9 Next Big Stars of World Football
As FIFA handed out its yearly awards to the world's best senior players on Monday in Zurich, another generation was already plotting their downfall.
Each generation has its own group of great players. The following nine youngsters could—maybe should—be some of the best of the next generation.
These nine players are listed in no particular order. They were selected based on both potential and previous achievements.
Finally, a word about some other famous names. We've left out bigger names like Neymar, Mario Gotze, Oscar and Eden Hazard—not because they aren't great, but because they are already much closer to greatness than most of the players here.
Let's get to the list.
Stephan El Shaarawy
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Club: AC Milan
The son of an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, Stephan El Shaarawy recently burst onto the scene in world football representing a little of both. Nicknamed "The Pharaoh," El Shaarawy established himself in AC Milan's first team and made his full debut with Italy before his 20th birthday.
El Shaarawy became the main man in Milan's attack following the departure of superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He has responded with 14 goals in 19 Serie A appearances this season.
What's next? Surely something worthy of a pharaoh.
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Club: FC Barcelona
How good is Gerard Deulofeu? Let's put it this way:
The attacker broke into Barcelona's first team in 2011—at the age of 17. A Spain Under-21 international, great things are expected of Deulofeu for both club and country, especially if the past is any indication.
In 2012, the winger was named the best player at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship as Spain won their second straight title.
Club: Athletic Bilbao
Slippery forward Iker Muniain wowed Europa League audiences last year as Athletic Bilbao blazed a path to the final.
He made his senior debut for Spain in February 2012 and, with impressive dribbling and possession skills, looks like a natural fit for La Roja in the future.
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Club: Manchester City
Manchester City signed defender Matija Nastasic from Fiorentina in 2012, and the Serbian teen promptly established himself as first choice ahead of Joleon Lescott in Roberto Mancini's squad.
Nastasic made his full debut with Serbia in 2012 and has already collected six senior caps.
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Club: Schalke 04
Germany has a proud history of developing young talent, and Julian Draxler could be one of his country's most exciting prospects in years to come.
He made his senior debut with Schalke in January 2011 at age 17—and in the process became the Bundesliga's fourth-youngest debutant (via Goal.com).
Next, Draxler must try to break into Germany's crowded midfield (he already has made three appearances for the senior team).
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Club: Real Madrid
Raphaël Varane, a French central defender, made his professional debut with Lens in 2010 at age 17. A series of impressive performances earned him a transfer to Spanish giants Real Madrid the following year.
Varane has represented France at the Under-21 level 15 times and was called into the senior squad in August 2012.
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For his first act, Italian playmaker Marco Verratti helped lead Pescara to promotion to Serie A. That earned him a transfer to big-spending PSG and a couple call-ups to Italy's senior squad.
Now we wait to see if Verratti can turn into the next Andrea Pirlo.
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Lucas Moura was one of several young players who impressed in Brazil's colors at the 2012 Summer Olympics. By that time, the midfielder had already attracted interest from Manchester United and PSG.
He eventually agreed to join PSG this month in a deal reportedly worth €35 million (via Goal.com). Now that he's in Europe, we'll see if Moura is worth all the hype—and the money.
Club: Dinamo Zagreb
Don't be fooled by the baby face or his team's poor performance this season in the Champions League. Mateo Kovacic, an 18-year-old playmaker with excellent game-reading skills, is the real deal.
And don't be surprised when Europe's big guns come sniffing around this summer.