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UEFA Youth League: Graduates hitting the big time

Less than a decade from its launch, the UEFA Youth League has already showcased some huge stars: we pick just 11.

João Félix (right) celebrates with Diogo Gonçalves after scoring iin Benfica's 2017 semi-final defeat of Real Madrid
João Félix (right) celebrates with Diogo Gonçalves after scoring iin Benfica's 2017 semi-final defeat of Real Madrid SPORTSFILE

The UEFA Youth League began only in 2013/14 but already its graduates have hit the very top.

With the 2022 finals in Nyon from Friday, we pick out an XI of stars who first shone in the junior competition.

Mile Svilar (Anderlecht, now Benfica)
Made 15 appearances over three seasons, helping Anderlecht reach back-to-back UEFA Youth League semi-finals in 2015 and 2016. Svilar then joined Benfica and became the youngest goalkeeper in UEFA Champions League history by making his debut, in October 2017 against Manchester United, aged 18 years and 52 days. His record now belongs to another competition graduate, Maarten Vandevoordt.

Felix, Fati, Jones: Stars of today scoring UEFA Youth League goals

Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
UEFA Champions League runner-up in 2018 and winner in 2019, Liverpool's right-back gained his first taste of international club action against Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League in November 2014; the first of his two outings in that 2014/15 competition came in Spain 28 days after his 16th birthday.

Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain)
Featured seven times in the 2013/14 UEFA Youth League and subsequently graduated to the big stage with Paris and the France national team. Kimpembe scored his first UEFA Champions League goal at Manchester United in February 2019 and has proved a key cog since.

Matthijs de Ligt in Youth League action in 2016
Matthijs de Ligt in Youth League action in 2016©Getty Images

Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax, now Juventus)
A pivotal figure in Ajax's journey to the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League semi-finals before signing for Juventus, the outstanding centre-back played the last of his ten UEFA Youth League matches in February 2017; three months later he was experiencing a UEFA Europa League final against Manchester United. The following year he got a UEFA Champions League quarter-final winner versus Juve, who he joined that summer.

Lucas Hernández (Atlético, now Bayern)
Made five outings, scoring twice, in the autumn and winter of 2015/16 – and ended that campaign by appearing for Atleti's seniors in a UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona. In 2019 the versatile Lucas became Bayern and the Bundesliga's record signing. Brother Theo took a similar route to the top via Atleti's UEFA Youth League squad to AC Milan.

Mason Mount in 2016
Mason Mount in 2016SPORTSFILE

Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Mount has already been with Chelsea for more than a decade when he came off the bench in the 2016 UEFA Youth League final for his fifth appearance of the campaign, and almost instantly a Blues side that had just lost the lead to Paris Saint-Germain hit back to secure a 2-1 win. And after successful loan spells at Vitesse and Derby County, Mount broke into the Chelsea first team and set up the winner in the 2021 UEFA Champions League final. Mount and Andreas Christensen that day became the first players to win both UEFA's junior and most senior club titles.

Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)
A UEFA Champions League semi-finalist with Roma in 2017/18 and starring this season in the UEFA Europa Conference League, the Italian international midfielder had helped the Giallorossi get to last four of the same stage of the UEFA Youth League back in 2014/15, making nine eye-catching appearances.

Leroy Sané with Schalke in 2015
Leroy Sané with Schalke in 2015©Getty Images

Leroy Sané (Schalke, now Bayern)
Bought by Bayern after two league titles with Manchester City, and starring similarly in the Bundesliga, the winger played 13 times in the UEFA Youth League for first club Schalke, helping them to the last four in 2013/14. A month after his last junior outing in February 2015, he hit his first UEFA Champions League goal for Schalke against Real Madrid aged 19.

Kingsley Coman (Paris Saint-Germain, now Bayern)
Turned out seven times for Paris in 2013/14 and within 12 months was making his UEFA Champions League debut for Juventus. By summer 2016, at the age of 20, the by-now Bayern winger Coman was playing in the UEFA EURO 2016 final for France. Four years later he scored the only goal as Bayern beat Paris in the UEFA Champions League final.

João Félix Youth League goals

João Félix (Benfica, now Atlético)
Félix starred in Benfica's 2016/17 run aged 17, in particular with a stunning two-goal display in the semi-final defeat of Real Madrid. In April 2019 he became the youngest ever UEFA Europa League hat-trick scorer in the quarter-final defeat of Eintracht Frankfurt, and earned a move to Atlético, taking over Antoine Griezmann's No7 shirt, and starring in UEFA Champions League runs and their 2020/21 Liga triumph.

Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Nothing illustrates Rashford's rapid rise better than the fact that five months after his two goals on his UEFA Youth League bow against PSV in September 2015, he was scoring twice on his senior United debut against Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League. His star continues to shine.