There was an anonymous member of Brazil’s celebrity squad when it touched down for the 1958 FIFA World Cup Sweden™. He was 17, with just one year’s professional experience. He was physically unspectacular. He was shy, inconspicuous. The name Pele was alien to the masses; he was a nobody.
That nobody emphatically became a somebody during the competition and by the time Brazil returned home as world champions, their darling No10 was arguably the biggest name in the sport.
Pele was not the only youngster to give himself a grand introduction to the world on the biggest stage of all. A 20-year-old Florian Albert wowed audiences at Chile 1962, before going on to become one of Hungarian and European football’s most elegant, accomplished forwards, while West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer was the same age when he dazzled at England 1966.
Then there was Peru’s Teofilo Cubillas at Mexico 1970, Belgian playmaker Enzo Scifo at Mexico 1986, Robert Prosinecki of Yugoslavia at Italy 1990, England’s Michael Owen at France 1998, and Senegalese ace El Hadji Diouf four years later.
FIFA introduced the Best Young Player award for Germany 2006, and it was the host nation's Lukas Podolski who became its inaugural recipient, beating off competition from Lionel Messi of Argentina, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Switzerland’s Tranquillo Barnetta, Ecuadorian winger Luis Valencia and Cesc Fabregas of Spain.
The question now is: Who will succeed Podolski and seize the Hyundai Best Young Player award at South Africa 2010? There are no shortage of contenders, among them Argentina forward Sergio Aguero, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah, two players who have won the adidas Golden Ball awards at FIFA U-20 World Cups.
There is also classy Italian defender Davide Santon, the exciting Alexandre Pato of Brazil, Spain's flying winger Juan Mata, Japan’s Shinji Kagawa and Mexico forward Carlos Vela.
The eventual winner of the award will be selected by FIFA's Technical Study Group (TSG), a select group of top football coaches and analysts headed by Jean-Paul Brigger, a former Swiss international. Selection criteria are exceptional skills, a youthful and refreshing playing style, creativity and inspiration, tactical maturity and efficiency.
"To recognise the best young player we are also looking for someone who is entertaining with his play and is a role model for other young players," said Brigger.
In the run-up to the competition, FIFA.com will be profiling one per week, beginning on Friday with Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil. Be sure to check these out – at least this way the Hyundai Best Young Player for 2010 will not be as anonymous as Pele was in 1958!