Young players are the lifeblood of world football.
Sure, they don't have the reputation or achievements that the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can attest to, but they do have the promise of potential. And while there is no definitive mark on when that potential will be reached, the promise itself of a budding superstar is what continues to drive clubs right around the world to search for the best young talent available.
Some young players start to tap into their potential from a young age; Chelsea's Eden Hazard or Bayern Munich's Mario Gotze are two that spring to mind.
However, there are also many who are yet to reach their full potential. That could start as soon as next season or it might still be several years before their careers and skills truly start to blossom. Read on to see 10 young footballers who are yet to tap into their massive talent but could do so very soon.
Sitting behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain has its benefits but also has several downfalls. And for Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, it's meant that he hasn't yet been able to burst into Los Blancos' starting team in the way that he would have envisaged.
The 20-year-old has also been unable to break into the Spanish national starting team due to their vast array of talent, but has left his mark at an under-21 international level.
And given his talent, it shouldn't take long before he starts to truly break out.
Morata netted 18 goals in all competitions through 2012-13—showing his natural finishing ability and knowledge of where to be in the box at all times. He is skilled with both feet and has good athleticism and pace as well, which make him a very solid prospect to watch out for indeed.
Both Benzema and Higuain have been subject to transfer rumors over the summer transfer window, and if one (or both) of them leave, look for Morata to step up next year.
Which, with the likes of Ronaldo, Isco, Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil around him, could well lead to some big things from the Spanish heavyweights.
M'Baye Niang showed glimpses of his potential throughout his most recent season with AC Milan, but the French international still has a long way to go before reaching his mark. Which, given the rate he's developed so far, could come sooner rather than later for Niang.
At only 18 years old, Niang is already an impressive talent out on the right wing for Milan. His combination with Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy was stellar throughout the year and with further experience and learning under his belt, he'll no doubt continue that form in 2013-14.
He is best when running at defenders, and uses his raw pace and athleticism to cause havoc on defenses—something Milan are very grateful to have in their side.
Watch for him to be one of Serie A's best youngsters in the new year.
You wouldn't say that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain regressed in the past season, but you certainly wouldn't say it was a huge year for his development as a footballer—struggling to get a place in Arsenal's starting lineup and not really making that much of an impact whenever he did get a run.
However, there is no doubting Oxlade-Chamberlain's natural skill and talent and he'll again look to prove that to the North Londoners as the 2013-14 season rolls around.
Already capped at a national level, the Gunners' winger is a great runner with the ball and uses his strong crossing ability to develop a great combination with his central strikers. Both Olivier Giroud (and whoever else Arsenal sign this summer) will be looking to benefit from that ability in the new year, and if it happens, could well start to develop a very strong attacking lineup as a result.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is still one of England's most prestigious talents, and once he realizes that and starts to live up to expectations, could be one of the best natural wide men in the Premier League. Which, with the 2014 World Cup rapidly approaching, is something the Three Lions desperately need.
Xherdan Shaqiri is another star youngster who hasn't quite lived up to his massive talent simply because he hasn't really had the chance to leave his mark yet.
Playing in Bayern Munich's attacking masterpiece, Shaqiri has struggled to record consistent minutes, and has been used in a variety of roles throughout this time at the Bavarians—leaving him without regular time in his natural position that he needs to reach his full potential.
Pep Guardiola's move to the European champions could be big for Shaqiri; Mario Gomez's potential transfer away from the Allianz Arena could be even bigger (per The Express). Either way, Shaqiri should see a huge boost in his stock next season as he starts to establish himself as a player that Bayern can ill-afford to leave out of their starting team any longer.
Raheem Sterling burst on to the scene last year—thrust on to the Premier League stage by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as the Reds struggled to find a partner for Luis Suarez at the top of the attack. And what an inspired move it turned out to be by the Merseyside men, with Sterling injecting the pace, dribbling skill and attacking talent that they desperately lacked at the time.
Since then, however, Liverpool have bolstered their attacking options and have seemingly left Sterling without a regular position in the team—especially if Suarez stays at the club this summer.
He will likely be fighting fellow youngster Suso for game time, and won't be as integral to the team as it seemed he would be when he made his debut for the Reds.
However, sooner or later, Sterling will start to tap into his talent in a big way.
Once the 18-year-old gets some consistent minutes under his belt and starts to find his role within the team (be that at Liverpool or somewhere else), he'll start to show why he's already made his mark at an international level. And from there it will surely only go up for the talented teenager.
He is definitely one to watch out for.
Not since Cristiano Ronaldo made his mark on the international team have Portugal fans been as excited about a player as they are about Armindo Tué Na Bangna—commonly called Bruma. The Sporting Lisbon winger has been superb at the under-20 World Cup and could well be a surprise selection to watch out for in Portugal's international side at the 2014 World Cup.
