This article first appeared in the Cutter on July 26th but is so good we’re running it twice.
With a remarkable £84.3M spent already this summer on under-21 players in the Premier League alone there is a higher premium on promise and potential than ever before. Even Real Madrid – famed for splurging on experienced, established superstars – are getting in on the act. We asked Ric Ireland to delve a little deeper to unearth the eleven best young gems still preoccupied with zits and boobies who have a huge future ahead of them.
Due to the modern day formations I’m going to use what most clubs are familiar with and that is the 4-2-3-1 formation. It would be quite easy for me to sit here and write about the Neymars, Lukakus, and Gotzes, of today’s world, but my attempt is to put some names out there that maybe some people are unaware of.
Here is my team.
GK – Maksym Koval
Maksym started his career with Metalurh Zaporizhya and progressed through their youth team at a considerable rate. He made his debut as a 16 year old and wasn’t really heard of outside of the Ukraine. Now 17, he has moved to Ukraine’s biggest club which is Dynamo Kiev where he has already made his debut for them. Plenty more to come from this kid who oozes confindence and has already been likened to Akinfeev who plays with CSKA.
RB – Serge Aurier
A product of the Lens youth system that is renowned for producing very good youngsters. Aurier made his debut 2 years ago in December as a 16 year old because of injuries within the squad. Since his debut he has become a regular with the French club, playing 27 times for Lens last season. Making your debut in any league at the age of 16 is an achievement, but to make it at a top club against decent opposition in St Etienne shows the promise the lad has. Aurier is very good on the ball and has bags of pace.
The added bonus is he’s as capable in either full-back position. Last season was the making of him and where he will end up after Lens relegation from Ligue 1 is anyone’s guess. Being a Man City fan, I hope he ends up at Eastlands. A player I have always liked since his debut, and a player who has a fantastic future ahead of him.
CB – Raphael Varane
Yeah, all you Football Manager nuts will already know about this 18 year old French Centre Back, but to not include him in this team would be nothing short of criminal. The youngster who played for relegated Lens last term before securing a £10M move to Real Madrid this summer is a quality defender with a surplus of potential.
Anyone who has seen Raphael play will note just how well he reads the game; he seems to have a tactical awareness, a bit like the mould of Tony Adams. Adams wasn’t the quickest of players but was always in the right place at the right time, and this kid has that ability also. The technical side to his game though is even stronger – he just looks so comfortable on the ball, and I know it’s a cliché that is used far too often but he has a wise old head on young shoulders.
CB – Rafael Toloi
After seeing this lad in the 2009 season I was very impressed to see a young player whose game improved with every 90 minutes he played. Rafael Toloi is very well known now, and I am surprised that he is still with Goais in Brazil who were relegated last season from the Campeonato. The boy is strong in the air and on the ground, doesn’t lack pace and can pick a pass while being able to strike the ball very well too.
Toloi first started out with Sao Paolo’s youth team before making the move to Goias after a successful tournament in Japan for Sao Paolo. Since then Toloi has been linked with many a European side but is still to see a move materialise. The kid has undoubted potential and reminds me a lot of Chelsea’s David Luiz in his style of play. He is believed to be a quiet individual and the recent speculation has affected his performances of late, but I’m pretty sure once a move is completed and he gets settled he will go from strength to strength. Someone just needs to take a gamble. Roma and Lazio are still believed to be interested and I will be very surprised if he is still at Goais by the end of the transfer window.
LB – Jordan Lukaku
I’ve gambled a bit here, and gone for Romelu’s younger brother Jordan. Jordan, is definitely the more defensive of the two brothers, but he has managed to learn a more technical side to his game, in my opinion, more so than his big brother. The brother’s dad was a bit of a player himself, and seems to have passed all his footballing knowledge down to his two sons.
Jordan is also believed to be London bound, just like his brother, who will sign within the fortnight for Chelsea, but Jordan’s destination is believed to be The Emirates and Arsenal. If this move does happen, I think it will be a great move for the club and the player. He definitely fits the Arsenal mould of a full back, with bags of pace, a player who likes to get forward, and can get a ball into the box. A club like Arsenal will help develop Jordan into a quality player, just like his brother will become at Chelsea.
DM – Jonatas Paulista
Paulista, or Jonatas Barbosa Rodrigues, to give his correct name is a 17 year old midfielder from Vasco da Gama. Jonatas started out as an attacking midfielder, but he was given a new role when one of his coaches realised the potential of playing him at DM. He is very skillful for his age, and is probably more of a deep lying playmaker, than your tough tackling DM. Suppose you could say more like Alonso and less like De Jong. If you haven’t heard of this kid yet, then keep the name in the back of your mind. He has a huge future ahead of him, and I am a huge fan already.
Jonatas has played already for Brazil’s U15’s, 16’s and now 17’s, as he looks to the future. It won’t be long before he is snapped up by a European Club.
CM – Alexander Merkel
Merkel played some minutes for Milan last season after making the move from Stuttgart who have produced players like Gomez, Tasci and Khedira. When he gets regular playing time, he is going to be someone that a lot of people will be talking about. Another German, but born in the great footballing nation of Kazakhstan.
