Just writing the following list of players makes the mouth salivate at the plethora of exciting young talent who could feature on the world stage at the 2022 FIFA World Cup Finals in Qatar.
Paul Pogba is one of those rare players that Manchester United let go and lived to regret it. Pogba has blossomed at Juventus and is generally top of any speculation lists when Barcelona and Real are linked. Still only 22 the French international is already integral to his national side. Tall, athletic and strong he is comfortable anywhere in midfield, either as an attacking midfielder or a defensive midfielder. He also has an eye for goal, averaging a goal every four games at club level and one every five at international level. His 6 ` 3″ frame and long legs belies his extraordinary skills on the ball. Likely to have some sort of international medal to his name before Qatar when he will be at his peak
Gerard Deulofeu. Everton must have thought they had won the lottery when they were able to get the Spaniard on loan in the first place. When they signed him on a permanent basis in the summer, they must have thought they had won the Euro lottery, and they have. One of a new breed of youngsters joining Premier League clubs from European sides Gerard has added the physicality of the domestic game to sublime skills. He can attack from midfield, on either flank, and create or take goals almost at will. The speed at which he can carry the ball whilst maintaining control is very much on the vein of Eden Hazard, probably the best in the world but Deulofeu is not far behind. His loan spell at Everton earned him a place in the Barcelona first team squad but he chose to return to Goodison and has been lighting up the Premier League all season and going into Christmas he was second in the list for Premier League assists.
Romelu Lukaku is one of the main beneficiaries of Gerard Deulofeu`s presence in the Everton side having scored in, at the time of writing, eight consecutive Premier League games. The Belgian striker came to England as a Chelsea player, aged just 18 but it became one of the biggest talking points in Premier League history that Jose Mourinho only gave him 10 outings, mostly as a substitute. He never scored for Chelsea but subsequent loan spells at West Brom then Everton, before he went to Goodison on a permanent deal, yielded 32 of them in 66 appearances. It is rumoured that explanations of Lukaku being allowed to leave Stamford Bridge took up most of the 10 minute conversation in which Mourinho was sacked. Aged just 22 he is part of a young Belgian side that should be at the peak of their game by 2022.
In January 2014 he was named as one of the 10 most promising young players in Europe and has been justifying that tag ever since.
Eden Hazard won all the individual player of the year awards last season and despite struggling this campaign to recapture that form he is still regarded on a par with Messi and Ronaldo. He is another `import` who has added a steel edge to his silky skills. He also has developed much quicker than most foreign players an acceptance of the physicality of the English game. He is perhaps the most accomplished midfield player in world football. He can carry the ball at sprint speed but can change direction, under threat, quicker than any other player in Europe, perhaps the world. He makes runs that no ne else does, can pass better than most and can also score goals. He will be 32 by Qatar 2022, will be captain of Belgium and on a fair few more than the 62 caps he holds at present. If he hasn`t added a Euro or World Cup winners medal to his collection by then he will surely do so in eight years time.
James Rodriguez is just 24 and will be at his peak by the time of the Qatar World Cup. It was at the 2014 tournament that he won the Golden Boot as top scorer despite the elimination of Colombia in the quarter-finals. An attacking midfield player or winger Rodriguez can create or take goals with an equally high degree of skill. He made his international debut in 2011 and has averaged a goal every three games for Colombia. and is only a fraction behind that ratio at club level. He joined Real Madrid from Monaco, for a reported 80 million Euros, after the Brazil World Cup and has slotted almost seamlessly into the Real side. He is commonly regarded as one of the best young players in world football and at 24 he has already amassed nearly 300 career appearances.
Martin Odegaard may be an unfamiliar name to many but not to Real Madrid. The Spanish giants signed the 16 year old wonder-kid from Stromgodset in January 2015 and four months later he became the youngest ever Real player when he replaced Ronaldo against Getafe, aged just 16 years and 157 days. That was nine months after he became the youngest ever Norwegian international, at 15, when he debuted against the UAE. And to complete a unique hat trick Martin became the youngest ever player to feature in a UEFA European Championship qualifier. So the boy can play a bit and he plays a lot for Real Madrid`s second string club, Real Madrid Castilla, under the tutorship of football legend Zinedine Zidane.
Martin is an attacking midfielder and even as a youngster, bearing in mind he still has two more years as a teenager, he was seeing the game and solutions to problems therein that even his coaches were not seeing.
Recently, when compared to Messi, the youngster responded by saying that he was supposed to be at his best in 10 years time, not now. That easily covers the 2022 World Cup then.
Phillipe Coutinho has, over the last 12 months, blossomed into the player that Liverpool paid £8.5 million for to Inter Milan. The attacking midfielder was first capped by Brazil in 2010 and is sure to develop as a playmaker for the national side over the next decade as he is still only 23. He is two-footed and in typical Brazilian fashion has an eye for goal, particularly the spectacular shot from distance. Being two-footed he can play telling passes, either side, and is renowned for his vision and when Pele tips him as `having a great future` you can understand why he made the PFA Team of the Year 2015.
