Phil Foden, 20 (Manchester City)
No one who saw Foden in age-group football will be remotely surprised by a brilliant season during which he has become one of the world’s best players. Though it’s easy to compare him to others – somehow, he combines the frictionless skate of Lionel Messi with the aggressive bounce of Diego Maradona – his uniqueness is what makes him special. Whether stationed in midfield, up front or on either wing, Foden’s ability to meld style with substance and instinct with intellect reflects the innate, elemental “Fodenness” that is so affirming, a young man doing exactly what he was born to do.
Mason Greenwood, 19 (Manchester United)
It seems strange now – real talk, it was strange then – but not so long ago people were doubting Greenwood, using a dip in form preceded by personal tragedy and England-duty stupidity to illustrate the omniscience of the xG metric. Last season, he scored an unusual number of difficult finishes; this season he proved that they were not a freak occurrence, he is a freak occurrence, a rare blend of temperament and technique with much improved all-round play. Should he augment the bangers with tap-ins then xG might finally rate him, but in the meantime, one reality remains: you cannot quantify genius.
Bukayo Saka, 19 (Arsenal)
The number of fantastic English teenagers is absolutely and unprecedentedly mind-boggling, but even in that context Saka stands out, youthfulness incarnate and a footballing savant of ridiculous proportions. Over the course of the season, he has excelled at left-back, on the right wing and in central midfield, his impudence and intelligence making grown men look silly – not just for the sport, but for the team. It is no exaggeration to say Saka has single-handedly maintained his club in relative equilibrium, nor that without him, the current Arsenal manager would likely have lost his job this season. With him, though, anything seems possible.
Mason Mount, 22 (Chelsea)
When Thomas Tuchel named his first Chelsea team – and be sure, this is a sentence that deserves to finish with an exclamation mark – Mount found himself on the bench! So he came on, changed the game, and demanded his manager realise the error of his ways immediately. Generally speaking, the best players are not those with the highest top level but with the highest bottom level, and Mount’s intensity and conviction mean that his is right up there. Even when things are going badly, you never forget he’s on the pitch and he never forgets he’s in a scrap.
Wesley Fofana, 20 (Leicester)
Even the best centre-backs need time to learn the game, so it’s rare to see one so young break into a team so good – never mind one coming from a different league with just 23 first-team appearances to his name. But Fofana has done exactly that, showing himself to be comfortable in a back three or a back four while showcasing attributes that will make him one of the best around. Most telling, though, was his FA Cup final effort, riding the early loss of Jonny Evans – Leicester’s defensive organiser – to produce a near-perfect performance of power, authority and intelligence.