Lamine Yamal leads the exciting youngsters that will hope to light up the UEFA Champions League in the 2023/24 season.
Over the years, the UEFA Champions League has proven to be the ideal competition for youngsters to prove their mettle. Europe’s premier club football tournament has provided the platform for rising stars to come into limelight.
Young players whose teams appear in the competition always look forward to using it to break through.
In this article, FootballOrbit recommends 15 young players for you to keep a watchful eye on during the 2023/24 Champions League season.
1. Lamine Yamal (16 years – Barcelona)
Growing up through the youth ranks of La Masia, Lamine Yamal was highly regarded as one of the academy’s best prospects.
A left-footed forward with great dribbling, passing and scoring abilities, he is able to play either as a striker, an attacking midfielder or a winger.
Moreso, due to his technical qualities, he regularly gets compared to his idol Lionel Messi.
Yamal has always played within age grades of boys older than him and was selected by Xavi to train with the Barca first team along with other youngsters in September 2022.
He made his first-team debut in April 2023 to become the youngest player to appear for Barcelona’s first team at 15 years, 9 months, and 16 days old.
He won his first title with Barça in May 2023, having been part of the squad that won the 2022/23 La Liga.
Furthermore, Yamal made his first start for the club in August 2023 against Cádiz at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, becoming the youngest starter for Barcelona in La Liga at the age of 16 years and 38 days. His first start was met with a standing ovation from the opposition fans as he was subbed off with five minutes left in the game.
On the 19th of September 2023, Lamine made his UEFA Champions League debut in a 5-0 win over Antwerp — becoming the second youngest player ever to feature in the competition, aged 16 years and 68 days.
Yamal made his senior debut for Spain against Georgia in September 2023, scoring in the 74th minute of a 7-1 victory. At the age of 16 years and 57 days old, he became the youngest player and goalscorer for Spain, breaking both of Gavi’s records who debuted at 17 years and 62 days old and scored at 17 years and 304 days old.
In addition to this, Yamal became the youngest goalscorer in a Euro qualifying match, overtaking Gareth Bale’s record who scored at the age of 17 years and 83 days old.
2. Warren Zaire-Emery (17 years – PSG)
A defensive midfielder with a decent physique and remarkable technical abilities, Warren Zaire-Emery is both good at winning the ball and launching the plays, providing structure to its team plays and giving balance to the midfield.
He joined PSG’s youth academy in 2014. He always played in categories above his age, impressing his coaches at all levels.
During the 2021/22 season, when he had only turned 15, he was the youngest player of the under-19 squad. Despite his young age, Zaïre-Emery became a key player for the U19s.
In August 2022, Zaire-Emery made his official senior debut for PSG as a substitute in a 5-0 league win away to Clermont. His debut at the age of 16 years and 151 days made him the youngest player to appear in an official match for the club.
In February 2023, he scored his first senior goal against Montpellier to become PSG’s youngest ever goalscorer, aged 16 years and 330 days.
Days later, he became the youngest player to start a Champions League knockout game at the age of 16 years and 343 days in a 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich.
At the end of the 2022/23 season, Zaïre-Emery won his first Ligue 1 title.
The 17-year-old is expected to be handed more playing time this season, following the departure of Marco Verratti.
3. Roony Bardghji (17 years – FC Copenhagen)
Born in Kuwait to Syrian parents, Roony Bardghji’s footballing education formally began after he moved to Sweden as a 7-year-old, and after spells at a couple of local amateur sides, he joined Malmo in 2019.
Despite being just 14 at the time, he was thrown straight into the club’s Under-19s team.
After just a year at Malmo, Danish giants FC Copenhagen signed him.
He would go on to become the youngest-ever scorer in the Danish Superliga at just 15 years of age.
Now 17, Bardghji has firmly established himself as a first team regular at Copenhagen, and has already scored 4 goals this season.
