Sunday, 29 January 2012

Gareth Messenger's Top 10 Footballers in Europe to watch in 2012

Forget the names of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney for just a moment, because in this blog I will be listing my personal top ten players for you to look out for in 2012!
The footballing world is a central base for the production and development of youth players from grassroots, to the very top of the game, and this blog will be naming just a few of the best young talents in the world. Of course, the difference in opinions on these stars may shift between the many numbers of you, but for me, this is the current list set in stone by yours truly!

And in order, starting with one of Europe's most sought after young talents in the game this very moment.....

1. Eden Hazard
....And here he is. 21-year-old Belgian Eden Hazard (left in picture) has been recently linked with Europe's top clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and more, including a very close link with French club PSG. The Lille winger has been in outstanding form the last two years for the French champions with 21 goals and 16 assists since the start of last season. It would take BIG money to see Hazard move clubs, but the departure of Lille's talisman striker Moussa Sow to Fenerbache may force Hazard to look to the future.

2. Jose Callejon
Despite being in the game for a little while now, 24-year-old striker Jose Callejon has really made his mark at Real Madrid since his move from Espanyol in the summer. Despite Mourinho favouring Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain up front, Callejon has made a real impression on the Bernabeu faithful with 11 goals in just 21 cameo appearances in all competitions. How long before we see Callejon used more than just a piggyback by Jose Mourinho? If his reputation is anything to go by? Not long.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri
One of my personal favourites, and a player I regard as arguably the most versatile and exciting youngster on the planet. I first caught wind of Shaqiri after seeing his cracking strike for Switzerland against England in a 3-1 defeat on home soil. The 20-year-old can play on the wing, at left-back, at right-back, you name it. His speed, agility and skill are a mirror image of Lionel Messi, but Shaqiri versatility and positive influence are what have made FC Basel a strong force over recent months. His contribution in the game which knocked Manchester United out of the Champions' League was crucial. Check out this goal aye?

4. Mario Gotze
Another exciting talent, and another fantastic attacking footballer. Mario Gotze currently plies his trade with German champions Borussia Dortmund but his reputation across Europe grows day by day. Previously mentioned in one of my past blog posts here at - ( Gotze has been with Dortmund since 2001, and made his debut for the club in November 2009, aged 17. 360 days later he made his first international appearance for Germany emphasising the impact he made on the Bundesliga. This season so far (2011-12), Gotze has been involved in 10 Borussia league goals in just 14 appearances. At the age of 19, will Dortmund be able to keep hold of "one of the best talents that we've ever had", as described by German FA technical director Matthias Sammer.

5. Thibaut Courtois
Chelsea's on-loan Belgian keeper Courtois was relatively unheard of when Andre Villas-Boas signed him from Genk in the summer. But a two-year loan move to Athletico Madrid in the summer, (an Athletico looking to replace the departed David De Gea), seems to have paid extra dividends for Thibaut. Courtois has been in exceptional form for Athletico in La Liga and is being widely tipped to make his mark at Chelsea sooner than expected. At 6ft 8, Courtois height is one Petr Cech would fear, but his goalkeeping ability is another that Cech should be wary of with Courtois already heaping the pressure on his under-fire pre-decessor.

6. Iker Muniain
A relatively unheard of footballer outside of Spain, but Iker Muniain's value to the Athletic Bilbao side has not gone unnoticed in La Liga. The 19-year-old made his true mark on the side last season but is again stamping his mark on the ground with the kind of form that has seen him linked with Manchester United and Chelsea. Muniain's creativity and speed him Bilbao that extra spice in matches and have made them one of the trickier matches now in La Liga. With his contract running out in 2015, will Bilbao choose to cash in now? Or will they use Muniain whilst he is at their disposal?  

7. Julian Draxler
Yet another creative midfielder, and yet another European. FC Schalke 04's German playmaker Julian Draxler has found himself heavily involved in the Schalke side the past two years. Despite competition from Jefferson Farfan, Jurado, Raul and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for an attacking/playmaker role, 18-year-old Draxler has found his services in the Bundesliga much more useful than some were predicting. His Champions' League appearance against Man United last season was when the English contingency began noticing him widely, and with a call-up to the U21 squad and already 33 league appearances since his debut in January 2011, could we see Draxler being targetted by one of Europe's bigger sides?

8. Juan Iturbe
Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno was our next port of call. That was until FC Porto snapped him up in the summer. Despite having Paraguayan parents, and playing for Paraguay at youth level, Iturbe has recently declared his desire to play for Argentina and has already been called up to the Argentina youth squads on more than one occasion. Iturbe's similarity to Messi is almost scary, but he has a very similar technique to Sergio Aguero. Small, creative, but a fierce player to have in your squad so Porto will be relishing in his ability. Despite only making three appearances so far since his summer move, Juan Iturbe's 2012 will be the season defining his long-term future at the very top.
9. Erik Lamela
Another Argentinian midfielder in the shape of 19-year-old Erik Lamela. A regular starter for River Plate, but their relegation and his sudden rise to world football made him an instant hit in Europe linked with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Lyon. But it was Italian side Roma who picked him up for a fee which could rise to a whopping 19million euros. Has already made 12 appearances for Roma and a call-up to the Argentina national side for a friendly match versus Paraguay. Big future. Exciting prospect.

10. Luc Castaignos
15 goals in 34 games is what sealed Castaignos' move from Feyenoord to Italian giants Inter in the summer. The 19-year-old striker was certainly a hit in Holland, and his prowess in front of goal also made him a hit with the Internazionale boardroom. The Dutchman is already being tipped for a call-up to the Holland national side already, and despite limited opportunities so far at Inter competing with Diego Forlan, Giampaolo Pazzini, Diego Milito and Mauro Zarate, he has already scored his first goal in just four games, starting just one of them.

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