For the second year in a row, I have compiled a list of the 50 best young (U21) talents in Australian football. I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, judging players on a variety of criteria, namely:
Empirical achievement (first team appearances, goals, assists, performance at youth level)
Selection in national teams
The eye test - my personal opinion of the players based on me watching them play (I have watched all but 3 of these players reasonably extensively, some are just impossible to get match footage of)
Reports/hype - what coaches, scouts, journalists, fans, forumites, observers have to say about them
Club - what club/level they’re at, particularly if they’re playing abroad
This is my opinion, and I would love to hear yours. Please leave all feedback below and please feel free to let me know if you think someone is too high/low or if I’ve left someone deserving out.
My personal assessment of this crop is that they’re the best in quite a long time; players are getting first team opportunities younger, and more young players are playing in Australia more generally. There are some players here to get genuinely excited about: Pavlesic, Rawlins, Teague, Robertson, Watts, Toure, Italiano, so we can be optimistic about the future of our national team.
2018 edition (published by Neanderthal): https://forum.insidesport.com.au/2685048/Top-50-Australian-Youth-Detailed-and-Ranked-with-pictures?PageIndex=1
2020 edition: https://forum.insidesport.com.au/2874533/NEW-TOP-50-AUSTRALIAN-YOUTH-DETAILED-AND-RANKED
I hope you enjoy and find this informative - it takes a long time to do. Thanks!
1. Adam Pavlesic - Sydney FC - 2002
After impressing at the 2019 U-17 World Cup and subsequently trialling at Strasbourg and Roma as a result, the young Sydney FC shot-stopper has had a stop start beginning to his senior career, breaking his collarbone in the Asian Champions League after an impressive debut vs. Jeonbuk. He is a confident and fearless goalkeeper who is strong in the air and whose composure belies his years.
2. Noah James - Western Sydney Wanderers (on loan from Newcastle Jets) - 2001
After performing well at the 2019 AFC U-18 qualifiers, James made his senior debut in the final round of the 19-20 A-League season, keeping a clean sheet and putting in a MOTM performance against the Wellington Phoenix. James is a strong shot stopper and has followed Carl Robinson to WSW where he will aim to unseat Daniel Margush as the first choice keeper.
3. Nicholas Bilokapic - Huddersfield Town - 2002
Having impressed in U17 friendlies in the UK versus Brazil, England and South Korea, Bilokapic was signed from Sydney United by Huddersfield Town where he has appeared regularly for the U23 and U19 sides. At an academy which has produced goalkeepers like current Terriers #1 Ryan Schofield and Cardiff City keeper Alex Smithies, the towering Bilokapic will hope to continue his progression and reach the Town first team.
4. Cooper Skerry - Leeds United - 2002
Skerry signed for the Premier League outfit from Brisbane City in late 2019 and has since featured for Leeds’ U18 and U19 sides, including in a blockbuster FA Youth Cup tie vs. traditional rivals Manchester United, while also receiving a call-up to the Young Socceroos in early 2020. Having impressed after signing a 2 year scholarship contract, Skerry has made the step up to training with the U23 side, however unfortunately sustained an injury in his EFL Trophy debut vs. Accrington Stanley.
1. Joshua Rawlins - Perth Glory - 2004
Having captained the Australia U-15 side, Rawlins broke into the Joeys starting side for the 2019 U17 World Cup as a 15 year old and performed with distinction at right fullback against players two years his senior. This talent beyond his years led to a breakthrough at club level, with the young right back making his senior debut in the Asian Champions League, displaying his technical proficiency, his strength in the duel, and his capacity for lung busting forward runs. Playing first team football at such a young age, and with a manager in Richard Garcia prepared to put faith in academy players, Rawlins has the potential for an outstanding career.
2. Jordan Courtney-Perkins - Brisbane Roar - 2002
Having excelled at the 2019 U17 World Cup, Courtney Perkins broke into Robbie Fowler’s Brisbane Roar side playing and performing strongly in an unfamiliar left back role, before an untimely long term knee injury left him sidelined. The young centre back is fantastic in the air and a strong passer, and will enjoy his apprenticeship under Tom Aldred and Macauley Gillesphey, but will ultimately be looking to force his way into his former school coach Warren Moon’s plans.
