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Pique, Ramires and the Top 50 World Footballers Under 25, Part 2

Jason FrayCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2012

Pique, Ramires and the Top 50 World Footballers Under 25, Part 2

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    Here is the second part of my Top 50 world footballers under 25 years of age.

    I do realize that there are far more than 50 wonderful and expressive footballers on the planet under 25, so bear with me if there are any footballers you wish to be on here that aren't.

    On Part 1, it was a very attacking-centric list (and I should have made that clear beforehand, for which I apologize).

    In this slideshow, I included many more creative and exciting offensively-based players, but I've also incorporated a large number of defenders as well.

    If there are any omissions that the reader believes should be on this list, please feel free to leave comments. I will definitely get back to you.

    Some players that should garner an honorable mention: André Schürrle, Simon Kjær, Sebastian Giovinco, Kyle Walker, Giuseppe Rossi, Iker Muniain, Oriol Romeu, Gastón Ramírez, Pablo Piatti, Mauricio Isla, Éver Banega, Philippe Coutinho and Lewis Holtby.

    Here is Part 1.

Thiago Alcântara: Midfielder for FC Barcelona

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    The 20-year-old is an absolute star in the making.

    He possess the overall skill and quality that will one day put him on par with many of his Spanish peers on the national team.

    While playing for the best side on the planet, it would makes sense that a younger player like Thiago might not get a chance to really shine.

    However, his class has come through and he's impacted the games that he has played in.

    There's no denying his elegance on the ball, but the little things that he does in the centre of the park make him special, including his defensive skills.

    As he matures and his career progresses, he should definitely be a staple on the Spanish National Team for a long time.

André Ayew: Midfielder for Marseille

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    The extremely fast and shifty playmaker is firmly establishing himself as one of the best African footballers in the world.

    Although born in France, he's represents Ghana in international play. He is the son of famed Ghana legend Abedi "Pele" Ayew and the brother of fellow footballers Jordan and Ibrahim.

    Ayew's coming out party started during the 2010 World Cup when he flashed his immense potential and brilliance on the world stage.

    His through-ball over the top to forward Asamoah Gyan led to the game winning goal vs. the United States which advanced Ghana to the Round of 8.

    He's a very versatile player who can play either up top or on the wings. He has the propensity of finding open space and utilizes his great speed often when "going" at defenders.

    Ayew was also named the African Footballer of 2011

Holger Badstuber: Defender for Bayern Munich

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    The left-footed defender can play both in the centre and (obviously) on the left.

    Badstuber has been a very organized and tidy defender in the back for Bayern, and he's also an above-average passer as well.

    After a so-so performance at the 2010 World Cup, the 22-year-old has regained his confidence and is now considered an important cog in the centre of defense for the German National Team.

    Former Bayern Munich Manager Louis Van Gaal has also called Badstuber "the best left-footed defender in Germany".

Mario Balotelli: Striker for Manchester City

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    The extremely talented yet enigmatic and often troubled striker has been a very controversial figure thus far in his young career.

    In terms of his talent, he has an abundance of it. He's blessed with surprising pace, a great frame, and good technical ability. He really does have all the qualities and traits needed to be a world class forward.

    Problems plaguing the 21-year-old Italian stem from immaturity, laziness, and brashness. Balotelli has had problems with every manager that he's played under.

    He's also criticized teammates and will literally pout on the pitch if things aren't going favorably.

    It's really a shame because hopefully for the young player's sake, he'll realize his immense potential and not live up to the moniker of being "a headcase".

Kevin-Prince Boateng: Midfielder for A.C. Milan

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    KPB is a jack-of-all-trades type of player who performs with great energy, passion, and enthusiasm when he's on the pitch.

    The athletic 24-year-old was born and raised in Germany, but decided to represent his father's homeland of Ghana on the international level.

    Although at a young age, he's recently retired from international competition due to the strenuous demands of football for both club and country.

    KPB is a very significant player for Italian giant A.C. Milan, where he patrols the centre of the pitch. He's a pit bull with not only a tenacious bite but also with the ability to participate in the final third.

    He's one of the best true box-to-box midfielders currently in the world today.

Sergio Busquets: Midfielder for FC Barcelona

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    In a team full of creative and attack-minded players, someone has to do the dirty work, right?

    Enter Busquets, one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. The deep-lying playmaker is a perfect fit for Barcelona.

    The 23-year-old is able to effectively hold the ball and rarely makes a faulty pass. He also provides a veil of protection for the backline, slotting in right above the central backs.

    From the deep position, he's able to more often than not start build-ups which often result in scoring chances. Tactically, he positions himself well and stays compact in the team's formation.

    Possession is paramount and his game play, much like Barcelona's, is predicated upon holding the ball and making quick, simple passes.

    He's great at what he does and he's an effective piece to the marvelous puzzle that is Barcelona.