Alex featured a fair bit last season for AC and got his chance due to Milan’s tight cash restraints. By no means the finished article, the lad has the use of both feet and a shot that travels. Definitely a very exciting prospect for AC.
AMR – Juan Manual Iturbe
I had to have this lad in the top 11. We hear it all the time, “He’s the next Messi” or “He’s the next Ronaldo” but have we ever heard of a kid that has been compared to both? Well, you have now. Although from what I have seen of him I’d say he is more a cross of Messi and Tevez, a skillful player, who has a low centre of gravity, but works tirelessly for his team.
Iturbe learnt his trade at Cerro Porteno before moving to Quilmes in 2010. His raw talent was there for everyone to see. He has also represented Paraguay at U20 level at the age of 16. That is a huge step up and very rare for any 16 year old. Now twelve months on he has decided to give his services to Argentina due to Messi being his idol, as you can see from the picture above. Another lad I’m sure everyone will be talking about in years to come.
Iturbe was the standout player for me during the recent South American U17 tournament that was held earlier this year, and because of his performances a whole host of clubs were watching him. Genoa, Spurs, Roma and Real all shown interest in the kid, but because of a contract dispute between Cerro and Quilmes many clubs took a back seat to see how things would develop. One club didn’t though, and in the summer Juan Manual Iturbe will join Porto for what will be, in my opinion, the biggest bargain of the summer, at 1.5M Euro’s.
AMC – Lorenzo Tassi
While there seems to be a decline in Italian football – having just slipped to 4th in the European Rankings to Germany – they possess a bright future, and a lot of pressure for one kid in particular to shine above all others. That kid is known as Lorenzo Tassi. Tassi played for Italy’s under-17 side in a recent tournament held in St Petersburg. He was fifteen at the time. Although the young Italian team failed to make any impression on the tournament and eventually finished in last place, Lorenzo was the one player everyone was left talking about. While Tassi’s team mates went home empty handed the youngster was awarded the “Petr Dementiev Trophy” for his outstanding skill and technical ability.
Still barely sixteen Tassi is being compared to the once great Roberto Baggio, and while comparisons can add significant pressure, I think this kid will handle what is being said about him just fine. He has been training with the Brescia first team for over a year, and last summer AC Milan tried to take him to the San Siro for a fee of 5M Euro’s, which was rejected. With Brescia dropping out of Serie A last season where he ends up is anyone’s guess, but there might be a clue already. Juventus allowed Davide Lanzafame to go on loan to Brescia until the end of the campaign, so read into that what you will. Inter have also shown an interest, so it looks like Italia’s big 3 will fight it out for him.
Tassi’s great passing is all thanks to his vision and seeing the pass as the forward starts his run. His role is to sit in behind the forward and feed the onward attacking players in a playmaking role, the ideal place to exhibit the strengths of his game. Also remember, that Brescia were the team that first unearthed Napoli’s Marek Hamsik as a 17 year old, and if Tassi proves to be just as successful then it’s another job well done by the club from Northern Italy.
AML – Gerard Deulofeu
I first noticed Gerard playing for Spain’s under 17 side in the European Championships as a 16 year old in 2010, where he pretty much single-handedly ripped apart England’s team down the wing and getting on the score sheet during that match also. Deulofeu managed to score 3 goals during that tournament which made him finish second joint top goal scorer, along with England’s Connor Wickham. A lot of people think Paco Alcacar, the young and talented Valencia forward, outshone him during the tournament, but if it wasn’t for Gerard’s constant threat and assists, Spain may not have made the final.
It is hard to compare this kid to someone; he has pace in abundance, a bit like a peer of his in Pedro, but with that comes the skill and balance to evade any challenges which are made on him. He really does have a great centre of gravity, and is going to be a constant menace for any full back when he breaks through to the senior side.
Both Chelsea and Arsenal have had a sniff around him when he was only 14 and still with Barca, but he stood firm. I cannot wait to see him, hopefully sooner rather than later run out at the Nou Camp in front of a packed home crowd. This kid will rise to the occasion.
ST – Jean-Marie Dongou
Another kid from Barcelona, and while he could easily play on the wing, or a kind of roaming David Villa position, I believe he is more suited as an out and out striker. Some people call him the new Eto’o, some the new Messi – or at least Cameroon’s answer to Lionel Messi – and though these are potentially overawing comparisons Jean has training with the Under 18 Barca set-up since he was fifteen and has immense promise.
This season alone, he has scored 30 goals for 3 different youth teams at Barca, playing against opposition players who are between 2 to 3 years older than him. He has a lot to thank Samuel Eto’o for, as it was through The Eto’o Foundation that this kid was discovered. He has everything Eto’o had and a little more, and maybe we now know why Eto’o was sold on because within a season or two this kid will have made his debut for the full team. He has speed, he is so physically strong for a kid of his age, and his eye for goal is as good as any striker playing in any league today. With experience he can emulate what another ex Barca player went on to do and my comparison is with the great Brazilian Ronaldo.
Dongou, according to one of his coaches, Frank Sanchez, is a positive influence and has a down to earth manner which sits well with every player in the Barca squad. If Jean-Marie stays injury free, and isn’t rushed through the ranks too quickly, I can see him becoming one of the most exciting strikers the world has seen for quite some time.