Club: AC Milan
Country: Germany under-age honours; born in Kazakhstan to Belarusian parents
It does not take a genius to figure out that money for transfers is scarce around Milanello this summer. The new coach, Massimiliano Allegri, has added only Mario Yepes, Sokratis Papastathopolous and some emerging talent from Atalanta, Crotone and Inter on a permanent basis as one of the continent's most pre-eminent teams are forced to pinch the pennies.
Indeed, there has been word from the Rossoneri camp that this will be the season in which youth products from the Primavera are expected to reinvigorate an ageing squad. The likes of Rodney Strasser, Simone Verdi and Nnamadi Oduamadi have seen some pre-season action and impressed but there is one teenager who looks most equipped to be promoted from within this term.
Young Promise| In Action Against Lyon
Alexander Merkel has caught the eye in his matches against Lyon, Arsenal and Panathinaikos in the past few days. Merkel, a namesake of but no relation to the German chancellor Angela, is a central midfielder with energy and tenacity and has earned comparisons with the Napoli general, Marek Hamsik.
During AC Milan's pre-season workouts, Merkel has shown a commendable willingness to dictate the tempo of his side's play even in the presence of such esteemed colleagues like Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso.
The teenager has not yet filled out physically but showed indefatigable spirit and courage in his defensive work. Going forward, he was first-rate, too, and will have given his coach encouragement. His usage of the ball can come off either foot and he is not afraid to take a shot on. His approach play and final ball, perhaps, need some refinement but his ball carrying capabilities bear the traits of a responsible leader, even at this stage of his career.
Born in Kazakhstan to Belarusian parents, Merkel has come through the German youth system having moved there aged six. He has represented his adopted country at various stages from under-15 up but has reportedly turned down the opportunity to play for their under-21 side. It is believed that he has set his sights on an international future alongside his hero, Aleksandr Hleb, with Belarus.
He watched Hleb as a child at Stuttgart, the club he joined in his early teens. The Swabians had to fend off the interests of Bayern Munich, Hamburger SV and 1899 Hoffenheim to hold onto their starlet but were powerless to prevent him from ignoring the calls of Milan. With his shock of blond hair and boundless energy, he could become a prominent fixture in the Diavoli line-up in years to come.