The FIFA Under-20 World Cup has showcased some of the very best talents currently taking their first steps towards stardom. Of the young hopefuls on display in 2013, however, Real Madrid and Spain phenomenon Jese Rodriguez has stood out more than most.
Rodriguez, a 20-year-old winger who in his home nation is known simply as Jese, has quite simply been electric for the Furia Roja as they have battled through to the quarter-finals.
He has not been the only star. Club rival, Barcelona teenager Gerard Deulofeu, has complemented Jese's talents perfectly on the other flank going forward. In defence, meanwhile, Madrid teammate Derik has been a key reason why Spain have conceded just three goals in their opening four matches, all wins.
Against Mexico, though, Jese demonstrated just why he is on the way to capturing his nation's heart.
Down early against the North Americans, the European Under-21 and -19 champions pulled back level when Derik swooped to fire home at the far post. With 90 minutes gone, extra time and penalties appeared inevitable. But Jese had other ideas.
The winger showed enviable control as he cut in from the right flank, leaving three Mexico defenders in his wake. Armando Zamorano, Jose Abella and Jose Van Rankin all fell to the Madrid man's lightning feet, and from the edge of the area he shaped for goal.
Although Jese received a dose of fortune as his strike took a slight deflection on its way to goal, it was still an effort worthy of strong praise. Even more remarkably, it was the youngster's fifth goal of the tournament, and meant that he has hit the net in every game Spain have played so far at the World Cup.
Jese's immediate future revolves around another stern test for Spain. South American powerhouses Uruguay are up next, including Roma striker Nicolas Lopez; a virtuoso talent who has run Rodriguez closer than anyone else as the tournament's star. As well as Lopez, the Celeste boast talent across the field, meaning Spain and Jese will have to be at their best to triumph.
Post-World Cup, the big question will be if he continues with Real Madrid. Jese enjoyed a breakout season in 2012-13 with the Castilla feeder team, netting 22 goals in 38 games. With new coach Carlo Ancelotti most likely to be welcomed into the post with a considerable transfer warchest, however, it remains to be seen if the homegrown talent will get a look in at the Bernabeu.
At least he can count on a powerful cheerleader. "[Zinedine] Zidane does not think Jese should leave," president Florentino Perez revealed to Marca during a recent interview, and the backing of Madrid's director of football could prove to be key to Jese's development if he wishes to follow in the footsteps of Iker Casillas, Raul and Guti by coming through the ranks to become a legend.
If he can keep up the form which has made him the best player so far in the Under-20 World Cup, that dream does not look at all overambitious.
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