Fábio Coentrão: Defender/Winger for Real Madrid

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    The explosive left-back has cemented his status one of the best left-backs in the world.

    Starting his career out at Benfica as a winger, he's transitioned to the outside-back position, but the Real Madrid man still retained many of the properties that's made him so highly regarded.

    The 23-year-old Portuguese International is an absolute terror with his sublime pace out on the flank.

    He provides wonderful service when swinging in dangerous crosses and can equally combine with teammates exceptionally well.

    In terms of technical ability, he's on par with the best at his position. His dribbling prowess is top-notch and he displays the propensity at attacking the opposition with regularity.

Ángel Di María: Winger for Real Madrid

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    Just like the aforementioned Coentrão, di María applied his trade at Portuguese club Benfica before making the leap over to Madrid.

    The left-footed wizard has unfortunately been plagued by injury for a good bit of his time with Real Madrid, but he still has flashed his magnificent play when healthy.

    He does, when healthy, possess many of the requisite attributes needed to perform as a world-class winger.

    The 23-year-old Argentinian is a very good passer and has assisted on many goals for both country and club. His quickness is impressive, as he combines that agility with wonderful dribbling ability.

Christian Eriksen: Midfielder for Ajax

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    The Ajax man might be the biggest crown jewel in all of Scandinavia right now.

    Eriksen is without a doubt one of the brightest prospects under the age of twenty. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder is a true maestro, having the ability to manipulate the ball with his immense skill as he pleases.

    He's extremely imaginative on the pitch and has wonderful vision on the ball when picking out his teammates making runs.

    Eriksen was also the youngest player to participate in the 2010 World Cup, at a staggering 17-years-old.

    Although he's still a teenager, his role on the Denmark National Team is growing.

    In 2011, he was named the Danish Football Player of the Year and the Young Player of the Year in the Eredivisie.

Marouane Fellaini: Midfielder for Everton

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    The Belgian of Moroccan descent has carved out a very nice niche for himself in the EPL.

    The physically-imposing central midfielder has been a rock for Everton in the centre of the pitch. He displays a wonderful work-rate and provides a lot of bite defensively.

    At 6'4"(maybe 6'7" with the afro) he's also a very big aerial threat on set pieces in the final third.

    The 24-year-old Fellaini is definitely one of the more underrated players at his position in the world.

Nicolás Gaitán: Midfielder/Winger for S.L. Benfica

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    The Argentine International is an absolute menace out on the pitch. His left-foot is like a King Cobra -incredibly deadly.

    Gaitán plays as an attacking midfielder but also can play out on the flanks as a winger. He plays a very free-flowing style of football and often roams around the midfield in order to exploit the small cracks and seams of the opposition.

    The 23-year-old is technically splendid and can unlock an opposing defense almost easily with his array of tricks and skill.

    There's no secret about his ability, and that's why sides like Manchester United and Manchester City are rumored to be very interested.

Paulo Henrique Ganso: Midfielder for Santos

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    The 22-year-old Brazilian is very cool, calm, and collected when the ball is on his feet.

    He's effectively able to orchestrate with the myriad of passes that he possesses. Whether it's playing a long ball, playing short, or threading the needle, Ganso is very impressive.

    He might not be the paciest or most athletic player, but that's fine. A reliance upon intelligence, precision, and vision is the name of the game for the Santos product.

    Like many other highly regarded players playing in Brazil, the price tag for the youngster is very high. There's no telling when he'll be leaving Brazil, despite heavy interest from European clubs.

Mats Hummels: Defender for Borussia Dortmund

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    Along with Neven Subotić, Hummels completes a partnership in the central defense should be considered one of the best pairings in club football.

    At 6'3", the 23-year-old plays with physicality and positions himself well, but he isn't just a defensive-minded player completely. He's very adept at using his technical ability and advancing up the pitch for offensive chances.

    A level of comfort exists when the ball is at his feet, and the big defender is an absolute terror on set pieces with his ability to head the ball on frame.

    Hummels has squarely placed himself amongst the best defenders in the world and is without a doubt one of the top defenders in all of Europe.

Shinji Kagawa: Midfielder for Borussia Dortmund

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    The Japanese International has a motor that just will not stop.

    Each time the 23-year-old steps onto the pitch, he brings inordinate amounts of quickness, pace, and energy.

    Coupled with his physical tools is an intelligence and savvy. He's had absolute clinical finishes for goals, and one of those composed moments is here.

    Kagawa has also been a lynchpin on the Japanese National Team, accumulating 27 caps while scoring nine goals.

Toni Kroos: Midfielder for Bayern Munich

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    Kroos is a fantastic player and is on the fast track to becoming one of the world's great footballers.

    The 22-year-old is versatile, and can be employed either as a trequartista or even outside as a winger.

