Here are the top 20 young footballers poised to be breakout stars in 2013.
The keyword being "star," as this article will attempt to project the top 20 footballers 20 years or younger who will become stars in their respective leagues.
Before you read on, you need to understand the selection criteria for this list.
Footballers like Adam Maher, Bernd Leno, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Filip Duricic, Iker Muniain, Isco, Marc-André ter Stegen, Mario Götze and Stephan El Shaarawy, etc. are already stars.
The premise of the article is to predict up-and-coming footballers who will attain that status in 2013.
Only footballers based in Europe aged 20 or younger will be considered.
Why have this prerequisite? I don’t possess the expansive scouting knowledge of a Porto scout to write extensively about footballers from Africa, CONCACAF and South America.
There will be some glaring European omissions like Alen Halilovic, Dennis Praet, Imoh Ezekiel, Joel Pohjanpalo, Lazar Markovic, Mateo Kovacic, Tom Ince, Valon Berisha and Wilfried Zaha, etc. I simply haven’t watched them enough to form opinions that would be worth reading.
So, if there is a player you believe should be on the list who isn't, chances are I don’t know enough about the player in question.
Feel free to comment below with your own suggestions of European-based footballers aged 20 or younger right now who are candidates to be breakout stars next year.
Andre Wisdom (Liverpool): Has the tools to be a mainstay at the back. Need to see more.
Granit Xhaka (Borussia Mönchengladbach): Misplaced 79 passes in 12 league games. Struggled to impose himself on the pitch. Suspect defensive capabilities, having committed more fouls than successful tackles during UEFA Europa Leage. Inability to replicate his performance vs. Germany in Bundesliga games mainly the reason why manager Lucien Favre has lost faith in the former Basel prodigy.
Jetro Willems (PSV): Thrown to the lions during Euro 2012. Hasn't been the same since.
Joel Campbell (Real Betis; Arsenal loanee): Scored a golazo against Deportivo La Coruña...and that's about it.
Juan Manuel Iturbe (Porto): Can't get any minutes, let alone starts. His career will either pan out like Wason Rentería, or he will rebound like Diego did when he moved to Werder Bremen.
Lucas Digne (Lille): Doesn't offer much going forward, nor is he a strong tackler.
Lucas Moura (Paris Saint-Germain): How on earth can he live up to the €45 million transfer fee? Denílson 2.0.
Lucas Piazón (Chelsea): Unless he is loaned out, his development will be stunted.
Memphis Depay (PSV): Good enough to start but isn't given a chance.
Michele Camporese (Fiorentina): The P word—potential—has been bandied about the 20-year-old since he first played for the Italian U-16s. Even with Matija Nastasić gone, Camporese still can't get onto the team.
Moritz Leitner (Borussia Dortmund): Looked good in 3-1 win over Hoffenheim. Needs to start more games.
Paul Pogba (Juventus): If not for the MVP midfield, Pogba would be on the list.
Suso (Liverpool): Drifts in and out of games.
Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord): Remains to be seen if his knee ligament tear will debilitate his career. Hopefully, he makes a swift recovery because he is one of the many exciting young prospects at Feyenoord.
Amin Affane is not as explosive as former Chelsea youth player Gökhan Töre, but the 18-year-old Swede's touch-and-go approach to playing the game means he is a difficult player to mark.
Unlike Töre, who sometimes couldn't help but dribble blind, Affane's in-swinging crosses from the right flank are so deadly.
In a 5-2 loss to Feyenoord, he sent in a perfectly flighted corner for Senharib Malki's headed goal.
Then the Chelsea loanee combined for a swift one-two with Mitchell Donald and delivered a great cross as Bart Biemans headed home.
Affane can also play on the left, as evidenced during a 1-1 draw against Twente. He came on as an impact sub, got in behind on-loan Manchester City defender Dedryck Boyata and squared the ball to Guus Hupperts for the equaliser.
Affane faces the same problem Lucas Piazón, Islam Feruz and Kevin De Bruyne have: They are youngsters with world-class upside, but the Blues seemingly have no idea how to nurture them.
What makes you say that? Well, they signed KDB without André Villas-Boas' consent and then essentially ended the Belgian's future at the club before it even started by bringing in Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Juan Quintero is an exceptionally gifted footballer on a poor team.
Ante Vukusic has struggled in front of goals, only netting once in Serie A this season—but pro-Vukusic supporters will blame the supporting cast.
Quintero has been one of the better Pescara players, as he gets past opposing defenders with ease and is always a threat.
He and Vukusic sometimes are on different wave links, which explains why the Colombian has taken 19 more shots on goal even though he's supposed to be a provider.
Feyenoord have an interesting bunch of forwards.
Graziano Pellè has come out of nowhere and is dominating like Pelé. Ruben Schaken, Sekou Cissé and Wesley Verhoek are handy players to have. Guyon Fernandez is a good player, but he isn't wanted by manager Ronald Koeman.
