15 Best Footballers in the World You Haven't Heard of Yet
Across the world lay top undiscovered footballers waiting to be spotted.
Football clubs send their scouts to all four corners of the globe—from a freezing cold wasteland in Finland to a baking hot desert in the Middle East, from a bustling Far East Asia metropolis to a South American football cathedral—in search of the best, untapped talent.
And sometimes, there's nothing more football writers love doing than making lists of players fans don't, but should, know about.
So here are the 15 best footballers you (perhaps) haven't heard of, yet.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is one of the few talismanic footballers yet to be a universal household name.
The 23-year-old saviour of Armenian football, and star of UEFA Champions League regulars Shakhtar Donetsek, is a player whose talent has risen well beyond his fame.
He's exploded into life this season, scoring a staggering 10 goals and making four assists from midfield for Shakhtar, thrusting them to the top of the league with six wins from six matches.
Playing in the No.10 role, Mhkitaryan is a playmaker of the final third, linking up with the striker and wingers to open up spaces in the penalty area to make that assist-making pass, or work a shot on goal.
A look at his Wikipedia page will show his impressive pedigree—which includes eight goals in 31 caps for Armenia.
And if he carries on his current form, it won't be long before he is a household name across Europe.
Club: HJK Helsinki
Joel Pohjanpalo is only 17, but thanks to his already impressive goalscoring record at senior level, he's got a load of video compilations of his talent on YouTube—including this one of his "perfect hat-trick".
The striker has scored six goals in 17 games so far in the 2012 Veikkausliiga, and overall this season has 13 goals in 27 matches.
In the season before for the reserves—senior football in Finland's third tier—Pohjanpalo scored 33 goals in just 21 games, a record haul for the league.
The talented young forward has had trials at both Liverpool and AS Monaco (per veikkausliiga.com, in Finnish), and it seems only a matter of time before a trial turns into a bid and a big move to a top team for the Finland U21 striker.
Club: Nagoya Grampus
Kensuke Nagai's profile grew rapidly following his impressive performances at the London 2012 Olympics, especially in his Man of the Match showing against Spain.
But in case you don't know about the talents of Nagai, here's a bit about him.
A versatile forward who can play anywhere along the frontline, Nagai has scored eight goals and made two assists in the J-League this season.
It's not the best record so far, but is better than previous seasons. And while he plays up-front, Nagai is more a playmaker of the final third, using his pace and outstanding technical ability to stretch defences and create space for teammates to exploit.
In essence, goalscoring is just one facet of his game.
But if he does improve his finishing, Nagai could be the next big talent to come from Japan, and might even reach some of the heights of Shinji Kagawa.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Cardiff City
Kim Bo-Kyung was the under-the-radar star of the Olympics for South Korea, quietly dictating play and creating chances for his nation as they won the bronze medal.
Considered the heir to the legendary Park Ji-Sung, Kim was actually the successor to Shinji Kagawa at Cerezo Osaka following his departure to Borussia Dortmund.
And he impressed in Japan, scoring 18, making six assists and creating well over a hundred goalscoring chances for his teammates in just over a season and a half at the club, before making the move to Europe.
A very gifted player technically, the 22-year-old is a brilliant dribbler and passer of the ball, and could earn the tag of a poor man's Michael Laudrup if he does well in the UK for Cardiff City—and considering how prodigiously talented the great Dane was, that's not a bad tag to have.
Club: FC Basel
For those who knew their football a little too much for their own good, young Egypt striker Mohamed Salah was a player to watch at the upcoming Olympics.
But it appears there was one set of people who knew of Salah's talents well before the rest, that's the folks at Swiss side FC Basel, who snapped up the prolific player back in April on a four-year contract.
A flashy forward who likes to cut inside from the wing, Salah's goals are spread across the Internet, with videos of his tricks, skills and silky finishes all over the likes of YouTube.
Having already scored and made two assists in his first three league games in Switzerland, if he can keep up his form, it won't be long before the big European clubs come knocking.
