This article profiles 10 of the most hyped young players in world football today.
While it is common for young players who achieve some modicum of excellence to court a media frenzy and an enhanced attention around their abilities, this piece looks at some of the players who have experienced attention and provoked a fervour like few others.
The players on this list are among the most talented of their age group in the world of football, and many of them have already enjoyed the kind of praise and accolades that very few stars ever attain.
These players have all had major claims made about them, and have all been highlighted as being something special, something above the norm. These claims have prompted a media interest that has been impossible to avoid.
My final slide, however, serves as a cautionary tale to those young prodigies who are revered as deities before having added the finishing touches to their talent and having begun to claim the accolades that are the first pastures of success.
It’s been a rocky old trajectory for Romelu Lukaku; hyped to the stars as a prodigal man-boy in Belgium, brought down to ground at Chelsea as a pragmatic reality set in, and then, latterly, at West Bromwich Albion, where those talents that were so evident as a youngster have once again come to the fore.
A loan move to the Hawthorns has allowed the Belgian to rediscover the confidence and electricity that made him such a monster in the Jupiler League. Similarly, he has been able to familiarise himself with the Premier League and get to grips with the demands of the English top flight.
While things didn’t work out during his initial stint at Chelsea, when the ‘New Drogba’ wasn’t totally trusted with replacing the ‘Old Drogba’, his recent impressive performances have indicated that the time might be right for the prodigal talent to make his mark in West London.
The power and the ferocity that made him so feared (and so hyped) as a kid have endeared him to Throstles’ fans, and while things haven’t been quite as plain-sailing as he would surely have hoped, there is still ever chance that Lukaku will deliver on the fervour that has long been associated with him.
A year ago, Gareth Bale was touted as a quality player, an international-standard star, capable of lighting-up games and vexing defenders. Today, he has attained another level of prestige, one that is reflected in the hype and attention that surrounds his every move.
This weekend, Bale became only the third player (after Andy Gray and Cristiano Ronaldo) to secure both the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year award, an indication of his augmented standing among fellow professionals.
The awards have cemented Bale’s reputation as one of the world’s finest young talents, and having already won the Player of the Year award back in 2011, the Welshman is thoroughly deserving of the hype that has surrounded him since his arrival on the scene as a plucky youngster at Southampton.
Could his imitation of fellow-double award winner Ronaldo continue with a move away from the EPL to the bright lights of the continent this summer?
A year ago, Moses was a raw talent still finding his feet in the Premier League. Today, he is the darling of African football and has made an impact in the English top flight, the Champions League, the Europa League and the African Cup of Nations.
While his pace and dribbling won many plaudits back at Wigan, and before that, Crystal Palace, the Victor Moses hype often featured the caveat that the prodigal young African was prone to the odd spot of poor decision-making and aimless running.
There are still features of his game that need to be ironed out, but this season, Moses has begun to demonstrate his capacity to influence and alter the complexion of a match.
While his irrepressible pace and clinical finishing have, on occasion, made all the difference for club side Chelsea, it is with Nigeria that his developing game has truly made an impact.
Moses was one of the stars in the recent Afcon, and his mature displays against Ethiopia and, particularly Mali, demonstrated that he can ally his sublime physical skills with a more measured, creative approach.
Lagos certainly believed the hype when Moses led Nigeria to the promised land in the final victory over Burkina Faso.
It’s amazing to consider the role Paul Pogba plays in world football today, considering that last summer he was still only regarded as a prospect.
Sure, he was a talented youngster, but despite being rated highly among his peers, Manchester United released him— Sir Alex wanted to keep him on board, but was unable to countenance the large wages he was demanding, despite being relatively untried and untested.
I guess Pogba knew back then what we have all come to realise over the last few months; he was worth it. Juventus spotted his value back then and didn’t hesitate to buy into the hype that surrounded the player, acquiescing to his demands and making the midfielder an exciting summer recruit.
Since then, Pogba has thrived, and he has begun to thoroughly repay those who believed in the clamour that surrounded him. A French international, he impressed on his national debut, despite receiving a red card.
While his stunning long-range goals often earn him the headlines, Pogba, with renewed maturity, is looking like a pretty complete midfielder. He could well go on to emerge as one of the finest in his position, and, in my opinion, deserves the hype that has surrounded him.
Paris Saint-Germain’s decision to splash a breathtaking €40 million to snare Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo is just one indication of the young Brazilian’s prodigal talent. Still only 20, he is already a Brazilian international, and it is easy to see why such a media frenzy has engulfed the early stages of his career.
It remains to be seen whether the youngster can pay back the faith shown in him by Paris, but as one of the world’s most exciting young talents, the French club are relishing the prestige that accompanies such an ambitious and monumental signing.
Capturing Moura from beneath the noses of some of Europe’s traditional giants, as well as PSG’s impressive run to the Champions League quarterfinals, has begun to affirm the French side’s place, once more among the continent’s heavyweights.
Lucas was particularly impressive against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, and his display of dribbling, pace and power suggested that the excitement that has long-surrounded this young Brazilian—who likened himself to Leo Messi—is well-placed.
