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Sancho, Felix and De Ligt... Starlets lead 10-way fight to win the Kopa Trophy

  /  autty

The Kopa Trophy is an award presented to the best Under-21 player in European football, with the 10-man shortlist of starlets this year including the likes of Jadon Sancho, Joao Felix and Matthijs de Ligt.

Kylian Mbappe clinched the prestigious title in its first year and the prize honours the sport's greatest fledgling talent, with the added bonus that it is also voted for by former Ballon d'Or winners.

Here, Sportsmail takes a close look at each of this season's contenders battling it out for the 'mini Ballon d'Or'...


Age: 19

Trophies won this year: German Super Cup

Key stat: Scored 12 goals in 34 Bundesliga appearances last season.

Despite rumours of a high-profile breakdown in relationships at Borussia Dortmund, Jadon Sancho is a worthy nominee for the award and links to several of Europe's elite sides are more than justified.

The England star had enjoyed a fine breakthrough season with the German club last term, scoring 12 goals and registering 14 assists in the Bundesliga.

He was subsequently named in the division's Team of the Season, and even continued his stellar form at the start of the current campaign before tensions mounted with Lucien Favre.

But after being dropped for Dortmund's defeat at Barcelona for lacking focus, Sancho will have no shortage of suitors in the Premier League and is already considered a £100million player.


Age: 20

Trophies won this year: Primeira Liga, UEFA Nations League

Key stat: Felix joined Atletico Madrid for £113million in the summer transfer window.

The former Benfica star's impressive performances for the Portuguese side secured the wonderkid an eye-watering £113m transfer to Atletico Madrid in the summer.

Across Europe's top seven leagues, Felix had ranked third among teenagers for combined goals and assists, finishing behind fellow award contenders Kai Havertz and Sancho respectively.

Felix also contributed to Portugal's Nations League victory, and was more recently awarded with the Golden Boy accolade as the best under-21 player in the continent.

Comparisons to legendary compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo this season suggest that Felix possesses the ability to rise to the very top of the game.

De Ligt

Age: 20

Trophies won this year: Eredivisie, Dutch Cup

Key stat: Became the youngest ever player to be fielded in a major European final when Ajax were defeated by Manchester United.

After breaking through Ajax's youth ranks to cement himself in the Dutch giants' first team, De Ligt has progressed from strength to strength over the course of the last year.

The 20-year-old even netted the winning goal in the Champions League quarter-final against Juventus, who would soon prove to be his future employers, and helped prolong the club's dream European run.

De Ligt had originally endured a difficult start to life with the Serie A champions, but he now appears to have settled into life in Italy. An outstanding defensive showing against Atletico Madrid in this year's European competition solidified the starlet's spot as one of Europe's brightest prospects.


Age: 19

Trophies won this year: Serie A

Key stat: Was the youngest goalscorer for Italy in a competitive match.

Moise Kean's switch to Everton has gone poorly for the former Juventus forward, but the 19-year-old remains one of Europe's brightest striking prospects.

Despite his woes under Marco Silva at Goodison Park, Kean boasts two Serie A titles to his name from his spell with the Serie A giants, and has scored twice for his country on the international stage.

The electric frontman had also remained at Juventus for an extra season in order to learn from five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo.

Kean was handed his Premier League debut in Everton's goalless draw with Crystal Palace in August, and has been linked with a return to his homeland with AC Milan.

But with Silva on the brink of being axed, the youngster will likely be called upon once again to salvage the club's faltering form.


Age: 20

Trophies won this year: none

Key stat: Became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 50 appearances.

A reported seven European giants are in talks with Bayer Leverkusen over the signing of German starlet Kai Havertz, with a £110m valuation touted for the playmaker.

The 20-year-old has impressed in the Bundesliga after breaking into the Leverkusen first-team in 2017, and he netted 17 top-flight goals last season.

After being awarded his international debut earlier this year, Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all believe to be interested in a swoop.

But whilst Havertz continues to weigh up potential transfer options, the youngster has unsurprisingly been nominated for the award following his formidable form in Germany.


