Future stardom tends to be almost part of the bargain for the players who shine brightest at a FIFA U-20 World Cup. The list of talents to have picked up the adidas Golden Ball at the tournament down the years contains some of the most gifted names to have graced the game, including Diego Maradona, Robert Prosinecki and Lionel Messi.
Voted player of the competition after helping his side prevail at Colombia 2011, Brazil's Henrique, in contrast, has so far struggled to imitate his illustrious predecessors. Instead of going on to greater things, the forward has endured difficult spells at Vitoria, Spanish Liga side Grenada, Sport and Botafogo. While he is still waiting to prove his potential, however, many of his peers have already begun to make their mark – and that is certainly true of Henrique's compatriot Oscar. A midfielder for the triumphant Seleçao side two years ago, he has emerged as a key playmaker for UEFA Europa League winners Chelsea, as well as making the step up to Brazil's senior team.
Having struck a hat-trick in the Colombia 2011 final, Oscar will have surprised few with his recent success, but he is just one of several prospects in that Auriverde line-up to now be prospering. Defender Danilo, for example, has won the Portuguese title twice with Porto since that tournament, while Juan Jesus has carved out a berth for himself in Inter Milan's rearguard and holding midfielder Fernando recently sealed a move to Shakhtar Donetsk following an excellent season at Gremio. The latter has likewise caught the eye of Luiz Felipe Scolari, earning a spot in Brazil's squad for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
An opportunity to seize
Another member of that Brazil squad, Philippe Coutinho, had already made his breakthrough with Inter, but he too was involved in a high-profile transfer when he joined Liverpool in January. "It was a great moment for all the Brazilians," he explained to FIFA.com. "That win has gone down in history and we were part of it. It's a real honour. It's a shame that Brazil haven't qualified this year. That's saddened us."
Valiant runners-up in 2011, Portugal will very much be back this year, in contrast, and they must be hoping for another player as influential as Nelson Oliveira proved two summers ago. A reserve-team striker for Benfica before travelling to Colombia, he returned home with the adidas Silver Ball and a burgeoning reputation – and eventually persuaded Paulo Bento to take him to UEFA EURO 2012. On the club front, he also made his first-team debut with the Eagles, before winning regular playing time on loan at Deportivo La Coruna in 2012/13.
Formerly attached to Benfica's arch-rivals Porto, meanwhile, James Rodriguez became the darling of an entire nation after sparkling for Los Cafeteros on home soil. "I have very good memories of Colombia 2011," the attacking midfielder told FIFA.com, his attention now focused on starring for Monaco next term after winning three league titles and the Europa League in Portugal. "Every player loves to take part in a World Cup, especially at home in front of your own fans. It was an incredible experience that I'll never forget. I got the opportunity to grow as a player and be better known everywhere. The U-20 World Cup is a wonderful showcase for every young player. You rarely get that kind of opportunity at that age, so you have to seize it."
That message was amply understood by various other fresh-faced talents, and not least Rodriguez's own team-mate Luis Muriel, who finished as Colombia's top scorer with four goals. The forward has continued to progress since announcing his arrival, and now partners crowd favourite Antonio Di Natale in Udinese's front line. As the former Italian international himself explained to FIFA.com: "Make a note of the name Luis Muriel. He's got all the qualities needed to become a phenomenon."
So too does Spain's Isco, who has just completed a superb season with Malaga both on the domestic front and in the UEFA Champions League. La Rojita's linchpin in Colombia, he was awarded his maiden cap by Spain's senior side in a friendly against Uruguay in February. As for his colleagues during that South American escapade, Oriol Romeu has since joined Chelsea and both Marc Bartra and Cristian Tello have earned promotion from Barcelona's reserve team to the professional squad.
England's 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup campaign was hindered by a blunt attacking edge, a shortcoming that left them with no goals scored as they packed their bags for home. The tournament was thus a disappointment for Callum McManaman, but the Wigan Athletic winger burst onto the scene in 2012/13, winning plaudits for his displays in the Premier League and FA Cup. Goalkeeper Jack Butland has enjoyed success as well, building on his three clean sheets during the Colombia 2011 group stage to impress with Birmingham City, make his senior debut for England and also wear the gloves for Great Britain during the 2012 Olympics. In fact, the only goal Butland conceded in Colombia was struck by Nigeria's Ahmed Musa in the last eight – and he too has done well since, winning the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations plus a Russian league and cup double with CSKA Moscow.
Musa could potentially cross paths with Antoine Griezmann in the Champions League next season since the Frenchman, a key figure as Les Bleuets reached the semi-finals in Colombia, has made himself indispensable for the Real Sociedad side that finished fourth in Spain last term. Also taking part in Europe's premier club competition will be Clement Grenier, who has forced his way into first-team reckoning at Lyon thanks to his vision and set-piece pedigree – qualities that, moreover, convinced France coach Didier Deschamps to blood the youngster at senior level against Uruguay and Brazil recently.
Put another way, the players now making their final preparations for Turkey 2013 will certainly not be short of inspiring examples to follow when the action begins on 21 June.