Top 20 Young Footballers to Watch in 2009

All that most football managers really want for Christmas is a promising young player to emerge as an established star in the coming year.

As the game becomes more and more global and the wealth of the bigger clubs increases, so too do the scouting networks of these clubs which now extend to every continent and footballing corner of the planet. Is it too far a stretch of the imagination to expect that in the coming years the big clubs will vie to buy a seat for their leading scout on future space missions in the hope of being the first to sign the best talent, should life be discovered elsewhere?

And consider the gene potential of the baby Sergio Aguero’s girlfriend (Maradona’s daughter) is carrying, pending its arrival in February next year. While the child is undoubtedly a bit late to get onto my list for 2009, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear that Arsene Wenger has the Arsenal lawyers burning the midnight oil in an attempt to find a legal instrument by which he can contract with an embryo!

But enough farce! With the expansion of the scouting networks we have become used to the almost weekly arrival at one or other of the big European clubs of the next Pele, Maradona, Best, Ronaldo (either version) etc. etc. With clubs bringing players into academies as soon as they are weaned and offering significant incentives to mere 14 and 15 year-olds, forecasting the next superstar has almost become a sport in its own right.

If you peruse the football press, websites and blogs, and I know you do, then you will be very familiar with the many lists of impending superstars published each year. Of course the formats vary and while most are interesting, others can be vaguely irritating.

Take, for example, the list published in July of this year by Spanish football weekly paper Don Balón which I found on Neoseeker. Now while the research to come-up with such a list is admirable, I found myself wading through a long list of (often) unpronounceable names of (mostly) players I had never heard of, 95% (ish) of whom I had never seen play and, probably, 60-70% of whom I never will, or at least won’t remember that they were on some list I read several years previously if I do. The other problem is that you can’t retain this amount of detail and nobody will ever do the follow-up to determine how many of these prodigies ever actually make it big.

My own theory is that players under 18 are very hard to judge, with some notable exceptions, as they have so far to go in the developmental process, never mind the minefield of fame, money and temptation. While there are no statistics available I would suggest that something like 80-90% of players on these lists go on to make a living from the game and become decent players but only a more modest 10-15% actually make the grade as big stars at club and international level.

And then there are the more targeted lists which I must say I enjoy more. Take the Soccer City lists, published on this site as a regular column, which profile the most promising young players league by league around the world; easy to digest and to follow the players progress. Or the equally good list from Marco (England Top 20) also published recently on this site.

Alternatively, if you would like to take a retrospective look at the predictions of the 10 best African players from a post on Big Soccer in 2005 you can do a ‘where are they now’ take on its accuracy ( Africa’s Best 2005). Or for a more recent look back there’s Kenny’s list of the Top 50 teens from a year ago (Top 50 Teens 2007) and the precursor to this article, Top 20 Young Footballers for 2008.

So the question I asked myself was: how can I come-up with a list for 2009 that is interesting to the reader and does not just regurgitate what you have read elsewhere, and with my usual unfailing genius I have come-up with a formula (patented by the way so hands off!).

  • In keeping with the approach of most other lists all players over 20 (i.e. having reached their 21st birthday) will be excluded.
  • I am looking for players who have the potential to make the breakthrough as genuine ‘stars’ in 2009. This excludes the promising teenagers who have the potential but still have 2 or 3 years to go before reaching the first team at their clubs.
  • I am concentrating on players who are already part of the 1st team or, at least, significantly involved in the squad. Otherwise they don’t have the launching pad for success in 2009.
  • In keeping with the balance of readership on this site I will split the list into 2. One will look at the Top 10 potential stars of 2009 from the English Premier league while the other will look at the Top 10 internationally.

Now, I realize that any such list of 10 and 10 has to exclude all sorts of names that others would include on their lists, but that’s the whole point. My list is just the catalyst to draw you out to suggest your own tips and get some debate going. So don’t hold back….like there was any chance you would!

So let me start with my list of the Top 10 2009 potential stars from the EPL:

10 Most Promising English Premier League Players for 2009

In no particular order:

1. Theo Walcott (19, Forward, Arsenal, England)

Finally seems to have made the break-through after so much hype and premature exposure to the England squad. If he can avoid Robsonesque issues with his shoulder he should be a real force in 2009….and beyond.

2. Rafael Da Silva (18, Defender, Manchester United, Brazil)

With Wes Brown injured and Gary Neville off the pace, Rafael has made an outstanding start to his first team career at Old Trafford and looks like making the RB position his own. Brazilian flair and a mean shot. Could become a Utd legend!?

3. Aaron Ramsey (17, Midfield, Arsenal, Wales)

Transferred from Cardiff to Arsenal in the summer following many (justified) superlatives and already making an impression in the first team. Looks certain to be a star and already a key player for Wales.

4. Jonny Evans (20, Defender, Manchester United, Northern Ireland)

Having gained experience at Antwerp and Sunderland, Evans has arrived back at Old Trafford this season and instantly asserted himself in the first team squad. Already with several outings this season he has filled in almost seamlessly for Ferdinand or Vidic. There’s no higher praise than that!

5. Carlos Vela (19, Forward, Arsenal, Mexico)

Another to make the breakthrough at Arsenal this season and has shown flashes of brilliance. 2009 could be the year that he can’t be ignored. 4 goals and 2 assists for Arsenal’s first team so far and already a goalscoring member of the Mexican national side.

6. Franco Di Santo (19, Forward, Chelsea, Argentina)

Bought for 3.5m from Audax Italiano (Chile) in early 2008. 3 appearances so far this season and has caught the eye of Big Phil. 2 goals in 6 appearances for Argentina’s U-20 team. With Drogba constantly injured and a lack of strikers at Chelsea 2009 could be his big break.

