Jude Bellingham, Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Gio Reyna are all 18, and all starring for both top clubs in the Bundesliga and international. - © DFL/getty images
Jude Bellingham, Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Gio Reyna are all 18, and all starring for both top clubs in the Bundesliga and international. - © DFL/getty images
bundesliga

In Jude Bellingham, Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Gio Reyna, does the Bundesliga have the best young midfielders in the world?

Four teenagers, all first-team regulars at some of the biggest clubs in the world and all senior internationals to boot: in Jude Bellingham, Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Gio Reyna, the Bundesliga houses the best up-and-coming young midfielders anywhere on the planet.

If that sounds like hyperbole, stop and think about it for a moment. Where else in the world - let alone Europe's top five leagues - is there a quartet of 18-year-olds taking the division by storm?

Pedri has had a similar impact for Barcelona and Spain, arguably the only other player of the same age to be equally influential for club and country. Eduardo Camanvinga is also 18 and has impressed for Real Madrid and France, while Bukayo Saka (19, Arsenal and England), and Pepe Sarr (19, Metz and Senegal) likewise deserve mentions for their precocious talent and maturity.

Watch: Analysis of Musiala, Wirtz and Bellingham

Yet they appear to be isolated cases in Spain, England and France. In the Bundesliga, the likes of Bellingham, Wirtz, Musiala and Reyna are more the rule than the exception, and alongside Joe Scally and Youssoufa Moukoko, are the teenage successors to Jadon Sancho, Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz. But are they as good as the hype? You'd better believe it.

Jude Bellingham
Age
: 18
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Country: England (eight caps)
Position: No.8, box-to-box midfielder

Bellingham has been lauded by Pep Guardiola, Mats Hummels and Jordan Henderson recently, and the praise from the biggest names in the game keeps pouring in. "He's three years younger than me, it's crazy," said teammate Erling Haaland after the Englishman's goal and assist in the victory over Besiktas on UEFA Champions League Matchday 1 this season. "He's unbelievable."

Bellingham followed that up with another assist against Sporting Lisbon in his next European outing, becoming in the process the youngest player to make 10 Champions League starts, aged 18 years and 91 days in what was his 100th senior career game already.

Jude Bellingham has become a first-team regular for Borussia Dortmund in his second full season with the club, despite only turning 18 in summer 2021. - Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

The Birmingham native has two goals in 35 Bundesliga games and has started in every competitive fixture for Dortmund this term; as a consequence, more experienced pros like Axel Witsel have been on the bench, while Denmark international Thomas Delaney even moved to Sevilla in search of more game time.

"I love the way he plays football," said Dortmund head coach Marco Rose of the midfielder. "I think he's an aggressive player who does so much for the team but also plays football with confidence for his relatively young age.

"He's responsible for where he is now because he's always willing to work. He wants to improve his game and knows he has the potential to improve."

That itself is a scary thought for anyone on the opposite side of the pitch, given that he is already considered one of the best in the business. "He not only has the technique but the competitiveness and maturity… he's a hugely exciting player," said England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of including Bellingham in his UEFA Euro 2020 squad.

"His performance levels with Dortmund in the big Champions League games were the things that really struck us. He stood up in those big moments. They are the moments we’re really assessing the players on."

Florian Wirtz
Age
: 18
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Country: Germany (three caps)
Position: Attacking midfielder

Wirtz has also been raising the bar with new records ever since he broke into the Leverkusen first team following his transfer from the youth academy of cross-town rivals Cologne in January 2020.

The attacking midfielder put the world on notice of his outrageous gifts in just his fourth Bundesliga appearance in 2019/20 when he came off the bench against Bayern Munich. Cutting inside 2018 FIFA World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez onto his weaker left foot, he drilled a shot past none other than Manuel Neuer just moments after entering the pitch. At the time he was the league's all-time youngest goalscorer. This, clearly, was not somebody to be intimidated by names or reputations.

Just three months after becoming a U21 European Champion at 18, Florian Wirtz is now a senior international in Hansi Flick's squad. - Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Sven Simon

It was far from a one-off. On Bundesliga Matchday 6 this season Wirtz became the youngest player ever to reach 10 goals in the German top flight, doing so in his 41st league outing. Robert Lewandowski, Haaland, Marco Reus, Havertz… none of them were as prolific at the same age.

"We know he's a very talented player who's in very good form at the moment and is really calm in his head," said Leverkusen head coach Gerardo Seoane after his young protégé reached his latest milestone.