And with nine goals from 15 caps for the senior Egypt side at just 20 years of age, it's clear there will be many more of his goals going viral.
Club: BSC Young Boys
Like Mohamed Salah, Emmanuel Mayuka is another super-talented, young African striker plying his trade in the Swiss Super League.
Though, Mayuka has a more impressive track record so far, scoring 46 goals and making 20 assists in 135 professional matches for club and country.
Playing as the furthest player forward, Mayuka is a striker who works best when running onto the ball as opposed to holding up play.
But if he can add strength and the ability to hold the ball and bring teammates into the attack, Mayuka is a talent with huge potential.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: River Plate
Manuel Lanzini is without doubt one of the best players not to have received an international cap for his country—though he has been in the squad for the Argentina U20 side.
Linked with Arsenal, Lanzini is a player who combines the superb technical ability of an Argentine with the dazzling flair of a Brazilian—having spent last season on loan at Fluminense in Brazil.
Like most burgeoning South American talent, Lanzini isn't the clinical player, and will need to work a lot on his finishing and final pass if he is to make it at the top.
But the raw ingredients are all there, with Lanzini possessing great pace, control and trickery on the ball.
A very exciting talent, with a bit more time to learn his craft, Manuel Lanzini could well become a household name.
Position: Right Winger
Club: Cruz Azul
Having been the star of Cruz Azul, one of Mexico's biggest teams since 2010, Javier Aquino has long been a player with tremendous talent and potential.
A vital part of the Mexican side which won Olympic gold at London 2012, Aquino is a player fitting of the No. 7 shirt—the number he wears for his club.
Lightening quick, as he proved at the Olympics, Aquino can give any full-back a run for his money, and what's more, he can whack in a very decent cross too.
He led the assists charts in the 2011 Apertura despite only making four starts, and has been impressive ever since, with his passing, crossing and long balls becoming more cultured game after game.
However, Aquino is inconsistent, and like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in their formative years at the top, the Mexican often lacks a final product.
But with a bit more experience, the 22-year-old could possibly emulate the latter, and become the next exciting winger to grace the European stage.
Club: CF Pachuca
Another dazzling young talent off the Mexican production line, Marco Bueno is possibly the most exciting young talent to come from the country right now.
Premier League giants Liverpool seem to have discovered this before most others, and had agreed to sign the player back in 2011 on a pre-contract agreement.
But with Kenny Dalglish getting sacked and Brendan Rodgers coming in after this deal had been put in place, it appears the transfer has been shelved.
Meaning a whole host of Europe's top clubs will invariably be battling for his signature before long.
Already a world champion having won the 2011 FIFA U17 Cup with Mexico—a tournament he excelled in—Bueno is a player blessed with great technical ability and remarkable composure on the ball beyond his years.
This season for Pachuca, he has scored four goals and made three assists in just five starts, with his passing and movement both on and off the ball being key to his success.
With all the attributes to succeed at the top, Bueno is a player you'll hear a lot about before long.
Position: Second Striker
Club: Nottingham Forest
He may be the oldest player on this list by some margin, but Kuwait star Bader Al-Mutawa has finally been given a platform to show off his unbridled talent, having signed for Nottingham Forest thanks to the new Kuwaiti owners at the club.
A versatile player behind the main striker, Al-Mutawa can play as a winger, attacking midfielder or further forward as a second striker, yet has a remarkable goalscoring record.
Though his goal and assist tallies are unclear thanks to the lack of available data on the Kuwaiti Premier League, Al-Mutawa scored a whopping 45 goals in 62 league games for his last club, and was key as they won a fourth successive league title.
However, goalscoring is only part of his game—Al-Mutawa is also a stellar passer and crosser of the ball, providing tons of assists.
Clearly too good for Middle Eastern football, Bader Al-Mutawa is finally being given the platform he deserves to showcase his skills.
And if he performs well in England's second-tier, which is quite likely, we could be seeing a lot more of Kuwait's best ever footballing star.
