Though only a small sample-size, the World Cup can be career-altering. Franck Ribery was a surprise inclusion to the French squad in 2006. A few great performances for France later, he was one of the biggest stars in football and the presumptive replacement for the legendary Zinedine Zidane. Metz were happy to let him leave for £2m in 2005. He was sold for £22m to Bayern Munich in 2007 and potentially worth three times that two summers later. Ribery was the breakout player in 2006. Here are ten players who could have a similar renaissance in 2010.
Thomas Muller (Germany): Bayern Munich was a few missed chances from a historic treble this season. Twenty-year-old Thomas Muller played an enormous role. He emerged from Bayern’s youth setup, scoring 19 goals and playing every match except one. With Ballack injured and Klose and Podolski woefully out of form, Germany needs its talented youngsters to take charge. Muller has only one senior cap for Germany, but, fresh off a Champions League final, he’s far from inexperienced.
Nani (Portugal): Cristiano Ronaldo had a quiet Euro 2008. Part of the reason was Simao’s poor crossing, which gave opposing defenses no reason to divert attention from him. Teams will lock down Ronaldo again, forcing his teammates to be match-winners. Nani will get the space and, if he can be the same explosive threat he was during the second half for Manchester United, he could have a huge tournament.
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy): Cannavaro has the armband, the plaudits and the Nike commercial, but his Juventus teammate Giorgio Chiellini is the best defender in Italy’s squad. The 25-year-old is twice-reigning defender of the year in Serie A. Italy allowed just one goal in the three matches Chiellini played at Euro 2008. With a team of aging stars and seldom-capped youths, a stern defense will be key. Italy will go as far as Chiellini will push them.
Ramires (Brazil): Dunga’s Brazil is sexless and pragmatic. The team holds the ball and pressures to get it back. Essential to this effort is Ramires. Dunga’s scheme shuttles Ramires between central midfield and the right flank. His tireless running allows the team to hold its shape in and out of possession. Ramires may not make a YouTube clip, but if this Brazil team adds to its pedigree, the 23-year-old Porto man may be just as important.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay): Goals are a surefire way to stardom. Luis Suarez scores a lot of goals. He put in 41 in 42 appearances for Ajax this season and assisted on 17 more. His partnership with fellow countryman Diego Forlan has the potential to be one of the most potent of the tournament. Suarez should have the chance to make his name at a bigger club next season, but the World Cup in South Africa could be his coming out party.
Samuel Inkoom (Ghana): Inkoom is an industrious right back. The 20-year-old can get forward and cross skillfully. He excelled for Ghana during the African Cup of Nations and for FC Basel during their Swiss league-winning season. Speculation about age cheating in Ghana is rife. It should be questioned whether Inkoom’s performances have showed potential or peak performance, but, whatever his age, he’s one of the few Ghanaian players who can impact a match from a position other than midfield. If Ghana hopes to surpass its performance in 2006, he will need to do so.
Giovani Dos Santos (Mexico): The 21-year-old is an attacking midfielder with superb technical skill, though he has not found consistency at club level. He could not cut it at Barcelona or Tottenham, finally ending up at Galatasaray in Turkey. Dos Santos disappointed in Europe, but has become a fixture of the Mexican team during qualifying, tormenting CONCACAF defenders. Mexico needs its young starlets to step up and close the generation gap. If Giovani Dos Santos catches fire, Mexico could win Group A and have an attainable route to the later rounds.
Didier Zokora (Cote D’Ivoire): Cote D’Ivoire has an iconic star in Didier Drogba, but to sustain a serious World Cup campaign they must be a complete team that controls the game in midfield. They need the 29-year-old to be an assertive ball-winner, bossing the midfield and aiding the distribution. He has been excellent since moving to Sevilla last summer. If he can reproduce that form, Cote D’Ivoire will be much more coherent and formidable, with a credible chance of escaping a tricky group.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia): Hamsik is no stranger to followers of Serie A, but the Napoli midfielder has yet to truly christen the world stage. He’s a 22-year-old who loves to get forward and has a nose for a goal. He has been the seminal figure in Napoli’s Serie A resurgence. He’s the one aristocrat on a workman-like Slovakia team. A few moments of brilliance from him could propel them to the knockout round.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile): The Chileans finished a surprising second in South American qualifying. The “Wonder Boy” Alexis Sanchez proved integral. Chile’s feverish attack will allow the electric winger to use his spectacular dribbling and passing skills to create chances. Chile are hoping to be the team that advances from Group H with Spain and an ace performance from the 21-year-old Udinese winger would help tremendously.
- GQ’s World Cup Breakout Players.
- Iain and Adrian discuss their tips for breakout players on this week’s Soccerlens Podcast.
Tyler Duffy is a freelance soccer writer who contributes to the Big Lead.