Neymar and the Top 15 Young Talents in World Football

Michael CernaCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2012

Neymar and the Top 15 Young Talents in World Football

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    Every four years the Olympics are played, and football fans get a chance to see some of the best young stars in the game.

    This year has seen players like Oscar break onto the international scene while others had such great seasons for their club last campaign that they are already being considered some of the best players at their position.

    This list will look at 15 of the top young stars in football.

    To qualify, players simply had to be younger than 21 at the start of the 2012-2013 season.

    The players are not ranked and make the list due to a blend of potential- and current-level talent.

    After reading, please let us know your thoughts and views about the list.

    Read on to see 15 of the top young players in football.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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    Team: Arsenal

    Birthday: 15 August 1993

    Arsenal is renowned for being one of the best clubs in Europe at scouting young prospects.

    It was Cesc Fabregas or Gael Clichy that gave Arsenal the reputation as a club with a great eye for talent.

    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to prove that trend as truth.

    The Ox had quite the start to his Arsenal career by scoring two goals in his first three matches and becoming the youngest English player to score in the Champions League.

    He is a fantastic dribbler, is never afraid to try that long pass and can play almost anywhere on the pitch.

Phil Jones

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    Team: Manchester United

    Birthday:  February 1992

    When a young player is placed beside someone as elite and Nemanja Vidic, it is hard to know what to make of a great performance.

    On the other hand, there are some situations that a player steps into where poise and the ability to lead are made clear to everyone watching.

    This is exactly what happened with Phil Jones last season.

    Last season, Manchester United's defense was wrecked by injuries. If not for Phil Jones, who knows how far behind their cross-town rivals, the Red Devils, would have finished.

    Throughout the season, Jones was asked to cover for an injured Rio Ferdinand, to lead a partnership with Johnny Evans, to play right back and to play as a midfielder.

    Not only did Jones never complain, he excelled everywhere he played. That maturity and versatility are what makes Jones one of the brightest young stars in football.

Xerdan Shaqiri

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    Team: Bayern Munich

    Birthday: 10 October 1991

    Last season Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka caught everyone's attention with some great performances in the Champions League, even knocking out English giants Manchester United.

    Now the former teammates become league rivals and will try to take Switzerland's midfield to another level.

    Bayern fans were delighted when the club announced that they'd be bringing the youngster to Germany after seeing him do so well in the Champions League.

    Shaqiri helped lead his former team Basel to three consecutive league titles, and Bayern Munich hopes to keep that title-winning streak alive next season.

Christian Eriksen

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    Team: Ajax

    Birthday: 14 February 1992

    When will Ajax stop producing such great number 10s?

    Laudrup, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and now Eriksen. The prestige that comes with donning that jersey is priceless, and Denmark is lucky to have this star on their team.

    Eriksen has been one of the most sought-after young stars over the last two season, and not even a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign is going to change that.

    He is not the finished product, but the simple fact that people are already comparing him to former Ajax greats speaks volumes.

Erik Lamela

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    Team: Roma

    Birthday: 4 March 1992

    Lamela is just one of many players in Italy doing his best to fight the out-dated stigma that Serie A is a place for older stars to move.

    The Argentinian has already been capped by the senior squad and will be one of Roma's key players next season.

    Lamela has incredible touch and glides effortlessly with the ball at his feet. He is notorious for leaving defenders cross-footed or on the ground with his dribbling ability and is always exciting to watch.

    He can be a bit petulant at times, but his boldness and exciting play make overlooking his temporary character concerns worth it.

Lucas Moura

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    Team: PSG

    Birthday: 13 August 1992

    What a summer it has been for Lucas.

    The Sao Paulo youngster entered the summer as one of the Manchester United's biggest targets only to snub playing at Old Trafford in favor of joining PSG's new project in France.

    Lucas is one of the best players currently in Brazil and would have been a great addition for any European team.

    Unfortunately, his exorbitant €44.5 million price tag will make it hard for him to ever live up to expectations, but that should not stop him from being one of Ligue 1's best players soon.

Iker Muniain

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    Team: Athletic Bilbao

    Birthday: 19 December 1992

    My regular readers know how highly I rate this Basque prodigy. In my ranking of the Top U-21 Players in La Liga, Muniain topped the list.

    A failed Olympic campaign showed the immaturity of Muniain, but the 20-year-old has unbelievable potential.

    He is extremely hard-working, versatile and smart for a player his age. If he continues to develop at the rate he has, he will be a regular for Spain's senior squad in no time.

Stephan El Shaarawy

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    Team: Milan

    Birthday: 27 October 1992

    While many neutral fans continue to question El Shaarawy, Milan seems to have no trouble trusting the youngster on the pitch.