Neymar seems to have been around for years, and he has, because he made his Brazil debut, aged just 18, a scoring debut of course, in 2010. Since then he has scored 46 goals in 69 internationals and, still only 23, he should be at the summit of his game by the time the 2022 World Cup comes around. Neymar is on this list because, at Barcelona, he has developed from a precocious, temperamental, sullen superstar into a team player with a maturity he has had to grow into to stay the pace in the Barca fist team. He is almost the complete striker and seems to have no weaknesses and can score goals with either foot or his head. He has also developed a team ethic and an appreciation of setting up team mates for goals whereas he might previously been selfish enough to try himself. Should be the hub of Barca and Brazil for at least the next decade.
David de Gea may have had teething problems when he first arrived at Manchester United but he has forged his way through that difficult start and even now, aged just 25, he is already regarded as one of the top three goalkeepers in the world. In eight years time he can probably already have half a dozen years behind him as a Real Madrid or Barcelona player as his performances in a transitional period for United have seen him constantly linked with a move back to Spain. He has always been a top shot-stopper with lightning reflexes but he has improved in the peripheral areas of goalkeeping like coming for crosses, sweeping up behind a high defensive back line not to mention his distribution, via throw or kick, that can effectively set up counter attacks.
Julian Draxler is part of the new generation of German footballers looking to add to the legacy of World and European Championship success of previous generations. Aged only 22 he is already established in the German national team and is unlikely to remain at his current club Wolfsburg if he continues to receive the rave notices he has achieved in the past few years in the Bundesliga. Just a month after rejecting a 15 million Euro bid from Juventus Schalke 04 sold him to Wolfsburg for an undisclosed fee. Two footed wingers are a rarity in modern football and the added ability Julian has to exploit his explosive pace, especially in one v one situations, and an eye for goals, earned him a place on the Observer list of ten most promising young players in Europe, in 2014. It can reasonably be expected that 2016 or soon thereafter Draxler will join one of the bigger European teams, possibly in the Premier League. By the time Qatar 2016 comes around a 30 year old Draxler will have many more German caps to his name.
Alvaro Morata began his career with his home town club, Real Madrid, and helped them win the Champions` League in 2014, as a late substitute. He then joined Juventus, but with Real insisting on a buy-back clause for the then 22 year old, who agreed a five year deal with the Seria `A` club. In September 2015 he equalled Del Piero`s record of scoring in five consecutive Champions` League games and ended the year by being selected in the UEFA Team of the year. The centre forward has an excellent touch for a tall man, he stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, and is appropriately good in the air. His movement and appreciation of space, allied to excellent and clinical finishing ability makes him an exciting prospect at international level and he already has six caps after making his Spain debut in 2014.
Anthony Martial made an explosive start to his Manchester United career after a world record, for a teenager, transfer from Monaco in 2015. It is a fee that could rise to nearly £58 million. Martial scored on his United debut with a goal that gave an early glimpse of what he can do. Instant and tight control of the ball in a congested penalty area, the ability to dribble past defenders in a tight space before scoring with clinical precision. And he is just 20!
Athletic and powerful Martial made his international debut for France while still at Monaco, in 2015, and though he has yet to score for his country with the Euros coming up in France in 2016 he is sure to play a key part. Unfairly, but understandably, media comparisons accompany any new, young player who bursts onto the scene with the impact Martial did. He accepted comparisons with fellow Parisian Thierry Henry but commented that he, Martial, was more about technique and power while Henry was `very quick`. It is difficult to see how Martial`s game will improve at Old Trafford and it may be that a move to a more established top club will benefit him more in the long run. Which ever club has him over the next eight years or so will be a club that will win things.
Hector Bellerin joined Arsenal from Barcelona, aged just 16 and had to wait his chance but he made such an impact in 2013, following his debut, that he displaced more established contenders to make the right back slot his own. He may be only 20 and far better going forward than defending but he is lightning quick and is learning fast in the hubris and physicality of the Premier League that pace alone is not enough. He has played for Spain at Under 16, 17, 19 and 21 levels and is sure to add to the collection with a full cap, probably next year in the build up to Euro 2016. That could accelerate a return to the Nou Camp where his style, power and athleticism, honed in the Premier League, will be tailor-made for Barca.
Riyad Mahrez has burst on the scene as a match winner for Premier League leaders Leicester City but at 24 he is no newcomer. He spent five years in French football before joining Leicester in January 2014 on a three and a half year contract. He made little impact as Leicester breezed through the Championship and was often guilty of over exaggeration when on the receiving end of physical challenges. But that suddenly changed as Leicester had to execute THE greatest of Great Escapes to avoid an immediate return to the second tier.
This season as Leicester stormed the Premier League heights Riyad became the first Algerian to score a Premier League hat trick as he chased the League`s top scorer, team mate Jamie Vardy.
He has been capped 22 times by Algeria and his performances this season have alerted several of the Premier League big boys who have set their sights on the goal-scoring winger who is equally adept at scoring and assists. He will be 32 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around and it remains to be seen if he still has wings on his heels as well as an eye for goal at that time.
Written by Brian Beard.