18 January, 2008

Grandad Messi

With little Lionel Messi now over the hill at 20 years old, STT would like to take this opportunity to guide you towards some of the younger up-and-coming stars who are likely to capture the public hyperbole over the next 12 months, and no, depressingly none of them are English. We’re not saying any of these guys are gonna be as good as the little Argentinian wizard, but if anyone’s gonna give him and Christiano Ronaldo (still just 22 you forget) competition for World Player of the Year in the next few years, it’s these young chaps here:

Alexandre Pato (age – 18, affiliation – AC Milan):

Here’s a story for you. In 2000, when Pato (meaning ‘the duck’) was just 10 years old, x-rays from a broken bone revealed that he had a tumour in his arm. The doctors realized that the tumour would become cancerous in two months if not removed, but his poor family could not afford the surgery. The doctor, Paulo Roberto Mussi, however was a family friend, and operated for free. The next year he joined Brazilian side International in the under-11 pool, and the rest as they say, is history.

Described by Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri as “extraterrestrial” following his incredible debut last weekend, young Pato has been groomed for stardom since the age of three, when even then he was running rings around everyone on the Futsol pitch. The hyperbole doesn’t stop; his Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti has described him as better and faster than a young Alessandro Del Piero, with potential to surpass anyone in recent memory. Ridiculously skilful and confident, but humble enough to keep working until he reaches the very top, under the wing of Ancelotti and countryman Kaka’, who are we to doubt him?

He’s drawn comparisons with everyone from Pele to Ronaldo (both of them) to even Jesus Christ, Pato has even coaxed the normally reserved Milan president Silvio Berlusconi to claim in the press recently that in the remainder of this season, he will score 30 goals. Set your jaw to ‘drop’ and peep game:

Bojan Krkić (age - 17, affiliation – Barcelona):

History has told me that anyone with such an unpronounceable name simply has be good to get as far as he has. Currently staring alongside Henry and Iniesta in a makeshift Barcelona front 3, this young Serbian-born Spanish national has impressed throughout his youth career significantly, emerging as the joint top soccer in the 2006 Under-17 European Championships. He is currently the youngest player ever to feature in a Champions League game at just 17 years old 22 days, and in his La Liga debut he did this:


Diego Capel (age – 19, affiliation – Seville):

Despite being dubbed the new Jose Antonio Reyes upon making his Seville debut, and looking somewhat homeless, Diego Capel is actually an incredibly exciting prospect. A left-sided Spanish winger who has already attracted attention from Spurs and Arsenal, he bears more than a passing similarity to a young David Beckham, with sublime dribbling skills, confidence and pin-point crossing ability.

Giovani dos Santos Ramírez (age – 18, affiliation – Barcelona):

Son of former Brazilian star Zizinho, Giovani has already shown enough to suggest that he’ll surpass his father in the achievement stakes. Now a Mexican national, Gio impressed so much in Barcelona’s pre-season training that he was drafted into the first team squad this year, already playing 14 times for the Spanish giants. With a build and touch not dissimilar to a certain Ronaldinho, Giovani is certainly one to watch in the coming years. Check him out here:

Fran Mérida (age – 17, affiliation – Arsenal):

Craddle-snatched from Barcelona in the same way as Cesc Fabregas, young Mérida holds prodigal status throughout Cataluña and North London despite little more than training ground videos and youth team appearances. Now however he is on loan at Real Sociedad for the remainder of the current season so hopefully soon we will know exactly what we’re dealing with. Check some old footage for yourself here:

Sergio Aguero (age – 19, affiliation – Athletico Madrid):

Affectionately known as ‘Kun’ due to his resemblance to young Japanese anime characters, Aguero is another Argentine prodigy who made his senior league debut for Interpendiente at just 15 years 35 days, breaking the previous record held by Diego Maradona. After an inconsistent debut season with Atlético last year, where he was used only sparingly to partner the now departed Torres, Aguero has started the 07-08 season in the style to justify his rumoured 20million Euro price tag. His new partnership with Diego Forlán has already brought more than 20 goals in all competitions, becoming the second most prolific attacking partnership in Spain for the season so far. Set your face to ‘stun’ and watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzHI0rA6Bto

Toni Kroos (age – 18, affiliation – Bayern Munich):

Fast-tracked into the Bayern first team this season after a revelationary performance in the 2007 Under-17 World Cup, Toni has already made waves in the Bundesliga, instantly providing two assists in his debut for Miroslav Klose within 18 minutes of his introduction. Here’s an example of what he can do from the aforementioned U17 World Cup:

Maximiliano Moralez (age – 19, affiliation – FC Moscow):

At just 5’2”, young Maxi is another in the “new Maradona” mould. An exciting striker with unreal balance and brilliant shooting ability, he helped Argentina win the 2007 Under-20 World Cup, finishing personally as the third highest scorer and tournament’s second best player. Currently learning his trade like so many South Americans before him in Russia, expect Maxi to make the leap to a major European power within the next year…

Lulinha (age – 17, affiliation – Corinthians):

With a name meaning ‘Little Squid’ one might expect very little of this young Brazilian striker, but given that he helped the Brazilian national team win the 2007 U-17 South-American Championship with 12 goals in 7 matches, you’d be inclined to overlook the cartoon-esque moniker. Still playing in his native Brazil, very little is known about him across the pond, but supposedly he is now on Chelsea and Arsenal’s radar with a view to bring him over in 2009 when his contract ends with Corinthians. Check some highlights here:

So now the question becomes how come this country cannot produce anyone even remotely as exciting as any of the above guys? Wayne Rooney stands as the only shining example of true world-class ability birthed in recent memory. I’m sorry but if Theo Woolcott was good enough he would’ve already made it, even surrounded by the talent at Arsenal, so what next? Something as grass roots level simply has to change, and quickly, because the gulf is rapidly widening…