As one might expect, the UEFA U17 World Cup qualifying tournament’s history is littered with talent elevators swiftly rushing upward to the proverbial penthouse of world soccer. In a stunning span of six years, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, Nuri Sahin and Toni Kroos all won the tournament’s best player award.
Should we ultimately count France’s Amine Gouiri amongst that burnished class of footballers, the 2017 edition of this tournament marked the trumpets heralding his ascendance.
Gouiri ultimately scored an incredible nine goals in U17 World Cup qualifying, which wraps on May 19 in host nation Croatia. Spain and England will ultimately vie for the title, but France was among the five teams to qualify. You can see the first eight of those goals here, but the ninth was the show-stopper. France needed a win over Hungary in a playoff to advance to the U17 World Cup in India later this year, and they got it thanks to a 26th-minute blast from Gouiri to push France to a 1-0 win. That nudged him to nine goals and over the record threshold at the event. He is now in unequaled company. Nobody in the tournament’s history – Torres, Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hazard, Figo, Henry – had scored more than eight here. Until Gouiri.
Gouiri’s drawn comparisons to Karim Benzema primarily because of his size. The bruising center forward is over 6-feet tall at 17, and at about 180 pounds he’s basically a comparative tank at that age. But he also has cashmere-soft feet and a keen instinct for space, which guided him to three multi-goal games in Croatia, a run that included goals in every game France played.
Here he is putting five goals (!) past Belgium’s vaunted U17 team in February.
Gouiri is perhaps Lyon’s greatest developmental jewel at the moment, if not France as a whole, and this tournament did nothing to diminish the interest of the galactic clubs reportedly monitoring his progression. He’s reportedly bound to Lyon by what’s termed in Europe a “trainee pro contract,” which doesn’t expire until 2020. In the meantime, Gouiri starred for Lyon’s U19 team (as a then-16-year-old) during its UEFA Youth League group phase in 2016, and he’s gone as far as making Lyon’s senior match-day squad this season for a trip to Bordeaux. Privately, Lyon officials both worry over his potential departure and salivate over the prospect of promoting him to the first team. The looming U17 World Cup will certainly do nothing to dampen the hype once Gouiri hits India.
In any case, another one to add to the heap of I Knew Him Whens if Gouiri ever truly arrives on the bright European stage. And if he does, the U17 UEFA World Cup qualifying tournament continues to live up to its mantle as the Cradle of Stars.