8 Teenagers Who Should Be on Every Big Club's Radar
Every major club in world football has an extensive scouting network designed to pick up the world's best footballing talent before they become recognised stars.
Of course, many of the best teenagers worldwide either escape the net or opt to develop with a so-called smaller club. Such players and the transfer fees they command are the life-blood of many clubs in world football, as they seek to compete with the well-financed elite of European football.
Some youngsters' talents are irrefutable and it is clear from an early age that they will go on to achieve major success in their career. With the vast majority, though, it is unclear and it is in this respect that scouts and youth coaches earn their money—sifting through the talents to pick out the potential stars.
Let's, then, have a closer look at eight teenagers that the European elite should be queueing up to sign.
1. Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria U17)
As reported by Goal.com's Shina Oludare, left-footed playmaker Iheanacho was this week voted as the best player of the 2013 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in UAE, scoring six times and adding seven assists en-route to his country's triumph.
The 17-year-old is currently learning his trade at Taye Academy in his homeland, but has been linked with a move to Arsenal in recent weeks, per the Daily Mail's Soreibah Kajue.
Those reports were seemingly confirmed by the player's US-based agent Henry Galeano, who reportedly told the International Business Times:
I can confirm that Arsenal FC's Steve Rowley acknowledged Kelechi Iheanacho's talents early in the World Cup and has said some very nice words about him.
We're ecstatic to have another major club like Arsenal following young Iheanacho. That said, the attention is well deserved. Iheanacho's performance at the World Cup was indeed remarkable.
At present we are considering and evaluating all options. Our goal is to match Iheanacho with a club that fits his profile, and a club that can bring out the very best in him. If Arsenal F.C. is an option on the table, we'll be glad to sit down and consider it.
Rowley, Arsenal's head scout was present at the tournament in the Middle-East and cannot help but have been impressed by the tall, elegant Nigeria and his performances.
African midfielders have become pigeon-holed as powerful, box-to-box midfielders in recent years, but the hope is that Iheanacho can capture the imagination in the same way that the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Abedi Pele did before him.
2. Nathan (Atletico-PR and Brazil U17)
Another attacking midfielder who appeared from nowhere to become one of the standout performers of the Under-17 World Cup, Nathan scored five times and added five assists for Brazil at the tournament to leave a lasting impression.
The 17-year-old had never played for Brazil prior to the competition, but has long been regarded as a potential star by club side Atletico-PR, where he is a teammate of striker Mosquito in the club's Under-23 setup.
However, ESPN Brasil reporter Marcus Alves reports that Nathan has rejected a renewal with the Curitiba side and is being pursued by both Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The report quotes the player's father as saying:
I have not stopped answering my phone. Many people are asking about him, but the value is that in the contract. Nothing concrete has arrived and he will be an Atletico player for the time being.
The player's release clause is set at €30 million for clubs outside Brazil, however he is available to Brazilian sides for just €900,000. With just two years left on his deal, it is unlikely that Atletico would insist on receiving anywhere near the full release clause from foreign sides.
3. Doria (Botafogo and Brazil U20)
Despite turning 19 just last week, Brazil Under-20 captain Doria has almost 18 months of first-team football under his belt with Botafogo in the Brasileirao.
Physically, Doria is already capable of competing with players well above his age, measuring 1.90m and tipping the scales at over 80kg. He is, though, comfortable with the ball at his feet and a more than decent distributor.
Together with Paris Saint-Germain's Marquinhos, Doria is seen as the long-term future of the Brazil centre-back position and his rise to the top of the domestic game, which has brought an international appearance, has not gone unnoticed.
Botafogo have been forced to sell off several players over the past couple of seasons to deal with financial issues and it may well not be long before Doria also heads for the exit doors.
4. Luke Shaw (Southampton and England U21)
Left-back is one of the rare positions that England have been blessed in over recent years and it would appear that 18-year-old Luke Shaw is set to continue that tradition over the coming decade.
Despite his age, Shaw has already made 34 Premier League appearances and is his side's undisputed first-choice in the left-back position. With excellent speed and ever-improving positional understanding, he is a rapidly improving defender.
Going forward he is generally excellent and is often seen overlapping down the left-flank. However, for all his comfort on the ball, his crossing is perhaps the weakest area of his game at present.