3. Joel King - Sydney FC - 2000
Having progressed through the final intake of the AIS’ football program, the young left back has unseated former Socceroo Michael Zullo and broken into Sydney FC’s championship winning starting eleven. Strong technically and eager to get forward, King has performed with growing maturity, rewarding Steve Corica’s faith by becoming a creative outlet on the left and consistently combining well with Serbian star Milos Ninkovic, displaying the potential which could make him a Socceroos star of the future.
4. Mark Natta - Western Sydney Wanderers - 2002
Earmarked as a star of the future, the stylish centre back has been plagued by injury problems, keeping him out of the Joeys 2019 U17 World Cup campaign. Having overcome those injuries, Natta, who has been compared to a young Matthew Špiranović, has been rewarded for his perseverance and potential with a scholarship contract at Western Sydney and has since broken into the Wanderers side and will be seeking to make his mark with his imperious long range passing, runs out of central defence and strength in the defensive duel.
5. Dylan Pierias - Western United - 2000
The first player ever born in the 21st century to feature in the A-League, Pierias has made an increasingly strong impact for Western United with dynamic substitute performances demonstrating his well-known raw speed and power but more importantly a growing composure in front of goal, most notably in a 90th minute match winning assist for Steven Lustica vs. Sydney FC. With these outstanding physical attributes and notably improved technical ability and maturity, Pierias has a high ceiling and will compete for a place in the Olyroos squad.
6. Dylan Ryan - Melbourne Victory (on loan from Willem II) - 2000
A youth product of Liverpool and Willem II, Ryan cemented his name in the minds of Australian football fans with a series of imperious performances at centre back in the Olyroos campaign at the 2020 AFC U23 Championships. While not able to make a first team breakthrough in the Netherlands, Ryan’s eye for a pass and strength in the air makes him a solid defensive presence, a presence recruited by Grant Brebner for Melbourne Victory’s backline. Ryan is indubitably one of the best young Australian defenders, and will be hoping to keep his place in the Olyroos’ backline in 2021.
7. Thomas Aquilina - Western Sydney Wanderers - 2001
Quick, incisive, forward thinking, the young fullback made his professional debut in Round 1 vs. Macarthur, and has since cemented his place in Carl Robinson’s side with ever more impressive performances. Having represented Australia at U18 level, Aquilina clearly possesses significant potential, potential which Carl Robinson will be seeking to utilise in the possible Olyroos bolter.
8. Noah Smith - Adelaide United - 2000
Having broken into Carl Veart’s young Reds side, Smith has looked assured on and off the ball, in a backline yet to concede in the 2020-21 A-League season. While not blessed with extreme pace, Smith is technically proficient and strong in the tackle, and has a good future ahead at a club which invests in young talent.
9. Lucas Mauragis - Newcastle Jets - 2001
Having made his debut at the conclusion of the 2019-20 A-League season, Mauragis has made an impression with athleticism and pace and a willingness to take players on and get forward. Playing both on the left and the right of Newcastle’s back 5, Mauragis will be looking to cement his place in Craig Deans’ Jets side.
10. Hosine Bility - Midtjylland - 2001
A product of the Croydon Kings’ academy which has also produced the Toure brothers, Bility made his mark as a strong and athletic centre back at an All Stars tournament in the Czech Republic in 2017, winning Defender of the Tournament and beating out players from the likes of Arsenal and PSG in doing so. Having continued to play first grade NPL for the Kings, Bility was signed permanently after his 18th birthday by Danish giants Midtjylland in 2019, and has since become a fixture in their reserves side, making his UEFA Youth League debut in 2020 vs. Ajax.
11. Daniel Djurovic - Birmingham City - 2003
The young left back signed with Birmingham City in 2014, having played his youth football with Bonnyrigg White Eagles, and has since broken into the club’s U23s side at only 17. A quick player, Djurovic will be looking to make the next step in the restructure of the Birmingham academy and emulate Jude Bellingham and break into the first team.
