20 World Football Players to Watch in 2013
With 2012 coming to an end, it is time to put the past year in our memory banks and look forward to what will happen in 2013.
In the world of football, there were plenty of players who stepped into the spotlight in 2012 including Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie.
Now, as we enter the final week of 2012, it is time to look ahead to the players who are expected to step into that same spotlight in 2013.
The players chosen for this list are a mix of veterans who are finally getting the respect they deserve and young stars who are finding their own on the world stage.
Another factor used in putting this together is the superstar potential that each of these 20 players possess.
They may not become the next Messi or Ronaldo, but some of the players on this list have the talent to become a household name for years to come.
After consulting with some of the great world football staff here at Bleacher Report who cover the game all around the world, here is my complete list of the 20 players to watch in 2013.
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When I consulted B/R's Bundesliga expert, Clark Whitney, the one player he said that had to be on this list was Mario Gotze.
The 20-year-old German is playing in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, and he has made a huge impact on the club so far this season.
Gotze, an attacking midfielder, has started in 12 Bundesliga and five Champions League matches for the defending German champions.
With Dortmund heading into 2013 as favorites for the Champions League and Bundesliga titles, Gotze will be an integral part of the squad that Jurgen Klopp sends out to the pitch every week.
With all of Europe finally beginning to respect the German champions, Gotze will benefit from all of the attention as his strong form continues.
He may not be in contention for the Ballon d'Or at the end of 2013, but do not be surprised if Gotze finds his way to the list of finalists in the years to come.
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In August 2011, Samuel Eto'o took a big career risk and signed with big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala of the Russian Premier League.
Fast-forward to the present, and the former Barcelona and Inter Milan forward is helping his current club earn success on both the domestic and continental levels.
Managerial legend Guus Hiddink took over at Anzhi over the summer, and he has taken the club to the knockout round of the Europa League and into second place in the Russian Premier League.
The footballing world will not see much of Eto'o, Hiddink and company until February due to the winter break taken by the Russian Premier League.
The next time Anzhi play will be on February 14 against Hannover in the Europa League Round of 32.
With a fight for the domestic title resuming in March and a quest to win the Europa League starting just a month before that, Anzhi will need an experienced goal scorer like Eto'o to help them succeed in their quest for a double in 2013.
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The first and only Armenian footballer that you will probably ever be interested in is Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
In his third season with Shakhtar, Mkhitaryan has scored 18 goals in 17 Ukrainian Premier League games.
The 23-year-old Armenian has lined up in the attacking midfield position of his club's 4-2-3-1 and has thrived around the abundance of talent that takes to the pitch every week for the Ukrainian champions.
Just like Eto'o, Mkhitaryan will be well-rested when the calendar turns to 2013, as the Ukrainian Premier League does not pick up action again until March 2.
As for Shakhtar's European campaign, they play the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie with Borussia Dortmund on February 13 at the Donbass Arena.
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Roger Espinoza has been wreaking havoc in the midfields of Major League Soccer for four years, and he is about to take his talents across the pond to the English Premier League.
The Honduran international has been a stud in the Sporting Kansas City midfield since 2008, and he has caught the eye of the backroom staff of Wigan Athletic of late.
Since his MLS season ended in early November, the midfielder's move to Wigan was in the works, and it has finally been confirmed over the past week.
Espinoza will be able to play for the Latics starting in January, and he will be a welcome addition to an ailing midfield.
With Wigan's formation evolving by the week, Espinoza's role in Roberto Martinez's starting 11 could be anywhere from a wing back in a potential defensive trio to a midfield roamer like the role James McCarthy played in against Arsenal on Saturday.
Photo Courtesy of staderennais.com
At the suggestion of B/R Ligue 1 writer Christopher Almeras, Rennes midfielder Romain Alessandrini makes the list of players to watch in 2013.
Since his move from Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot over the summer, the 23-year-old has done nothing but impress for the current fourth-place club in France.
Alessandrini has scored seven goals in 16 league appearances this season, which puts him second at the club in scoring behind Julien Feret.
Of the seven goals he has scored this season, the best strike from the Frenchman came against PSG on November 17.
Bruno Martins Indi
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Bruno Martins Indi came out of nowhere this year when Holland manager Louis van Gaal brought the Feyenoord defender into the national team.
The 20-year-old has been one of the many beneficiaries of the youth policy that van Gaal has instituted since taking over after Euro 2012.
The defender made his Oranje debut in August against Belgium and has started five other matches since then.