"What we're very happy about with him is that he's giving a lot of effort for the team, training very well, has a good personality and is very happy to play for the team. It's not just his own performances which are most important, but the life of the team."

He now has four goals and four assists in just five Bundesliga matches in 2021/22, just three of which have been starts. No wonder, then, that he is also part of Hansi Flick's new-look Germany squad, having first been called up by Joachim Löw in March 2021, but ultimately not making the cut for Euro 2020.

Watch: Analysis - Wunderkind Florian Wirtz

"Florian is just a huge asset for this team through his carefreeness," said Flick during the September international break, in which Wirtz featured in all three World Cup qualifiers, registering an assist in the 6-0 win over Armenia. "He's simply an outstanding technician, loves to play, very creative, has a good shot, runs hard and is quick. He's got a good total package."

Jamal Musiala
Age
: 18
Club: Bayern Munich
Country: Germany (eight caps)
Position: Attacking midfielder

The same can be said of Musiala. Only the best of the best are even considered for the Bayern squad, but to break into the first team shortly after they were crowned sextuple winners in 2019/20 is truly extraordinary.

Musiala is just that. He became Bayern's youngest ever Bundesliga player at 17 years 115 days, the club's youngest scorer (17 years, 205 days) on Matchday 1 of 2020/21, and their youngest ever Champions League scorer (17 years, 363 days).

Jamal Musiala (c.) is balling out with the likes of Robert Lewandowski (l.) and Thomas Müller (r.) at Bayern Munich. - imago images

No wonder he was the subject of a tug-of-war between England and Germany at international level, with the latter eventually winning out and including him in their Euro 2020 squad.

Part winger, part attacking midfielder, Musiala has exceptional close control, movement off the ball and also a keen eye for goal. During his time as Bayern coach, Flick hailed the youngster's "ease on the ball, ability to play between the lines and good feeling for the spaces he needs to find," while teammate Thomas Müller is likewise a fan, recently saying "it's just fun to watch him play football".

Musiala is clearly enjoying himself too. He has eight goals in 32 Bundesliga games to date (eight starts), one goal in seven Champions League appearances and two in three in the DFB Cup.

"He has unbelievable potential," said Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann earlier this season. "It's extraordinary. He has great finishing qualities. Unbelievable attacking qualities also in his dribbling with the ball. He has the basis for an outstanding career.

Watch: Musiala and Wirtz - Germany's next generation

"The nice thing is that he is very humble and doesn't celebrate when he plays well. He has this football pitch mentality. He has to maintain that, this carefree nature. That's unbelievably good. My biggest task is not to drive it out of him."

Gio Reyna
Age: 18
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Country: USA (nine caps, four goals)
Position: Attacking midfielder

Last but by no means least is Reyna - this, after all, is the youngest player ever to reach 50 Bundesliga appearances, doing so at the age of 18 years, nine months and 14 days to leapfrog in that particular category.

Still just 18, the attacking midfielder has scored six goals in that period, as well as four in nine international appearances since making his senior debut for the USA in November 2020.

Gio Reyna - dubbed "The American Dream" by Erling Haaland - is a fan-favourite for both club Borussia Dortmund and country in the USA. - DFL

And while some youngsters get their break owing to injury or illness to teammates, Reyna simply played his way into the starting line-up of a side already including Haaland, Reus, Brandt, Sancho and Thorgan Hazard last term.

"He always looks to inject pace into the game, and he has the courage to go one-on-one with his opponent," purred former Dortmund boss Edin Terzic last season. Rose put it rather more succinctly this term, saying: "he's a very good football player".

Far from being a one-season wonder in 2020/21, Reyna cemented his place in the Dortmund team at the start of this season, even taking over the number seven shirt at Sancho's insistence. He started BVB's first three Bundesliga games, scoring against both Frankfurt and Hoffenheim before a thigh injury forced him to the sidelines.

Reyna has made an equally as impactful start to life with the USMNT, playing alongside the likes of former Bundesliga stars Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie and leading the next generation of American talent. Taking that on his young shoulders, as well as being one of Dortmund's primary attacking weapons, at his age, shows his maturity beyond his years.

Watch: Half a century of Gio Reyna - and more to come

"Reyna has a great mentality," enthused USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. "He's still a teenager but plays like an old hand. He has this hunger to always win everything and wants to improve in every training session.

"You could see this professional attitude in him as a young teenager. At BVB he now has a great chance of starting a great career, and I'm sure he'll make the most of it. What he shows in Dortmund is fantastic."