1. Alexander Robertson - Manchester City - 2003
Having come through the age groups at NPL NSW side Hakoah, Robertson relocated to England in 2015, plying his trade first with Manchester United and now Manchester City, where he has broken into the England set up consistently and now trains with the first team at age 17 having caught the eye of Pep Guardiola. The most hotly debated name in Australian football, Robertson, the son and grandson of Socceroos, has represented England but also made his Young Socceroos debut in February 2020 in Holland, and with exceptional technical ability and an eye for goal from midfield, the hope is that he will follow in the footsteps of his Robertson forebears and represent the green and gold.
2. Caleb Watts - Southampton - 2002
Watts is a name perhaps unfamiliar to Australian football fans, but shouldn’t be for long. An absolute standout at the 2019 U17 World Cup for the Joeys, with passing range and drive from midfield, Watts has since represented Australia at U19 level and become a regular for Premier League side Southampton at U23 level and made his first team matchday squad debut last week in a Premier League match vs. Leicester City. At only 19, Watts has the potential to achieve great things, and has been earmarked as a future Socceroo by Graham Arnold and Australian Technical Director Trevor Morgan.
3. Ryan Teague - Famalicao - 2002
The former Joeys captain came through the ranks at Sydney FC, playing two years of senior football in NPL NSW, before making a January 2020 move to Primeira Liga side Famalicao, a deal brokered by mega agent Jorge Mendes, where he has appeared regularly for the U23 side and trained consistently with the first team. Teague is blessed with outstanding technical attributes; he is an outstanding passer and dribbler with the ability to control the tempo of the game, and in his time at Famalicao, Teague has begun to work on breaking down opposition play in midfield. A breakthrough at Famalicao seems imminent, and Teague should be regarded as a future 6 of the Socceroos for years to come.
4. Calem Nieuwenhof - Sydney FC - 2001
Nieuwenhof arrived as a bolt from and in the blue in the Asian Champions League hub in late 2020 for Sydney FC, a clear standout at the base of midfield. The teenager from Sydney’s northern beaches reinforced his growing reputation with a stunning opener on his A-League debut against Wellington Phoenix, and clearly is extremely talented, with the ability to control the tempo of the play as well as winning the ball back.
5. Zach Duncan - AGF Aarhus - 2000
Having struggled to make his mark at Brisbane Roar, Duncan made a surprise move to AGF in the Superliga where he became a regular in the Danish outfit’s side and became a key player in the Olyroos’ Olympic qualification. An ACL injury has held him back, but upon his recovery, the 20 year old should have a big future ahead, and will aim to feature in the rescheduled Olympics.
6. Cristian Volpato - AS Roma - 2003
Having been released by Western Sydney’s academy at the end of the 2018, Volpato was signed in late 2019 by Italian powerhouses AS Roma, where he established himself in their U17s and U18s, with his tricks, skill, pace and eye for goal drawing the attention of the coaches at i Lupi. A dual national of Italy and Australia, Volpato, managed by legend Francesco Totti, has caught the eye of Italian youth national team staff, and is seen as a big talent primed for promotion to the Primavera side at AS Roma. Merely being at such an academy at age 17, should see the former St Joseph’s College student regarded as a big talent for Australia in years to come.
7. Ramy Najjarine - Newcastle Jets (on loan from Melbourne City) - 2000
Once famously touted as better than Daniel Arzani, Najjarine has started to slowly make good on that prediction. Starved of opportunity at Melbourne City, Najjarine was named Player of the Tournament at the Dazu Cup in China in November 2019 for the Olyroos, and since his loan move to the lowly Newcastle Jets, has become their main man, providing forward drive from the 10 role, with incisive passing, pinpoint delivery and silky dribbling, drawing constant attention from opposition defences. With these rare attributes, it is not unfair to see Najjarine as a future Socceroos 10.
8. Louis D’Arrigo - Adelaide United - 2001
Having long been regarded as a talent of the future, D’Arrigo established himself in the Adelaide United team in 2019-20 under Gertjan Verbeek, playing more minutes than anyone else of his age in the league. Playing in a more advanced position under Carl Veart, D’Arrigo has looked a more polished and mature player, showing his passing ability and his willingness to progress the ball, notably providing a quality set piece assist for Tomi Juric to break open the game vs. Melbourne City.