Age: 20

Trophies won this year: none

Key stat: Named the Nigeria Football Federation’s young player of the year for the 2017/18 campaign.

Having grown up in Nigeria idolising flamboyant star Jay-Jay Okocha, Samuel Chukwueze started playing football from the age of eight and joined Villarreal's prolific youth academy in 2017.

He was handed his first-team debut just over a year later in the Europa League, and was also named as the Nigeria Football Federation's young player of the year for the 2017/18 campaign.

The 20-year-old, a flying winger, had been close to joining Arsenal instead in 2016 and previously admitted he has taken inspiration from Holland legend Arjen Robben.

Chukwueze, who also experienced World Cup glory with Nigeria's Under-17's in 2015, has started this season with a bang, scoring three times in La Liga, to add to his five strikes last term.

Lee Kang-in 

Age: 18

Trophies won this year: Copa del Rey

Key stat: Became the youngest ever non-Spanish and first Asian league debutant for Valencia.

Lee joined Valencia's academy at the age of just 10 in 2011. In October 2018, by now aged 18, he made his maiden senior appearance for the club in the Copa del Rey, then became the youngest Korean footballer to make his professional debut in Europe.

Lee, an attacking midfielder, continued to shatter records after appearing for Valencia against Chelsea in the Champions League earlier this year, making the playmaker the youngest ever Korean to be handed his debut in the competition.

A first call-up for the South Korean national team saw Lee further rewarded for his promising form this year, and he made his international bow by starting against Georgia.


Age: 19

Trophies won this year: 0

Key stat: At £40m he is the second-most-expensive player sold by a Brazilian club.

Vinicius Jr's father first took him to Flamengo's branch offices in the nearby neighborhood of Mutua back to 2006.

Despite his club document originally describing him as a left back, Vinicius continued his development with the club, becoming a winger before joining Real Madrid in May 2017. The reported fee of around £40m was at the time the second-most-expensive sale in the history of Brazilian football.

Despite impressing last season, the starlet has struggled to break into Zinedine Zidane's first-team plans recently, but he made his Brazil debut in September after being introduced as a substitute against Peru.

Amid rumours over the youngster's future, Zidane stressed that Vinicius would remain at the Bernabeu to compete for his spot.


Age: 20

Trophies won this year: 0

Key stat: Scored the first - and only - professional goal of his career in October 2018 in Arsenal's victory against Qarabag.

Matteo Guendouzi started his fledgling career in Paris Saint-Germain's academy at the age of six, but later departed to swiftly move through the ranks at Lorient.

His spell with the French side was marred by relegation to the second tier, but the midfielder's countless qualities had caught the eye of Arsenal regardless.

The Gunners completed a move in July 2018, with former boss Unai Emery admitting Guendouzi would become an important first-team member immediately.

The 20-year-old French defensive midfielder, still yet to be capped at the highest level, netted his maiden goal for Arsenal in October 2018, and must add goals to his game.

Yet with his all-action style and distinctive curly mop of hair, Guendouzi has rapidly cemented his spot as a fan favourite despite the club's recent struggles.

Guendouzi is a regular starter and has provided a much-needed positive spin on a disappointing campaign so far.


Age: 20

Trophies won this year: FIFA Under-20 World Cup

Key stat: Was awarded the Golden Glove as the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

Ukrainian side Dnipro's relegation into the third division proved to be a blessing in disguise for starlet shot-stopper Lunin.

Due to financial irregularities at the club, many players were allowed to actively seek moves away. Lunin spent the 2017-18 season with Zorya Luhansk and rapidly established himself as first-choice goalkeeper.

After making his European debut, and featuring in all six of Zorya's Europa League clashes, Real Madrid's interest in the 20-year-old materialised.

Lunin became the first Ukrainian to play for the La Liga title hopefuls, and has since spent time on loan with Leganes and Real Valladolid.

Having made his international debut last year, Lunin has already impressed on the biggest stage of them all - and he was awarded with the Golden Glove after his heroics at the Under-20 World Cup.