With 24 teams converging on Egypt for the FIFA World Under-20 Championships, there will also be a myriad of scouts and teams at the tournament looking to spot the next starlet. A good performance at these championships is generally a pretty good indicator of future potential, as a glance at the previous Players of the Tournament will only serve to confirm.
Back in 1979 one Diego Maradona claimed the award, whilst in 1987 Robert Prosinecki caught the eye. More recent winners include Barcelona’s Seydou Keita in 1999 and Atletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero in 2007.
Here are ten candidates who could be in line to claim honours in 2009:
Ransford Osei – Ghana and Twente
Already a full international, Ransford Osei caught the eye for Ghana at the world U-17 event held in 2007 and the African Youth Championships. His seven goals at the latter tournament helped Ghana to their most recent success in the competition. Described as an opportunistic striker, Osei is also blessed with great speed.
He is currently on loan at Twente in the Dutch league, which should prove to be an outstanding educational experience for the 18-year-old. He is yet to feature under Steve McClaren, but has scored goals at his parent club, Maccabi Haifa.
Douglas Costa – Brazil and Gremio
Arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated players at the tournament will be Douglas Costa, the Brazilian left-sided midfielder. Having already broken through into the first team at Gremio, Douglas has come to the attention of several big-name European clubs, including Manchester United and Real Madrid.
The diminutive midfielder has a delicious left-foot and is a noted free kick specialist. Unsurprisingly, he has already been dubbed the 'new Ronaldinho', who also came through the ranks at the Porto Alegre side.
He was instrumental in Brazil’s success at the South American U-20 Championships.
Hernan Perez – Paraguay and Villarreal
Perez’s growing reputation in the game was confirmed after Spanish side Villarreal moved to snap up the midfielder after just one professional game for his previous side: Libertad. After notching five goals, and finishing joint top scorer at the South American U-20 Championships, there was an increasing list of potential suitors, so Villarreal decided to move quickly to sign him up until 2014.
Well known for developing South American talent, Perez should find himself in good hands.
Perez is one of a growing number of exciting players to emerge from the country in recent seasons, and the midfield schemer will be central to Paraguay’s hopes of pulling off a shock in Egypt.
Richard Sukuta-Pasu – Germany and Bayer Leverkusen
After catching the eye at the UEFA U-19 tournament in 2008, Sukuta-Pasu has continued his development at the BayArena, where he is now considered an important member of the first team. His main strength undoubtedly lies in his willingness to run with the ball, making him equally accomplished as a right winger or an out-and-out forward. His pace is another key asset, and standing at 6ft 2in, he is also decent in the air.
Possessing all the requisite attributes needed to be a top quality striker, it would appear to be only a matter of time before he becomes a first team regular for Jupp Heynckes at Bayer Leverkusen.
Allowed to join up with his team-mates for these finals, unlike many of the side who helped Germany to glory some 12 months ago, an inexperienced team will count on his input to help them confirm their status as one of the fancied teams in Egypt.
Krisztian Nemeth – Hungary and AEK Athens
Another who had an outstanding Euro 2008 U-19 tournament, Nemeth has already been snapped up by Liverpool. Used frequently by Rafael Benitez in friendlies this summer, the attacker has been allowed to get some experience in Greek football with AEK Athens, and he has already scored for his new side in the Greek Super League.
Whilst not the tallest striker, Nemeth is both good in the air and with the ball at his feet, and already has an excellent technique. A cool finisher, Nemeth undoubtedly possesses all the necessary attributes to become a top class forward in time.
Fran Merida – Spain and Arsenal
One of a number of talented Spanish players at the tournament, Merida has already enjoyed a taste of first team action at the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger. After coming through the youth team at Barcelona, Merida has been in North London since 2005. Whilst others starlets at Arsenal, such as Aaron Ramsey, have attracted more media interest, Merida has quietly gone about his development and shows some outstanding signs of potential.
A midfielder with an eye for a creative pass, Merida was one of the better players for Spain at this summer’s UEFA U-19 Championships held in the Ukraine. Whilst the Spanish collectively were off form, Merida was one of the few to escape without criticism.
Tomas Necid – Czech Republic and CSKA Moscow
Whilst the Czech side of 2009 probably don’t have the collective ability of the 2007 team who went all the way to the World U-20 final, one who is destined for the senior side seems to be Tomas Necid. The forward is already under contact at CSKA Moscow after catching the eye with Slavia Prague in a two-year spell at the club.
Necid has already been capped at senior level, and with three goals in five matches for the full team, it looks like it will only be a matter of time before he graduates.
Before that, the Czechs will be hoping that he can form a striking partnership with Tomas Pekhart, who also has an eye for goal. If those two can dovetail, then this Czech side may yet be in a position to repeat their success of two years ago.
Paolo Henrique – Brazil and Santos
Another off a long line of talents who have emerged in recent seasons at the Vila Belmiro, attacking midfielder Paolo Henrique is another who looks like he’s got the ability to play for the full Brazilian team.
He came to attention in the Santos Junior teams, but was quickly promoted to the senior side, for whom he has already played several matches.
Much like team-mate Douglas Costa, Paulo Henrique also has a cultured left-foot, so it will be interesting to see whether they can play as a pair in the midfield behind the strikers.
Nicolas Lodeiro – Uruguay and Nacional
With plenty of experience already under his belt at club and continental level, forward Nicolas Lodeiro could be one of the stand-out players at the tournament. His thoughtful range of passing helped Nacional to the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores, and he also caught the eye at the South American U-20 Championships. With rumours of interest from Liverpool, Lodeiro might not be spending much longer in his homeland if he can recreate his recent club form for his U-20 side.
Sam Baldock – England and MK Dons
Whilst the striker may be playing at a slightly lower level than many included in this list, in many respects football at League One is more competitive. After bursting onto the scene last season under the guidance of then-manager Roberto Di Matteo at the MK Dons, Baldock was struck down by injury later in the 2008-09 season. Not part of the English team that got to the U-19 final in the Ukraine earlier this summer, Baldock now has the chance to show the English management team that he has what it takes at this level.
Standing at just 5ft 7in, Baldock has learnt to cope with the physical attentions of League One defenders, who aren’t generally noted for their willingness to be made to look foolish by technically gifted players. Baldock has shown a competitive instinct of his own, and although the England side won’t be as strong as the one that participated in the U-19 UEFA Championships earlier this summer, Baldock could be one to help galvanise this weakened squad.
Walter Townsend, Goal.com