Top 10 Best Youngest FIFA World Cup Players in History, Ranked

Tags: #Football ,   #Soccer ,   #WorldCup ,   #Pele ,   #Mbappe

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2021-03-11 15:57:01

One way to catch the public's attention in the FIFA World Cup is to be the youngest player at the tournament. However, many of these guys are long forgotten, as they had pretty uninspiring careers. Yet, as we'll see, plenty of them are some of the finest names in the history of soccer. To avoid confusion - this list takes into account only a single youngest player from each tournament.

10. Norman Whiteside (1982)

Whiteside has a place in Man U history

Norman Whiteside still holds a couple of World Cup records that are hard to beat. Not only did he become the youngest player in 1982, but he also made an appearance in Northern Ireland's first game, aged only 17 years and 41 days. Whiteside and his team had a fantastic run and almost reached the semifinals that time. Four years later, he was back at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where he scored a goal. However, Northern Ireland was out after losing two games.

Whiteside was a quality midfield player and occasional striker, as he spent most of his career in Manchester United. He stayed there for seven seasons before moving to Everton. Unfortunately, as he was injury-prone, that forced him to retire aged only 26.

9. Theo Walcott (2006)

Everyone expected more from Walcott

When Sven-Göran Eriksson selected 17-year-old Theo Walcott for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, everyone was surprised. However, he never got a chance to make his mark, even though he was the only attacker on the team, next to Peter Crouch. Unfortunately, Walcott didn't spend a single minute on the biggest scene. In 2010 he wasn't called up for the World Cup in South Africa, and in 2014, an injury ended his dreams. By 2018 and the competition in Russia, he was no longer a member of the national team.

Even though talented and pacy, Walcott was often injured and inconsistent. That's the reason why he played less than 50 games for England and only 270 in 12 years with Arsenal. Pretty disappointing for a man that Leo Messi called one of his greatest rivals.

8. Vladimir Petrović (1974)

Petrović had short, but memorable episode in Arsenal

Vladimir Petrović Pižon was only 18 when selected for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The young midfielder managed to play two games, even starting against Sweden and then coming on as a substitute versus Brazil. Eight years later, he was back at the 1982 World Cup, and even though he scored against Honduras, that wasn't enough for Yugoslavia to qualify for the next round.

Pižon had his best years in Red Star Belgrade, where he won four titles in ten years. However, he could play for foreign teams only after his 27th birthday because of the strict rules. Nonetheless, his tenure in Arsenal was rather short, as he played only 13 games. Petrović later became a manager of his native Serbia but was highly unsuccessful.

7. Tostão (1966)

Tostão could give us much more if not for injury

Despite being 19, Tostão was the youngest at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, where Brazil defended their title. However, the tournament proved to be catastrophic for the team that went home after three group games. Despite that, he formed a strong partnership with Pelé and was an important player in their dominant 1970 World Cup-winning squad. Unfortunately, due to an eye injury, Tostao decided to finish his career in 1973, at 27.

Tostão was a very atypical attacker, as he lacked strength and pace and wasn't very good at heading the ball or taking long shots. However, what he had were fantastic dribbling and passing abilities. Tostão was the player that would set things in motion and was very versatile. In practice, that meant that he could play everything from striker to central midfielder.

6. Christian Eriksen (2010)

Eriksen will always be known as a free kick specialist

At only 18, Christian Eriksen went to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and he even managed to play two games. Unfortunately, Denmark didn't do well, as they failed to progress from the group stage. Of course, he was again part of the team when they qualified for the 2018 tournament. This time they went to the second round but had no luck against Croatia on penalties.

Since his debut in the national team, Eriksen played for prolific teams and was a key member of Tottenham when they lost the UEFA Champions League final in 2019. Eriksen is known as an excellent free-kick taker and a versatile midfielder who usually sets things in motion. The Dane shoots with both feet, and thanks to his speed, he successfully played as a winger.

