The key to any long and successful Football Manager 2021 save is to prepare for the future, and the best way to do that is by signing young stars for your team.
Whether that’s a young player who can make an immediate impact or one who still needs some time in academy football to hone their craft, it’s up to you to help develop your youngsters into superstars, and there are plenty of players capable of living up to that billing.
Here are 15 of the best young stars to build your FM21 team around.
Stefan Bajic is on the cusp of a breakthrough at Saint-Etienne.
The first goalkeeper born in the 21st century to play a game in one of Europe’s top five leagues, Bajic is held in high regard in France and has already impressed at senior level.
Famed for his love of flying off his line, Bajic boasts the kind of agility needed to make him a perfect Sweeper Keeper of the future.
Born in the Netherlands but currently representing England, Ajax stopper Charlie Setford is another of those who has long been touted for a successful future in the game.
At 16 years old, Setford is more of a work-in-progress, but the right manager could easily turn the teenager into one of the world’s elite goalkeepers.
He finds himself in the middle of an international tug-of-war, with both England and the Netherlands doing their utmost to convince Setford to choose them.
Some exciting performances in Switzerland earned right-back Jordan Lotomba a move to French side Nice in the summer of 2020, where he has gone from strength to strength.
More of a wing-back than a traditional defender, the Swiss international is a complete defender who is capable of holding his own at both ends of the field. He doesn’t have the flair of team-mate Youcef Atal, but he does bring a bit more reliability at the back.
Lotomba is ready to impress at any level of the game, but he has all the tools needed to develop into a true star.
Already a star in the French top flight, Benoit Badiashile is flirting with household-name status already, and he’s not even 20.
His enormous frame helps him stand out among the crowd, but Badiashile is far more than just an imposing figure. Technically, he is well beyond his years already, with his passing range particularly impressing scouts.
Monaco know they have a real gem on their hands and will make you pay up to sign Badiashile, but he’s worth every penny.
Strahinja Pavlovic is yet to make the same kind of impact at Monaco as Badiashile, but all the signs suggest he’ll get there soon enough.
He might be a no-nonsense defender, but Pavlovic does possess some impressive passing skills. He can kick-start attacks from the back but is comfortable enough stepping into midfield when needed.
That technical ability allows Pavlovic to feature as a defensive midfielder at times, although centre-back is definitely where his future lies.
AZ’s starting left-back for the last few years, Owen Wijndal is bursting with experience at both domestic and international level.
Wijndal is a pacy defender who does not shirk his defensive duties and has consistently impressed in the Eredivisie, but it’s at the attacking end that the Dutchman really excels thanks to his speed and calmness on the ball.
He’s already used to a lot of responsibility and should therefore be more than ready to slot into any team on the planet.
After breaking through to the Genoa senior side last season, Nicolo Rovella has gone from strength to strength.
With fantastic vision and positioning, Rovella is the perfect fit for the Carrilero role. He’s great at hoovering up the ball and is capable of recycling possession to his more-creative team-mates.
Rovella was handed his Italy Under-21 debut in November 2020, despite being three years younger than most of the competition. Italy have a lot of faith in the teenager, who is seen by many as a potential mainstay in the senior setup in the near future.
If you’re a seasoned FM player, you won’t need introducing to Ryan Gravenberch.
The youngest player in Ajax history, Gravenberch is held in ludicrously high regard by scouts all across the planet because of his unique blend of precision, power and composure at the age of just 18.
He’s another of those who might command a hefty price tag, but he can more than justify such an investment in just a few years.
A regular feature at PSV since making his debut in January 2019, versatile forward Mohamed Ihattaren has been earmarked for an incredibly bright future.
The teenager is already flirting with a breakthrough to the Dutch national team, and with that reputation comes a sizeable price tag. You might not be able to sign a whole load of new faces if you choose to splash out on Ihattaren, but it’ll all be worth it soon enough.
He’s one of the few players his age who is already ready to make a senior impact, so there’s no waiting around for him to develop. Throw him in at the deep end and he’ll start swimming.
If you’re looking for a future superstar on the left wing, Ajax sensation Naci Unuvar is the perfect signing for you.
The 17-year-old has consistently played above his age group for both club and country, and more importantly, he has never looked out of place. With Unuvar, it feels like a question of when he will break through, not if.
A right-footed left winger, Unuvar does his best work when cutting inside, so make sure to deploy him as either an Inside Forward or Wide Playmaker.
Since playing under-20 football as a 13-year-old, few players have had a spotlight on them quite like Celtic’s Karamoko Dembele.
It feels surprising to note that Dembele is yet to really make his senior breakthrough, but it’s worth remembering that he’s still just 17 years old. All the hysteria has distorted things somewhat.
Make sure Dembele keeps his head down and you’ll see him develop into one of England’s finest wingers.
Another of those names which should be well known to any seasoned FM veteran, Myron Boadu is already among the finest players in the Eredivisie.
After fighting his way back from a gruesome ankle injury, Boadu has managed to get his career back on track and bagged his 20th league goal for AZ in just his 40th appearance in the competition.
His goalscoring form was rewarded with an international debut which saw him become the first player born in the 21st century to score for the Netherlands.
Long touted as a core part of the future of Belgian football, winger Jeremy Doku’s hard work was rewarded with a move to Ligue 1 side Rennes worth in excess of £20m.
Doku may be advertised as a left winger, but he’s just as effective on the other side of the pitch and can even hold his own in a central striker role, where he loves to use his flair and agility to turn defenders inside out.
Given their sizeable investment in Doku, Rennes aren’t prepared to let him go for cheap, so you better start saving those pennies now.
It feels as though Lyon sensation Rayan Cherki has been around for ages, such is the level of hype that surrounds him.
Cherki, who starts the game at 16 years old, still has a bit of growing to do before he’s ready to make a consistent impact on a starting lineup, but he’s not far off. Give him minutes off the bench now and he’ll soon blossom into a starter.
Lyon know all about his potential – he’s seen by many fans as the club’s best academy graduate ever – so Cherki is another of those who might set you back a pretty penny.
Sebastiano Esposito, who boasts an outrageous goal record at youth level, would be getting more minutes at Inter if it wasn’t for the equally electric form of Romelu Lukaku.
Esposito has been sent out on loan to SPAL for his first consistent taste of senior football, and it’s a move which is being watched closely by scouts who believe the striker could soon be one of the best in the league.
He’s not ready to lead the line for a top side just yet, but given he’s still a teenager, there’s plenty of time for all that.