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  • Lamine Yamal, Zaïre-Emery, Endrick: Footballers that are starring for club and country are getting younger and younger! Here's why 🌟👶

Lamine Yamal, Zaïre-Emery, Endrick: Footballers that are starring for club and country are getting younger and younger! Here's why 🌟👶


Before we get to today’s newsletter, here’s the winner of our previous giveaway for 2 Free Plei App Games:

Florian B - Philadelphia 🔔

The winner will be notified via DM if they haven’t already by the time this email is sent out. 📲

Now… onto the newsletter! ⏭️

Despite being teenagers, certain players are already putting up top performances at the highest level. 🔝

Making your debut for your country’s senior side isn’t that farfetched, even if you’re 16. 😅

Why is it becoming more common for young talents to be integrated into first team football? All the answers and more below. 👇

It’s not uncommon for someone to be playing pro football at 16 or 17 years old. It’s uncommon when they’re doing it at the highest level one can reach, being important pieces of some of the best teams in the world at such a tender age.

Even some of the legends of the beautiful game didn’t break into first-team football, let alone their respective senior national teams, until 18 or 19 years old. We can even name a few players that weren’t starters at their clubs until much later.

Zinedine Zidane didn’t make his senior French debut until he was 22 years old. He only made his first high-profile move - leaving behind Bordeaux for Juventus - when he was 24.

Leo Messi made his unofficial debut for Barcelona’s first team at 16, and his official debut came a year later at 17. However, he wasn’t fully integrated into the starting lineup until the 2005/06 season when he was 18.

Cristiano Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting at 17, and he didn’t feature for the Portugal senior team until 18, which is how old he was when he moved onto Manchester United. It also took him a couple of seasons to actually become a key player for United and wasn’t scoring goals for the Red Devils left and right until the 2006/07 season.

Here’s a mind-boggling one. After making his big money move to Europe, Neymar was already 21 when he made his competitive debut for Barcelona.

Sounds pretty late, right? That’s because players like Lamine Yamal, Endrick and Warren Zaïre-Emery are changing the way football clubs treat their up-and-coming young ballers.

It’s a trend that isn’t likely to slow down any time soon, with top European clubs constantly itching for fresh talent to come up the ranks.

In this 31st edition of the Plei newsletter, I highlight some of the teenage sensations currently starring for club and country while explaining why it’s becoming more common for players to reach and play consistently at the highest level at such a young age. 👇

⚡ Speedy development, scouting easier than ever

The rapid development of young footballers can be attributed to many factors, one of which being the improvement of football academies worldwide.

We’re not just talking about the famous schools like La Masia that no matter how many decades pass, they just never fail to produce insanely gifted players. We’re more referring to the overall growth of football across the globe, which has in turn made it so even the least-known academies are capable of graduating a prodigy.

And with technology having improved greatly over the course of the last two decades, it’s now easier than ever to scout young talents. If you have the ability, all you have to do is record yourself showing off your skills, post it to the internet, and if and once you go viral, chances are scouts will eventually notice.

Take Endrick for example. The Brazilian began playing football at the age of 4, and his father began to upload his goals and highlights to YouTube, in hopes that a big Brazilian club would notice. That’s exactly what happened, and after nearly signing with Sao Paulo, he ended up joining the Palmeiras youth ranks.

Of course, the rest is history, with Endrick finally preparing to move on to Real Madrid.

With technology and social media being at the forefront of the beautiful game nowadays, it’s now a much simpler process for clubs around the world to discover and connect with a possible recruit. Distance is no longer a factor; European giants can make an overnight decision to pursue a player in South America if they wanted to.

This excerpt from a 2015 article by media outlet ‘The False 9’ sums up my point:

It's not that the traditional scouting methods aren’t producing the best results, it’s just that social media is a hub for local talent whose skills can be strategically placed in global opportunities. Social media can take traditional principles, only to have them be situated into the prevailing market. Player abilities are a limited resource and the only way to protect this capital is to find the right market for its success.

Ritesh Gogineni, The False 9

🌟 Should teenagers be starting and playing so many minutes?

Something that I hear a lot from football fans is that whenever a really young & talented, yet inexperienced player is featuring consistently for a top club - perhaps even in important matches - they like to say things like, “he shouldn’t be playing 90 minutes, he’s not ready for the level yet” or “we need to give him time to develop more before throwing him into the action and expecting him to perform.”

Most recently, I’ve seen this with players like Alejandro Garnacho for Manchester United and Lamine Yamal for Barcelona.

