Football's young guns set for golden era
Young players show there is plenty of reason for optimism
Whilst most of last week’s football headlines across the world went to Lionel Messi, a young Brazilian continued his rise to prominence with a hat-trick of his own.
Messi’s five goals against Bayer Leverkusen may have trumped Neymar’s three against Internacional, but the manner of the 20-year-old’s goals suggested something very special could be on the horizon.
Neymar’s name isn’t one that’s new to football fans, and a string of top clubs in Europe have been mentioned alongside the player as possible future destinations.
However, his allegiance to Brazil, and more importantly domestic football in South America, has helped the game’s profile on the continent dramatically increase globally.
But it’s not just the fresh-faced forward who has got people talking about the samba stars once again, with Lucas Moura, Ganso and Leandro Damiao three more players still plying their trade in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A.
Brazil have enjoyed huge periods of success in their rich football history, most notably in the late 50s and early 60s, as well as the mid-90s and early 00s. Each period has been defined by a great young player (Pele and Ronaldo) mixed into a team of high-quality performers.
Neymar is the next player for Brazil to build a team around, and with the likes of Dede (23), Sandro (22) and Danilo (20) all involved in the national setup, the next decade promises to be great for the Selecao.
Throw in Hulk, Ronaldinho, Dani Alves and Fernandinho, and a more experienced core is also in place to help the youngsters through.
But Brazil aren’t the only country putting their faith in youth.
Argentina’s dynamic front three, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, are 24, 23 and 24 respectively. Erik Lamela, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder at Roma, has also just broken into the national side and has a huge future ahead of him.
It’s not just in South America that the kids are rising though, with France following the example set by Germany over the past few years and letting their youngsters do the talking.
Mamadou Sakho (22) and Yann M’Vila (21) provide the platform in defence and midfield, whilst Olivier Giroud (25) might be older in years but newest on the scene.
His rise to prominence at Montpellier has been nothing short of phenomenal, and performances thus far for Les Bleus suggest a massive future for Laurent Blanc’s side.
Not to be out done, Joachim Low has again given youngsters their chance on the international stage. Mario Gotze might be the only teenager in the setup, but Lewis Holtby and Andre Schurrle are 21, whilst Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Lars Bender, Sven Bender, Holger Badstuber and Sebastian Rudy are just one year older.
Three of Germany's ‘best’ players, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, are all 23 – a scary though for the rest of European and World football.
Spain, the current international No.1, won’t be left behind on this one though, having won the U21 European Championships last summer.
Javi Martinez captained the side, and showed his skills to the British public with a fine performance for Athletic Bilbao against Manchester United on Thursday night in the Europa League.
David De Gea is starting to show the form that made the Red Devils spend big on his services in the summer transfer window, whilst Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Iker Muniain and Thiago Alcantara are all 23 or younger.
As for the Dutch – they have Jeffrey Bruma coming through the ranks in defence, a player English fans no quite well from his time at Chelsea.
Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum, Luuk De Jong, Luciano Narsingh and Ola John have also come into the plans of Burt Van Marwijk over the past 12 months.
The fear for England is that they’ve once again fallen behind their international rivals. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Micah Richards are all 23 or under, whilst winger Theo Walcott is only 22. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, yet to get a senior chance for the Three Lions, is also one of the nation’s brightest hopes.
And up-front, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck are both in their early 20s, suggesting things might not be all bad for the Three Lions.
But, if we’re talking about young players making an impact on the international stage, then a special mention must go to Belgium, who have an unerring crop of players climbing through the ranks across the continent.
Thiabut Courtois (19), Kevin De Bruyne (20) and Romelu Lukaku (18) are three players at Chelsea, whilst Europe’s hottest property – Eden Hazard – is just 21.
Jelle Vossen, Dedryk Boyata, Axel Witsel and Steven Defour are all 23 or under, suggesting qualification for World Cup 2014 is well within the realms of possibility for Georges Leekens’ side.
In short, it seems world football is set for perhaps is greatest ever period, with so many good young players climbing through the ranks for their clubs and making an impact on the international stage.
With all that in mind, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup has all the ingredients to be the greatest showpiece event of all time – and what price a home win to send a nation into delirium?