    And for good reason. The young Italian has yet to break out as an elite player, but his poise and ability to step up in big games warrant his reputation as one of Serie A's brightest young prospects.

    El Shaarawy is not a fantastic finisher, but his passing and holdup play could see him develop into a great second striker.

EDITED: Jack Wilshere

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    Team: Arsenal

    Birthday: 1 January 1992

    I had originally left Wilshere off this list due to the uncertainty of his return to form following such a difficult and lengthy injury, but thankfully the Englishman has put those worries to bed since returning.

    The Arsenal man is often a tad overrated because of his nationality, but there is no denying his potential and his ceiling is as high as almost anyone else on this list.

    The youngster is not yet elite, but he is as good as any central midfielder his age and looks like he'll be the Gunners' best player in  a very short time.

    If Wilshere can continue his recovery and growth, he will become one of the premier midfielders in Europe when he enters his prime.


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    Team: Chelsea

    Birthday: 9 September 1991

    After a fantastic Olympic performance, the chance to see Oscar in Blue for the first time must make fans eager to see if he can replicate that form at Stamford Bridge.

    Brazil's number 10—at the U-23 level—has often been the best player for his team in London. That says a lot about him, considering he plays alongside Neymar, Hulk and other popular stars.

    Oscar is eager to play for the defending European Champions, and Chelsea fans share that excitement. They must be counting down the minutes until the new Premier League season starts.

David Alaba

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    Team: Bayern Munich

    Birthday: 24 June 1992

    Of all the great youth academies in Europe, Bayern Munich's may be the most underrated.

    They continue to produce top players so much that even their rivals are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

    David Alaba is just another of Bayern's youth players to breakout and, despite only converting last season, he already looks like arguably the best young left-back in Europe.

    At 17, he was the youngest footballer to ever play a competitive match for Bayern Munich and was voted Austria's Footballer of the Year at just 19.

    Alaba continues to surprise fans with his versatility and looks to become a star at Germany's most decorated club.


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    Team: Malaga

    Birthday: 21 April 1992

    Isco is one of the biggest and brightest youngster in La Liga.

    After leaving Valencia and moving closer to his family, Isco became one of the league's top midfielders last season.

    The Spaniard completed 86.6 percent of his passes last season and averaged 1.3 key passes per game.

    He was one of the biggest reasons Malaga were able to earn a fourth-place finish and a chance to play in the Champions League.

    Now that Malaga's financial issues have forced Santi Cazorla out, Isco will be needed to step up at a very young age and fill a huge hole in midfield.

Marc-André Ter Stegen

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    Team: Borussia Monchengladbach

    Birthday:30 April 1992

    Last season, Marc-André ter Stegen was not only one of the best keepers in Germany, he was one of the best keepers in Europe.

    His 78 percent save success rate was the best in Germany. In that category, the German outplayed Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas, Joe Hart, David de Gea and Hugo Lloris.

    In fact, he was better than any keeper in Europe besides Gigi Buffon. Oh and he did this all as a teenager.

    His outstanding reflexes and shot-stopping ability already put him in the top tier of keepers in Europe.


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    Team: Santos

    Birthday: 5 February 1992

    Speaking of players with no limits, enter Neymar. This Brazilian is one of the most hyped players of the last decade, and he hasn't even played in Europe yet.

    Some people say he is overrated and unproven, but those who actually watch him play on a consistent basis know that the hype is warranted.

    Neymar's footwork, technique and creativity make him one of the most talented footballers around. He is also one of the most exciting players on the planet.

    People already rate his performances as if he were a veteran in his prime, despite having only entered his twenties this year.

    The biggest clubs in Europe are desperate for his signature, and whoever wins that battle may be getting the best player of his generation.

Mario Gotze

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    Team: Borussia Dortmund

    Birthday: 3 June 1992

    It's always risky to hype a teenager as one of the best midfielders in Europe, but Mario Gotze is just that good.

    Borussia Dortmund's number 10 is already one of the best players in Germany, and it seems just a matter of time before we are talking about him as a FIFA World Player of the Year candidate.

    Gotze is an exceptional passer who can dribble, pass, finish, take free kicks, cross and do anything else asked of him.

    He is the future of Germany's midfield and, if he stays healthy, has no limits to what he can achieve.


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    Now let's turn it over to you readers.

    Which player on this list is the best youngster in football?

    Is there someone you think should be on the list or should have been left off?

    Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

    Also, check out my other recent columns:

    Real Madrid: Complete Guide to the 2012-2013 La Liga Season

    Chelsea: Complete Guide to the 2012-2013 Premier League Season

    Oscar: Why the Brazilian is Set to Shine with Chelsea