Accolades for young German talent
Starlets Anna Blasse, Lars Bender, Sergej Evljuskin and Kevin-Prince Boateng have been named German Football Association (DFB) "Junior Players of the Season". The four talented youngsters each receive a 2006 Fritz Walter gold medal. The winners were selected by a DFB jury comprising members of the Presidential Committee, the Youth Committee and the coaching section.
The accolade, first introduced in 2005, also includes a cash prize for the amateur clubs responsible for the youngsters' initial development. The medal, awarded to both male and female players who have appeared in age-specific DFB representative national teams, is intended to recognise outstanding performances on the field, and commendable behaviour off it.
The gold medal for junior females went to 19-year-old Anna Blasse, who is set to appear for SV Hamburg next term and was recently part of the Germany side which claimed the UEFA U-19 European Championship title in Switzerland. Blasse scored in a group fixture against Belgium, and has been rewarded for her impressive displays with a squad call-up for the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006.
Evljuskin registers second success
Fritz Walter medals for junior males were awarded in three age groups. At U-17 level, the winner was TSV 1860 Munich midfielder Lars Bender. The youth international has already won a place in the German second division outfit's senior squad alongside his twin brother Sven.
The U-18 gold is in the hands of VfL Wolfsburg prodigy Sergej Evljuskin. The player was born in 1988 in Kyrgyzstan before his parents emigrated to Germany two years later. The gifted attacking midfielder has racked up a string of successes in the junior ranks at Wolfsburg, and has been promoted straight from the youth team to the senior squad at the Bundesliga club.
Evljuskin has appeared at U-15, U-17 and U-18 level for Germany, captaining all three sides, and has even turned out in central midfield for the U-19s. His playing ability and exemplary character have earned him praise from all sides at both club and national level, together with a second Fritz Walter gold medal in succession.
The Prince of Berlin
The U-19 award went to Hertha BSC Berlin talent Kevin Prince Boateng. The son of a German mother and Ghanaian father, Boateng rates as one of the most promising youngsters in German football. The midfielder joined the Hertha youth section as a small boy, claiming a place in the first team squad in 2005-6 after a spell in the reserves.
He has represented Germany at U-16 and U-19 level, hitting the headlines in July 2005 by netting a goal from over 40 yards against Greece. This impressive strike was voted Goal of the Month by viewers of a renowned German TV sports show.
The playmaker almost certainly inherited his talent: his uncle was a Ghana international, and his grandfather is a cousin of legendary Germany star Helmut Rahn, scorer of the winning goal in the 1954 FIFA World Cup Final. It therefore comes as little surprise to find that Boateng boasts exceptional ability, refined technique and a range of ball-juggling tricks. His skill and pace are complemented by advanced tactical awareness and a powerful physique.
Boateng identifies Pele and Rivaldo as his role models, occasionally imitating the Brazilian duo with spectacular crowd-pleasing moments. His love of playing to the gallery draws applause, but has also attracted a fair share of criticism too. Declares Germany U-19 coach Uli Stielike: "At senior level, Kevin will need to wean himself off the world of fantasy football."
That criticism has not gone unnoticed, and Boateng says he is now a changed player: "I'm aware I was born with a knack for the game, but there are plenty of areas where there's no substitute for hard work." Club coach Falko Gotz is pleased with his player's progress in that respect, describing Boateng as "a born leader" and handing him more regular appearances of late. He stepped in for playmaker Marcelinho, for example, in Hertha's recent Intertoto qualifying matches. The 19-year-old is determined to make the final breakthrough in Berlin this season, and take further steps on the road to a glittering career.