If you had to pick one player to build your team around, who would you pick? There are a lot of considerations, besides who is the best. After all, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are great, but you're only getting a few more great years from them. The next generation of players includes Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Rafael Varane, all of whom are 23 years old. But what if we limit to players under 23 and you have to put the players who really are still just kids?
These are the under 23 players our writers would pick to build their teams around.
Dele Alli made the jump from League One to the Premier League last season, got dropped into a title race, and all he did was scored 10 goals. Oh, and he was just 19 years old.
Now 20, Dele is a mainstay for England and has already topped last season's goal total with 13 for Spurs. There's a reason Real Madrid are chasing him -- how many players in the world are as adept at scoring, creating and doing both from anywhere on the pitch? That's for any age, let alone someone as young as Dele. Oh, and he also may have more flair than anyone in the world. To rainbow the ball over your own head then score on the volley takes an astounding amount of confidence, and Dele has plenty of reason to be that confident. He's probably the most unique young player in the world and if you're starting a team, you're picking him. There isn't anyone else like him. - Ryan Rosenblatt
Getty ImagesJulian Finney
Ousmane Dembele is the type of talent you simply don’t pass up on. You build a team around this kid because he’s pure electricity and joy. Dembele’s already starting to show the signs that he can be the type of cornerstone teams build on, and the type of all-around menace opposition teams gameplan around. He’s impossibly quick on and off the ball, a surprisingly adept passer, and he’s shown himself to be comfortable all over the pitch. The kid doesn’t even know if he’s left or right footed, and that allows him to be effective on the left, the right, deeper in midfield, or at striker. He’s already established himself as one of Dortmund’s best players, and he’s growing with each and every match.
The best part? He’s only 19. He’s skinny as a rail, and he’s got plenty of time to mature mentally and physically. He’s already a beast, but he’s going to be a real monster. - Aaron West
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A goalkeeper? Really? Just hear me out. Donnarumma is just 17 years old (he'll turn 18 on Feb. 25) and he's already talented enough to be an out-and-out starter for AC Milan. Furthermore, he's the heir apparent to the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in Italy's national team. An imposing figure at 6 feet 5 inches, Donnarumma has a command of his area that belies his age.
Does he have his flaws? Of course. He's a proven shot-stopper but needs work on his distribution. That's to be expected of a player so young. But even as a bit of a project he's first-rate. If you're building a team, you can do a lot worse than shoring up your last line of defense with one of the world's best young goalkeepers. Plus, goalkeepers age like fine wine so this is locking up a position for 20+ years. - Alex Dowd
If you’re constructing a team around just one rising star, that player should be extremely versatile, coachable, consistent and, for me, preferably play central midfield. Kimmich checks all those boxes and then some.
Kimmich, who celebrated his 22nd birthday on Wednesday, is a phenomenal all-around talent that’s already entrenched himself in Bayern Munich’s starting lineup and the German national team’s. Though he’s in line to succeed Xabi Alonso in the heart of Bayern’s midfield, Kimmich has also excelled at right back for club and country, and even fared well as emergency center back when Bayern were in a pinch last season. Pep Guardiola lauded him for his passion and coachability, and Kimmich’s game intelligence, passing and technical ability have already earned him comparisons to the soon-to-be-retired Philipp Lahm. If you can build your team around the next Lahm, that’s not a bad place to start. - Thomas Hautmann