Talent rose, Brazil and Argentina sunk, and ‘Los Cafeteros’ shined in this year’s Sub-20 Sudamericano

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By Tom Robinson

Much like the most recent Copa America, the under-20 South American Championship also saw its fair share of surprises as the continental apple cart was well and truly upset when Argentina and Brazil crashed out early, leaving some of the less fancied nations to take centre stage.  Colombia emerged victorious after topping the final round robin stage and booked their place at this summer’s under-20 World Cup in Turkey along with Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile.

The Sudamericano regularly provides glimpses of some of the most talented youngsters in world football, with notable alumni such as Ronaldinho, Aguero and Messi all gracing the competition in their formative years. A relentless schedule sees the games come thick and fast, providing these precocious tyros with great experience of tournament football. What’s more, due to the necessary rotation, it also rewards the squads with the greatest depth and overall balance.

This last point in particular seems to be a key concept that Brazil and Argentina failed to grasp. Both nations, as we’ve come to expect, were littered with outstanding prospects but neither seemed to be able to function as a collective unit. Ultimately, they paid the price: a humbling and thoroughly deserved early exit.

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The players have grown, unless they haven’t. The 100 returns.

Expansive. Insightful. As good as you remember. For the second year running, our friends at IBWM have released their signature ‘The 100’ list. It’s a selected study of football’s most talented and brightest prospects. All are born after the 1st of January 1990, ranging from Jack Wilshere to Atletico Madrid’s Courtois to Brazilian born Lucas Moura.

The 100 has been compiled by the IBWM team, writing over 100,000 words, scouting all players in action, receiving insights from several football experts and incorporating stats from Opta. Once again, it’s a grand piece of work.

And without further ado, here’s to the 100! [Posted by Dom]

Feyenoord’s Clasie has arrived and he’s here to stay

By Mohamed Moallim

There was one minute left in extra time and Ronald Koeman started to prepare for the inevitable. He found what he was looking for, a notepad and pen, after collecting his thoughts he jotted down numbers one through five. Next to number one ‘Lex’ was written, followed by a space, then letters I and M, before he could finish the surname, a loud roar erupted, looking up, Koeman saw Lex Immers – the very person that was going to take the penalty – wheel away in celebration, Feyenoord left it very late.

In a single minute every emotion imaginable was exhausted. They say the KNVB Beker is often void of drama well the Goffertstadion played host to one. It was cruel on NEC, but satisfying for Feyenoord, who needed that win. A few days earlier they were second best to a PSV side many had down on the verge of a crisis. Yes, even this early.

It goes to show how much football has changed, it’s about the here and now, no patience and nothing is kept in perspective anymore. A one game losing streak, to paraphrase Roy Keane, is a crisis. Their success last season, finishing runners-up, has meant anything less won’t do. The expectation from the fans was the club would push on instead they’ve started their campaign slowly. The mindset of their support has reverted to a previous state one Koeman encourages and is doing everything to satisfy.

The club from Rotterdam is a different one from years gone by, but they are now – like before – players in the Eredivisie. Their recent successes, which is few and far between, been built on their esteemed youth academy based in Varkenoord, with its seemingly endless production line. The game against Excelsior – city rivals – last April featured 18 academy graduates, the bulk in red and white. On the scoresheet – getting their second in a 3-0 win – is probably their current crowning jewel: Jordy Clasie.

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Tutored under Zeman, Lorenzo Insigne is Napoli’s answer to Lavezzi

By Mirko Corli

It’s likely you have heard very little of Lorenzo Insigne so far and nobody won’t blame you for that. The Napoli lad developed through a series of loans in the lower divisions before receiving wider attention last season whilst playing in the Serie B with Pescara, who became eventual champions. The attacker’s strong displays rewarded him a place in Napoli team this year and more recently, a call-up to the Italian national team.

And now, everyone’s talking about him. 

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Introducing the Dutch Iniesta, the “dancing butterfly”, AZ Alkmaar’s Adam Maher

By Mohamed Moallim

Hearing the full-time whistle Samuel Eto’o knew where to head. Anzhi just beaten AZ 5-0 in Alkmaar, but there was no mood to celebrate, instead he had to see him up close and offer a few words to a talent without limitations that left a huge impression. Adam Maher.

It was “men against boys” manager Gertjan Verbeek decried. Maher, who turned 19 in July, burgeoning reputation not only stayed intact but enhanced. Eto’o was impressed, telling him face to face, before asking to swap shirts. The whole scene took the young Dutchman aback. Here stood a triple European Cup winner, one of the finest forwards of the last decade, eulogising him. He’s used to compliments by now but not in this fashion. It didn’t stop on the field.

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Keep your eye on… Suso.

Since 2007, Spain have won the U-19 European Championship three times, clinching their third title this past weekend in a 1-0 win over Greece. While the squad was supplied with plenty of future stars, such as Deulofeu and Jesé, one player stood out: Suso. That’s his nickname, of course. His full name is Jesus Joaquin Fernandez Saez de La Torre, and he plays for Liverpool.