9. Birkan Kirdar - Melbourne Victory - 2002
Having made his debut for Melbourne Victory almost 3 years ago in the Asian Champions League, Kirdar has been identified for years as a gamebreaking talent in Australian football. This talent came to the fore at the conclusion of the 2019-20 A-League season, with Kirdar putting in strong performances vs. Perth Glory and Central Coast. Despite this obvious talent, Kirdar must become more consistent if he is to reach his lofty potential.
10. Angus Thurgate - Newcastle Jets - 2000
Having broken through into the first team under Ernie Merrick, Thurgate has gone from strength to strength since moving back to a midfield role alongside Steven Ugarkovic. Industrious yet technically gifted, the Olyroo has become a key player in the Jets lineup, threatening from distance while also setting up others. Thurgate will only continue to improve, and will hope to feature at the Tokyo Olympics under Graham Arnold.
11. Taras Gomulka - Adelaide United - 2001
An unknown before the hub conclusion of the 2019-20 A-League season, Gomulka made his name in the injury absence of Louis D’Arrigo for Adelaide, with reliable performances at the base of midfield, controlling the tempo, stopping attacks and distributing well, earning himself a controversial move to Melbourne City, where he has impressed in his first few games. Gomulka is one of many talented ball-playing 6s in the Australian system, and has the talent to have a strong career.
12. Cameron Peupion - Brighton and Hove Albion - 2002
Having impressed with direct running and skill at the 2019 U17 World Cup, Peupion earned trials at Reading and Brighton and Hove Albion, subsequently winning a move to the latter, where he has impressed with 7 goals and an assist in 10 games in a variety of positions for the Premier League club’s U18s. Peupion will be angling to be promoted to the club’s U23s, a promotion which would be on the basis of his pace and silky touch, which he has in abundance.
13. Raphael Borges Rodrigues - Melbourne City - 2003
The son of former Adelaide United striker Cristiano, Rapha is a tricky, quick winger who won Melbourne City’s Youth Player of the Year after moving from Adelaide to sign for the A-League giants. An athletic player, Rapha has been a regular in Patrick Kisnorbo’s matchday squad and will be looking to find regular game time in the near future.
14. Idrus Abdulahi - Melbourne City - 2003
Having made his A-League debut only aged 16, Abdulahi impressed with his versatility playing both at right back and in midfield at the 2019 U-17 World Cup, but has since found minutes hard to come by in the A-League. Possessing an outstanding engine and strong in the tackle, Abdulahi, with game time, has the potential to blossom as a talented defensive midfielder.
15. Kristian Popovic - FC Xanthi - 2001
Ignoring criticism of possible nepotism, Popovic proved himself to be an unorthodox yet effective central midfielder in the most recent A-League season, demonstrating good technical ability and strength in the air, ability which earned him a regular place in Gary Van Egmond’s Young Socceroos side. Now at his father’s FC Xanthi in Greece, he will hope to make a name for himself in Europe and gain regular game time in the shop window.
16. Tyrese Francois - Fulham - 2000
A diminutive yet technically proficient midfielder, Francois signed for Fulham as a 13 year old, and has since made an impact at the club, winning U23 player of the year in the 2018-19 season, and since breaking into the first team, playing twice in the EFL Cup for the London side. Plagued by injuries, the midfielder will hope to stay fit and make a Premier League debut this season.
17. Luke Duzel - Western United - 2002
The technical attacking midfielder made his A-League debut in 2020 for Western United, having been poached from Melbourne City, and on the back of impressive midfield cameos at the 2019 U17 World Cup. With impressive passing range, and the ability to glide past players in midfield, Duzel has the capacity to make an impression for the Tarneit side.
18. Jake Hollman - Macarthur FC - 2001
A skilful dribbler who is excellent in tight spaces and who possesses great vision, Hollman was poached from Sydney FC’s youth team by Macarthur and has impressed since his signing. A NYL winner and an Australian U19 international, Hollman is part of a new breed of skilful young Australian attacking midfielders, and has the potential to improve a lot under the guidance of Ante Milicic.
