World-class goalkeepers are hard to come by – there are only so many Manuel Neuer’s and Gianluigi Buffon’s to go around in a generation – but finding and keeping them is vital to a team’s success. It is simply impossible to be truly dominant if your goalkeeper is not stable – or if there’s even a lack of confidence in him – and goalkeepers have been known to single-handedly win points for their respective teams. A goalkeeper’s prime is much longer (and later) than any other position, so finding a young keeper that has already shown talent and mental fortitude at the top level is a dime a dozen. I’ve taken the liberty of finding young, exciting prospects that could make it to the next level soon. Let’s take a look at what I believe to be the top-five best goalkeepers under the age of 20 years old – the future of net minders.
Adrian Semper – GNK Dinamo Zagreb – 19 Years Old
The first young man on the list is Adrian Semper – a Croatian keeper who turned 19 in January of this year. In 2004 he joined the GNK Dinamo Zagreb youth academy, eventually moving to the senior team in the Croatian first league in 2016. Shortly after, he was loaned out to Lokomotiva, another team in the top flight of Croatia. In addition to this, he has been involved with the Croatian National team since 2013 – advancing from the U15’s to the U19’s where he currently plays. Having played both in the first league in Croatia and even in Champions League matches as a teenager, he is certainly gaining experience. The young Croatian has been the target of many advances by large clubs, including current Premier League leaders Chelsea who attempted to negotiate a deal with Dinamo Zagreb in January of 2016. Only time will tell if Semper can transition his national growth into international success, but he certainly is one to keep an eye on.
Bartłomiej Drągowski – Fiorentina – 19 Years Old
The next keeper to make the list is Bartłomiej Drągowski – a Polish keeper who turned 19 in August of 2016. From 2010 to 2014 he was a part of the Jagiellonia Białystok youth acaedmy before making his Ekstraklasa (Polish top flight) debut in May of 2014. During three years he played 69 games for the club, inlcuding Polish first league, Polish Cup, and even UEFA Europa League matches. He has also been a mainstay with the Polish Natinoal Team track, making appearances for the Poland U17, U19, U20, and U21’s. In July of 2016, Dragowski transferred from his hometown and childhood club to Fiorentina in Serie A – the Italian first league – where he signed a five year contract. He has yet to make an appearance for the senior squad, but this has done little to halt his progress. Especially considering the great keepers he has to learn from in the Polish Natinoal Team – such as Wojciech Szczęsny, Łukasz Fabiański, and Artur Boruc. It is likely that he will spend a year or so waiting in the wings with Fiorentina, but this teenager – who was reportedly tracked by Chelsea and Juventus in 2015 – can be something special.
Mile Svilar – RSC Anderlecht – 17 Years Old
The youngest player on the list is Mile Svilar – a 17 year old who has already moved from the youth academy to the senior squad. The young Belgian progressed from the RSC Anderlecht youth academy, to the U19’s, to the senior squad. He has yet to make an appearance for the first team, but is kept out by a keeper who has the side currently at the top of the Belgian First Division. In addition, Svilar has been included in the Belgian National Team track; making appearances for the Belgium U15’s through to the U19’s. And let’s not forget that this kid is only 17! Some more ambitious pundits are even considering that he could be the next Thibaut Courtois – the Chelsea goalkeeper who is both one of the best in the world and Belgian. Many clubs – including Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Ajax, and Schalke – were reportedly chasing Svilar, but he chose to stay at his boyhood club. His father, who was a professional and international keeper himself, wanted his son to stay in Belgium until he turned 20. Ideally, this would give him time to develop and play in a holistic training environment before being truly prepared to move abroad and progress in the football world. While he may not be playing for Europe’s elite or chasing the money, this is a young man with a good head on his shoulders and baskets of potential.
Alban Lafont – Toulouse – 18 Years Old
Alban Lafont isn’t just a good keeper under the age of twenty; he’s a good keeper period. Lafont turned 18 in January of 2017 but has been the starting keeper for Ligue 1 side Toulouse for over a year already. The young Frenchman transferred to the top-flight side in 2014 and earned his Ligue 1 debut in November of 2015 against OGC Nice. Upon doing so, he became the youngest ever goalkeeper to play in Ligue 1 at the age of 16 years and 310 days. Shortly after, Lafont was named the man between the sticks consistently in the league. He even saved Toulouse from relegation in the 2015/2016 season thanks in part to 8 clean sheets he kept in just 24 appearances down the stretch – and his form has continued into this season. In February of this year, Lafont notched his 50th Ligue 1 appearance, making him the youngest goalkeeper to do so in 30 years. He has had international success as well, climbing the ranks and making appearances for the French U16s, U17’s, U18’s, and he currently plays for the U20’s. There is no doubt that Lafont has the potential to make waves both for club – whichever top team comes knocking – and country. He will likely be one of the top keepers in the world in less than a decades time.
Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan – 18 Years Old
Last but certainly not least we have a young man who many are saying will be the next Gianluigi Buffon – but no pressure, right? Gianluigi Donnarumma is the definition of a wonder kid. The young Italian – who turned 18 in February of this year – spent ten years in the Napoli academy before transferring to Milan at age 14. After two years in the youth academy, he was promoted to the senior team – one of the best in Serie A – at the beginning of the 2015/2016 season. He made his debut during the International Champions Cup against Real Madrid and started (and won) a preseason cup match against Sassuolo before making his competitive debut. On October 25th of 2015, Donnarumma made his Serie A debut at the San Siro stadium; chosen to start over Diego Lopez and Christian Abbiati, and helped the team to a 2-1 win. At the age of 16 years and 242 days old, he was the second youngest goalkeeper to start a match in the history of Italian football. After a string of strong performances rounding out 2015, Donnarumma had firmly surpassed Lopez as the first-choice keeper for AC Milan and has not loosened his grasp at all to this day. In August of 2016, Donnarumma became the youngest player to be called up to the Italian National Team senior squad since 1911 at 17 years and six months. He then subsequently became the youngest ‘keeper to ever play for Italy at just 17 years and 189 days old subbing in for Buffon at halftime. Fitting, isn’t it? While Buffon isn’t quite done yet, Donnarumma will be a force both nationally and internationally in just a few years time.
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