World Football: Top 10 U23 Players You've Never Heard of
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In world football, there are some players who have been linked with clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, who are huge celebrities in their countries, have won Eredivisie titles and amassed a ton of caps for their national teams—yet still nobody knows who they are.
Those footballers are the ones in this list.
These are proven talents, earmarked for the top at a young age, who haven't become household names yet because they don't ply their trade in a mainstream league.
Which is a shame, because they're possibly the 10 best players you've never heard of...probably.
Admir Mehmedi for FC Zurich (right).
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Admir Mehmedi is one of the best young trequartistas in Europe, and he's certainly one of the best in world football that you haven't heard of.
Dynamo Kiev were one team that knew of the 21-year-old's talent, though, and they snapped up the Switzerland international for £3.1 million in the January transfer window.
The Swiss seem to be producing a lot of good talent right now—especially thanks to their feeder nation Albania (we're looking at you, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka)—and Mehmedi is another to roll off the joint Swiss-Albanian production line.
Since breaking onto the professional scene as a 17-year-old with FC Zurich, Mehmedi hasn't looked back, scoring 38 goals in 138 appearances for Zurich before his move in January to Dynamo Kiev.
A player with tremendous vision in the final third, Mehmedi's developed ability to pass, shoot and score has seen him score eight goals and made seven assists in the first half of this season.
Emmanuel Mbola for Zambia (right).
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The Zambia international is considered one of the promising talents in African football, and he's the youngest player ever to participate in the African Cup of Nations, having played in the tournament back in 2010 as a 16-year-old.
However, he wasn't part of the Zambia side, which won the ACN this year.
But he is a highly sought-after player across Europe. Given how he's one of the best defensive full-backs in Africa, he seems unfazed on the big stage, puts in performances well beyond his years and is a robust but accurate tackler with a strong physique that would see him have no major problems in the Premier League.
Plus, he's already a title winner, having won the Armenian Cup and Armenian Premier League with Pyunik Yerevan in 2009, who took advantage of the fact he qualifies for a European work permit.
A player who performs well beyond his years, Mbola is probably the best, and most experienced, 18-year-old left-back in world football.
Star of the 2007 FIFA U17 World Cup for Ghana, Ransford Osei's career hasn't hit the dizzying heights many expected for the player who hit six goals in that tournament.
A prolific youngster who scored those six goals in seven matches for Ghana U17s, and a further four goals in seven caps for the U20s, Osei has struggled on the club scene, and he's failed to hit the prolific standard of his academy days.
Nonetheless, he's one of the most technically gifted strikers in African football, and at 21 years old, he's one of the most experienced young title winners in world football, having won an Eredivisie title with FC Twente in 2010 and an Israeli Premier League trophy the year before with Maccabi Haifa.
He's also won the FIFA U20 World Cup with Ghana, as well as the African Youth Championship, and he was a part of the Black Stars team that finished runners-up in the 2010 African Cup of Nations.
A very quick player with stellar ball control, dribbling, technique and shot power, with the strong, stocky physique to match, Ransford Osei is definitely one of the most technically gifted footballers you've never heard of.
And having now moved to Bloemfontein Celtic in South Africa—where he scored on his debut—Osei could gain recognition once again and become a household name within the next few seasons.
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One of the few ambidextrous players in the game, 20-year-old Eyal Golasa is the Yaya Toure of Maccabi Haifa.
The Israel international, capped six times for his country, emerged on the scene as a 17-year-old in 2008 and has since been one of Maccabi's most important players—having a Jack Wilshere-like impact on his team.
A box-to-box midfielder, Golasa doesn't get as much attention as he should, playing a very much-behind-the-scenes role, breaking up play in midfield and initiating forward plays for his teammates in the final third.
However, Lazio were one team that saw the talent in the burgeoning star, and they agreed to sign him to a four-and-a-half-year deal back in January 2010.
Bureaucratic issues meant that deal was eventually scuppered in a drawn-out saga, but the midfield maestro has since been on the radar of many teams across Europe, and he was also peaked the interest of Bayern Munich.
A very experienced player at a young age, Golasa is also a veteran title winner, having won two Israeli Premier Leagues with Maccabi Haifa (in 2009 and 2011, respectively), and it won't be long before a top club in Europe looks to add him to their squad to help them achieve the same aim.
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Henrikh Mkhitaryan is an exception to the rule, as he turned 23 in January, but the Shaktar Donetsk midfielder is a player too good not to make it onto this list.
Mkhitaryan is another Pyunik Yerevan player on this list (along with Emmanuel Mbola), with the Armenia international starting his professional career with the club in 2006 as a 17-year-old.
In four seasons at the club, he won four league titles, a cup title and a super cup title, and in his final season at the club, he scored 13 goals in 13 games from midfield.
