5 Brightest Prospects in La Liga This Season

Rob TrainFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2012

5 Brightest Prospects in La Liga This Season

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    It has not been a stellar year for emerging talent in La Liga, despite Spain's under-19s retaining their European Championship crown in Estonia and the under-20s qualifying for next year's showdown in Turkey.

    As veterans retire and joints begin to creak, football teams need to be regenerated and it is primarily to the youth ranks that most clubs look.

    Which players in La Liga will follow in the footsteps of Koke (above) and cement a first team place with their clubs, or gradually slip out of the collective memory like Sergio Asenjo?

    Criteria: They are all under 20 and have all at the very least set foot on the field for their senior sides.

Fabrice Olinga: Málaga

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    The season started in fine fashion for Olinga. Handed his debut on the opening day, the Cameroon striker scored the winning goal against Celta Vigo, becoming La Liga's youngest ever scorer at 16 and 98 days.

    Olinga then started matches against Panathinaikos in the Champions League and Zaragoza domestically, leading to a call-up for the full Cameroon side. He scored in that debut as well.

    Unfortunately for Olinga, Javier Saviola was brought in as the transfer window closed and has since been in decent form, keeping the young striker on the bench outside of the King's Cup.

    A sort of love child of Carlton Cole and Gabby Agbonlahor, in a good way though, Olinga is a rangy, pacey forward who likes going at his man. Hopefully, he'll get more chances this season to do so.

Jonas Ramalho: Athletic Bilbao

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    A few months ago this place could have taken by a host of Athletic players. The club has an academy to match Barcelona's, largely because of the influence of former Spain, Athletic and Barcelona keeper Andoni Zubizarreta.Only Iker Muniain of the most recent crop remains under 20, and he is already a full Spain international.

    Zubizarreta is currently Barça's sporting director and held the same post at Athletic. The Lezama facility is a production line of talent that was on full display last season, especially in the Europa League. Things are not at all rosy at Athletic at the moment but players like Jonas Ramalho are one reason that Bilbao has never gone down, despite its restrictive recruitment policy. 

    Understudy to Andoni Iraola, Ramalho is gaining weight in the team and should be an important player for Athletic for years to come.

Jose Rodriguez: Real Madrid

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    Jose Rodriguez is the latest talent to emerge from "The Factory" at Real Madrid. The production line has been about as active lately as most in Spain, meaning that it is in a constant state of strike.

    Real has faced plenty of criticism for not bringing through youth players and Jose Mourinho responded by saying that Castilla coach Alberto Toril used a different system that is hindering the progress of the canteranos.

    Rodriguez, a complete midfielder, seems to have broken that mold. He became Real's youngest Champions League debutant against Ajax this month, coming on for Kaka in a nod to the next transfer window.

    The fatherly ruffle of Rodriguez's hair by Mourinho as he prepared to make that entrance speaks volumes. If the Portuguese sticks around past the end of the season, Rodriguez will be a first team regular next year.

Gerard Deulofeu: Barcelona

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    There are actually no first-team players at Barcelona under the age of 20, but Gerard Deulofeu is about to make it big. 

    The player with a name destined to cause as much trouble for English commentators as his quick feet will on the pitch has been likened to Cristiano Ronaldo by Zubizarreta.

    A tricky winger, Deulofeu likes to take on his marker, and while comparing his style to George Best is obviously pushing it a bit, conjuring an image of the Belfast wizard gives a rough idea of his style.

    Deulofeu was named player of the tournament at the 2012 European under-19 Championships and has attracted interest from the Premier League. Barcelona might want to look at his contract before too long.

Jose Campaña: Sevilla

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    Campaña captained Spain's under-19s to glory in Estonia and is gradually cementing his place in an erratic Sevilla team.

    So far this season the midfielder has made five appearances for Sevilla while chalking up a number of starts for the mini-mini Roja.

    Campaña has been likened to Santi Cazorla, and is versatile too, able to play in defense if necessary. A Sevilla youth product, needless to say Real Madrid and Barcelona are keeping a close eye on his development.