First awarded in 2006 and chosen by FIFA’s expert observers, the Hyundai Young Player award recognises the rising stars of the game and is presented to the footballer – out of all those born on or after 1 January 1993 – making the biggest impact at the world finals. German players have won the award on the two occasions it has been handed out to date, with Lukas Podolski the recipient at Germany 2006 and Thomas Muller earning the nod at South Africa 2010.
Many young players have starred on the big stage before them. And in recognition of their efforts a survey was held to decide which stars of yesteryear would have walked away with the prize at each world finals, starting with Sweden 1958. Not surprisingly Pele polled most votes for that tournament, with Franz Beckenbauer taking the retrospective honours at England 1966, and Robert Prosinecki and Michael Owen doing likewise at Italy 1990 and France 1998 respectively.
Brazil 2014 is just around the corner, and the latest batch of up-and-coming talents are getting ready to turn on the style, hopeful of spurring their teams to success and earning a place in the limelight for themselves. FIFA.com sets the scene by running the rule over the leading contenders for the 2014 Hyundai Young Player award.
Heirs to the throne
With German players having won the award both times, there is no better starting point for our preview than Die Mannschaft, with both goalkeeper Mattias Ginter and Julian Draxler meeting the award criteria. The 20-year-old creative midfielder has already made the small matter of 101 appearances for Schalke 04 and opened his international account with a goal against USA in a Brazil 2014 warm-up match. With that kind of experience behind him and his undoubted talent, Draxler will surely be one of the young guns to watch.
The France squad features three candidates for the award, among them 21-year-old centre-half Raphael Varane, who shook off injury to play a part in Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League triumphs this year and is regarded as one of the most talented players of his generation.
The same can be said of compatriot Paul Pogba, who made an essential contribution to Juventus’ recent scudetto win and is now replicating his club form for his country, having scored twice in ten appearances for Les Bleus. Nor should we overlook the claims of left-back Lucas Digne, who has already forced his way into the rearguard at star-studded Paris Saint Germain.
England are another side with plenty of new talent to shout about. Leading the way is Liverpool sensation Raheem Sterling, who has yet to turn 20 but has already become an integral part of the Reds’ fearsome attack. Alongside him will be Arsenal ace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has the skills to drive opposing defences to distraction, Southampton’s highly rated full-back Luke Shaw and Everton’s exciting midfielder Ross Barkley, all of whom have what it takes to make the award theirs.
Dark horses Belgium will be travelling to Brazil with one of the most exciting sides they have ever produced, one that blends established but still youthful talents such as Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini with an enterprising new wave. Spearheading the next generation of Diables Rouges is marauding striker Romelu Lukaku, who has the responsibility of leading the Belgian line, and Manchester United wizard Adnan Januzaj. It would be no surprise to either push for individual honours when the ball starts rolling.
There are many more challengers-in-waiting outside Europe, not least in Latin America, a continent that has produced more than its fair share of fresh-faced geniuses, from Pele through to Lionel Messi.
Yet it is Brazil and Argentina’s neighbours who are putting their faith in youth these days, not least Colombia, who in Juan Fernando Quintero and Eder Balanta have two players more than capable of making their mark. Not to be outdone, Honduras have a pearl of their own in wide man Andy Najar, who was named USA Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year at the age of only 17 and is now aiming to create a similar splash in Brazil.
Our look at the contenders for the 2014 Hyundai Young Player award would not be complete without mentioning USA’s exciting teenage forward Julian Green, Croatia’s Mateo Kovacic, who has made a place in the Inter Milan midfield his own, or Algeria’s Nabil Bentaleb, now very much in the first-team reckoning at Tottenham Hotspur. Another potential winner is Cameroon forward Fabrice Olinga, who, having just turned 18, is the baby of the tournament.
All these players will be in the running for the Hyundai Young Player award, with other boy wonders sure to push their cases in the days to come. The question is, which of them will walk away with the coveted prize?