To be able to not just compete, but also impress at left-back in the Premier League while still a teenager is impressive and says much of Shaw's potential ability.
The Evening Standard's Tom Collomosse reported this week that Tottenham could make a January move for the full-back, while the Daily Star's Carl Elridge last month reported Manchester United as holding similar interest.
5. Wei Shihao (Shandong Luneng and China)
It has been clear for many years that European sides would like a truly outstanding Chinese talent to help crack the country as a football market. So, with wide forward Wei Shihao showing real signs of talent, he will surely find himself closely monitored by a number of European clubs.
Wei trialled with Ajax earlier this year, as per Sina (Chinese), but Luneng were said to be unwilling to sell. He has, though, spent time training with Boavista as part of 500.com's scheme to help future Chinese stars receive European coaching.
Playing from the left-flank, Wei was the star for China's Under-19 side in recent Asian Championship qualifiers and will represent his country at next year's tournament. At that event, he will surely be a name on the notebooks of European scouts.
What separates Wei from many of his countryman is impressive technical ability when dribbling at pace and also the ability to react to the changing of situations around him. China already holds high hopes for his future, which will surely involve a stint in European football.
In the video below, the direct runner with the ability to beat his marker on both sides unsurprisingly picks out Cristiano Ronaldo as his inspiration.
6. Lazar Markovic (Benfica and Serbia)
Serbian winger Lazar Markovic was heavily linked with Premier League giants Chelsea before joining Benfica this summer and, per Metro's Daniel Jones, interest still exists.
Given the close relationship between the two clubs, it would be no surprise to discover Chelsea involvement from an early stage. Indeed, per Sky Sports, Markovic met with Blues representatives last year and undertook a tour of Stamford Bridge.
Markovic has made a quick start to life in Portugal, scoring three times and adding an assist in his first seven games, albeit without making a significant impact in the Champions League.
The Serbian has spent much of his career to date playing from the left, cutting in onto his right-foot and using his almost magnetic control of the ball to beat defenders.
At just 19, he should continue improving for some time yet and will be a major player in Serbia's future over the next decade—alongside fellow Partizan product Andrija Zivkovic in particular.
7. Kurt Zouma (Saint Etienne and France U21)
Kurt Zouma has unfortunately been in the headlines for the the wrong reasons this week, after a forceful but fair challenge on Thomas Guerbert left his opponent with a broken leg. Zouma, rather harshly, has been handed a 10-game ban for the tackle, per the Daily Mirror's Alan Nixon.
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of his tackle and the punishment, he remains an outstanding young defender and, as Nixon reports, is a suggested target for Manchester City in January.
Despite only turning 19 last month, Zouma is already in his third season as a first-team regular and has recaptured some of his best form, having struggled last season with niggling injuries.
Such is his reputation in France that the physically-imposing defender was recently called up to Didier Deschamps' France squad for World Cup qualifiers, making the bench for a fixture with Finland.
Zouma's name has been mentioned with regards to a move in every transfer window for the past 18-months and that speculation will no doubt continue in January, despite his current Ligue 1 ban.
8. Tonny Vilhena (Feyenoord and Netherlands U21)
Italian agent Mino Raiola tends to only represent players with huge potential and his involvement in the career of Vilhena is the first indication that the 18-year-old is a truly special talent.
Now in his second full season as a first-team player, Vilhena is not playing as advanced a role as he has been used to this year. However, it is testament to his success that he has adapted well to the new position.
When at his best, Vilhena's low centre of gravity and pace allows him to evade opponents before seeking to use his favoured left-foot to seek out players ahead of him. Despite his attacking tendencies, though, he is also tenacious in his defensive work.
Dutch football writer Mohamed Moallim recently described Vilhena as follows:
A precocious talent, Vilhena has shown in every game, his scary potential. Blessed with all the natural attributes needed to play box-to-box, his fleet of foot and pace succulently compliments his physical stature and sharp brain, allowing him to play between the lines, and riding the sternest of challenges. In a way you can see he encapsulates the modern midfielder: dangerous on the flanks, elegant playmaking and industrious through the middle, as well as a good eye for goal.
Vilhena or any of the other players featured in this list can be discussed on Twitter (@chris_elastico) or in the comment section below.