World Football: 10 Youngsters on the Verge of Superstardom
Lucas Moura, Stephan El Shaarawy and Raphael Varane are all established superstars in their own right, but who are the next generation of players set to join them?
One of the most exciting elements for fans of any sport is seeing a prodigious youth develop and reap the staggering potential he's had at his disposal.
The football world is littered with contenders, guys who, for one reason or another, never reached that potential, never got the chance to fulfill the dreams that they and their supporters shared so intimately.
But on the flip side, there are the players who come through and really change the sport.
People of a certain age still talk about the unknown kid Brazil were going to unveil in 1958 that ended up changing the football world forever. Anyone who saw Diego Maradona juggle the ball at halftime at the Bombonera as a child knew from that very moment that the football world would never be the same again.
The same can be said of Cristiano Ronaldo's 20-minute debut against Bolton, Lionel Messi terrorizing teams at La Masia and Johan Cruyff and George Best learning their trade on the streets of Amsterdam and Belfast, respectively.
In each and every case, the lucky few who bore witness to the skill in front of them reached the football equivalent of an epiphany.
Things have not changed that much, and the football world still produces talents that can make a grown man cry.
Here are 10 of the football world's best prodigies: boys who are destined to succeed and become men, but unless you're a fan of the team in question, you may not have heard—yet.
Luke Shaw: Age 17 (Southampton)
Luke Shaw is the most impressive teenager to come out of the famed Southampton academy since Gareth Bale.
The 6'1" left-back has made 23 appearances for the Saints on their return to the Premier League and is an absolute star in the making. Shaw is blessed with a defensive maturity that belies his tender years. He is positionally excellent and quite strong for someone so young.
He has impressed most in one-on-one situations where he has proved almost impossible to beat. Shaw has everything to become a top-class defender and will move on to bigger and better things sooner rather than later.
Christian Eriksen: Age 21: (Ajax)
Christian Eriksen will need no introduction to the educated readers of Bleacher Report.
The 21-year-old Danish has enjoyed a superb introduction to the game with Ajax and has played over 100 games for the Dutch giants since making his debut in 2010.
Eriksen is a natural playmaker and can play anywhere along the attacking spine of the team from center midfield to center-forward. This term has seen him contribute 11 goals and five assists in 40 games that brings his overall totals to 30 goals and 62 assists in 155 matches.
His mobility, creativity and excellent attitude have seen him develop from a raw talent to one of the most wanted youngsters in Europe with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur leading the chasing pack (h/t Express).
Nicolas Castillo: Age 20 (Universidad Catolica)
Nicolas Castillo has developed a huge reputation at Universidad Catolica in Chile. From making his full debut in 2011, Castillo has gone on to become one of South America's best young prospects.
Castillo normally plays as a center-forward, where he can utilize his great pace and deceptive strength to great effect. Importantly, he is also comfortable on either flank.
La Tercera reported in January that Universidad turned down $4.4 million from an unnamed Bundesliga team for his services. It should, therefore, come as no surprise to find that Napoli, AC Milan and Boca Juniors are said to be monitoring the youngster.
In recent weeks, Castillo has also been linked with Lazio, so it would seem a move to Serie A is most definitely a possibility.
Stefan de Vrij: Age 21 (Feyenoord)
Stefan de Vrij is without doubt the best young defender in Holland at the moment. The 21-year-old Feyenoord captain is also a full Dutch international, having been fast-tracked into the setup by Bert van Marwijk.
De Vrij is an incredibly cool and levelheaded youngster who likes to play his way out of defense before taking the Row-Z option. However, if need be, he also has the strength to be physically competitive.
This impressive combination of technical and physical prowess has alerted all of Europe's top clubs. Given the physical nature of the English Premier League, it comes as no surprise to find that Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have all monitored his progress since he made his debut in 2009 (h/t Sky Sports).
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: Age 21 (Borussia Moenchengladbach)
Make no mistake about it: Marc-Andre ter Stegen is one of the best young goalkeepers in the world today.
The 21-year-old has impressed so much in his short time at Borussia Monchengladbach that he has been the regular first-team goalkeeper since he was a teenager.