7. Rodrigo Possebon (19, Midfield, Manchester United, Brazil)

Talented Brazilian who made his debut this season. Having just returned from injury this rangy midfielder looks to have what it takes to compete for a place in the ultra competitive Utd midfield. Another who could blossom in 2009.

8. Jack Wilshere (16, Midfield, Arsenal, England)

Breaking my own rules here as 16/17 is surely too young for a breakthrough? But Wilshere is an outstanding kid, even by Arsenal standards and 2009 could see his star rise.

9. Krisztian Nemeth (19, Forward, Liverpool, Hungary)

Boasts a stunning 38 goals in 32 games at underage level for Hungary. Voted Liverpool (Title Winning) Reserves player of the year last season. Looking to make the breakthrough in 2009.

10. David N’Gog (19, Forward, Liverpool, France)

Bought from Paris St.Germain in July 2008 he has already made the breakthrough into the senior squad, scoring his first goal against PSV in the Champins League. 20 goals in 30 underage internationals for France says he knows how to find the target. Could make the breakthrough in 2009….move over Robbie Keane???

Yes, it is noticeable that all of these players are with one or other of the ‘Top 4’ but then aren’t they the clubs with the widest scouting networks that attract the best talent? I did consider both James Vaughan of Everton and Andy Carroll of Newcastle but in my opinion both have been touted for some time now, both have had their opportunities at first team level and neither look likely to step-up to stardom in 2009 but maybe they’ll prove me wrong.

You can also argue that 2 young Liverpool strikers are unlikely to make the breakthrough in the same year and this is a valid point, so take this as an each way bet. Equally, how can Evans displace either Ferdinand or Vidic at United? Well, he probably can’t but he can become part of an established 1st team 3 instead of just a 2.

So onto the Top 10 potential international stars for 2009:

10 Most Promising International Based Players for 2009

In no particular order:

1. Bojan Krkić (18, Forward, Barcelona, Spain)

Already established as an exciting new talent in the Barcelona first team making 36 appearances last season. 15 goals in 17 internationals at underage level for Spain and gained his first full cap this season. Exceptional talent who could become as big as Ronaldinho was at Barca in 2009.

2. Alexandre Pato (19, Forward, AC Milan, Brazil)

Now a regular at Milan having scored 14 goals in 28 games for Internacional before his big money (22m Euro) move in 2007. 4 caps for Brazil to date (1 goal). Highly rated forward who is a key piece in the Milan rebuilding process.

3. Breno (19, Defender, Bayern Munich, Brazil)

Brazilian defender who famously rejected Real Madrid after they requested a bone analysis to prove his age! A $22 million signing from Sao Paulo in 2007, Breno has been a regular on the bench for Bayern this season. Has captained the Brazilian U23’s and could be targeting compatriot Lucio’s place in the team.

4. Lorenzo De Silvestri (20 , Defender, Lazio, Italy)

Attacking right full-back widely regarded as one of the best young talents in Italy. Made 24 appearances for the Lazio 1st team last season and was considered as having Robben ‘in his pocket’ when Lazio played Real Madrid in the Champions League. Capped at every juniour level for Italy.

5. Mario Balotelli (18, Forward, Inter, Italy)

Born in Italy of Ghanian descent , has been capped by Ghana but this year scored 3 goals in 4 internationals for Italy’s U-21s. Made the breakthrough to Inter’s first team last season and starred in their Coppa Italia run, scoring some vital goals. 2009 could be the year Mourinho lets him off the leash!

6. Stevan Jovetić (19, Forward, Fiorentina, Montenegro)

Moved from Partizan Belgrade to Fiorentina in May 2008 for 8m Euro. Has scored 4 goals in 7 games at full international level for Montenegro and captained the U-21 side at the age of 17. One to watch in 2009.

7. Miralem Sulejmani (20, Forward, Ajax , Serbia)

First came to prominence at Heerenveen where he scored 15 goals in 34 games. Transferred to Ajax in July 2008 for 16.25M Euros (a Dutch record) and has since scored 5 goals in 7 appearances. With Klass-Jan Huntelaar off to Madrid his horizons have opened up. 3 senior caps for Serbia.

8. Ivan Rakitić (20, Midfield, Schakle 04, Croatia)

Born in Switzerland but declaring international allegiance to Croatia, Rakitic won the Swiss young player of the year award and ‘best goal’ award in 2006/7. 5 goals in 16 internationals for Croatia he can be deployed in both attacking and defensive midfield roles. Could be a transfer target in 2009.

9. Franco Zuculini (18, Midfield, Racing Club, Argentina)

Made his debut for Racing in April 2008 and now with 26 appearances. Already on Maradona’s radar as a future potential international. Has been pursued by Manchester United and Liverpool and may soon move to Europe. Big things await in 2009.

10. Adem Ljajic (17, Midfield, Red Star Belgrade, Serbia)

Attacking midfielder nicknamed “little Kaka”, high praise indeed. With only a handful of first team appearances behind him and 2 caps for Serbia’s U21’s he is still a fledgling but rated highly enough to be a target of Sir Alex Ferguson. Maybe too young for a breakthrough in 2009, but maybe not!

So, hopefully, a list of exciting potential but which of them might be in the frame for the ‘Best Players of 2009’ lists next year, if any? And who have I forgotten? More importantly, who will prove me wrong or succumb to the many pitfalls that await the promising young star these days?

Anyway, that’s the best my crystal ball can do for next year. What does yours predict?

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