The Torchbearers Of Modern Football

10 Youngsters Capable of Reaching the Summit of World Football

We are standing at the end of an era that was tinted with brightness and glam. Two of the greatest sportsmen ever to grace the surface of earth are at the twilight of their careers. They are aliens, some say. Some say they are superheroes in shorts. Two names at the heart of the footballing world, for the best part of two decades. The torchbearers of modern day football. The pace-setters of the business of football worldwide. Two footballing Gods. Two names.

What will happen to football after Messi and CR7?

The answer is not as complex as it should be. “Someone will come about and succeed them and their glory. Someone, inevitably, will take up their mantles.”

So is the harsh reality of the world. People heal, but sometimes too quickly. The legends of the Bobby Moore’s and Charlton’s still live on, but with the passing of every generation, the scent of their accolades wears thin. The same goes for the Pele’s, the Maradona’s and even the recent Zidane’s and Dinho’s.

As tough and cruel as it is, the world of football is edging nearer to a new age. The crown of football will soon be dazzling on the head of someone younger – and for the sake of the growth and progression of the game, let’s hope – someone better. As with every generation of footballers, there is a more than capable and thirsty breed coming in, craving to blossom and become the DNA of the footballing world.

And that’s why, today, we are going to look at 10 of the potential world beaters (2 from each of the top 5 leagues in Europe) who are the best equipped to go on and possibly even win the Ballon d’Or in 5 years’ time.

10. Yacine Adli (Bordeaux & France)

The Narrative: A French, with Algerian routes, only 20 years of age and at a height of 1.86 meters, Yacine Adli is your perfect modern day attacking midfielder. His father is a humongous fan of Zidane, and therefore named his son Yacine “Zinedine” Adli, although the latter decided not to include the middle part.

Coming through the ranks at Paris Saint Germain, he found his true self in the first team of Bordeaux where he was the instrumental figure in keeping his side up in the Ligue 1 almost single- handedly and to ensure an honorable 12th place finish. He is a busy player, always looking up and trying to find forward passes, something rare in modern midfielders, who are almost always looking to play it safe.

The vision of Adli sets him apart, alongside his movement off the ball. He is also one of the very few attack-minded young players in the world right now who is a great header of the ball, and thus, pretty much useful in set-piece situations too, both offensively and defensively.

Possible Weaknesses: Speed, Strength.

Idol: Zinedine Zidane.

Closest Comparison: Adrien Rabiot.

Club that suits his playing style: Juventus.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Poor to Moderate.

  1. Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint Germain & France)

The Narrative: After storming into the scene with his blistering pace in the 2016-17 season of the UEFA Champions League with Monaco, Kylian Mbappé has never looked back since, and has gone on to play a major role in France’s triumph in the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. There might even be no one equivalent to him in terms of the extreme speed he can generate on the field. Plying his trade in the colors of 43-time French Ligue 1 champions PSG, Mbappé has sorted out most of the issues he had in his game during his time at Monaco, with a better conversion rate, as well as a higher number of assists.

With also a Champions League Runners up medal in his closet, he looks set to feature highly on this kind of lists in the near future, since he is only 21 years old. The only thing to be seen in his case, is if he can make all the right choices in his career.

Possible Weaknesses: Spot Kicks, Tracking back. Idol: Zinadine Zidane (This guy is untouchable). Closest Comparison: Arjen Robben.

Club that suits his playing Style: Real Madrid.

Injury Issues: Yes.

Footballing Head: Moderate.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: High.

8. Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus & Sweden)

The Narrative: Dejan, 20, is probably the least talked about (in the footballing world) player in this list. His progress, though, has been observed closely by big clubs, and one of those big clubs is Juventus, who bought the player in January 2020, but sent him on loan to Parma, where he shined for the rest of the season.

He is one of the representatives of the rising power in Italy, Atalanta. His speed is not enormous, but he knows when to use it, and the sudden thrust of pace is frightening for defenders. Though he has shown his promise and prowess in a brief spell at Atalanta, he has not really been able to settle down at a club permanently till now.

With him supposedly now having a fresh go in the Juventus right wing, it is likely that sooner rather than later, the world is going to witness the wit this guy possesses.

Possible Weaknesses: Pass Accuracy, Vision.

Idol: Pavel Nedved.

Closest Comparison: Xherdan Shaqiri (If only he could realize his full potential).

Club that suits his playing style: Atletico Madrid.

Injury Issues: Yes.

Footballing Head: Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Moderate.

