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For those of you who haven’t followed us, our Talent Radar feature has become hugely popular over the last few months as we continue our website’s strategy of focusing on the younger players. Keeping that in mind, we have published this mini-series of the 25 Young Players to Watch at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Before you read the article, there are a couple of points about the criteria which will help you understand our approach to this list, the players selected, the order of the ranking etc. Players eligible for this list are those that were 21 and below at the start of the 2013-14 season (considered to be August 1st for convenience). We have taken into consideration their ability, but above all, we have considered what impact they can have on their respective side and the tournament as a whole paying attention to potential playing time as well.
5) RICARDO RODRIGUEZ
Switzerland | Left Back | 21
How did he do? Rodriguez had a terrific season at club level with Wolfsburg, and the accolades haven’t stopped flowing in for this young man. Rodriguez combined solid defending with a penchant for some excellent attacking play. 2 interceptions, and 3 tackles every game more than hint at solidity at the back. What caught the eye were his attacking talents. A direct free kick scored against Dortmund was simply the icing on a cake that contained 5 goals and 9 assists in 34 Bundesliga appearances this season.
Readers voted Rodriguez second for the Bundesliga’s defender of the season award, for 2013-14
He was selected the Defender of the Season in our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player Awards, and also made it to the Talent Radar team of the season
What can we expect from him? Rodriguez is sure to start for Switzerland, and with the team looking to unleash their attacking full backs on the break, Rodriguez has an important role to play. We expect Switzerland to put on a show and do well at this World Cup, and with the team setting up to counter, Rodriguez’ role is important, defensively and offensively. Watch out for his effectiveness from set plays as well. They can be real nightmares for the keepers and defenders. A few good performances during this tournament could put him in the shopping window, with clubs like Chelsea and United possibly looking for options at left back.
4) PAUL POGBA
France | Midfielder | 21
How did he do? France have some incredible young talent among their ranks, with the likes of Griezmann and Varane set to shine, but the jewel in their crown is Juventus’ Paul Pogba. There aren’t many players in world football who are tall, strong, quick, and technically solid like Pogba is. The ex-Manchester United player dominates midfields with his physicality, and isn’t averse to smashing a shot from distance either. 7 goals and 7 assists in Juve’s title winning campaign confirm his importance and contribution to the cause. “My team-mates and me looked at each other as to say ‘Are they blind in Manchester?’ (to let him go away).”- The ever loquacious Gianluigi Buffon says all that we want to say about Paul Pogba.
He featured on the Serie A youngsters team of the season
Readers also voted him the best young player of the season in Serie A, and the second best midfielder overall in the league in our Serie A end of season awards
What can we expect from him? Crunching tackles, powerful running, masterful passing, a few thunderbolts from distance, and a shocking hairdo. This young man is the key to France’s World Cup aspirations, and is a vital component of their powerful midfield. If they do, as expected, make it to the quarter finals, Pogba is the man to take them there, and beyond. Pogba will be looking to get forward and join in the attacks as well, and his aerial ability, something that not too many have written home about, is something that the coach Deschamps could try and utilise.
3) JAMES RODRIGUEZ
Colombia | Attacking midfielder | 22
How did he do? Unlike his team mate from Porto, Joao Moutinho, James Rodriguez enjoyed a great season in Ligue 1 with Monaco. Initally, Falcao was the main man in the team, doing the bulk of the scoring, but after his injury, James stepped up to the plate and proved to be an able replacement for his compatriot. Along side the goal scoring, he also took on most of the creative responsibilities, and in the process, became Monaco’s most important player. The fact that all these performances came despite being shuffled across the pitch is testament to this young player’s ability.
What can we expect from him? Fans of the Colombian national team are hoping that James can continue his excellent season, and carry his club form into the World Cup. This is going to be important for Colombia, as they tended to struggle without Falcao during the qualifiers. However, we are confident that James can do well this tournament, and provide the cutting edge that Colombia will need to navigate their way through a tough group, and into a knockout round clash with either England, Italy, or Uruguay.
Brazil | Striker | 22
How did he do? We’re certain about the fact that you’ve heard enough and more about Neymar in the build up to this tournament, so here’s a little more. The Barcelona player endured some criticism with regard to his performances, but for his first season in Europe, he had a fairly good time. The player who led Brazil to the Confederations Cup was an exciting young talent, but Neymar has matured in this year, and crucially, seen a bit of improvement physically as well. Scolari is getting a more rounded footballer this time, and that can only be a positive.
What can we expect from him? It’s not easy for a footballer to carry the burden of expectation that Neymar is at the moment. He is under tremendous pressure to lead Brazil to a World Cup triumph and exorcise the demons of Maracanazo. This may weigh him down, or drive him to improve his game even more. We hope it’s the latter, because if Neymar strikes form, defenders of a lot of teams are in deep trouble. His pace, trickery, skill, and shooting make him one of the best players in world football.
1) THIBAUT COURTOIS
Belgium | Goalkeeper | 22
How did he do? Courtois, on loan at Atletico Madrid from his parent club Chelsea, had an amazing season. The Blegian was the rock on which Simeone built a team with a terrific defence, and dangerous attack. He can rightly claim a lion’s share of the credit for the La Liga title, and Champions League run, as some amazing saves throughout the season meant that opponents found it very difficult to get past Atletico. Much of their La Liga victory can be attributed to an incredible first half of the season, when they didn’t concede at home until December. One must doff their hat at such a good performance.
Courtois was voted La Liga’s goalkeeper of the season by our readers with an incredible majority
He also sealed a spot in the La Liga Young Players team of the season
Courtois won 3 individual awards, and featured in 2 of the team awards in our inaugural Talent Radar Young Player awards (link above)
What can we expect from him? Belgium will look to play counter-attacking football to aid their quick wingers, and Courtois, as a starter, will be important to this strategy, as they look to ensure defensive solidity. They succeeded with this in the qualifiers, keeping the second best defensive record, but it’s going to be a different ball game against teams like Russia, and possibly Portugal. His job wont just be restricted to shot stopping, but also organising the defence, and defending set pieces (he’s been excellent with this aspect, commanding the box like no other keeper). He, along with the rest of the team, will also need to deal with the burden of expectations. If Belgium are to do well in Brazil, Courtois will need to be at his best. And thus, as unusual as it may seem, Thibaut Courtois is our No.1 Talent Radar Young Player to Watch in Brazil!