1. Mohamed Toure - Adelaide United - 2004
The youngest player ever to score in the A-League, Toure is a huge talent. Possessing speed and power in abundance, a knack for being in the right areas and scoring goals, Toure could genuinely be anything. At 16 years old, Toure already has 2 goals and and an assist in only 206 minutes of first team football, and looks completely at home in senior football. Under a manager in Carl Veart who is prepared to utilise and nurture young talent, there are no limits on what Mohamed Toure can achieve.
2. Jacob Italiano - Borussia Monchengladbach - 2001
Having made his A-League debut at only 16, Jacob Italiano joined Borussia Mönchengladbach after his 18th birthday and has since flourished, joining the first team for pre-season and putting in consistently standout performances for the second team. A direct, skilful winger, who seeks to beat his man at every opportunity, Italiano shone for the Olyroos in the 2020 AFC U23 Championships, and will be seeking to break into the Bundesliga outfit’s first team and retain his Olyroos spot for the upcoming Olympics.
3. Dylan Ruiz-Diaz - unattached - 2001
Having progressed through the academies of Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers, Ruiz-Diaz signed for Central Coast Mariners in the 2018-19 season and made his debut off the bench towards the end of the season. However, the Australian youth international truly made an impact in the following season, with a series of impressive cameos before a stunning match winning brace vs. Melbourne Victory. An outstanding finisher, who also possesses excellent dribbling skills while also capable of linking the play and creating, Ruiz-Diaz left the Mariners to trial in Ukraine at the start of the 2020-21 season, with his footballing whereabouts currently unclear, yet with these attributes, rare in Australian football, Ruiz-Diaz has the potential for an outstanding career.
4. Tristan Hammond - Sporting CP - 2003
Hammond is a tricky, yet athletic and powerful winger who first caught Australia’s attention with strong performances in Malaysia and then Brazil for the Joeys. Having joined Portuguese giants Sporting CP at a young age, Hammond has received an outstanding footballing education, an education demonstrated in these aforementioned performances, showing a willingness to drive at opposition defences and beat them with skill and then pace. At such a renowned academy, Hammond has the talent to become a Socceroo in the future.
5. Noah Botic - Hoffenheim - 2002
The 2019 Dylan Tombides Medallist, the Hoffenheim striker is highly regarded in Australian football. Botic was a standout in the Joeys, making his name with consistent goal-scoring, outstanding finishing and reliable positioning, culminating in a 4 goal return at the 2019 U17 World Cup. Despite facing recurring injuries upon signing in Hoffenheim, Botic has scored consistently in Germany, and has the potential to progress into a Socceroos #9 in the future.
6. Lachlan Brook - Brentford - 2001
Making his debut as a 16 year old for Adelaide United 3 years ago, Lachlan Brook has always been regarded as a player of great potential in Australian football, with quick turns, creative vision, and pinpoint set piece delivery. However, this potential was only manifested in the hub conclusion to the 2019-20 A-League season, with Brook starting regularly for the first time, getting goals and assists and earning himself a move to Brentford’s unique B team, where he has played regularly, showcasing his strong potential which has led to continued selection in the Joeys and Young Socceroos.
7. Yaya Dukuly - Adelaide United - 2003
One two year spell at Melbourne City later, Yaya Dukuly has returned to South Australia with Adelaide United, starting to display his raw speed and 1v1 trickery on the wing for the Reds, showing why he is considered one of Australia’s best young wingers, and warranted selection in Australia’s 2019 U17 World Cup. The combination of these two attributes is lethal on the wing, and Dukuly has the potential to terrorise defenders at only 18 years old.
8. Al Hassan Toure - Adelaide United - 2000
Having burst on the scene in 2019 winning the 2019 Mark Viduka Medal in the FFA Cup Final, Toure won selection in the Olyroos where he shone, before enduring a torrid run of injuries which have largely precluded him from taking the field with his younger brother Mohamed. However, his talent still shines bright; raw speed, power, and outstanding dribbling and finishing ability are the attributes which won Toure such plaudits in 2019, and equipped with those attributes Toure has the potential to reach great heights in football.