  1. Sandro Tonali (Italy & AC Milan)

The Narrative: Just look at his face! This guy seems like a damn clone of the great Andrea Pirlo. And guess what position he plays in for Brescia? – “Defensive Midfield”. The last full-stop should be the end of this narrative. But this article would be incomplete if some of his skills were left undiscussed.

Tonali was a product of the Brescia Academy, and has been a regular feature in the Brescia first team since making his debut on 27th August, 2017, at the age of 17. He has already been called up to the Italian national side. He is one of those players who is smaller in stature, but enormous by heart. He has the patience of biding his time with the defense, but also has the pass in him to tear through the opposition’s defense.

He rules the Milan midfield now, and has the ability to rule the whole of Europe in the years to come.

Possible Weaknesses: Agility, Height.

Idol: Andrea Pirlo. (Told you. The perfect match)

Closest Comparison: Andrea Pirlo. (Seriously now? How could you even possibly not see that coming? This guy has “Pirlo” written all over him)

Club that suits his playing style: Inter Milan. (Probably an unpopular opinion, considering, he currently plays for their city rivals AC Milan, and also the fact that Pirlo is the head coach over at Juventus)

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Very Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: High.

  1. Rodrygo Goes (Real Madrid & Brazil)

The Narrative: Being raised in a relatively poor family in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Rodrygo had the dream every child in Sao Paulo has, to become a footballing great like the countless number of footballers the city has produced over the years. By joining Real Madrid, he has already fulfilled the dreams of his father, Eric, who was a professional footballer himself, but had Rodrygo at a very early age of 17 and had to look at other options than football to provide for his family.

At the age of 19, Rodrygo’s career has been handed a major boost by the absence of Gareth Bale (and also by his Golfing accolades) in the Right flanks of the Real Madrid attack, and under Zidanine Zidane’s guidance, the winger has taken the opportunity with both his hands and has thrived. Empowered with majestic dribbling abilities, Rodrygo has proved all his early doubters wrong and has won the hearts of billions of Madrid fans by playing a major role in their 34th league winning campaign in 2019-20.

Possible Weaknesses: Strength, Aggression.

Idol: Robinho.

Closest Comparisons: Angel Di Maria.

Club that suits his playing style: Manchester City.

Injury Issues: Yes.

Footballing Head: Moderate.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Moderate.

  1. Riqui Puig (Barcelona & Spain)

The Narrative: There was a time, when the definition of a good midfielder would include the “robust” nature of a player. But that part of the definition has changed gradually in the modern age. Swift and slight midfielders are now in demand. And a lot of credit for that goes to Spanish teams, especially Barcelona.

Barcelona and little majestic midfielders are a match made in heaven. The transformation happened with the inception of the legendary pairing of Xavi and Iniesta, who took the world by their swords and sliced it up in pieces. The latest to follow their footsteps is Riqui Puig. He burst into the scene in the disastrous covid-disrupted 2019-20 season, where he, along with fellow youngster Ansu Fati, were the only bright spots for Barcelona.

The only reason he has ended up in this list ahead of Fati, is that he hits the chord with the Barca setup. A lot of wingers and attackers have come up from the La Masia academy, shined for a season or two, and then have moved on elsewhere, achieving next to nothing.

Whereas, in the otherwise star-studded Barca midfield, with the capabilities the young Puig has shown as a central midfielder, it is not a far cry to put him in the same brackets with the Legends that Barca has produced over the years in that position. The guy is light on his feet, jumps quite high, helps out in the defense, and also moves all along the pitch, proving himself hard for defenders to track down or man-mark. There is a long road ahead of him, but he certainly has the passion for the game and is very well-equipped to go the distance.

Possible Weaknesses: Strength.

Idol: Andres Iniesta.

Closest Comparison: Andres Iniesta.

Club that suits his playing style: Barcelona.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Very Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Very High.

  1. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich & Canada)

The Narrative: This 19-year-old wondekid’s story began in a Ghanaian refugee camp, where he was born to Liberian parents who were fleeing their country’s civil war. From there on to a Champions League triumph with none other than the German powerhouse Bayern. What a journey it has been for Davies!

The way he dribbled past those Barca defenders and set up the goal for Joshua Kimmich in the 8-2 thumping of Barcelona in the 2019-20 Champions League Quarter-finals will stay alive in the minds of football lovers for years to come. He came down from Vancouver to Munich in the winter transfer window of 2019 and has slowly made the LB position his own, somewhat pushing the hands of manager Flick into shifting David Alaba to the CB slot.