    He's a very complete football player and although he enjoys his offensive tendencies, he has no qualms with tracking back and putting in the necessary defensive work.

    Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness recently said in an article that Kroos has been "simply sensational" and that "[Kroos] is not only one of the most valuable players on his own team, but ranks among the best in the whole Bundesliga League."

    If that isn't high praise than I don't know what is.

David Luiz: Defender for Chelsea

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    Looking like a mix between Anderson Varejão and Sideshow Bob, Luiz has been a strong player for Chelsea this past season.

    The agile player is very technically gifted for centre-back. One could definitely point to his upbringing as an attacking player as to the reason he's confident with the ball at his feet.

    Like many Brazilian players, Luiz is flamboyant and quirky in nature, but isn't adverse to mistakes.

    He's made several flubs since joining Chelsea (and those are magnified even more due to the high profile of both the EPL and the club that he applies his trade for).

    In order for him to take the next step and become one of the best central-defenders in the world, he has to become more consistent on a game-to-game basis.

Marcelo: Defender for Real Madrid

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    In terms of an attacking left-back, not many are as good as Marcelo.

    The 23-year-old is explosive when making his marauding runs into the final third and at any moment can unload one of his patented long-range shots that definitely pack quite a punch.

    His ever-improving defensive skills have also taken a giant step forward this season.

    Italian legend Paolo Maldini shares the same sentiment as a lot of people and feels that Marcelo "is the best left-back in the world."

Marko Marin: Midfielder/Winger for Werder Bremen

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    The slippery Werder Bremen player possesses great technical ability and pace that often infuriates opposing outside-backs. 

    At 22-years-old, he's one of Germany's most promising prospects and even was a member of the 2010 World Cup roster at 20-years-old.

    Marin is very threatening player, especially as he enters the final third of the pitch. He's equally comfortable in the centre of the park or out on the wings.

    From either position, he has shown a willingness to distribute at a higher rate, which has resulted in many assists.

    When he's in form, he's very impressive.

Juan Mata: Midfielder for Chelsea

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    The diminutive Spaniard has been a revelation for the Chelsea thus far in the season.

    He's not only injected a level of class to an aging midfield, but also flurries of creativity that haven't been seen at Stamford Bridge in some time.

    His left-foot is wand-like, and the small wizard manipulates the direction of the ball quite frequently from his spot either centrally or out on the flank.

    At 23 years of age, Mata demonstrates a cleverness and composure on the ball that goes beyond his years.

    He's also becoming a regular on the Spanish National Team and will be a force for La Furia Roja for years to come.

Alexandre Pato: Striker for A.C. Milan

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    The Brazilian striker started his career in Europe with A.C. Milan at the tender age of 18, and has been incredibly impressive ever since.

    The now 22-year-old talisman has bagged a very impressive 52 goals in only 112 matches. Using creative trickery and pace, Pato has been one of the most dangerous strikers in Serie A for the last few seasons.

    His superlative form has not gone unnoticed by his his country, and Brazil has welcomed in the flair and poaching ability of Pato.

    In 18 fixtures for the national team, Pato has bagged six goals.

Gerard Piqué: Defender for FC Barcelona

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    The lynchpin in the back for Barcelona is world class. Pure and simple.

    The 24-year-old centre-defender is extremely intuitive and uses his supreme intelligence to position himself and analyze the game at an incredibly high level.

    Technically, he's absolutely elite. His touch is outstanding and his ability to pass the ball neatly and with precision is quite marvelous.

    Piqué also utilizes his 6'4" frame and can display brutish tendencies when need be. He's also quality on balls in the air.

    That's what makes him special, he truly is a complete defender. He's fully equipped with the accoutrements to play a physical brand of football, but he also posses the undeniable quality and skill on the ball which separates him from so many at his position.

    Bar none, he's the best centre-back in the world.

    He also gets serious props for dating this pop star.

Ramires: Midfielder for Chelsea

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    The dynamic midfielder can be likened to the energizer bunny with his spirited and incredibly hard-working play.

    At 24-years-old, the Brazilian provides sufficient defensive cover and is adept at flying up and down both flanks with his impressive pace.

    He's unselfish and provides a workman-like mentality to the Chelsea midfield that's quite refreshing.

    On the international stage, the former Benfica product has been accrued 27 caps for Brazil while tallying two goals.

Andrea Ranocchia: Defender for Inter Milan

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    The towering 6'5" central defender uses his size and positions himself quite well in the back for Inter Milan.

    Throughout his career the 23-year-old has battled various injuries that have sidelined him. If he's able to rid himself of the various ailments, then he's can be superlative central defender with his potential.

    Being able to have continual consistency is also a big point of emphasis for Ranocchia. If he can avoid making mental mistakes that he's sometimes susceptible to making, he'll be fine.

    Ranocchia is also establishing himself with the National Team (with 8 caps) and looks to lock down a starting spot in the centre.

