10 Young Stars in World Football Who Could Be the Next Great Player
At any period of time, there are a handful of players at the top of the footballing world who define their eras.
In the 2000s, it was the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Fabio Cannavaro, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, while in recent years it has been Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo, who have been universally hailed as the best around.
But who amongst the younger generation will take up that mantle? If you ask any Brazilian, the name of Neymar instantly arises, while European fans will offer the examples of Mario Gotze, Isco and Eden Hazard as potential greats.
Nothing, though, is set in stone. It takes true brilliance, and no shortage of hard work, to reach a level where you are acknowledged as a defining force of your time.
Let's take a look at 10 young players who could potentially be iconic figures in world football over the decade to come.
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Brazil's biggest hope of launching football's next global superstar is Santos forward Neymar—the man who could become one of the most expensive players in history when he eventually moves to Europe in the next 18 months.
Neymar has natural talents that few could dream of, and while some insipid displays with his country have brought criticism, it is worth remembering the state of the country's national side at present.
Both Oscar and Lucas Moura are fine players who could go on to achieve great things in Europe. However, they are not—and have never been—on the same level as Neymar for performances.
Should the young star join one of Europe's elite—most likely Barcelona—as expected, it will only be his desire that stops him from reaching the very top of the game.
Young German star Mario Gotze created headlines worldwide last week when Bayern Munich announced that he would leave his rival Borussia Dortmund side for their clutches (via BBC).
Gotze is already a star and will soon have a chance to prove himself in a Champions League final against his future employers. Aged 20, he will only get better in the coming years.
In 2011, at the age of 18, Gotze earned praise from DFB (German FA) technical director Matthias Sammer as "one of the best talents we've ever had" (via Goal.com). Two years down the line, few would argue with that assertion.
The move to Bayern, where he will play under Spanish manager Pep Guardiola, should help take his career to the next stage. While Dortmund are undoubtedly a wonderful side, Bayern are a club who demand success year after year and will surround him with some of the best talents available.
The future looks very bright indeed for the vibrant attacking midfielder.
Malaga attacking midfielder Isco has firmly established himself as the brightest of Spain's next generation over the past two years, putting in a host of impressive displays at home and abroad.
The 21-year-old has consistently been linked with transfers to some of Europe's biggest and richest clubs over the past 12 months, and despite extending his Malaga contract, it is still thought he could leave this summer.
The Andalusian club have been forced to sell several stars in recent times, and it is thought Isco could be next. Among a host of potential suitors, it would appear as though 2011-12 Champions League winners Chelsea lead the way (Metro).
A move to a side truly capable of challenging for honours will help the young Spaniard take the next step in his career, and if he develops as hoped, he may well begin to push some of his elder compatriots for a place on the national team sooner rather than later.
Phil Jones' inclusion on this list will likely be subject to some criticism given that the 21-year-old is one of the few players named who would not necessarily be in their club's first-choice starting lineup.
That said, he has proven over the past few months that he is good enough to make a significant impact in a number of positions against some of the best opposition in the world.
Long term, Jones' future lies at centre-back, and performances in that role over the past few weeks in particular have been enough to suggest that it may not be too long before he displaces one of his side's established centre-back pair.
In a post-title-win stupor, manager Sir Alex Ferguson asserted that Jones could be "one of the best players we have ever had" (Daily Mail). While that may have been an exaggeration, there is no doubting his potential ability if he can stay injury-free.
Stephan El Shaarawy
AC Milan forward Stephan El Shaarawy enjoyed a remarkable breakthrough season at the San Siro this campaign, scoring 16 Serie A goals and contributing a further four assists to his team's effort (via WhoScored).
Generally playing from the left side of an attacking trio, the Italy international has shown pace, skill and composure in abundance to develop from a potential star into a leading light of the Milan first team.
It's unlikely that the forward will move on from his current club anytime soon, so it will be in the colours of the Rossoneri that El Shaarawy must make his way to the top of the world game. Along with striker Mario Balotelli, it will be El Shaarawy expected to lead the Serie A giants forward to the next level.
The next chance for El Shaarawy to display his undoubted talents on a major stage will be at this summer's Confederations Cup, where he can secure his place among Italy's plans for the World Cup next summer.
Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez has been tipped for stardom since his Banfield days, long before a 2010 move to Portuguese giants FC Porto.
It has been over the past two years, though, that he has excelled following an initial bedding-in period upon arrival in Europe. He should once more break into double figures for league goals this campaign—a fine achievement for a non-central striker.
With a wonderful left foot, Rodriguez is a regular provider of assists and a fine set piece taker. It is no surprise, then, that he is linked with a move to Manchester United on almost a weekly basis (Daily Mail).
Tipped to be one of the leading lights of an emerging Colombia side at the 2014 World Cup, Rodriguez's star has only just begun its rise.
Named to the PFA Premier League Team of the Year just this past week (via The Guardian), Eden Hazard has enjoyed a successful first season in England, despite his Chelsea side underperforming.
It can also be said, though, that Hazard is yet to match the heights that he reached at Lille with his new side—at least on a consistent basis.
What's clear, though, is that the Belgian has both the talent and temperament to reach the very top level of the world game in the next few seasons. At just 22, he should still have some considerable development ahead of him.
Likely to reach double figures for both goals and assists by the end of the campaign, Hazard has achieved more in his debut campaign in England than most do in their entire career.
It has been quite some season for Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane, who has defied his tender years to become a regular member of Los Merengues' first team.
At just 20 years old, Varane exudes a quiet authority that separates him from most of his peers. Then again, the Frenchman has always been ahead of his age group since making his first-team debut at 17.
Tall and strong, Varane combines his physical attributes with a wonderful understanding of the game to stand up to the tests offered by some of Europe's most experienced forwards.
While Real Madrid look set to undergo upheaval this summer (via The Guardian), Varane will no doubt ride out the storm, and it would be no surprise to see the Frenchman start next term as first choice once more.
From there, he can truly look to to push on and become the star that he has all the abilities to become.
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti has undoubtedly played an important role in the club's Ligue 1 success this season but still has much to learn in his own game.
At just 20 years old, he is already well ahead of the development curve for his age, and over the next couple of years he looks set to kick on to reach the very top of the game.
The Italian displays immense class and composure in his midfield role, with regular comparisons made to his senior countryman Andrea Pirlo. Verratti must keep improving to reach those levels, but his talent has never been questioned.
Verratti's development at PSG will be interesting to watch with the French club regularly looking to strengthen their squad with big-name players.
To date, the former Pescara player has had plentiful playing time. It must now be hoped that he receives the continued opportunity to make the most of his abilities and become a modern-day great.
The youngest and most inexperienced of the 10 players on this list, 18-year-old Viktor Fischer enjoyed a remarkable debut season in the Eredivisie for Ajax, scoring nine goals for his side.
The joint top scorer in the 2011-12 NextGen Series, Denmark international Fischer received his first-team opportunity early in the campaign from manager Frank de Boer and quickly settled into a role on the left side of the Amsterdam side's attacking unit.
A classy finisher with the ability to beat defenders one-on-one and a love of playing short, sharp one-twos, Fischer is very much the prototypical modern forward. All this combines with a hard-working, cocky persona on the pitch. He is certainly not fazed by the challenges of senior football.
Fischer, given his age and limited experience, has further to go in his development than others in this list, but early signs suggest he could ultimately become one of the very best of his generation.
He simply needs to keep up his current work rate and development, and his route to the top looks very much assured.