Over recent months, a new generation of young players have been steadily building reputations as superstars-in-the-making. Many, such as Neymar, Javier Pastore, Eden Hazard and Jack Wilshere, have already earned fame and renown, but there are others for whom 2011 could be their big year. Here, FIFA.com looks at some of the likely candidates.
Luc Castaignos *Striker, 18, Feyenoord
*Often compared to Thierry Henry due his graceful, athletic style of play, Castaignos last week committed his future to Inter Milan after emerging as one the world’s most sought-after young strikers. Tall, skilful and speedy, the teenager set a new goalscoring record for the Netherlands’ U-17 side and is Feyenoord’s leading marksman this season.
David de Gea *Goalkeeper, 20, Atletico Madrid
*Already firmly established as his club’s No1, De Gea has earned a reputation as arguably the most promising young keeper in world football. Manchester United and Arsenal have both been linked with €17m moves for a youngster likened to Iker Casillas by none other than the Spain captain himself.
Alan Dzagoev *Attacking midfielder, 20, CSKA Moscow
*Guus Hiddink made Dzagoev Russia’s youngest-ever outfield player in 2008, lauding him as “a really clever player with the ability to make a killer pass and stretch the play”. Plenty of major clubs across Europe agree, and CSKA Moscow face a battle to hold on to their prize asset.
Youssef El-Arabi *Striker, 23, Caen
*Identified as one of Africa’s top emerging stars, the Moroccan striker has been almost single-handedly leading Caen’s battle against relegation this season. Challenging for the Ligue 1 top scorer award in spite of his club’s woes, El-Arabi has been one of the sensations of the 2010/11 campaign and will be well worth watching in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Shinji Kagawa *Attacking midfielder, 21, Borussia Dortmund
*Japan have a tradition of producing fine midfielders, and the evidence of the past few months suggests that Kagawa may prove to be their best yet. Since being plucked from Japan’s second tier in August for the modest sum of €350,000, this quick, skilful and tenacious youngster has emerged as one of the Bundesliga’s top performers and is a key player for the Blue Samurai at the AFC Asian Cup.
Jordan Henderson *Midfielder, 20, Sunderland
*Composed, athletic and powerful, Henderson has been hailed as “the best young British footballer there is” by his Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce. Fabio Capello also recognised the midfielder’s talent by handing him a first senior England cap in November, while Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed a public interest in prising Henderson from his hometown team.
Mats Hummels *Defender, 22, Borussia Dortmund
*Bayern Munich are already rueing the day they allowed Hummels to move to Dortmund. The centre-half has flourished since swapping the Allianz Arena for the Westfalen, with his intelligence, composure, power and man-marking ability suggesting he is a future stalwart for club and country.
Koo Ja-Cheol *Attacking midfielder, 21, Jeju United
*Already emerging as one of the stars of the Asian Cup, Koo seems set to form a long-term partnership with another impressive emerging Korean midfielder, Ki Sung-Yueng. Praised for his skill and versatility by coach Cho Kwang-Rae this week, this talented playmaker looks set for a major breakthrough in 2011.
Erik Lamela Attacking midfielder, 18, River Plate
*Courted by Barcelona and tipped for greatness at the age of just 12, this exciting young playmaker has stayed put in Buenos Aires and is now justifying all that early hype. Blessed with vision, touch and superb passing ability, Lamela has been widely tipped as *La Albiceleste’s next sensation.
Lucas *Attacking midfielder, 18, Sao Paulo
*Creative genius, flair and dribbling ability have established this attacking midfielder at the forefront of emerging Brazilian talent. Set to thrill at the forthcoming South American U-20 Championship, Lucas is already excelling for Sao Paulo and considered a likely star of this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Romelu Lukaku *Striker, 17, Anderlecht
*Lukaku is a true phenomenon. At just 16, already standing 6ft 4ins tall and weighing in at over 14 stone, he became the Belgian top flight's youngest-ever goalscorer. Hailed as ‘the new Didier Drogba’, this pacey and powerful predator is one of the game’s most coveted young stars.
Andrea Ranocchia *Centre-back, 22, Inter Milan
*Considered the next in a long line of great Italian defenders, Ranocchia finalised a €12.5m move to the San Siro on 27 December after excelling for Bari, Genoa and Italy’s U-21 side. Having debuted on Sunday, the assured centre-half is set to play a major role in the defence of the European champions’ domestic and continental titles.
Xherdan Shaqiri *Winger or attacking midfielder, 19, Basel
* A surprise inclusion in Ottmar Hitzfeld’s FIFA World Cup™ squad, Shaqiri has taken to the international scene like a duck to water. The bigger the stage, the better this skilful and creative Basel midfielder seems to play, memorably scoring his first international goal against England from fully 30 yards before opening his UEFA Champions account in Rome's Olympic Stadium.
Have Your Say *Clearly, this does not represent an exhaustive list of the beautiful game’s most promising youngsters. Countless more are also hinting that glittering careers lie in wait, and what we want to know is: *Who do you think is the most promising prospect? Just click ‘Add your comment’ to share your views with the world.