6 Teenage Africans Tipped for Big Things
The Africa Cup of Nations is over for another two years, but time does not stand still for football on the continent with another generation of players looking to ensure that they will write their name into the annals of history.
While the continent have yet to produce its first team capable of challenging for a world title, it has produced many players of true global standing.
In fact, nearly every league in European and Asian football can count the benefit of African players in recent years, with the continents footballers spread far and wide.
Without further ado, let's take a look at six teenage African footballers who could make a significant impact on football at the highest level in the years to come.
n.b.—Six is far from enough to do the continent's emerging footballing talent true justice.
Kenneth Omeruo (Nigeria)
A fixture of the Nigeria side that won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, 19-year-old defender Kenneth Omeruo currently appears for Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag on loan from Premier League giants Chelsea.
Tall, quick and strong, the centre-back partnered with Nigeria-based Godfrey Oboabona en-route to AFCON success as coach Stephen Keshi showed little respect for reputation to select the team he wanted. His gamble paid off.
Omeruo had played for Standard Liege in Belgium before being bought by the Blues in January 2012, and will hope that his performances in international colours have done enough to see him join the Chelsea first-team squad next season. The tournament should also help his case for a work permit.
Able to also play at right-back, Omeruo has the natural attributes to become a top defender if he can continue to develop the finer points of his game. His handling of Didier Drogba at the Cup of Nations suggests there is much more to come.
Omeruo has, despite his relative inexperience, already earned himself both a big move and the trust of his national team manager—two impressive achievements.
He must now look to refine his game and reach the level that Chelsea will require of him.
Nasiru Mohammed (Ghana)
Ghanaian forward Nasiru Mohammed may only have made three starts for Swedish Allsvenskan side BK Hacken to date, but he has made an immediate impact. Indeed, he scored on four occasions in his opening three fixtures for the side.
Having spent a few weeks on trial at Manchester City in late 2011-12, the 18-year-old Ghana Under-20 international eventually put pen to paper in Sweden, having failed to do enough in his time at the Etihad Stadium.
His growing reputation, both in Ghana and in Sweden, suggests that Hacken may once more have made a wise move in signing the youngster. After all, Mohammed's senior strike partner last season and fellow Ghanaian, Majeed Waris, was sold to Spartak Moscow in December at a considerable profit.
Short and compact, Mohammed has shown a predatory instinct in front of goal in his short first-team career to date. However, more impressive has been his ability to create for others, either from the right flank or as a deep-lying centre forward.
With Waris' departure and another year under his belt, chances should be aplenty for the forward in 2013, and he will hope to follow his compatriot's example of how to make a name for yourself in Sweden.
Charlevy Mabiala (Congo)
Auxerre-owned Charlevy Mabiala came to prominence in 2011 as a key member of the Congo Under-17 side who progressed to the knockout rounds of the World Cup in Mexico.
Then just 15, Mabiala and his 14-year-old colleague Hardy Binguila formed a fearsome midfield partnership, combining strength and industry with impressive technique. Both were quickly signed up by French side AJ Auxerre, although neither officially move until their 18th birthday.
Currently refining his abilities at the Congolese Federation's national academy, Mabiala is leading the way for an entire generation that officials hope will change the nation's footballing fortunes.
The national academy system produced impressive results at Under-17 level and they will now hope for more.
Mabiala should move to Auxerre in early-2014 and will hope to quickly progress to the first-team, where he will aim to recreate the recent success of compatriot Delvin N'dinga.
While still early in his development, at just 16 years old, there is a firm belief at Auxerre that they are on to a winner with their incoming Congolese duo. One to watch long-term.
Jean-Marie Dongou (Cameroon)
Long dubbed the "Next Eto'o", FC Barcelona's Jean-Marie Dongou is one of the most hotly anticipated talents in world football.
Joint top-scorer in the 2011-12 NextGen Series, alongside Ajax's Viktor Fischer, the Cameroonian made his Barcelona B debut at the age of 16 and to date, while still just 17 years old, has appeared 29 times for the side.
Capable of playing from the flank or as a traditional centre-forward, Dongou's game is based upon fine close control, an eye for goal and, most importantly, express pace. At youth level, his scoring record has been simply phenomenal.
The youngster is not the only emerging Cameroonian star at La Masia, with several others tipped to help both Barcelona and the African nation in the future. Goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa, centre-back Macky Bagnack and winger Alain Ebwelle are all among those most highly rated and all just 17 years old.
Dongou, though, is supposed to be the star of a very good bunch and the staff at Barcelona have put a lot of faith in him from an early age. He must wait his turn and avoid reported interest from elsewhere, but his chance at the Camp Nou will surely not be long in coming.
Souleymane Coulibaly (Ivory Coast)
Tottenham Hotspur-owned youngster Souleymane Coulibaly was the undoubted striking star of the 2011 Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, scoring in matches.
Then at Siena, Tottenham moved quickly to secure the young striker's services and he has impressed in patches for the club's Under-21 and Under-18 sides in England and the NextGen Series.
As of January, Coulibaly has been loaned to Serie B side Grosseto where it will be interesting to see if he is afforded any playing time, with opportunities at Tottenham limited.
The Ivorian must work on his off-the-ball intelligence and how he links play, but the raw abilities are there for the striker to reach the top of the game.
Only turned 18 in December, there is still plenty of time for the young forward to hone his skills and work on making himself a more rounded forward. If he can develop as the club would hope, Ivory Coast may have another strike star to celebrate.
Zakaria Labyad (Morocco)
Sporting Lisbon playmaker Zakaria Labyad turned his back on Netherlands last year in order to to represent the land of his heritage, representing Morocco at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Having transferred on a free from PSV Eindhoven to Sporting last summer, the technically gifted attacking midfielder has set about making a place for himself in the first-team at the Estadio da Luz.
A diminutive figure, Labyad is still coming to terms with the pace and physicality that are required to consistently perform at the top level. While talent is not an issue, irregular glimpses of talent are not enough for top sides.
The Utrecht born youngster, though, has all the talent to succeed and appears to have the work ethic and mentality needed to succeed.
Morocco are blessed with creative options at present, with the likes of Younes Belhanda, Adel Taarabt and Mbark Boussoufa all competing for a similar position on the pitch.
Labyad, if he can reach his potential, could be a better player than any of his elders.