His goals included a stunning Panenka penalty in the Champions League qualifying rounds that sent his club to the group stages.
4. Julien Duranville (17 years – Borussia Dortmund)
Julien Duranville is a youth product of Anderlecht, signing his first contract in May 2021 and made his professional debut in May 2022.
On the 27th of January 2023, he joined Bundesliga giants, Borussia Dortmund.
The 17-year-old can play on either wing and is expected to feature heavily for Dortmund in 2023/24.
5. Rasmus Hojlund (20 years – Man United)
Rasmus Hojlund graduated from Copenhagen’s youth academy, making his first-team debut for the club aged 17 in October 2020.
After scoring five goals in 32 appearances for Copenhagen, he joined Austrian club Sturm Graz in January 2022 and scored 12 goals in 21 games across all competitions.
His brilliant performances caught the eyes of Serie A side Atalanta, who recruited him for €17 million.
Hojlund continued his rapid rise in Italy, netting 10 goals and providing 4 assists in 34 games.
In July 2023, Manchester United signed him from Atalanta for an initial £64 million fee plus £8 million in performance related add-ons.
6. Isaac Babadi (18 years – PSV)
Isaac Babadi came through the ranks of PSV and was moved to the senior squad ahead of this season.
He made his debut in August as a starter in the 2023 Johan Cruyff Shield, which PSV won — earning Babadi his first trophy in his first senior match!
Four days later, he made his European debut in a Champions League qualifier against Sturm Graz. Babadi opened the scoring in the 4th minute for his first goal for PSV.
7.Jovan Mijatovic (18 years – Red Star Belgrade)
Jovan Mijatovic came through the youth academy of Red Star Belgrade. He was loaned to 2nd division side Grafičar to gain senior playing experience and he scored 5 goals in 8 games in the Serbian First League.
At the end of the summer transfer window of the same year, he returned to his parent club and joined the first team.
He took the number 9 Jersey and made over 20 first-team appearances for the club. His dazzling performances earned Red Star a return to the UEFA Champions League this season.
8. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens (19 years – Borussia Dortmund)
Jamie Bynoe-Gittens passed through the youth academies of Reading, Chelsea and Man City before joining Borrusia Dortmund in 2020.
His career in Dortmund was hampered by not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but an injury that kept him out for months.
However, the 2021/22 season was a much better one for Bynoe-Gittens; notable performances in the UEFA Youth League, where he scored 6 goals in 4 games, earned him a call-up to the first team squad.
He made his Bundesliga debut in a 6-1 win over Wolfsburg in April 2022. In August 2022, he scored his first Bundesliga goal in a 3-1 away win against Freiburg.
Dortmund rewarded Bynoe-Gittens for his impressive performances by handling him a new contract until 2025.
The 19-year-old already has 25 first-team appearances and will hope to light up the Champions League like former Dortmund youngsters, Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham.
9. Mohamed-Ali Cho (19 years – Real Sociedad)
Mohamed-Ali Cho made our list for the young players to watch out for in Europe earlier this year.
Having spent time in the academies of PSG and Everton, Cho broke out during the 2021/22 season at Angers.
This secured him a €11 million move to Real Sociedad in 2022. Injuries prevented him from shining last season and Cho will be eager to showcase his talent this campaign.
10. Orri Oskarsson (19 years – FC Copenhagen)
Orri Óskarsson came through the academy of Grótta, in his native Iceland.
He made his senior debut with the club in 2018, aged just 13 years and 354 days, when he came on as a substitute in a league match against Höttur. He scored two goals on his debut!!!
In total, he played 3 games and scored 3 goals in his first season as the club were promoted from the third tier under the management of his father, Óskar Hrafn Þorvaldsson.
He played 12 games out of 22 and scored 1 goal in the following season in the second tier, as Grótta were promoted again, this time to the top tier.
Óskarsson joined FC Copenhagen in the summer of 2020. He made his professional debut for Copenhagen in May 2022, during the last game of that season.