    For fans of the Azzurri, they hope Ranocchia can follow in the footsteps of centre-back predecessors Fabio Cannavarro and Alessandro Nesta, and return the Italian National Team to glory.

Marco Reus: Striker/Midfielder for Borussia Mönchengladbach

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    The 22-year-old striker/attacking midfielder is one of the up and coming stars of German football. Thus far in the 2011/12 season, Reus has scored a very respectable 14 goals for Borussia Mönchengladbach.

    He currently is looking to break into a extremely talented German National Team (he has only three caps) but at the pace he's currently performing, he should be a regular, at least off of the bench.

    Reus just signed a four-year deal with reigning Bundesliga Champions Borussia Dormund. He will make the move over to the club in July of this year.

    By joining Borussia Dortmund, he'll be able to play with the likes of fellow German internationals Mats Hummels, Mario Götze, and Sven Bender.

Pedro Rodríguez: Striker/Winger for FC Barcelona

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    At only 5'5", the diminutive Pedro utilizes his quickness and pace to often find cracks in the opponent's defensive alignment.

    As a winger, he's extremely tricky and dangerous with the ball, and at any moment can unload with a powerful 'cracker of a long-range shot.

    His technical ability is top-notch and he is versatile in the fact that he not only can play wide but also centrally as a striker if need be.

    The 24-year-old is also a strong presence on the Spanish National Team.

Nuri Şahin: Midfielder for Real Madrid

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    The left-footed playmaker is an extremely talented and clever player.

    He has an assortment of cheeky touches and skills which thrilled and delighted fans of his former club Borussia Dortmund.

    His form at the German club was sublime, and he enjoyed his time there before moving to Spanish giant Real Madrid in 2011.

    In terms of style, the 23-year-old Şahin is a wonderful passer and he utilizes his deft touch and impressive vision with regularity out on the pitch.

    Unfortunately for both Şahin and Real Madrid, his time at the Bernabéu has been plagued by injury. Although that's the case, he still remains an important cog for the Turkish National Team.

Xherdan Shaqiri: Midfielder for FC Basel

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    The 20-year-old Swiss international is a gem just waiting to be plucked from the Swiss Super League and taken into one of the top leagues in the world.

    The stocky albeit athletic winger is very exciting for his club side FC Basel. He possesses great ball control and displays surprising physicality with his strong frame.

    His left-foot is deadly and his attacking mindset and threatening runs are quite impressive.

    Shaqiri also represents the future of the Swiss National Team. He's been a member of the senior squad since he was 18, and in qualifying for Euro 2012, he had a hat trick against Bulgaria.

    There's no doubt that this somewhat underrated prospect will be moving on to a bigger league sooner than later.

    I also think that Xherdan Shaqiri has to be one of the coolest names in all of football.

Neven Subotić: Defender for Borussia Dortmund

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    The lanky, 23-year-old Serb has been a stalwart for club side Borussia Dortmund for the last three seasons heading into the 2011/2012 campaign.

    His impressive height at 6'4" allows him to be an absolute aerial threat anywhere in the box for set pieces. And that's definitely shown as he's accumulated 10 goals for the Bundesliga side, most of which came off of headers.

    For his size, he's also very mobile. Subotić also is considered more of a silky, finesse player compared to his partner in the middle for Borussia Dortmund, Mats Hummels, who is more physical.

    Interestingly enough, Subotić represented the United States internationally at the U-20 level. Unfortunately for US fans, a very public feud with then U-20 coach Thomas Rongen ended any chance of him playing on the senior US National Team.

    You think the United States could use a centre-back like Subotić?

    Yeah, so do I.

Gregory Van Der Wiel: Defender for Ajax

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    The Dutch International is an absolute terror out on the flanks from his right-back position. He employs his wicked pace down the wings and his overlapping runs causes much chaos for the opponent on a regular basis.

    The 23-year-old has played for Ajax his entire professional career, dating back to 2007. That continuity has helped his development immensely, and he's parlayed the improvement into a spot on the Dutch National Team.

    At the 2010 World Cup, he was extremely impressive and due to his strong play both for club and country, he's cemented a starting spot at right-back for Oranje.

    He truly has all the skills and tools to be a world class defender, and he's on the way to doing so.

Arturo Vidal: Midfielder for Juventus

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    The 24-year-old gritty defensive midfielder adds immense bite to the lineup, whether he's playing for his club side Juventus or his national team Chile.

    Vidal is a true box-to-box midfielder and plays with a very dogged, hard-working mindset. He's very adept at tackling, and breaks up the opponent's offensive attacks with regularity for both club and country.

    Although he's primarily a defensive-based player, he's also proficient on the offensive end and has scored some impressive goals.

    I would describe Vidal as a very flexible and multifaceted two-way player. He's also a very underrated passer as well.

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