Bruma is definitely an unfinished product, with his struggles in front of goal perhaps the biggest hindrance to him becoming a bona fide superstar winger.
However, he is a smart and mazy dribbler with the ball and is perhaps the most physically talented winger that Portugal have seen in a while. And yes, that includes the likes of Manchester United man Nani and potentially even the superstar himself in Ronaldo.
Bruma is a naturally two-footed player with great vision, timing, strength and speed. Those aren't skills that are easily teachable, and yet the 18-year-old already has them in his bag of tricks making him a definite prospect to keep an eye on in the years ahead.
He's not there yet, but when he does get there, you'll definitely know about it.
And when that happens, look for Quintero to be one of football's biggest breakout stars of the year as he replaces the void left by Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez.
Quintero has been one of the stars of the under-20 World Cup for Colombia—scoring goals and setting them up alike. He has great vision and attacking ability, and coupled with the strengths that the Portuguese club already have, the 20-year-old could be set for a very strong season indeed.
The attacking star showed signs of what he could do on loan last season with Pescara; now he'll be able to tap into his talent in a big way once he switches club this summer.
For reasons that I'm not really sure of, Arsenal insisted on playing Bacary Sagna at right-back instead of Englishman Carl Jenkinson last season. But, regardless of whether Sagna does or doesn't move on from the Emirates Stadium this summer, you'd have to think the depth chart will change somewhat.
Jenkinson was strong when utilized in defensive capacities last season, with good insight and tackling abilities both hallmarks of his game. He did turn in some poor performances—proving that he still has a long way to go in terms of consistency—but with regular minutes seemingly available next season for him, he'll definitely improve in that regard.
The defender was quoted via Sky Sports on next season, saying that:
Next season is a big one for me and I want to grab it with both hands. I want to be the first-choice right-back at this club and I am not going to stop working until I get there. It's what I want to achieve and after that I want to stay in the position for years to come. I've got to work my socks off and keep developing if I want to do it.
If he can nab that starting spot, look for Jenkinson to really come along next season, taking his game from being 'good' to 'great'. All the signs are there, he simply needs to get consistency and continuity as well, and he could quickly become one of the Gunners' premier defenders.
Similar to Morata, Jese Rodriguez has struggled behind Real Madrid's brilliant attacking lineup. And just like Morata, Jese could be one to benefit in a great way should the club sell off one or two of their attacking weapons in Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain.
Jese is currently in the middle of a stellar under-20 World Cup campaign for Spain where he netted in all three of Spain's group stage matches. The wide forward will no doubt be one of their best attacking weapons in the knockout stages also, his perfectly timed runs and strong finishing ability make him one of the toughest forwards to defend against in the competition.
If there isn't space for him in Madrid's starting lineup, the 20-year-old winger could well move away from the Bernabeu this summer in search of first-team football. talkSPORT reported earlier in the transfer window that both Bayer Leverkusen and Arsenal were interested in loan moves for Jese, and should a loan move transpire, you'd have to think that Jese could be one of the breakout stars of the year.
As with many players on this list, the biggest thing holding Jese back is not his talent, but starting opportunities. And with a loan move, that could very well change.
Clubs will want to wait and see how the starlet performs in the high-pressure games of the knockout stages, but given what we've seen thus far, it's hard to see anything changing from Jese. He'll be superb as usual, and that should be enough to see him rewarded with a chance next season.
And once that happens, look for him to really start to tap into his talent.
Last but not least is Neymar—the man who stole the show at the 2013 Confederations Cup with an incredible attacking performance that seemingly justified the mountain of hype that surrounds him.
And despite all of what we witnessed firsthand at the competition (and have likely seen on YouTube before), the reality is that Neymar is still nowhere near his potential.
At just 21 years of age, Neymar is not even close to completely tapping in to his massive talent—and that is a truly scary thought indeed.
The former Santos star has finally secured a move to Barcelona this summer and will line up next year along the likes of Andres Iniesta and, of course, Lionel Messi. That should see the start of his true unveiling as the next greatest superstar and should place him in a great position to leave his mark on the 2014 World Cup in a big way—even more so than the Confederations Cup this year.
Neymar seemingly has the world at his feet at the moment and could very well become in the Messi-Ronaldo debate in a few years time if he starts to reach his full potential. He's already a superstar now, so imagine where he'll be in 12 months time after his first full season with Barcelona!
Just how high the ceiling is for Neymar's potential still remains to be seen, but one thing is certain—despite all that we've seen, he's nowhere near reaching it yet.
Exciting times lie ahead.
Which stars do you think haven't (but soon will) reach their potential?
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