In January 2023, he joined Danish 1st Division side Sønderjyske on loan for the rest of the season. Upon his return to Copenhagen, he scored a hat-trick in a 6-3 victory over Breiðablik in the 2023/24 Champions League second qualifying round.
11. Arda Guler (18 years – Real Madrid)
Arda Guler started his youth career at Ankara-based club Gençlerbirliği, in 2014. He joined Fenerbahçe’s youth ranks in 2019 and made his senior debut in 2021.
In March 2022, he became Fenerbahçe’s youngest goalscorer in Turkish Süper Lig history, having just turned 17 three weeks earlier.
By May 2022, Guler had scored 3 goals and delivered 3 assists in just 255 minutes of playing time.
After an impressing start to his career, it was reported that big European clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona and PSG showed their interest in signing him.
At the start of 2022/23 season, after the departure of Mesut Özil, Güler was given the number 10, which has a special meaning for Fenerbahçe fans — being the number of club legends Alex de Souza and Jay-Jay Okocha.
This did not weigh the youngster down, instead propelling him to greater heights as he caught the eye with dazzling displays.
On the 6th of July 2023, Real Madrid announced the signing of Arda Guler on a 6-year contract lasting until June 2029.
Güler is a left-footed attacking midfielder who can also operate on right wing to cut inside and using his stronger foot to make shooting chances and creates decisive passes to the final third.
Furthermore, his creativity, set-piece abilities and trickiness has saw him named “Turkish Messi” by the local media.
Real Madrid consider the wonderkid as a big prospect for the future.
12. Yankuba Minteh (19 years – Feyenoord)
Yankuba Minteh started his career at Steve Biko FC in The Gambia. In the summer of 2022, he moved to Danish club Odense.
He made his Danish Superliga debut in September 2022 in a 2-1 win against Copenhagen and scored the winning goal just three minutes after coming on as a substitute!
He joined Newcastle in June 2023 and was immediately loaned out to Dutch champions Feyenoord for the 2023/24 season.
Minteh made his debut for Feyenoord on the 4th of August and scored his first goal for the club on the 3rd of September
The young forward has already netted twice in his first five Eredivisie games.
13. Joao Neves (18 years – Benfica)
After coming through Benfica’s youth system, Joao Neves impressed during his time with the reserve side, winning the UEFA Youth League in 2021/22, being an instrumental part of Benfica’s first European trophy in 60 years.
Following the departure of Enzo Fernández to Chelsea in January 2023, Neves began training with the first team.
He made his professional debut at age 18 and went to play 20 matches to help Benfica win their first league title in four years.
14. Karim Konate (19 years – RB Salzburg)
A youth product of ASEC Mimosas, Karim Konaté began his senior career with the club in 2020. He scored 7 goals in 18 matches in his debut season.
This earned him a big move to Austrian giants RB Salzburg. To gain more playing time, the striker was loaned to FC Liefering last season.
The 19-year-old returned to Salzburg ahead of this season and has already scored 6 goals in his first 8 games.
15. Rico Lewis (18 years – Man City)
Rico Lewis, a lifelong City fan, joined Manchester City’s academy at the age of 8 and joined the club’s under-18 team at the age of 15.
He captained the team for the 2021/22 season, with the team winning the title. He was named on City’s bench for the first time for their first game of the 2022/23 season, and made his Premier League debut a week later, on 13 August 2022.
After a string of substitute appearances, Lewis was given his first start in the Champions League on the 2nd of November 2022, scoring his first goal in a 3-1 comeback win against Sevilla.
Hence, he became the all-time youngest scorer on a first start in a Champions League match and City’s youngest ever Champions League scorer, aged 17 years and 346 days.
At the end of the season, Lewis became the youngest-ever English Champions League winner, and the youngest-ever treble winner.
On the 16th of August 2023, Rico Lewis signed a new 5-year deal to keep him at the Etihad until 2028.