Martins Indi has taken over the role of left-back for Holland over fellow youngster Jetro Willems, who was overwhelmed for most of his playing time during Euro 2012.
The future is bright for Martins Indi, and as he continues to start on a consistent basis for Feyenoord and Holland, he will begin to get plenty of interest from clubs around Europe.
Keeping with the theme of young Dutch players who play for Feyenoord, we have Jordy Clasie.
Clasie has been referred to in the past as the Dutch version of Xavi, which is quite a strong compliment for a 21-year-old.
The central midfielder has also been called up into the Holland squad over the past year, but he has not been used as much as his teammate, Martins Indi.
With Feyenoord just three points behind Eredivisie leaders PSV, Clasie and company could easily take charge of the title race in 2013.
Just like any other league in Europe, when a club is in the thick of a title race their players will be coveted more by the rest of the continent.
Look for that to happen with Clasie throughout the beginning of 2013, and with they way he is playing at the moment, his talents may not be showcased in Rotterdam when 2014 rolls around.
Mattia De Sciglio
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Mattia De Sciglio has developed into one of the best defenders in Serie A this season.
De Sciglio has been a consistent starter at right-back for the Rossoneri, and not only has he been the club's best defender, but he is rated by WhoScored.com as one of the best four defenders in Serie A.
Not only is the 20-year-old rated highly by statistical standards, B/R's Serie A expert, Gianni Verschueren rates the AC Milan player highly as well.
De Sciglio's career can go nowhere but up after his stellar back end of 2012.
If AC Milan want to recover from their slow start in Serie A and advance past the round of 16 in the Champions League, they will need the defensive exploits of De Sciglio to be even better than the first half of the 2012-13 season.
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Since moving to Stoke City from the Houston Dynamo in the summer, Geoff Cameron has fit in quite well in the Potters' back four.
Cameron has been utilized in three different positions by manager Tony Pulis, with right-back being the preferred position for the American.
Stoke's defense has held opponents to nine clean sheets in 18 EPL matches and are in the midst of an eight-match unbeaten run.
Cameron has fit in perfectly with the center-back duo of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth to form a defense that no EPL club wants to play.
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Chelsea fans saw Lucas Piazon make a late cameo in the Blues' blowout win over Aston Villa on Sunday.
The 18-year-old Brazilian may claim a bigger role in the Chelsea lineup starting in January with Daniel Sturridge on the way out of Stamford Bridge.
When Sturridge's move to Liverpool becomes official, Piazon will become the second-string forward on the Chelsea depth chart.
Whether or not he stays as the backup to Fernando Torres for the rest of the season remains to be seen, as Chelsea will have a full month to find a replacement for Sturridge.
If Chelsea do not bring in a replacement for Sturridge, Piazon will be given a chance to step up and showcase his abilities against the best players in the EPL.
If the 18-year-old Brazilian does impress during the final five months of the season, he could be one of Chelsea's key players to start the 2013-14 campaign.
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Going into the start of the 2012-13 season, most people would have characterized Stewart Downing's transfer from Aston Villa to Liverpool as a failure.
Halfway through the EPL season, Downing's career is being resurrected under the management of Brendan Rodgers.
Over the past month, Downing's play has progressed, and he is turning into one of the biggest surprises in the EPL this season.
Downing's best performance of the season came on Saturday against Fulham, when the Englishman recorded a goal and an assist.
With 2013 just around the corner, it looks as if Downing has also turned a corner at Anfield and will become one of Liverpool's most valuable players over the next year.
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Everyone knows about the world-class talent on the Paris St. Germain roster that includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
But not many people know about one of the best young talents in the world who happens to be on the same PSG roster.
That player is 20-year-old Italian Marco Verratti.
Verratti has played strong in the center of midfield alongside Blaise Matuidi and Clement Chantome in the 4-3-1-2 formation employed by manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Right before he made his club debut for PSG in August, Verratti made his debut for the Italian national team.
The future is bright for Verratti, and playing for a top European club with world-class players will only help him along in the development process.
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Hugo Mallo has seen plenty of attention this season go towards his Celta Vigo teammate, Iago Aspas.
According to B/R's La Liga expert, Michael Cerna, Mallo is the one everyone should be keeping an eye on at the Spanish club.
With his club battling relegation this season, Mallo will be one of the players that Celta will look to in order to save their La Liga fate.
If Celta are relegated at the end of the season, the right-back should become a hot commodity around Spain as the 21-year-old has plenty of potential.