Davies, right now, is the most in-demand left back in the whole world and there is reason for that. To add to his blistering pace and dribbling abilities, the lad can surely pick a pass. His crossing, too, is impeccable. A good header of the ball as well. He deserves all the applause he has garnered till now, but with a little more time and effort, his game can improve to a level that could be unbeatable for others.

Possible Weaknesses: None.

Idol: Lionel Messi.

Closest Comparison: Roberto Carlos.

Club that suits his playing style: Real Madrid.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing head: Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Very High.

  1. Erling Braut Haaland (Borussia Dortmund & Norway)

The Narrative: If we talk about the actual stars of the 2019-20 season, Erling Haaland has to be up there. He has already been named by many, amid the elites of the game, to be the next record-breaking striker. And no, those are not transfer records, but actual footballing records. Such has been his prowess! In his days at RB Salzburg, he used to score hat-tricks for fun.

And since moving to Dortmund, where many thought he would fail, he still has improved his game up a notch. Running behind the opposition’s defensive line, making those defense-piercing runs, sometimes getting in from the flanks – he is the perfect forward any club could dream of, and more. He is equally adept with both his feet and his head. He is the best example of a menace in the opposition’s defensive third. He is quite a media guy as well (*laughs out loud*) and certainly the face of modern football.

Possible Weakness: Pressing.

Idol: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Closest Comparison: Wayne Rooney (apart from the pressing, of course!).

Club that suits his playing style: Manchester United.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Very high.

  1. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool & England)

The Narrative: Famous British news outlet The Guardian has had the category of “The Best Young Talent of the Premier League” in their season awards for the past three years. Trent Alexander-Arnold has featured in all three of them. Liverpool’s rise in the last three years, from a facetious mid-table team to a Champions League and Premier League winner in respective years, has to be shelved upon two young full-backs in particular and one of them is Trent. The sheer relentlessness in his game is his best quality.

The consistency level he has achieved is also quite astonishing. He has very much started every PL game in the last two seasons for Liverpool. A set piece specialist as well, he adds different dimensions to the Liverpool attack.

He wreaks havoc in the left side of the opposition defense. His pressing too has been praised highly by his manager. With little twicks here and there in his game, he can achieve great heights and can reap substantial rewards in the future.

Possible Weaknesses: Defensive Duties, Pass Accuracy.

Idol: Steven Gerrard.

Closest Comparison: Philipp Lahm.

Club that suits his playing style: Borussia Dortmund.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: High.

  1. Phil Foden (Manchester City & England)

The Narrative: It’s not every day, that you can incorporate a young player with Manchester City. Famous for breaking the banks to rope in players into the first team, Manchester City have gone out of their way in the last few years in giving chances to young players and academy graduates. In that continuation, players like Eric Garcia, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Angelino, and Phil Foden have gotten their chances.

But among them, Foden was the one everyone was most excited about, and he didn’t disappoint. Since being called up to the first team, Foden has progressed so immensely, that it prompted the manager Pep Guardiola, not to find a replacement for the departed (not from the world, of course) David Silva from elsewhere and to put his trust in Foden, in the creative midfield role for the new season.

That itself is quite a statement. He is certainly now a first team mainstay. Foden has already proved to be a versatile player for Pep, playing in left, right and center of midfield, occasionally even playing as the false-9. The tenacity in his display can be compared to that of midfield greats like Andres Iniesta and Wesley Sneijder from the recent past. He has a superb pass completion record. He is great with both his feet. Built slightly, it’s surprising how much strength he possesses in his slender muscles.

He is fast, he is intelligent, and he is progressing in light-speeds. With Pep at the helm of operations of the Manchester City first team for the foreseeable future, and with a midfield maestro like Kevin De Bruyne by his side to look up to, Phil Foden looks well and truly prepared to set the stage of world football on fire in the near future. If he can help his side to their first European triumph, then he’ll surely be able to get a taste of all the honors in the game of football.

Possible Weaknesses: Girls? (*wink wink*).

Idol: David Silva.

Closest Comparison: Kevin De Bruyne.

Club that suits his playing style: Manchester City.

Injury Issues: No.

Footballing Head: Very Rich.

Chances of fulfilling his potential: Very High.

World football is entering a very tricky phase. Will the departure (when it happens) of the last generation heart-throbs affect football from the financial and the imagery perspectives? We’ll surely have to wait and see how that goes. But one thing is for sure, the next crop of footballers coming down the pipeline, have all the necessary elements in them, to emulate, if not get past, their predecessors.

The path towards the sky looks tiresome, the heat of the sun bearing down upon them fiercely. But their wings are fresh and shiny. All they need to do is to take a deep breath, and believe in themselves.

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