9. Marco Tilio - Melbourne City - 2001
Tilio is one of a new breed of Australian wingers; quick, skilful, creative, and outstanding in 1v1 situations. That talent is what brought him to Melbourne City, and what got him a goal and assist vs. Central Coast on A-League debut for Sydney FC, and what places him as one of Australia’s foremost attacking talents. Capable of turning a game on its head, Tilio has won regular selection for the Young Socceroos where he has been a consistent goal scorer.
10. Gabriel Popovic - FC Xanthi - 2003
Nepotism aside, Popovic played 13 games for Perth Glory last season, displaying glimpses of potential and getting crucial game time in his development which he will hope to build on in Greece. Capable of holding the ball up and confident in the air, Popovic has scored bags of goals at youth level and has a good future ahead.
11. Rafael Rech - São Paulo - 2002
The son of former Johnny Warren medallist Fernando Rech, the young Brazilian-Australian Rafael was born in Brisbane and eager to represent the country of his birth. His development, however, has taken place in Brazil, an education reflected in his direct, skilful, pacy style of play, taking on defenders and cutting inside to test the goalkeeper, a skill set which caught São Paulo’s eye in his performances for Juventude’s U19 team at the 2020 U19 São Paulo Championship.
12. Sam Silvera - Casa Pia (on loan from Pacos de Ferreira) - 2000
Having made an impression with his dribbling skill and creativity with Central Coast in the 2019-20 A-League season, Silvera completed a move to Primeira Liga side Pacos de Ferreira before immediately leaving on loan to Segunda Liga side Casa Pia, where he has found minutes hard to come by. While technically proficient, his lack of physicality holds him back in 1v1 situation yet Silvera possesses the talent to succeed in a technical league like that of Portugal.
13. Mirza Muratovic - Wellington Phoenix - 2000
After years of prolific goalscoring in the Brisbane Roar youth teams, Muratovic burst onto the scene as a deep lying striker capable of both linking play and scoring under Robbie Fowler, but having found minutes hard to come by under Warren Moon, left to Ufuk Talay’s Wellington Phoenix where he scored on debut. Muratovic’s lack of genuine pace makes it hard for him to stretch defences, but with intelligent movement and technical strength Muratovic is an effective young forward with a high ceiling.
14. Patrick Wood - Sydney FC - 2002
The young speedster came out of nowhere last year to win the 2020 NPL NSW golden boot, using his electric pace and composed finishing to terrorise opposition defences with a wide array of diverse strikes in NPL football, showing great potential and breaking into Steve Corica’s first team plans, debuting in the Asian Champions League and the A-League. Having also broken into the Young Socceroos setup, Wood will seek to press his claims for more football at Sydney FC and push on in 2021.
15. Ali Auglah - Western Sydney Wanderers - 2002
Having been selected in the Joeys’ 2019 U17 World Cup squad, the young forward led the line for Western Sydney in the 2020 NPL NSW, standing out for the red and black with his wand of a left foot. Capable of cutting in from the right and scoring from distance and utilising his pace to stretch defences, Auglah has been a feature of Carl Robinson’s extended squads since making his professional debut in January 2020, and will seek to excel under the Welshman’s tutelage.
16. Pacifique Niyongabire - Adelaide United - 2000
Elvis Kamsoba’s younger brother was on the outer at Adelaide United before the hub conclusion to the 2020-21 A-League season, where he dazzled with skill, trickery, pace and composure, scoring a first A-League goal against Perth in a 5-3 victory. That skill set has been rewarded with increased game time under Carl Veart, under whom he has impressed, alongside a litany of other talented young wingers.
17. Alou Kuol - Central Coast Mariners - 2001
The Goulburn Valley Suns product starred in NPL2 Victoria, before earning a move to the Central Coast where he has developed and impressed with his tenacity, speed and determination, scoring a first professional goal in the F3 Derby on New Year’s Eve 2020. Still very raw, Kuol has the potential and athleticism to really star for the Mariners and develop into a well-rounded centre forward.