The world is being set alight by ever younger players, and they will be the superstars of the future. I have handpicked 18 players (11 starters and 7 subs) for the team of the future.
GK: Igor Akinfeev (Russia, CSKA Moscow, 22)
At age 22, the Russian goalie is still young but is already world-class, and his honors list speaks for itself: 3 Russian Premeir Leagues, 3 Russian Cups, a UEFA Cup, a EURO 2008 quarterfinalist, and a UEFA Super Cup runner-up. He has always played for CSKA Moscow, but expect him to be snapped up by a foreign giant sooner rather than later.
DF: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy, Juventus, 24)
Although slightly older than the rest of my team, Giorgio Chiellini is still relatively young for the position he currently holds at Juventus and in Italy. He is a full member of the first team at Juventus and is one of the best defenders in Italy. His fantastic performances in the 2007/08 season allowed him to be picked by Italy coach Roberto Donadoni for the EURO’s. He was, along with Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon, one of the few good players for Italy in Austria/Switzerland and was a regular starter for the Azzurri.
Ezequiel Garay (Spain, Real Madrid, 21)
Since moving to Spain from Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys in 2005, the 21-year old Argentine has been tantalising Spanish crowds by helping Racing Santander qualify for the UEFA Cup and challenge for the Champions League when before they were in relegation trouble. He was recruited into the Seleccion for the Olympics and expect him to start for Real Madrid.
Gerard Pique (Spain, Barcelona, 21)
Snatched from Barcelona by Man Utd before he had even signed a professional contract, this young defender was re-signed by Barcelona this summer. He has impressed at Manchester United in the years he has spent there, and he was a regular fixture for Real Zaragoza when he spent a year there on loan. Expect him to be selected for the Spain national team by new manager Vicente Del Bosque.
Armand Traore (France/Senegal, Arsenal, 18)
Signed in 2005 from Monaco, this foreign talent has had only limited appearances for the Gunners, although the few appearances he has put in have been excellent. Loaned out to Portsmouth for the 2008/09 season, he will try to put his defensive talents on show for Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp.
MF: Miguel Veloso (Portugal, Sporting Lisbon, 22)
The son of ex-Portuguese national team and Benfica defender Antonio Veloso, this Portuguese star has been making headlines for his amazing performances, including against Inter in the Champions League where he stopped both Patrick Vieira and Luis Figo from playing effectively. Selected for the Portugal EURO 2008 squad, he will go on to become a fixture in Carlos Quieroz’s new team.
Steven Defour (Belgium, Standard Liege, 20)
After having an excellent season at KRC Genk in the 2005/06 season, the diminutive playmaker attracted the attention of Dutch giants AFC Ajax. However, the transfer to Amsterdam did not happen and he was instead snapped up by Standard Liege. The commotion even led to Genk chairman Jos Vaessen stepping down. His amazing form in the 2007/08 form helped Standard to win the Belgian League and he was even given the Golden Shoe, the award for the most valuable player in Belgium.
Renato Augusto (Brazil, Bayer Leverkusen, 20)
Renato Augusto was hailed as one of Flamengo’s best youth products in recent years. His decisive passes and attractive play led him to nearly sign a contract with Palermo in 2007, but he was signed by Leverkusen this summer. He won the Brazilian Cup in 2006 and the Rio State Championship in 2007 and 2008.
ST: Karim Benzema (France/Algeria, Lyon, 20)
Everyone’s favorite youngster, the player of Algerian/Kabyle descent rose to fame in the 2006/07 season when he put in 21 appearances for the Lyon club and helped the club to earn their sixth league title. In 2007/08, Lyon were victorious again and Karim scored 21 goals in 37 matches to earn both the Ligue 1 Top Scorer and Ligue 1 Best Player awards. So far in the 2008/09 season, he has scored 5 goals in 5 appearances.
Sergio Aguero (Argentina, Atletico Madrid, 20)
The youngest player to debut in the Argentine First Division at only 15 years and 35 days, he was signed by Atletico in 2006. He is a full member of the Argentine national team and won the U-20 World Cup in both 2005 and 2007 and the Olympics Football Tournament in 2008. He was the third top scorer in the Primera Division in 2007/08 with 19 goals.
Eren Deridyok (Switzerland/Turkey, FC Basel, 20)
He scored 10 goals in 18 appearances for Old Boys in the 2005/06 season. Last season, he scored 10 goals in 36 appearances and was in talks with Newcastle for an August transfer. Among his honors are the Swiss Super League 2007/08, Swiss Cup 2008, Uhren Cup 2008, and Swiss Youngster of the Year 2007/08. He was selected for the UEFA EURO 2008 Switzerland squad but did not play any matches. He scored in his first full international match in London, a 2-1 loss to England in which he gave the Swiss the advantage.
GK: Nikolay Mihaylov (Bulgaria, Liverpool, 20)
DF: Micah Richards (England, Man City, 20), Per Mertesacker (Germany, Werder Bremen, 23)
MF: Miralem Sukejmani (Serbia, Ajax, 19), Pablo Piatti (Argentina, Almeria, 19)
ST: Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro, Fiorentina, 19), Marcelo Moreno (Bolivia, Shakhtar Donetsk, 21)
Manager: Gianfranco Zola (Italy, West Ham, 42)
So, do you agree with me? Is this the team of the future?