The compilation posted above showcases highlights only from the U-19 tournament, yet it’s plain to see just how dominant he was. The spraying of 35 yard passes time and time again reminds us of Xabi Alonso, yet there’s something about his skill on the ball that also adds a hint of Juan Mata. At only 18 years old, it could still be a year or two before we see Suso regularly at Anfield. Nevertheless, he is a playmaker to keep your eye on, especially as Brendan Rogers tries to transform Liverpool into a free-flowing attacking side. [AFR Twitter/FB]

Alvaro Pereira or “El Palito”, FC Porto’s next great sale?

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Slovakia

Not many kids want to play as a left-back, but they’ll settle for the right-back position; we simply all want to attack. This is why the search for a quality left-back is an everlasting all night long headache, there aren’t many. The shortage of this position has cultivated wingers into full-backs and the transformations have been successful in the modern game, Patrice Evra and Fabio Coentrao are prime examples. Alvaro Pereira, a consistent performer for FC Porto and Uruguay, is a name which has recently been circulating scout reports and transfer rumours, but what do you know about him?

The answer is: probably not much. 

Alvaro Pereira joined FC Porto in the summer of 2009 from Romanian side CFR Cluj in a controversial deal; the left-back was set to sign for rivals Benfica until FC Porto typically intervened on the 11th hour. Little was known about the player who hadn’t represented his nation at youth level, but his nickname definitely stood out, “El Palito” meaning “The Stick” in Spanish or “The Toothpick” in Portuguese refers to his speedy long legs. Speed is certainly one of his key characteristics and it’s no surprise watching him run down the entire wing for FC Porto.

His adaptation to Portuguese football was virtually invisible, his task was to replace Aly Cissokho who was sold to Lyon for €15m and the energetic Pereira impressed from the start. Despite finishing the season empty-handed, the versatile player headed to South Africa to participate in the World Cup. He was a first team player for Uruguay wearing the number 11 jersey where he played a total of 5 games and scored against the hosts. However, his Porto team-mate Fucile played as left-back which positioned Pereira further up field on the left flank where his performances attracted interest from several clubs.

“El Palito” is an offensive full-back which suggests he’s not a solid defender; it’s common to frequently see a player of this dimension caught out of position, right Marcelo? This aspect improved throughout the 10/11 season where FC Porto conquered the League, Cup and Europa League under the tactical and talented Andre Villas-Boas. In addition, Pereira demonstrated a shooting ability with this long range strike against Braga.

At the age of 25, Alvaro Pereira was a key element in the Uruguay team which captured their 15th Copa America title. He was playing on the left side of midfield where he scored a goal against Chile and the winner against Mexico. His displays awarded him praise from several journalists and attention from Liverpool. Since the departure of Riise in 2008 the club never found a suitable replacement, the 1.84m left-back would fit the bill perfectly. When the player was asked about a potential move, he responded with a smile. Despite the speculation, nothing official has yet to be released by either club.

FC Porto are the kings of the transfer market, each year they profit millions from sales; they simply know when and how to sell. The Europa League champions have invested over €30m in new signings this summer and not yet registered a major sale other than Andre Villas-Boas’ departure to Chelsea. With interest high in Alvaro Pereira and the club needing to sell at least one star to balance the books, an exit is the likely scenario. Furthermore, the club signed talented 19 year old Alex Sandro from Santos for an elevated €9.6m which indicates a solution has already been found. But FC Porto could wait until January to sell “El Palito” as Alex Sandro will participate in the U-20 World Cup.

Alvaro Peireira is protected by a €20m release fee clause, which is a fair price for a player of this calibre, experience and potential. FC Porto is reluctant to negotiate below this value which means Liverpool will have to heavily invest for Peireira’s services. But don’t forget that Real Madrid splashed out €30m for Benfica’s Fabio Coentrao.

It’s only a matter of time whether he moves to England or not.

The Year of the French

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Nitra, Slovakia

Intense transfer speculation is revolving around the Bundesliga with names such as Gotze, Tasci, Reus and Vidal dominating scout reports. After a strong 2010 World Cup campaign revitalised with the presence of several young talents, it’s no surprise that the attention has transferred to Europe’s most populated country. After the tournament Ozil and Khedira completed bumper deals to Real Madrid, it’s not often to see big names leave the country, but who could say no to Mourinho? Or to the money. The same can be said about Portugal which constantly sees its top players join Europe’s elite’s for millions; a huge interest has been placed on FC Porto’s Falcao and Hulk. In addition, Fabio Coentrao completed a €30m “dream move” to Real Madrid this week.

However, this season it’s all about the French and I’m not referring to their fine Bordeaux wines or passionate classical romantic literature, but to the sheer talent of footballers scattered across the country. France is a football nation which lacks poaching and expensive transfers, but this summer could be different a one. Vendre, vendre, vendre!

