Isnin, 31 Disember 2012

5 emerging talents to watch in 2013

The end of the calendar year offers a time for reflection on the 12 months just past and a time to look ahead, full of hope, to what may lie ahead.

Over the past year, world football has seen the emergence of some wonderful young players who should go on to achieve much in their career. Indeed, this column has already featured two of the brightest stars to emerge in Roma defender Marquinhos and Racing Club's Ricardo Centurion. There are plenty more to follow in the coming months.

So, with the turn of the year approaching, let's attempt to predict just some promising young players to watch set to impress in 2013:

1. Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)

The 18-year-old winger has already made a handful of substitute appearances for the Barcelona first team, with a little over an hour of total playing time the past 18 months. However, the moves to integrate him into the senior squad while so young indicate just how highly regarded he is at the club.

For the past two seasons, Deulofeu been excused from duty at youth level to play for Barcelona's B side in the Spanish second tier and has not disappointed. The lightning-fast winger has blown away defences with his pace and trickery to score 11 goals in 16 appearances this campaign, placing him joint top of the division's scoring charts.

At international level, the 5-foot-10 wide-man has also impressed as part of another all-conquering generation of Spanish youngsters, playing an important role in the European Under-19 conquests of both 2011 and '12. Second time around, he was named the player of the tournament for his efforts and has promptly moved up to Under-21 level.

Over the next 12 months, Deulofeu should go on to make inroads at first-team level, with the European Under-21 Championship a further platform on which the young Catalan could shine.

2. Viktor Fischer (Ajax)

Another fairly obvious choice,  the 18-year-old attacking midfielder has broken into the Ajax first team of late and has quickly opened his goalscoring account for the Amsterdam side.

Fischer is another player who has emerged to wider prominence in the NextGen Series, starring in the competition's debut 2011-12 campaign where he finished as the tournament's joint top-scorer with seven goals.

Frank de Boer resisted media pressure to throw the youngster straight into the Ajax first team, opting for a slower integration, but by November he could wait no more. The young Dane has not disappointed, scoring three goals and adding three assists in seven league starts.

Often playing as an inside forward role from the left flank, Fischer offers excellent close-control and reading of the game, while his finishing has proved to be wonderfully composed for someone of his age. The big clubs are watching and it surely won't be too long before Ajax's resolve is tested with a sizable offer.

3. Dennis Praet (Anderlecht)

Another 18-year-old, Praet is the shining-light of the latest generation of talent to emerge from the prolific Anderlecht academy.

Playing at the tip of a three-man central midfield unit, the diminutive youngster has played an important role in both his side's Pro League and Champions League campaigns this season.

The Belgian side are currently one of Europe's most aesthetically pleasing sides, playing a neat brand of passing football based around a group of core players who are attracting interest from across Europe. The league title appears to be a mere formality at this stage.

Praet is another product of the NextGen Series, but has has not always found it easy at the senior level this year. Given his size (5-10, 143 pounds) and desire to play a quick, fluid passing game, he can find himself bullied by more experienced opponents. However, there have been more than enough signs to suggest he will be a roaring success at the club.

Keep an eye, too, on right winger Massimo Bruno, another teenager making waves at the Stade Constant Vanden Stock this season.

4. Majeed Waris (Spartak Moscow)

At 21,  Waris is a bit older than the other players mentioned in this column. However, after a sensational season in the Swedish Allsvenskan, there is reason to suggest that there is a lot more to come from the forward.

After a slow start to life in Sweden, the centre-forward burst to life in 2012, scoring 23 goals in 29 games to win the league's Golden Boot award at a canter. Still very raw, Waris possesses good finishing abilities off both feet and has the physical attributes to worry defenders in any league worldwide.

A deal has been agreed to take him to Spartak Moscow in January and it's fair to assume that a few million was parted with to secure the services of a striker reportedly tracked by Everton.

In Ari, Welliton and Emmanuel Emenike he will have strong competition for a starting spot in Russia next season, meaning we should get a true indication of just what the future will hold for the Ghanaian. Will 2012 prove to be a one-off, or will he develop into the top striker he threatens to become?

In that respect, it is a big shame we will not see the Right to Dream academy graduate in action at the Africa Cup of Nations, having been overlooked by Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah.

5. Nathan Aké (Chelsea)

Young Dutch centre back Nathan Aké made his Chelsea league debut last weekend as the Blues defeated Norwich City, 1-0. Still just 17, Aké is one of the youngest players to feature in the league this season.

The youngster's arrival at senior level has long been anticipated, having played a major role in the club's FA Youth Cup triumph of 2011-12. On the national team, he also won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship twice - the second time as captain.

A terrifically composed player on the ball, the former Feyenoord defender has also spent time in a holding midfield role, but it is at centre back that his height (5-10) speed and technique all come together to offer a potentially brilliant package. At his best, he has offered a one-man defensive wall at youth level.

There is a long way to go in his development, but every sign is that he could develop to become a fearsome defender. Chelsea must be brave with him, where they could have pushed Jeffrey Bruma and Michael Mancienne more in the past.

Whilst he is simply too young to make a huge impact at first-team level in the next 12 months, it will be interesting to see just how many opportunities he is afforded by his club. Aké is certainly a player to watch in 2013 and beyond.


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