Predicting which young talent may go on to have stellar careers in football is always difficult. A failure to push on, injuries, or the wrong choice of club can all mean that what were once burning lights become mediocre journeymen instead. If history is something to go by, each time few players enter the tournaments as grand as the World Cup as stars and some relatively unknown ones reach greater heights based on their performances.
Peering into the crystal ball, it is too early to say what relatively unknown players will become world stars after the tournament. However, here are five young players, one from each of the major football confederations – North and Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe – who might be expected to enter the 2026 World Cup as a star.
Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich and Canada)
Although only 19, Davies is already a star for Bayern Munich, and has just won the Bundesliga title with them, weeks after extending his stay at the club until 2025. Incredibly fast – he recently made a German speed record in a game against Werder Bremen – 2026 World Cup could be his chance to shine in the international arena, especially as Canada is one of the host nations.
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Many players have emerged through the Barcelona academy system and been labelled as the next Lionel Messi, but 17-year-old Fati may be the real deal, despite a tough start to life growing up in Guinea-Bissau.
He is the second youngest debutant for the club, has already scored five league goals this season and has been one of the bright spots in what otherwise has been a mixed season at the Nou Camp.
The only question may be for whom will he play international football? Spain have shown their intent by giving him under-21 caps, but Guinea-Bissau will have their eye on him as well.
Lee Kang-In (Valencia and South Korea)
Although South Korea born, Lee has been with Valencia since he was ten years old. The attacking midfielder has already enjoyed international success, having been crowned AFC Young Player of the Year in 2019, and helped South Korea finish runners-up in the under-20 World Cup, where he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top goal scorer.
The eventual successor perhaps to Tottenham’s Son Heung-min, showed the other side of his game in a recent match against Real Madrid by getting sent off for kicking Sergio Ramos (something many players would like to do)!
Thiago Almada (Velez Sarsfield)
Another player called the next Messi, attacking midfielder Almada has made nearly 50 appearances for Velez Sarsfield, despite only being 19 years old, and already he is being linked with a big money move to Europe, with both Manchester United and Barcelona monitoring his progress.
He has already played for Argentina under-20 side and was the stand-out performer for them in the South American Championships where they finished runners-up to Ecuador, despite being the youngest player in the squad.
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
The man known as the Stockport Iniesta has already won the World Cup once with England, the under-17 tournament in 2017 where he was named player of the tournament. He is now starting to get regular game time at Manchester City, and seems destined to fill the boots of David Silva when he moves on this summer.
As a midfielder he seems to have the lot with a creative range of passing, the ability to score important goals and high work rate. He can expect to break into the full England team in the next year or so…
2026 FIFA World Cup schedule
It still takes some time before the football year 2026 starts, with the World Cup finals in North America being the summum. Heading for the final tournament in the USA, Mexico and Canada, the 2026 World Cup schedule however already starts with qualifiers to be played from 2023 to 2025, at all FIFA continents. The 2026 World Cup draw for qualification is planned to take place in July of 2023, whilst in 2021 the organization will decide on the final 2026 World Cup host cities. These are interesting dates, also for all current young talented football players like Alphonso Davies, Ansu Fati, Lee Kang-In, Thiago Almada, and Phil Foden…!