Linked with Arsenal in the most recent January transfer window, Mkhitaryan is a player in the Cesc Fabregas mold, with excellent ball control, short-range passing ability and vision as the link player between midfield and attack.
However, he's more like Chelsea star Frank Lampard in his direct style, with the Donetsk star not being one to turn down a shot on goal.
It's done him quite well this season for Shaktar, though, as he's scored seven goals to go with his four assists in 21 league games following his £5 million move last summer.
One of the best title winners for any player aged 23 or under—having won nine trophies in his professional club career so far—Henrikh Mkhitaryan is quite possibly the best midfielder you've never heard of.
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Speaking of young stars destined for the very top, 21-year-old Bologna midfielder Rene Krhin is another who fits the bill.
Having shone for hometown club NK Maribor as a 16-year-old, Krhin was soon snapped up by Inter Milan.
However, the Slovenia international found his game time limited under Jose Mourinho and was behind established stars like Wesley Sneijder and Sulley Muntari in the pecking order.
But when he moved to Bologna in 2010 for €2 million, his luck wasn't getting much better, and he's found himself playing second fiddle to Gaston Ramirez this season.
Which is why he's relatively unheard of in the game.
Krhin recently scored his first goal for Bologna against Lazio last week, and that has since made people take notice of the young star, who has impressed over the past few seasons when he has had an opportunity to play.
A tall, strong, domineering player who's one of the best midfielders in Serie A aerially, Krhin is a very good, technical-holding midfielder, with an accurate tackle, great vision and long-range passing ability, and a decent eye for a goal.
He has the natural qualities to make it in any league in Europe, and he's probably one of the best young players in Serie A you've never heard of.
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Courted by both Arsenal and Liverpool, 19-year-old Jano Ananidze is said to be the next Georgi Kinkladze.
And it's clear to see why.
The Spartak Moscow attacking midfielder—who has already won 11 caps for his country, and who's best role is just behind the strikers—has a great eye for a goal, and an even better eye for the assist.
He's still very much learning the game at the moment, but Ananidze is one of the few young players in world football who can combine pace, trickery, flair and long dribbles on the ball with an end product—often a Xavi-esque through ball for a teammate.
And for those who don't follow the Russian Premier League, he's definitely one of the best young talents you don't know.
Vaclav Kadlec is the next big talent to emerge from the Czech Republic.
The 19-year-old Sparta Prague striker is already very experienced in the club game, having made 78 appearances for the team since making his debut as a 16-year-old in 2008.
And whilst he hasn't been the most prolific goalscorer, netting only 15 goals in all those matches, the young forward is evidently showing signs of being a player whose goal-heavy days are just around the corner.
After all, Kadlec rarely misses the goal, and he has one of the best shot-accuracy rates in Europe; in the Europa League last season, he hit 83 percent of his total shots in the tournament on target.
Wanted by Arsenal, Liverpool and Sunderland, as soon as Kadlec bulks up, gains some upper body to create more chances for himself and develops greater shot power, he has the potential to be a very prolific forward.
If you don't know about Vaclav Kadlec, then he is without doubt the best Czech player you've never heard of.
Described as the Lionel Messi of South Asia, Vermansyah is reportedly courting the interest of Portuguese giants FC Porto and Benfica, amongst others.
And it's clear to see why there has been so much interest in Vermansyah on the other side of the world.
Whilst his comparison to Messi may seem predictable, it is very much a valid one.
Vermansyah hasn't scored the goals Messi has, but like the diminutive Argentine, when Vermansyah gets the ball, it's virtually glued to his feet until he sets it free, while the Indonesian superstar also combines his perfect ball control with stellar dribbling ability to score goals with almost effortless perfection.
A player no doubt set for the big time in Europe, Vermansyah is definitely one of, if not the best player technical-wise in Asia at the moment.
And it probably won't be too long before those who haven't heard of him know all about his ability on the pitch.
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Linked with Borussia Dortmund, Karim Ansarifard could be the best young striker in world football you've never heard of.
The 21-year-old striker—who plays for struggling Iran Pro League team Saipa—is considered the heir to Ali Daei, and is said to be one of the best young forwards to emerge from Iran.
His goal-scoring statistics would justify that tag, with the striker having scored 20 league goals in 29 games last season, and he has so far followed that up this campaign with 17 goals in 28 matches.
Whilst that may not seem like the most prolific record of all time, for the past two seasons, Ansarifard has been carrying his Saipa team (currently 10th in the 18-team table) in a league which is notorious for its lack of goals.
A young striker who's already very experienced both on the international stage and the club scene—with 130 games under his belt—Karim Ansarifard is potential personified when it comes to goal scoring.
His off-ball movement, striking technique, poacher's ability and aerial threat are the best of any player in the Middle East right now.
Currently under the shackles of a poor Saipa side, Ansarifard is probably the best, under-the-radar young striker in world football who's just waiting to be prolific in a top league.