At 6'3" and still growing, ter Stegen is one of the many great young goalkeepers in the Bundesliga at the moment. His advantage over his rivals is his complete composure under pressure. If it were not for ter Stegen, Borussia would have been relegated in 2011. The youngster kept four clean sheets in Monchengladbach's last five games to retain their Bundesliga status.
He is tall, athletic and surprisingly commanding, and controls his box in a manner that belies his tender age. It will be no surprise to see him in the German national team before long.
The youngster will replace Victor Valdes between the posts at Barcelona next season, according to Marca. Yes, he is that good.
Isco: Age 21 (Malaga)
Isco will need no introduction to anyone who has seen the Champions League this season. Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Munich may have garnered all the team attention, but there have been few better individuals that the Malaga youngster.
Isco comes from the same vein as the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva in that he is a creative force of nature.
Playing in just his second full season as a professional, Isco has caught the attention of every major team in the world. The attacking midfielder can be normally found on the left, although he has been known to also play in the center.
As he matures, he will gravitate toward center midfield. Isco possesses the tactical and technical abilities to be the long-term replacement for Iniesta in the Spanish national team. The exciting 21-year-old is currently being tracked by Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC, according to the Daily Mail.
Wilfred Zaha: Age 20 (Manchester United)
When Steve Bruce told the Independent that Wilfred Zaha was "the best player in the league (Championship) by a million miles," he was not wrong.
The 20-year-old winger-come-striker has terrorized defenses in the Championship this season and even more so since he secured a £15 million move to Manchester United.
Zaha is an incredible specimen of a man. He has the body of an Olympic sprinter, the speed and stamina of a boxer and the technical ability of a top-class footballer. In short, Manchester United have signed a complete package and just need to smooth his rough edges.
Zaha has everything to go on to become a Premier League force. Given the maturity he has shown since his transfer to the Red Devils and then going back on loan to Crystal Palace, he really could be a legend in the making.
Diego Reyes: Age 20 (Club America)
Diego Reyes is the best defender Mexico has produced in many a year. The Club America prospect, recently signed by Porto, has played over 70 times in the MX Liga and has been capped at every level by his country from Under-15 up.
Reyes comes to Europe with the ability to step straight into the Porto team and the chance of moving on to an even bigger team within a couple of years.
He is an intelligent defender who likes to read the game before committing to last-ditch tackles. This awareness marks him out as a player of high value. Reyes does not like to gamble and possesses a brilliant awareness of space and defensive positioning.
His impending success added to the recent success of Javier Hernandez at Manchester United means that Mexico is fast becoming a shopping ground for Europe's elite.
Adam Maher: Age 19 (AZ Alkmaar)
If you haven't heard of Adam Maher, now is the time to educate yourself.
After making his debut in the Europa League by scoring against BATE Borisov, who beat FC Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Maher has jumped to the forefront of everyone's thoughts regarding football in Holland.
Last season was his first full season for AZ, and the 19-year-old clocked up an impressive 32 appearances in all competitions and scored 11 goals into the bargain.
That good form prompted Bert van Marwijk to include the Moroccan-born youth in a preliminary squad for the European Championships, but he was eventually cut from the squad.
He has not let that little setback stifle his growth, though, and this season, he made his full international debut against Belgium. He has since earned four full caps.
He has contributed nine goals to the AZ cause this season, and if Christian Eriksen moves on from Ajax as expected, he could be the man to replace the Danish star.
Leandro Paredes: Age 18 (Boca Juniors)
The 18-year-old Leandro Paredes is the successor to Juan Roman Riquelme at Boca Juniors. The youngster has excelled in a creative role at the Bombonera and has all the tools necessary to become a South American playmaker supreme.
Paredes has a velvet first touch and phenomenal range of passing for one so young. He is fearless and has taken on the mantle to be the creative force behind the legendary team. Boca are more than aware of his potential and are slowly introducing the youth to the rough and tumble of the Primera Division.
He has only played 18 games since 2010 as Boca seek to build his physique. Even with such little playing time his exploits for Boca have caught the attention of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus amongst others, according to Goal.
Who do you think has the ability to succeed and become a football superstar?
Leave your comments, suggestions, thoughts and predictions in the section below!