And I get it. The experience simply isn’t there. For guys like Garnacho and Yamal, the talent and sheer potential isn’t ever missing, but you can’t realistically expect constant match-winning performances from them at such a young age. You’ll get moments of magic from time to time, but all things considered, it’ll probably be a while before things fully click for them at the highest level.

You also don’t want to overwork them to the point of risking serious injury that can sideline them for long periods of time. After all, it is scientifically unhealthy to play so many minutes at an age where the male body hasn’t even fully developed yet.

* Keep an eye out on a future newsletter regarding this topic. 👀

But is letting them warm the bench - let alone sending them out on loan or down to the B team - really the best idea when they’re clearly overqualified for that? If what they need is minutes and experience, then there isn’t a better way of achieving that than throwing someone like Yamal into the starting lineup for an El Clasico or a definitive UCL fixture.

Which brings me to my point.

The best way to learn is by being on the pitch, and the harder the opponent, the better. Of course, you do need to have some sort of preparation and talent, and a coach like Xavi isn’t going to give Yamal more than what he can handle.

🌟 Why young talents are already being impactful for top clubs

At 16 years old, the Spaniard has already reached certain milestones and broken a number of records that were previously unheard of for a player so young. Here are some of those achievements:

  • Became the youngest player to appear for Barcelona's first team at 15 years, 9 months, and 16 days old after replacing Gavi in the 83rd minute in a 4–0 win against Real Betis in La Liga

  • Won his first title with Barça on 14 May 2023, having been part of the squad that won the 2022–23 La Liga

  • Yamal earned his first start for the club on 20 August 2023 in a 2–0 victory over Cádiz, becoming the youngest starter for Barcelona in La Liga at the age of 16 years and 38 days

  • At 16 years and 45 days, he became the youngest player to supply an assist in a La Liga fixture, doing so versus Villareal on 28 August 2023 (was named MOTM for his performance)

  • On 19 September, Yamal made his Champions League debut in a 5–0 win over Antwerp, becoming the second youngest player to feature in the competition, aged 16 years and 68 days, only behind Youssoufa Moukoko

  • Became the youngest player to start in the Champions League at 16 years and 83 days old (versus Porto)

  • Aged 16 years and 87 days, became Barça’s youngest goalscorer and the youngest in history to score in La Liga, doing so versus Granada

  • Became the youngest player ever to appear in a Clásico at the age of 16 years and 107 days on 28 October 2023

  • At the age of 16 years and 57 days old, he became the youngest player and goalscorer for the Spain senior squad, appearing and scoring against Georgia on 8 September 2023 (also became the youngest goalscorer in a Euro qualifying match)

At least for Yamal, it’s pretty clear that he’s not afraid of performing at the highest level. Records like these don’t just happen for no reason.

At the end of the day, it’s down to the manager to decide whether they want to rely on their youngest players and throw them into their matchday squads.

Teenage sensations like Warren Zaïre-Emery, Lamine Yamal, (soon) Endrick and many others are breaking into first teams and playing significant minutes for some of the biggest clubs in the world because they would be wasting time if they didn’t.

Put yourself in the shoes of a coach. If you’re managing a squad of 18+ players, and one of your best players happens to be one of the youngest in the team, are you really going to pass them up just because of their age?

Pelé burst onto the scene in the 1958 World Cup with Brazil at the age of 17, winning the award for the Best Young Player and lifting the famous trophy in the process. If the talent is there, the talent is there. It’s as simple as that.

Like we mentioned before, as a manager you don’t want to be irresponsible and ignore the fact that they’re so young to the point that you’re literally compromising their fitness. But it’s 2023 and it’s about to be 2024; with the help of technological advancements, plenty of measures and precautions can be taken in a football club to ensure that too many risks aren’t being taken.

Starting at such a young age is the reason why a player like Kylian Mbappé is able to establish themselves as one of the best footballers in the world - not just one of the best young players - and achieve everything that someone like him has already achieved despite being 24. It feels like we’ve been watching Mbappé for a while already, and that’s credit to the fact that he broke onto the scene at just 17.

So, let’s answer the question now.

Why are guys like Yamal and Zaïre-Emery so impactful and performing at the highest level despite being so young?

Because their clubs are letting them cook. Simple as that.

That’s it for the 31st edition of our newsletter! 😅
How did you like it? Let me know by messaging me via email at [email protected] or by sending us a text. 📲
We want to make sure we’re providing the right content to you all, so if you have any interesting football business topics that you’d like us to write about, don’t hesitate to send in your requests! 📩