The internet and satellite television may have made Planet Football a smaller place, but the FIFA World Cup™ spotlight still burns with a particular intensity ensuring maximum exposure to those players who shine in its glare.
For some of the youngsters who caught the eye in South Africa, life may never be the same again. It is tempting to label them already as potential stars of Brazil 2014 though this would be tempting fate – if a week is a long time in football, then what about four years? Still it will be fascinating monitoring the progress that young guns like Thomas Muller, Andre Ayew and Giovani dos Santos make between now and 2014.
In some cases, there will be new doors opening post-South Africa and almost certainly there will be raised expectations – in the case of Muller, winner of the Hyundai Best Young Player award, those expectations will be sky-high as his thoughts start turning to the new season with his club side, Bayern Munich.
The Germany midfielder finished with not just the Best Young Player prize but also the adidas Golden Boot, having contributed five goals and three assists – not a bad way to end his breakthrough season as a top-flight footballer. Where many 20-year-olds are allowed to suffer ‘second season syndrome’ away from the spotlight, Muller will now have to continue his development back in the Bundesliga with all eyes on him.
The same goes for his team-mate Mesut Ozil, who made a significant contribution to Germany’s attractive attacking football on display in South Africa. Twelve months after helping the Germany U-21s conquer Europe, his efforts in helping his country to third place have made him one of the continent’s hottest properties and he looks likely to be moving from Werder Bremen before the transfer window shuts.
A key figure in Ghana’s exciting run to the last eight was Andre Ayew, whose displays in an attacking midfield role earned him a place on the Best Young Player shortlist – he achieved an 85 per cent successful pass rate, one such ball releasing Asamoah Gyan for the last-16 winner against USA. The question now for the son of African icon Abedi Pele is whether he gets the chance to play for French title-holders Marseille this coming season or rather moves again, having spent the 2009/10 campaign on loan at Arles-Avignon.
Similar doubts surround Ghana forward Dominic Adiyiah who should be the attacking spearhead of the Black Stars’ team in Brazil four years from now. The eight-goal star of his country’s FIFA U-20 World Cup success last year, Adiyiah would have hit a winning goal against Uruguay in the quarter-finals but for Luis Suarez’s goal-line handball. It is not known yet whether he will begin his first full season in Italian football with AC Milan, or whether he will continue his education on loan elsewhere.
Mexican young guns
Where next is also a question on the mind of Giovani Dos Santos, who made such an impression for Mexico with his nimble footwork and ability to run at defenders in South Africa. The one-time Barcelona starlet ended up spending the second half of last term on loan at Galatasaray after struggling to impose himself at Tottenham Hotspur, the Premier League club he joined in 2008. It will be fascinating to see what comes next for the talented 21-year-old, just as it will be to see how his compatriot Javier Hernandez fares at his new English club, Manchester United. Mexican football fans will hope both can build on the promise they showed in South Africa given their importance to the Tricolor's future prospects.
There is another player to watch who did not actually feature for his country in South Africa, but the fact Joe Hart got no further than the England bench does not deter those who view him as the long-term answer to his country’s goalkeeping problem. Hart gave an impressive appearance in the pre-finals friendly against Japan and with David James turning 40 on 1 August and Rob Green’s reputation not helped by his high-profile error against USA, the 23-year-old looks well placed to capitalise, so long as he can build on his superb 2009/10 campaign with Birmingham City, now that he is back at Manchester City.
Of course, these are just a selection of the young guns hoping to enhance their reputations between now and Brazil 2014. From Javier Pastore, the Palermo-based playmaker of whom Argentina fans saw only glimpses in South Africa, to Chile’s exciting winger Alexis Sanchez, also based in Italy with Udinese; and from Spain winger Pedro, who capped his breakthrough season with Barcelona with a FIFA World Cup winners’ medal, to Toni Kroos, another bright young German with Bayern Munich, the list goes on.
And that is just the players who featured in South Africa. Brazilian fans could argue a case for Pato and Neymar, their own young guns, who did not feature in Dunga's 2010 FIFA World Cup team. Making predictions about the next world showpiece is evidently foolhardy but these young guns should be worth watching regardless.