Position: Attacking Midfield
Club: Red Bull Salzburg
Valon Berisha, despite only being 19, has long been coveted as the next big thing in Norwegian football.
Like most super-talented youngsters, Berisha possess remarkable technical ability and composure on the ball, and as you can see from the video, is capable of scoring world-class goals.
A lot of what you need to know about Berisha is already available on his Wikipedia page. His manager at former club Viking, Age Hareide, lauding him as the best player he's ever managed:
I have been coaching many years and been lucky to work with many excellent footballers. Among them, Valon is perhaps the very best. There is only Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who can reach up to what he has to show.
Having already won six caps for the senior Norway side, Berisha looks set for a career at the pinnacle of the sport, and if his dribbling, skills, close control and penchant for the spectacular are anything to go by, it won't be long before we see him gracing one of Europe's top leagues.
Hamdan Al Kamali
Club: Al Wahda
Hamdan Al Kamali was another talent who quietly excelled at the Olympics, nullifying the threat from the likes of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez—as you can see in the video.
His nation's star player and possibly the best centre-back in the Middle East at the moment, Al Kamali showed at London 2012 his potential to become a big-name defender.
A strong player with a good tackle, great passing range and stellar reading of the play, the UAE star has the attributes to make it in Europe.
He did, in fact, have a spell in the continent, having signed a six-month loan deal at Ligue 1 giants Lyon, though he didn't manage to break into the first team.
Having seen his performances at the Olympics, it could well be something Lyon will regret, with it surely not being long before Hamdan Al Kamali graces the European stage once again.
Club: Hajduk Split
Ante Vukusic could finally be ready to realise some of his potential this season.
Since making his debut for Croatian powerhouse Hajduk Split as a 17-year-old, Vukusic has been slowly getting better over time, but has yet to break out into the world-class form he is capable of.
A key player for his club despite only being 21, Vukusic has been the main striker for his side over the past two seasons—campaigns in which he scored an impressive 18 and 15 goals respectively—and despite three managerial changes, has remained as first-choice upfront.
Now captain of the team, the striker has got off to an impressive start this season, scoring five goals in nine games, and scored against Inter Milan at the San Siro in a Europa League qualifying round.
Blessed with a clinical striker's instinct and an at times stellar finishing ability, Vukusic has a versatile style, having the movement to evade markers and poach goals while also being able to drive the ball through from midfield or link up with the wingers.
The Croatian was coveted by football's elite after breaking onto the scene two years ago, and having now slipped under-the-radar again, a quite likely fine season this campaign will unassailably see Ante Vukusic as one of Europe's hottest properties.
Position: Second Striker
Club: Partizan Belgrade
Lazar Markovic is just 18-years-old, yet was voted into the 2011-12 Serbian SuperLiga Team of the Year, won the Partizan Player of the Year award and was supposedly set for a £14 million move to Premier League giants Chelsea.
So it's clear this boy has talent.
Set for an explosive campaign this season, Markovic kicked off his first game of the season with a goal and two assists in his side's 7-0 win over BSK Borca.
A player with great reading of play in the final third, as well as clever movement, quick pace, clinical passing and very good finishing, Markovic is primed to tear up the Super Liga.
And when he does, you'll invariably hear all about this Serbian wonderkid.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club: Persebaya 1927
Andik Vermansyah is probably the biggest celebrity footballer you've never heard of.
Lauded in his home country of Indonesia for his footballing talent, Vermansyah has been described as the Lionel Messi of South Asia, and has received praise from David Beckham.
While he's not yet near Messi's standards, Vermansyah is a player, who like Messi, has virtually perfect control of the ball; his dribbling ability is second to none.
A player with great ability for link-up play and a good finisher, Vermansyah was reportedly the subject of a bid from Benfica.
It appears that move never happened, but either way, it won't be long before this bright young kid from Indonesia is yet another super-talent from a distant corner of the globe making a splash in one of the world's best leagues.