While the figures on this list have generally been backed by expressive medias of their own nation, and perhaps those of the broader European community, James Rodriguez has already courted the fierce attentions of the press in two continents.
In South America, he has been revered as the successor to Carlos Valderrama, Colombia’s gloriously eccentric and miraculously talented play-maker. While in Europe, he has been likened to Cristiano Ronaldo, both for his playing style and the immediate impact he has made in the Portuguese top flight.
Few starlets in European football can match Rodriguez for skill and dynamism; ideal as the right-sided player in an attacking three, the South American is capable both of troubling opposition fullbacks and cutting inside to menace the more tender regions of an adversary.
With Colombia looking good for a place at the 2014 World Cup, and with Rodriguez likely to line up alongside the likes of Falcao and club teammate Jackson Martinez, the whole world will soon be aware that Rodriguez has truly lived up to the hype.
Since his early days in the Lens Academy, the rumours and murmurs that have surrounded the nascent career of Raphael Varane have been hard to ignore. Touted as a future French captain and national stalwart for years to come, there has long been a genuine excitement that the Lille-born youngster was the real deal.
This year, Varane has truly begun to deliver on the many reams of speculation and comment that have accompanied his development. He has broken into the Real Madrid first team, and a recent outing against Borussia Dortmund aside, has looked thoroughly comfortable and competent in the heart of defense.
Similarly, his national team career has burst into life with comprehensive defensive displays against Spain and Georgia, surely a sign of things to come for Les Bleus.
This season has shown that the hype has been well-placed; with excellent physical prowess—being both strong and quick—as well as the composure and the maturity of a much older and more experienced defender. It is no wonder that Sir Alex Ferguson is rumoured to have made the young Frenchman a key target.
The case of Bebe may suggest that it doesn’t take a lot to make Sir Alex Ferguson part with a hefty wedge of cash in order to pursue a talented young prospect. However, the evidence of this season suggests that Wilfried Zaha may be a whole different kettle of fish, and that, in securing the signature of the talented Ivorian winger, Sir Alex may finally have found a player who can tantalise and electrify like the young Portuguese prodigy he signed back in 2003.
And we all know what became of him.
The outstanding player in the English Championship this season, Crystal Palace and Manchester United agreed an initial £10 million deal for Zaha in January, before the Red Devils opted to loan him back to the Eagles for the duration of the season.
With excellent dribbling ability, impressive technical skills and terrific pace, Zaha has been a regular in England’s youth teams. Despite attention from Cote d’Ivoire, he made his full Three Lions debut in September 2012.
United’s clutter of wingers have failed to impress consistently this season, and with Zaha brimming with confidence following a barn-storming year, we may get to find out sooner rather than later if the hype that has surrounded the winger can translate into a top, consistent Premier League performer.
Neymar is capable of being whatever he wants to be. With almost an unrivaled ability among players his age, and a global profile to match, the Brazilian forward is on the cusp of joining a cabal of stars considered the world’s finest.
Although recent performances for the national side, when Neymar has been brought before a broader audience, suggest that there is still great work to be done, I get the impression that a step away from the confines of Brazil and a move into one of Europe’s more intense leagues could be the key to Neymar’s continuing development.
The perception has long been that the young forward would wait until after the 2014 World Cup before hopping across the Atlantic, but my colleague Mike Chiari reported recently that the prodigy looks set to depart sooner.
Having turned down the offer of a contract extension at Santos, Chiari reckons that it won’t be long before we see the starlet in a major European league. Barcelona have long been hot favourites to take him, and while Pep Guardiola’s move to Bayern Munich may thrust the German heavyweights into the race for his signature, it would be fascinating to see Neymar given the ‘Barcelona treatment’ and earn his stripes in the heart of Catalonia.
It will also be fascinating to see the hype that surrounds Neymar transplanted into Europe. Already considered among football’s most marketable characters, and long-christened the ‘New Pele’, the Brazilian has an enormous appeal.
Unlike the other nine players on this list, Gael Kakuta is not prospering as hoped, and is currently struggling to live up to his hype. However, while players such as Freddy Adu and Kerlon, for example, have comprehensively failed to live up to expectations, and can thus be considered ‘over-hyped’, it is hard to draw such conclusive opinions on Kakuta.
Now 21, Chelsea must surely have hoped that Kakuta would already be a global star and known worldwide as one of the planet’s most exciting talents. Unfortunately, he is still most-famous for his acrimonious arrival at the club, when Chelsea apparently broke rules a-plenty to snare him from Lens.
The player, once dubbed a ‘phenomenon’ and hand-picked by Didier Drogba as a prospective ‘protégé’ for the great Ivorian, wowed fans with his trickery, determination and skill upon arrival at Stamford Bridge, but has subsequently drifted off the radar.
His recent outburst, lambasting the club for their treatment of him, serves as a reminder to all those youngsters hyped to the stars who make the wrong career choices or fail to arrive at their potential.
All is not lost for Kakuta, but he currently stands a world away from the likes of Bale, Neymar and Varane…it looks like being a long road back to the top of the game for a player from whom so much was once anticipated.