Players to watch in 2012
© Getty Images

Football fans love little more than witnessing an exciting new talent announcing his arrival to the world. Over the past year, the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Neymar, Mario Gotze and Phil Jones have made the leap into stardom, and we now wait to discover who will follow in their footsteps during 2012. Here, FIFA.com looks at a few of the likely candidates.

Thiago Alcantara
Midfielder, 20, Barcelona
Described as “having everything” by Pep Guardiola, Thiago is the latest midfield gem to roll off the famed La Masia production line. He is not short of competition in the Barça engine room, but with skill, tactical discipline and versatility enabling him to fill a variety of roles, the 20-year-old – already with three senior caps to his name – seems certain to become an increasingly influential player for club and country.

Karim Ansarifard
Striker, 21, Saipa
Likened to Ruud van Nistelrooy and hailed in his Iranian homeland as the heir apparent to Ali Daei, this elusive and athletic centre-forward is one of Asia’s brightest talents. Only issues with national conscription have prevented Ansarifard moving to Europe already, with Borussia Dortmund among several suitors, and the youngster is sure to be a key figure in his national team’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaign.

Ross Barkley
Midfielder, 18, Everton
His time in the first team spotlight has been brief, but it is not for nothing that Manchester United and Chelsea were considering bids of up to £30 million for this energetic and inventive midfielder. Lauded by former England and Everton centre-half Martin Keown as “one of the best players we’ll ever see in this country”, Barkley signed a new contract last month and seems set for Premier League stardom.

Dede
Defender, 23, Vasco da Gama
The oldest of our shortlisted players, Dede is nonetheless likely to face a big year as international audiences become better aware of this classy, goalscoring centre-half. Tall, powerful and pacey, the Vasco da Gama star has also earned the nickname ‘Dedeckenbauer’ for his ability to orchestrate play from the back, and looks certain to be a Brazil star of the future.

Julian Draxler
Midfielder, 18, Schalke
Elegant and athletic, this attacking midfielder became the fourth-youngest player in Bundesliga history when he debuted early in 2011. Greater things are likely to lie in store this year, with Germany coach Joachim Low having expressed admiration for this “great talent” and his “cheeky, carefree style”.

James Forrest
Winger, 20, Celtic
This old-fashioned winger, described by manager Neil Lennon as Celtic’s “baby-faced assassin”, has been the Scottish Premier League’s outstanding player this season. National manager Craig Levein and performance director Mark Wotte have both predicted a bright international career, with the latter lauding the speedy and skilful Forrest as “a light in the darkness” in Scottish football.

Junior Hoilett
Winger, 21, Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn may be languishing at the foot of the Premier League table, but their dynamic wide-man has become one of the division’s hottest prospects, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur among a host of clubs reportedly keen on signing him this month. Though born and raised in Canada, the as-yet uncapped Hoilett is also eligible for both USA and Jamaica, so is likely to be just as sought-after at international level.

Stefanos Kapino
Goalkeeper, 17, Panathinaikos
Composed and commanding, this 6ft 5in teenager became the youngest-ever player to represent Greece’s national team when he made his debut against Romania in November aged just 17 years and 241 days. Having established himself as Panathinaikos No1, Kapino’s consistency has marked him out as one of the most promising goalkeepers in world football. 

Zakaria Labyad
Midfielder, 18, PSV Eindhoven
Already a regular at PSV, this skilful young Moroccan – a possible star at this year’s Men's Olympic Football Tournament – has been likened in playing style to his idol, Ibrahim Afellay. A move away from the Netherlands appears likely, with latest reports suggesting that Labyad will reject overtures from Chelsea to sign a long-term deal with Lisbon giants Sporting.

Ahmed Musa,
Winger, 19, CSKA Moscow
A star of last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, the Nigerian has been widely identified as one of Africa’s most exciting young talents. CSKA Moscow evidently believe so as they last week parted with €10 million to bring Musa to Russia, beating several major clubs to land the youngster nicknamed ‘The Rocket’.

Lucas Ocampos
Winger, 17, River Plate
Having excelled at last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup, this dynamic wide man – likened in style and physique to Cristiano Ronaldo – has gone on to cement a starting place at club level with River Plate. Los Millonarios are now attempting to hold on to their prize asset amid interest from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter Milan.

Gaston Ramirez
Midfielder, 21, Bologna
Boasting power and panache in equal measure, Ramirez is the latest Uruguayan sensation to take European football by storm. Bologna’s greatest challenge will be in keeping hold of this elegant attacking midfielder, with Liverpool among several interested parties.

Hiroki Sakai
Defender, 21, Kashiwa Reysol
Voted J.League Rookie of the Year for 2011, this marauding right-back strengthened his burgeoning reputation with a string of superb showings in last month’s FIFA Club World Cup. Comparisons to Dani Alves may be premature, but international recognition and growing interest from abroad are inevitable and fully merited.

Have Your Say
Clearly, this does not represent an exhaustive list, so what we want to know is: which player do you think will enjoy a breakout year in 2012? Just click ‘Add your comment’ to share your views with the world.