 

Last summer the highest transfers were domestic, international midfielder Yoann Gourcuff moved from Bordeaux to Lyon for a record €22m plus clauses, Gignac and Remy both headed down south to represent Marseille for a reported total of €30m. From one perspective, clubs are protecting their greatest products, which will improve the standard of football in the long run. But why aren’t the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea taking a serious interest?

Sometimes they do, as the two highest exports in recent seasons were the sales of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery. Their departures were not a surprise; they were superstars who outgrew Ligue 1, clearly desired a fresh and greater challenge and the elevated wage offered must have been convincing too. It’s fair to state that the French league is not at the same level as the La Liga or Premier League, this means the average price and wage for a player will be established at a lower value. No wonder Wenger and Newcastle are investing in their products. 

This summer Ligue 1 clubs are set to cash in from internal and external sales, in previous years Lyon set the standard as they were masters at selling their key players for premium fees. Nowadays every club has learnt from them and posses the ability to sell at the right price and time.

So far Real Madrid signed one of the nation’s most talented defender’s, Raphael Varane from RC Lens in a deal worth €10m. Lyon’s instrumental Toulalan joined Malaga for €10m, the club has become the Manchester City of Spain due to their new Arab ownership. Newcastle snapped up a trio which included Lille’s Cabaye, winger Marveaux and youngster Mehdi Abeid. Nigerian striker Ideye Brown swapped Sochaux for Kiev in a €8m transfer and finally, Arsenal is on the verge of announcing the capture Lille’s flamboyant winger Gervinho.

 The most notable deals within the country were the highly-rated goalscorer Kevin Gameiro joining PSG for €11m and winger Dimitri Payet moving to Lille for €9m. Certain European clubs appear to be reluctant to sell or are holding onto high offers such as Bolton or Udinese, but the French are aiming to maximise revenues. Defending champions Lille could lose another key player.

Eden Hazard is the country’s most exciting player and it’s no surprise to see him linked with a move to the Bernabeu. He’s an unpredictable and explosive player, Hazard is the Messi of Ligue 1. Despite the Belgian nationality, he’s a graduate and prodigy from Lille’s succesful youth academy. He erupted this season playing an influential role in their league and cup capture, their first “double” since 1946. He’s not the only star linked with a transfer, PSG’s Sakho and Rennes’ M’Vila could follow his footsteps.

There’s definitely talent present throughout the country and as there is great attention on placed German products their prices will rise as demand increases, therefore the “cheaper” option could be found in France. Putting those three established names aside, here is a selection of players club’s should be closely monitoring.

Toulouse FC is boasting with the combination quality and youth, especially their midfield where Etienne Capoue and Moussa Sissoko feature. A pair of French commanding and technically players who are household names in the team which underperformed last season as they finished 8th. Sounds a bit like Arsenal, eh? Franck Tabanou is also an interesting offensive left-back who can also play as a left-winger, a player with a similar mould to Fabio Coentrao and could become his replacement at Benfica. Targeting a left-back is probably the second hardest player to find after a goalkeeper.

Sebastien Corchia is a youngster linked to several clubs, the 20 year old defender opted to remain in France and signed for Sochaux. However, Bayern Munich is still heavily interested in the highly promising player who joined a club where Marvin Martin is the star (pictured above. He recently completed his national debut last month against Ukraine in a friendly encounter. Martin is a creative midfielder with tremendous potential and skill, if Hazard leaves this summer, Martin would be an excellent replacement, but the club would need him for their Europa League campaign. He has a lot more to display next season, watch out for him!

A simple technique which any scout should use to sign a striker is to analyse the top scorers in any league and in this is the case Moussa Sow be found. He’s still fairly unknown on the main stage, but made a name for himself as he played an instrumental role in Lille’s league title capture with his goals. Despite striking the back of the net 25 times, he’s not the most efficient striker at times but that’s a factor which improves with experience. He’s expected to stay at the club but will be a huge loss if he features in the 2012 African Cup of Nations for Senegal.

The last player to highlight is Blaise Matuidi, another defensive midfielder, France is producing a quality range of them and they’ve all been compared to Patrick Vieira. Therefore, they’re all powerful, fierce and imposing; a vital component in any formation which is why club’s detest selling a player of this substance, unless there is a substitute prepared to step up or the fee is too good to turn down. Football development is a continunous cycle and even if all the established players join a bigger club internally or externally, it enables the next generation to step up. This will never be an issue in France.

It’s July, time to sit back and enjoy the sun. These will constantly appear in the inifinte transfer speculation which is vandalizing the internet, perhaps some of the proposed moves will materialize. But if not, no problem. Au revoir!

3 players who could make the difference at the Emirates

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Lancaster, England

Arsenal are a club which must be lifting titles, not losing finals or constantly finishing 3rd or 4th in the table. They’re a young team which generally play the most appealing football in the country, but every year it’s the same concern: where are the trophies? Arsene Wenger’s side has all the capabilities to succeed, there’s a culmination of hunger, youth and quality present. However, they lack they winning mentality when compared to the likes of Chelsea or Man Utd and the inclusion of a three world class signings could be the solution. 

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