5. Samuel Eto'o (1998)

Eto'o was always a reliable forward

Cameroon often called-up very young players for international competitions, and Samuel Eto'o was the best of the bunch! At only 17, he was already a member of Real Madrid and a participant in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. However, he only played a game against Italy, which Cameroon lost 3-0. Despite never passing the group stage in four tries, Eto'o still had a successful international career. He was twice the champion of Africa and even won Olympic gold in 2000.

Cameronian had his best years in Barcelona, where he scored more than 100 goals, before moving to Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Everton, among others. Eto'o is known for his strength, precision, and great pace, but he was also a great leader. His durability is legendary, as he played professionally for more than 20 years!

4. Kylian Mbappe (2018)

Mbappe had a dream World Cup in 2018

It's hard to judge Kylie Mbappe as he still has such a long way to go before retiring. Yet, even as a teenager, he was a superstar for France, Paris Saint-Germain, and Monaco. Playing at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he became the youngest French to ever score at the competition. Not only that, but he netted one in the final, for a total of four. 

Despite a huge pressure to perform after a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe is only getting better. Often compared to Thierry Henry, he is incredibly fast but also very skillful. His versatility enables him to take different roles in the offense, including winger and center forward positions. Potentially, Mbappe could rank even higher on our list in the future!

3. Gianni Rivera (1962)

Rivera was a star for both Milan and Italy

Gianni Rivera is a huge icon of Italian football and the youngest player in the pretty much awful 1962 FIFA World Cup in Chile. Rivera was lucky to have a debut against West Germany, but that was his only tournament game, as Italy quickly went out. Rivera played at three more World Cups but had only nine games in total! His international career's absolute pinnacle came in 1970 when he lost the final against mighty Brazil led by Pelé. However, he was a European champion in 1968.

Of course, Rivera is a legend of AC Milan, where he played for almost 20 years, winning the European Cup (now Champions League) twice. The Italian lacked pace, stamina, and strength and was pretty much useless in defense. Yet, what made him so special was his versatility in the offense, tactical intelligence, and ball control. That made him the central figure of every team he played.

2. Ronaldo (1994)

At his best, Ronaldo was unstopabble

Ronaldo was the youngest player at the best-ever World Cup and, aged 17, already was a world champion with Brazil. However, his contribution was non-existent, as he didn't play a single minute. Many don't know that Ronaldo was called Ronaldinho at the time, as there was another Ronaldo! Nonetheless, his role was huge in the next three World Cups, including a final in 1998 and another title in 2002. That year, Ronaldo scored nine goals and 15 in total, a record before Miroslav Klose of Germany scored one more. However, Oliver Kahn surprisingly beat him for the title of the best player.

Known also as "O Fenômeno," Ronaldo did the impossible, as he played for bitter rivals Barcelona and Real, and later Inter and Milan. While he was a prolific scorer until the end of his career, Ronaldo was a beast in his prime! His year in Barcelona is legendary, as he had superior, Tyson-like power, speed, and technique, scoring 34 goals in 37 matches! However, the Brazilian couldn't stay on top for long because of many injuries and weight problems. If he was healthier, Ronaldo could have been the best ever!

1. Pelé (1958)

Pelé is still the king of World Cups, and one of the best ever

No matter the perspective you take, Pelé has to be on top of this list! Even if we rated players based on their first World Cup performance, this Brazilian would still be number 1! Despite being only 17 at the 1958 tournament, Pelé was a huge part of the team. That was especially hard to achieve as Brazil was already the best side and a favorite to win it all. With him, they easily took the title, as Pelé did it twice more, in 1962 and 1970. 

World Cups were everything to Pelé. Unfortunately, as he never played in Europe, this was the only way for many to see him in action. Although he is known as a prolific striker, the Brazilian was also a fantastic passer, playmaker, and team leader. He also excelled at important matches and often contributed with clutch performances. Plus, Pelé always stayed graceful on the field, never losing his temper or making critical mistakes. 

While we still think that Maradona was better overall, there's no doubt that Pelé is the greatest youngest World Cup player! Even though Mbappe still has a chance to reach his level, doing so will be incredibly difficult. 

Who are some best young players in the World Cup, in your opinion? Would your top 10 be a lot different? We're open for discussion in our comments section!

Photo: Janik Skorna/Unsplash


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