Mallo has yet to be called up to the Spanish national team, but if his play continues to improve in 2013, look for him to be a part of Vicente Del Bosque's plans going into the 2014 World Cup.
Photo Courtesy of Goal.com
Another one of Michael Cerna's suggestions to this list was Rayo Vallecano forward, Leo Baptistao.
Baptistao was entered into the first team at the La Liga club just this season, and he is already showing signs of being one of the best forwards playing in Spain.
The 20-year-old Brazilian is tied for the club lead in goals with six through the first 17 matches of the season.
If Baptistao turns out to be anything similar to the last forward to star at Rayo Vallecano, then he will be quite the prolific goal scorer.
The last forward to leave Rayo was current Swansea City forward, Michu, who leads the EPL in scoring this season with 13 goals.
Stephan El Shaarawy
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Stephan El Shaarawy is in the process of becoming a superstar this season at AC Milan.
2013 has the potential to become the year of El Shaarawy in Italy if he continues his incredible form.
The Pharaoh has scored 14 goals in Serie A this season as well as his first international goal for Italy in November.
El Shaarawy matched the best goal scoring start to a season for an AC Milan player this season and as B/R's world football lead writer Will Tidey explains in one of his recent articles, The Pharaoh could lead AC Milan to the promised land in 2013.
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One of the players who will challenge El Shaarawy for his the goal-scoring crown in Serie A is Erik Lamela.
The Argentinian forward has scored 10 goals in 14 matches for Roma in the Italian top flight this season.
Roma may sit sixth in the Serie A table at the moment, but they are just four points behind the second-placed Lazio.
With a fierce fight for the five European places ahead in 2013, Lamela will have to continue to score goals at will for Roma.
Lamela has not been the only player finding the back of the net in the Italian capital this season, with Roma leading Serie A with 42 goals scored.
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The most coveted English player not applying his trade in the English Premier League at the moment is Wilfried Zaha of Championship club Crystal Palace.
Zaha, 20, was called up to the England squad in November after his impressive display of skills in the Championship with the Eagles.
Manchester United and Arsenal are both after the playmaker and could bring him to the EPL as soon as January.
If he does not make the move to the EPL in January, the English top flight should see the talents of the winger in August if Crystal Palace continues their track to promotion.
Zaha is one of the best young players in the world, but the one thing he lacks at the moment is the ability to play in one of Europe's top leagues.
When that changes, the whole world will begin to see how explosive Zaha truly is.
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You could pick any Belgian player in the Premier League at the moment and put him on this list, but Romelu Lukaku deserves more attention than the rest of his countrymen right now.
Lukaku is on loan at West Bromwich Albion from Chelsea, and it seems as though his parent club are not in any hurry to bring him back to Stamford Bridge, even with their ongoing forward crisis.
Lukaku has mostly come off the bench at the Hawthorns this season, but when he gets his chance to prove what he is worth on the pitch, he makes the best of his opportunity.
The 19-year-old has played in 16 EPL matches, only five of which have been starts.
In those five starts, Lukaku has rewarded manager Steve Clarke with four goals.
His latest goal was scored on Saturday against Norwich City, a goal that put him in front of Shane Long for the club lead in goals.
Photo Courtesy of Daily Mail
The latest Brazilian talent on this list comes from a suggestion that B/R's South American expert Christopher Atkins made.
Wellington Nem is a midfielder who helped Fluminense win the Brazilian Serie A championship in 2012.
In his first full season at the club, he spent 2011 out on loan at Figueirense. The 20-year-old was a consistent starter and was able to put plenty of his talents on display for all of Brazil to see.
Wellington Nem played well enough to attract the attention of the Brazilian national team, whom he played in three matches for in 2012.
If his 2013 form is as good or better than his 2012 form, then we could be seeing this young Brazilian represent his country at the 2014 World Cup.
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Lionel Messi had the best year of any footballer in history in 2012, and everyone is looking to see what he will do in 2013.
Messi scored 91 goals, breaking Gerd Muller's 40-year record, over the last 12 months.
With 2013 upon him, the whole world is wondering what the Argentinian genius has up his sleeve for the next 12 months.
Messi is well on his way to winning his sixth La Liga title and his third Pichichi, which is awarded to the player with the most goals in a La Liga season.
In 2013, Messi has the potential to win his third consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or and his fourth Champions League title.
Not bad for someone who is just 25 and still has plenty of successful years ahead of him.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com
What do you think of the list, is there another player who deserves to be included?
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