Almost all the clubs in Europe have young players matching strides with their seniors, so much so that by the age of 23, they are established as first choices at their respective clubs. The Olympics have a slightly peculiar rule wherein they allow only three footballers over the age of 23 to participate.
Here we will be looking at the best possible U23 lineups for some of the top footballing nations in the world. This article, of course, includes players who are currently 23.
2018 World Cup winners France have an assortment of riches when it comes to young players. Here's what a U23 France team would look like.
Goalkeeper and Defence
The choice for the goalkeeper is arguably the easiest one on the list. Alban Lafont is widely regarded as one of the best young 'keepers in the world. Having made his Ligue 1 debut for Toulouse at the age of 16, and went on to make more than a 100 appearances for them. Now aged 22, Lafont is the first choice for Nantes, where he is on loan from Fiorentina.
At centre-back is the Leipzig duo of Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté. The only reason they don't have French caps is that the France senior team is absolutely stacked with centre-backs. Upamecano especially has garnered interest from almost all big clubs in Europe and looks likely to move in the summer.
At right-back, we have yet another Leipzig player in 22-year-old Nordi Mukiele. Also equally adept at playing at centre-back, Mukiele has consolidated his place as the German side's first choice this season. On the left side of the defence, we have AC Milan's, Theo Hernandez. Although he plays at left-back, Hernandez is Milan's second top goalscorer and joint-top assist provider this season. Once a Real Madrid reject, the 22-year-old has carried Milan single-handedly at times this season.
At holding midfield in this XI is Rennes' Eduardo Camavinga. The 17-year-old defensive midfielder is having a breakthrough campaign and is being touted for a move to Real Madrid.
Camavinga rose to prominence when he put in a Man of the Match performance as Rennes beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the second game of the season. Rennes currently sit in a Champions League spot and a lot depends on Camavinga if they are to stay there at the end of the season.
The two central midfielders in the side are Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar. Midfield generals together at Lyon, Ndombele was bought by Tottenham Hotspur in the summer for a club-record fee. Although he scored on his debut, the season has not gone to plan so far for Ndombele. His energy and ability to dominate a midfield earned him a lot of praise during Lyon's Champions League run last season. However, despite his bad form, Ndombele gets into this XI overcoming stiff competition.
Accompanying him in the centre of the park is the excellent playmaker and Lyon's 21-year-old Aouar. He has been ever-present for the French side for four seasons now, and although he's yet to win a cap for France, anyone who has seen him play knows that he will get his chance sooner rather than later.
Aouar has been instrumental in Lyon's Champions League success this season, as the French side have an advantage over Juventus going into the second leg of their Round of 16 tie. Like several others in this team, a lot of European giants have been keeping an eye out for him for quite some time now.
The forward line of this team is simply too good. On the left-wing is Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman. In his six-season old career, Coman has never lost a league title across three of the top five leagues in Europe. Blessed with insane pace and trickery, Coman is already an established international in the French senior team. However, the 23-year old's career has never quite been allowed to take off due to his injury-prone nature.
Through the middle in this XI is someone who needs no introduction - PSG and France's golden boy, Kylian Mbappe. Breaking through at Monaco during their dream season in 2016/17 season, PSG soon bought him on loan initially but made his move permanent a year later. The total value of Mbappe's move was estimated to be €180 million, the second-highest fee of all time.
Mbappe is widely regarded as the best teenager in football since Pele and is amongst the top 10 footballers in the world right now. He was a part of the French World Cup-winning side of 2018 and was one of the standout players of the tournament. Constantly linked with a dream move to Real Madrid, the heights this 21-year-old can reach are unfathomable.
Completing this XI is Ousmane Dembele. Lightning quick and two-footed, Dembele too was a part of the World Cup-winning team with Mbappe. After setting the Bundesliga on fire with Dortmund, he earned a big-money moved to Barcelona. Sadly though, despite showing signs of promise, his time at Barcelona has been blighted by constant injury woes. If Dembele can manage to keep himself fit, he could be the rightful heir to Lionel Messi's throne at the Camp Nou once the Argentine hangs up his boots.
Goalkeeper and left-back are probably the only two positions without quality backup. At right-back, apart from Mukiele, we could have chosen PSG's Colin Dagba. At centre-back, we are spoilt for choice with West Ham United's Issa Diop, Eintracht Frankfurt's Evan N'Dicka, Leeds United's Boubacar Kamara, Borussia Dortmund's Dan-Axel Zagadou, Schalke's Jean-Clair Todibo, and PSG's Abdou Diallo.
The situation is similar in midfield with Lyon's Lucas Tousart, Martin Terrier and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Bordeaux's Yacine Adli, RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku and Arsenal's Mateo Guendozi.
The forward options are even more stacked with Lyon's Moussa Dembele and Celtic's Odsonne Edouard capable of playing the striker's role. On the wings, options include Bayer Leverkusen's Mousa Diaby, Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Lille's Jonathan Ikone, and Lyon's Rayan Cherki. This is a testament to the insane amount of talent that France have produced in recent times and augurs very well for their quest of future international trophies.Published 31 Mar 2020, 19:01 IST