Olympic Soccer 2012: Top 10 U-20 Olympic Players
Football at the 2012 London Olympics will enable us to watch some exciting young talents.
The compulsory age is 23, plus three overaged players, but this article will list the top 10 Olympic footballers that are 20 years or younger.
Why 20 years or younger? Youngsters who have high ceiling for success are generally the ones that emphatically outperform older and more experienced players.
For example, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ángel di María's sleek dribbling and ability to make something happen earmarked him as a future world-beater. Sergio Batista had a loaded squad that tournament with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Éver Banega, Fernando Gago, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Romero.
During the 2004 Athens Olympics, Carlos Tévez introduced himself to the world with some breathtaking performances.
Four years earlier in Sydney, some kid called Xavier Hernández Creus played as if he were the overaged player.
10. Morocco: Zakaria Labyad
Sporting Lisbon, Right Forward, Age: 19
If Zakaria Labyad were slow, he'd be a No. 10. Since he's blessed with swift acceleration, he played out wide for a large majority of last season.
Even though he played well, you always got the feeling that he could be so much better. It didn't help his cause that he failed to produce in big games such as a 2-0 loss to Ajax and a 1-1 draw against Valencia.
He recently said: "I will play where the coach wants but if you give me the choice, I would prefer to act as attacking midfielder behind the striker."
Translation: don't play me out wide.
No wonder he cut a frustrated figure at PSV Eindhoven.
9. Spain: Cristian Tello
Barcelona, Left Forward, Age: 20
Cristian Tello may not be as fast as Theo Walcott over an extended distance, but the Spaniard has ridiculous acceleration.
From a standing position, it takes one movement for him to create separation from the full-back. He needs to be given the license to dribble because he can drag several opposing players out of position.
The way he shoots the ball, the way he passes and the movement without the ball—he just looks like a class player.
For someone of his ability, he is fully committed to the Barça way, even though he should be playing more games: "I still have a deal with Barca and I intend to spend many more years at this club. I am convinced that this is the right place for me and that I wouldn't be happy at another club."
8. Spain: Oriol Romeu
Chelsea, Defensive Midfielder, Age: 20
Oriol Romeu told Sport (via ESPN Soccernet):
If [Barcelona coach] Tito Vilanova wants me there, I would talk to him and discuss it with him. If they want me to enjoy my football and show some confidence in me, then onwards and upwards.
I've always felt like a big Barcelona supporter, I am very grateful to FC Barcelona and it's thanks to them that I am where I am. Returning to Barcelona is an option but it depends on many things, because I want to play.
They have the option to buy me back, I left knowing I had that option, and if they still have confidence in me, as they showed by leaving the option open, then they should let me know.
He isn't even a regular starter for Chelsea and he is already pondering about returning to Barça. Why do La Masia graduates have such loyalty when they're not wanted?
When Romeu did play for Chelsea, he was tenacious in the tackle and tidy with his passing.
If he continues to develop, he'll be an elite midfielder. The question is: Do the Blues want to be a feeder club to Barça?
7. Great Britain: Steven Caulker
Tottenham Hotspur, Centre-Back, Age: 20
Unlike some centre-backs, Steven Caulker is composed with the ball at his feet. He completed 87.3 percent of his passes whilst averaging 61.5 passes per game.
He's mobile, he is solid in the air, he can block the ball, and he possesses good positional awareness.
He's the prototypical centre-back in André Villas-Boas' high-line system.
However, the Portuguese manager is likely to start Jan Vertonghen with Younès Kaboul. Both players need to perform because if they're as inconsistent as David Luiz, Caulker will come straight into the starting XI.
6. Switzerland: Ricardo Rodríguez
Wolfsburg, Left-Back, Age: 19
Marcel Schäfer was moved into midfield because Felix Magath wanted to see what Ricardo Rodríguez could offer.
In an extended run, Rodríguez won back possession 74 times in 17 games, showing glimpses of world-class ball-winning ability.
He needs to be smarter with possession because he attempted too many low-percentage passes. That's the reason why he only completed 71 percent of his passes last season.
5. Spain: Iker Muniain
Athletic Bilbao, Left Attacking Midfielder, Age: 19
Several seasons ago, Iker Muniain only played 13 professional games as a schoolboy.
He played 58 games last season, and it was evident that he struggled with fatigue towards the latter half of the season.
His body took a beating as he was forced to attack with pace and press like crazy to win back possession. Hopefully, he doesn't deteriorate as he ages because he burnt out last season.
4. Brazil: Lucas Moura
São Paulo, Right Forward, Age: 19
What in the world is Mano Menezes thinking in bringing Hulk to the Olympics? His inclusion in the squad is likely to mean the world will only see Lucas Moura as a Denílson-like impact sub.
Lucas' low centre of gravity, combined with his mesmerizing ball control, allows him to dribble past several opposing players with ease.
Denílson used to enjoy humiliating his opponents, as opposed to scoring or providing goals on a consistent basis.
Lucas needs to provide the goods like Neymar, assuming the São Paulo forward wants to have a more fruitful career than Denílson.
3. Brazil: Oscar
Internacional, Attacking Midfielder, Age: 20
Oscar has demonstrated versatility by playing on the left during the FIFA U-20 World Cup, playing a deep-lying role for Mano Menezes, and displaying the ability to play as a No. 10.
Chelsea signing Oscar would be as bizarre as them signing Kevin de Bruyne, only to sign Eden Hazard a few months later.
It's as if Roman Abramovich wants to stockpile the best young players in the game regardless of team cohesiveness.
Hazard will be the No. 10, so perhaps Oscar can play on the left? Nope, Juan Mata will play there. Would playing on the right be the right move for Oscar? Yes, because Chelsea would have three interchanging creative midfielders in Oscar, Hazard and Mata. Though what about Ramires?
Playing Oscar in a deep-lying position would be a waste of his attacking talent.
Giovanni Luigi told Radio Gaucha (via ESPN Soccernet): "The proposal wasn't as good as expected. We think Oscar is worth more than €20 million."
Luigi may end up laughing his way to the bank because Abramovich has next to no self-control when it comes to signing players for disproportionate transfer fees.
2. Spain: Isco
Málaga, Attacking Midfielder, Age: 20
Isco or Iker Muniain? Isco.
|Shots Per Goal||12.4||21|
|Shots Created Per Game||1.3||1.3|
|Completed Dribbles Per Game||2||1.8|
|Tackles Per Game||2||1.6|
|Interceptions Per Game||1.5||1.6|
Isco is better than Muniain, but the Málaga maestro doesn't receive enough credit. Isco is excellent without the ball and even better with it.
His shooting could be better, but he compensates with dangerous dribbling and incisive passing.
1. Brazil: Neymar
Santos, Left Forward, Age: 20
Neymar is the most over-hyped player in recent memory. Does he deserve it? Yes, because he's a world-class player and a great entertainer.
He can poach goals, he can create (when he wants to), and he is arguably the most lethal dribbler right now.
He was pretty mediocre against the United States, but he still scored and provided two goals. He was disappointing in the recent Copa Libertadores game against Corinthians, yet he still scored. This shows how excellent his footballing instincts are.
If he wants to shut his critics up, he needs to emulate or even better what Carlos Tévez achieved at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
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