develop attacking midfielders at present knows no bounds, exhibited through the rise to prominence of Lewis Holtby and Julian Draxler. The Bundesliga side have continued this trend with Max Meyer, the 18-year-old now midway through his second full season as part of the senior team.
While Draxler has been stealing the limelight for Die Knappen, Meyer has displayed his potential to the watching world with a series of fine performances in the attacking midfield trio in Jens Kellers’ favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. The German has 5 goals to his name in the Bundesliga this term, 3 of which have come when he’s started in the role behind the frontman, highlighting how he’s able to make the right runs at the right time to maximise his ability to score.
However, it’s his capability to carry possession that has won him his fair share of admirers, with Meyer currently averaging 3.7 successful dribbles per game, an asset that has seen the teenager develop a statistically calculated strength of ‘dribbling’. Able to drive at the opposition from deep, Meyer is capable of utilising this aspect of his game to punch through defences to increase Schalke’s chances of scoring and with Draxler tipped to leave in the summer, Meyer is understandably considered his natural successor.
Domenico Berardi (7.19) - Sassuolo
Despite Sassuolo’s lowly position in Serie A, striker Domenico Berardi has adjusted to the rigours of Italy’s top tier with ease. Only Giuseppe Rossi (14) and Carlos Tevéz (13) have netted more league goals than Berardi (12) this season, with supporters and pundits alike raving about the performances of the 19-year-old.
No player has scored more clear-cut chances (9) than Berardi in the league this term, with the teenager displaying an impressive level of calmness when presented with the opportunity to net. This facet of his game will benefit his more inventive teammates, who are able to place their trust in the youngster to fire in the goals that will keep Sassuolo in Serie A.
Juventus, who currently co-own the youngster, will be justifiably excited about his arrival once the season draws to a close as they look to reassert their dominance in Europe. Berardi, as he’s displayed for Sassuolo, has the ability to contribute next season, under Antonio Conte’s guidance, and can only be expected to improve with age.
Nicola Murru (7.1) - Cagliari
While Cagliari sit 15th in Serie A, Nicola Murru has displayed his defensive qualities on a consistent basis when called upon this season. The 19-year-old has started 17 of their 23 league games and despite his young age, has all but made the starting left-back spot for the Italian side his own.
Perhaps Murru’s biggest asset is his ability to read the game, with a WhoScored strength of ‘ball interception’. This comes as little shock, with the teenager averaging 3.1 interceptions per game - that figure better than any regular full-back in Serie A this campaign.
The youngster is currently making 2.6 tackles and 2.9 clearances per league match, highlighting how he’s able to consistently deny the opposition any goalscoring opportunities on his side of the pitch. Furthermore, Murru can offer an offensive outlet for his team from a deeper position having registered 2 league assists, while the left-back is averaging 0.9 key passes per game, a notable return for a full-back, despite Cagliari’s worrying position in Serie A.
Which teenagers in Europe's top 5 leagues have impressed you this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below