Then there's Jean-Paul Boëtius, whose skill level is very high and who adds energy to Feyenoord's attacks.
Tomas Kalas' heart must have sunk when Chelsea announced the signing of Fluminense right-back Wallace.
Vitesse "Chelsea" Arnhem have three Blues loanees: Kalas, Patrick van Aanholt and Gaël Kakuta.
The Frenchman has been inconsistent in an attack-happy league, having yet to score in eight league games.
Van Aanholt has taken up where Alexander Büttner left off, making his way into Voetbal International's November Team of the Month.
Kalas has been impressive at right-back, even though he's a natural centre-back, as an integral part of a Vitesse side making an unlikely challenge for the Eredivisie title.
Kakuta has no future at Chelsea, unless he turns into the French version of Lionel Messi.
PvA could be Ashley Cole's replacement, should Roman Abramovich incomprehensibly push one of the best left-backs in the world out of the club, by simply not giving the Englishman what he wants.
After all, Roman did give Fernando Torres a higher salary than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. So, it's inevitable that Cole will not only ask for a significant salary increase but also force the club to break its policy of giving older players one-year contracts.
At the start of the year, French Football Weekly's Andrew Gibney wrote:
Coach Galtier had previously said the reason Zouma’s name was not on the shirt was for his own protection. The longer Galtier could keep Zouma out of the spotlight the better chance Saint-Etienne have of keeping the defender in the famous green jersey. In his short first team career Zouma has already scored two goals and impressed all in attendance, it seems the cat is truly out of the bag.
Kurt Zouma isn't like Anderson Conceição, who kicks the ball out whenever possible, because the 18-year-old is calm in possession, looks up and makes high-percentage passes, allowing his team to maintain control.
Zouma is a man-child because he's so physically developed for a teenager.
When Julian Draxler has been given opportunities to operate centrally, he has been ordinary, whereas Lewis Holtby took his chance and ran with it.
Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay wants to clear the tag of being a benchwarmer, and he has had some lively performances out on the left. However, injury has left the Dutchman inactive and given Draxler a chance to reclaim his starting role.
If Draxler can get into rhythm, he could turn into a star in the latter half of the season.
He suffers the Theo Walcott problem by being forced to play out wide because of his rapid acceleration.
He's a one-man counterattack because he'll run into space and get himself free from an opposing player. If he were playing with better footballers, maybe he'd produce more goals.
There are games where you won't see Son that much, hence why his player ratings are so low.
In defence of Hamburg management, they have given Son some chances as a No. 9, and he hasn't been that good.
Marco van Ginkel can run up and down the field until the final whistle. He has provided several through balls to Wilfried Bony and also has an eye for goal.
Louis van Gaal, who gave extended runs to Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf during Ajax's golden generation of the 90s, made the correct call to give van Ginkel his international senior debut against Germany.
Provided that MVG continues playing with the zest that has helped Vitesse become relevant, he'll be an elite midfielder.
Bruno Martins Indi looks at ease when he carries the ball out of defence. He has been immense when played at centre-back and arguably even better at left-back.
Feyenoord also have the prodigious Terence Kongolo, who is rehabbing his knee, as a potential long-term centre-back option. Daryl Janmaat is one of the best right-backs in the competition and has the potential to play for one of Europe's superclubs.
Against ADO Den Haag, Martins Indi nonchalantly jogged deep into ADO's territory and threaded a through ball for Graziano Pellè to score.
He was a bit too casual at the back, at times being caught out of position, and it was fitting that he ended up getting a bizarre red card. He had legitimately denied Mike van Duinen a chance to score by making a last-ditched clearance, but the referee, for whatever reason, deemed that Bruno committed a professional foul.
Forget about the unwarranted sending off. If Martins Indi had marked van Duinen, the ADO forward wouldn't have been in the position to "fall over".
As long as Martins Indi remains focused, he'll make the transition into a world-class defender.
Gervinho is hopeless.
Whether it's tripping over himself, running straight into opposing defenders, passing the ball when he needs to shoot, shooting when he needs to pass or just attempting to emulate Fernando Torres' wastefulness, the Ivorian would be better suited as an impact sub.
Give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain an extended run in the starting XI because he actually has a football brain. He is so explosive, he can play across midfield and has that X-Factor.
In the UEFA Europa League this season, Philippe Coutinho has been waltzing past opposing players, averaging 4.4 dribbles per game.
It gives you an idea of how dominant Coutinho can be. He arrived at Inter Milan with so much hype, and he has yet to consistently play at a high level.
Whether it has been injuries, not being given a chance or producing on-loan at Espanyol, he will be a dangerous player, provided that he's in Andrea Stramaccioni's plans.
If Raheem Sterling's teammates were more clinical in front of goal, he would have more than two Premier League assists, since he has created 28 shots this season at 1.8 key passes per league game.
He's not only a tricky dribbler, he also works hard to win back the ball. In fact, he has completed 32 tackles, compared to Michael Carrick's 27, in league play.
