Every World Cup, the eyes of the world are on the biggest names in the game. This summer, everyone will be watching and waiting for brilliance from the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.
However, every edition of the tournament pushes forward some new global superstars, ones that steal the limelight from the established big-hitters.
Every country heading to Brazil has them in their ranks. They are the ultra-talented youngsters who are yet unproven on the biggest stage; hopes of nations have been raised as a result of their performances in the lead-up to the biggest tournament in the sport.
Most will fail to shine as brightly as they hope but some will meet and even exceed expectations. Those players will go from bright, talented youngsters to national icons over the course of a few weeks.
Here are four men who could make that transformation this summer.
Manchester United fans may not want to watch Pogba play in the World Cup. His departure from Old Trafford, as a 19-year-old, rankles with the United faithful as he has gone on to star for Juventus and France in central midfielder in the two years since.
Now 21, Pogba seems to have all the attributes to become a global superstar. He is a key figure in the engine room of both Juve and his national team, and he could help steer France through to the latter stages of the World Cup.
It would appear that he has everything to be the complete midfielder—passing ability, strength in the tackle, a physical presence and a decent goal contribution. This is how you would describe your perfect midfielder, and this is Pogba’s resume.
The inevitable comparisons with Patrick Vieira have arisen, but Pogba has made it very clear that he wants to carve out his own path in the game, per Gabriele Marcotti for ESPN FC:
I want to be Paul Pogba, not Vieira, but I want to be better than him. It’s gonna be hard because Patrick Vieira is a top-class player and to become better than him I have to work hard.
With his ambition matching his prodigious talent, he is certainly one to watch this summer.
Given Lukaku has already had two impressive seasons in the Premier League—and that he has 27 caps for Belgium—it is easy to forget that he is only 20 years old. The giant centre-forward will be heading to Brazil this summer, confident he can show why Chelsea have been wrong to let him leave on loan for consecutive seasons.
Due to the injury to Christian Benteke, Lukaku will be shouldering all the responsibility up front for his country; luckily he has very broad shoulders.
He has bagged 14 Premier League goals for Everton this season and managed 17 for West Brom last campaign. At his tender age he has learned to deal with the rigours of the Premier League, so the World Cup could be much easier by comparison.
Whilst the loss of Benteke will be seen as a loss for Belgium fans, Lukaku will relish the chance to play the entirety of every game. With his power and pace he is bound to create chances and score goals.
Belgium are in a tight-looking group with South Korea, Russia and Algeria. It could well be very fine margins that define these games and the hulking, bullying power of Lukaku could be what swings them in Belgium’s favour.
Liverpool’s season may be set to end in disappointment but some of their stars are set to shine this summer nonetheless, Raheem Sterling being one of them.
The 19-year-old has shown impressive dedication to the cause and a willingness to learn for the Reds. He broke into the first team last season, then after falling out of favour, he has stormed back to perform better than ever in the second half of this season.
Without a doubt his final delivery can still be improved, but with pace, trickery and an eye for goal, he is a threat to anyone. Whether he starts for England in Brazil or comes off the bench, he is sure to create chances for himself or others.
When pondering as to whether Sterling would make the England squad, Barney Ronay for The Guardian commented: “Surely the gamble lies in not picking the brilliantly bold game-changer, and settling instead for the well-seasoned underachievement of generations past.”
Sterling certainly has that ability to change a game, and England fans will be hoping he can show it this summer.
The Napoli winger has the chance to transform from promising talent to world star when he turns out for Italy in Brazil this summer. He is not guaranteed to start for his country, but he has the potential to be a devastating impact substitution in the heat of South America. He is quick, tricky and has a low centre of gravity, making him a tiring full-back’s nightmare.
Insigne has not quite done the business for Italy as yet, having made his debut back in 2012 and only managing four caps in total. If there is ever a place to shine, though, it is the World Cup, and having enjoyed a great season with Napoli, he could be ready to join the big time.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli clearly rates the diminutive forward, as he gave him this glowing appraisal earlier in the season when Napoli took on Borussia Dortmund, per La Gazzetta dello Sport (via Football Italia):
Insigne was a protagonist of the game. Young players have to respond on the field the way he did, with character and the desire to overcome all the difficulties someone his age can have. In that sense Insigne gave some very, very important responses.
Italy are often unpredictable coming into big tournaments, and 2014 is no different; but if they are looking for a wild card then Insigne could just be it.