Viktor Fischer was spectacular during last season's NextGen Series. He and Davy Klaassen led Ajax to the final, where they were beaten by a technically inferior Inter Milan side.
In hindsight, the person who made the difference wasn't even playing: Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni, who later took over the senior team.
Fischer toyed with the Molde players during the current NextGen Series, where he netted a hat-trick. Three days later, he started for the first team against Zwolle, where he scored a brace and created another goal.
His breakout game was against PSV, and that reminded everyone about his potential for greatness.
Feyenoord's midfield three is sensational.
Classy Jordy Clasie, Lex Immers—who is having his best scoring season ever—and the precocious Tonny Vilhena.
Generally, when your agent is Mino Raiola, you're probably a damn good player.
Barring unforeseeable circumstances, Vilhena will be a world-class footballer in several years' time.
That awkward moment when West Bromwich Albion does a better job developing Romelu Lukaku into a Premier League footballer than Chelsea.
The way the Blues treated him was a disgrace, and it's that chip on his shoulder that has led him to rediscover remnants of his Anderlecht form.
Eleven of his 15 Premier League appearances have been as a sub.
He has scored five goals, compared to Fernando Torres' six, who has been given so many chances yet still doesn't look like a world-class forward.
At the rate Matija Nastasić is playing at, the £12 million-plus Stefan Savić will seem like a bargain.
Yet, at the time of the deal, it was a puzzling transfer. Firstly, if Manchester City's scouting department were on the ball, they would have signed him when he was at Partizan.
So many City supporters pointed to his game against AC Milan, where Delio Rossi threw Nastasić into the starting XI against Zlatan Ibrahimović's AC Milan—the game ended up 0-0.
What about the 5-0 thrashing to Juventus? The 3-0 loss to Napoli? The 3-0 defeat to Roma?
Granted, Savić is was worth getting rid of, Fiorentina had no bargaining power and there was no reason for City to splash out £12 million.
Since establishing himself in the starting XI, Nastasić's positioning and timing has been immaculate. Can he keep up the great form?
It's staggering the amount of times that Marquinhos, a teenager, has had to bail out the team after an errant pass or a missed tackle from the experienced Daniele De Rossi.
If you were to draw up the worst starting XI of the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation, De Rossi and Yann M'Vila would be the two pivots.
Of course, both players are suffering from their own personal demons. With M'Vila, it's taking football for granted, like leaving training camp to go night-clubbing. De Rossi has irreconcilable differences with Zdeněk Zeman.
At times the Italian international has been so bad, it's as if he is trying to force the club to choose between him or Zeman.
Marquinhos doesn't engage in such petty antics.
He has been a perfect pro on the field as he leads Roma in interceptions per game and aerial duels won in Serie A—all whilst not getting a yellow card, let alone a red for punching an opposing player, like a certain overpaid player at Roma.
Stephan El Shaarawy is already a star, and Mattia De Sciglio is on his way to becoming the best full-back in Serie A.
An acceptable crossing percentage would be 20-25—De Sciglio completes 29.6 percent of his crosses in Serie A and 38 percent in the UEFA Champions League.
He's a strong ball-winner as he wins back possession 5.1 times per league game.
The last time José Mourinho went out of his way to excessively praise a young player was then-22-year-old Michael Essien.
Via Independent.ie: "Frank was fantastic and deserved to be the man of the match, but I think Essien was awesome."
Via Ghanaweb: "Michael was my man-of-the-match. He was too strong for them. He won every challenge in midfield and brought a different pace to the game."
Via BBC Sport:
I don't like to analyse football this way because I am a coach of a team, I like teams to play well or to be responsible for good things. But then I have to analyse individually and I think his [Essien] performance was the most consistent over the 90 minutes.
During the Mourinho era at Chelsea, Essien was one of the most feared defensive midfielders in the world, and he played brilliantly as a makeshift right-back.
Raphaël Varane has also received several compliments from Mourinho.
Varane has the same intelligence, the same calmness on the ball and the same presence as Laurent Blanc on the pitch. But with all due respect to Blanc, Varane is much faster. For now, he is still a kid. But I hope and I think when he reaches maturity at 26-27, he will be better than Blanc.
Via insidespanishfootball.com: "Varane is a champion because he was injured and played through the pain, he gave more injured than others who weren’t."
Varane is destined to be one of the greatest centre-backs of his era.
Before you ask, Léo Baptistão is a totally different player from Michu.
The Swansea player is a deep-lying forward, operating in the space between the opposing centre-back and the deep-lying midfielder. He relies heavily on defensive breakdowns, which enable him to poach goals unmarked or with limited resistance. It's a style that requires timing, extremely good positional awareness and high football IQ.
Léo is like Luis Suárez: He can run at the centre-backs, facilitate for others and press them into making mistakes.
Léo has scored six times and provided four assists whilst playing on a limited team. He has a really high upside, and elite clubs need to seriously consider signing him.
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