THE 100 FOR 2013: AN INTRODUCTION
It could have been 200. It could easily have been 500. The most difficult aspect of collating The 100 is knowing where to draw the line. Who should be in? Who hasn’t done enough yet? The number of questions that we’ve asked ourselves is almost as high as the number of players we’ve looked at. Almost, but not quite. We’ve looked at a lot of players.
The IBWM 100 for 2013
Since picking up the baton from Don Balon in 2011 we have devoted our time to identifying the most exciting footballers on the planet. Over the last year we’ve been impressed by many. Just about every club and every nation has high hopes for at least one individual, so making a decision on who makes the final cut has not been easy. At times it has felt like the web equivalent of shooting Bambi, and as little as this list matters to the players included or not included, it matters to us. We wanted to get this right.
The IBWM 100 for 2013 is our inventory of the most thrilling young players in world football today. Born on or after 1/1/1991, everyone included has really pressed our buttons and things are happening for them in the first eleven of major clubs throughout the world. The last year has been good to them, but - in our eyes at least - the next twelve months are going to be even better. These are the kids on the steepest trajectory right now, the rapid risers who have found a groove and are on course to become the big players at international level for years to come, whoever they represent.
The pixels were still warm on The 100 for 2012 when we commenced work on a new list. IBWM has a network of contacts that can provide comment and analysis on any football league in any country, by tapping into this resource, we picked up suggestions and recommendations of who to watch and were told of players we MUST consider. With some excellent back up from Opta, our database now runs into many thousands of names and over the last year a long list has been gradually whittled down. We’ve spoken to regional correspondents, journalists, scouts, coaches and players in many countries. We’ve made good use of social networks and have travelled extensively to get the lowdown from fans of all clubs. Above all, we have watched intently and regularly.
We’ve tried not to get too hung up on the whole ‘potential’ thing. Football is littered with names that have ripped up youth and reserve teams only to fail spectacularly when making their first tentative steps in the real world. We’ve had a lot of encouragement to include names from Europe’s excellent ‘Next Gen’ series, but as glamorous as Inter v Ajax has been, and as well as some of the players have performed, the series is still a mix of stiffs and kids. When they start doing it for the first team, we’ll sit up and take greater notice.
We’ve tried to make The 100 as global a list as possible, but that doesn’t mean we’ve ushered anyone in for the sake of things; everyone included is here on merit. We’ve also tried to get a good mix of positions and I think we’ve achieved that. We all like to be inspired so attacking players will always hold sway, but there are thirty outstanding defenders and goalkeepers included, not to mention some excellent defensive midfielders. The list is freshened up with 75 new names too so there is a real feeling of evolution.
To maintain that balance, we’ve had to cull lots of names that are worthy of inclusion. The English Premier League is the one that we get asked about the most, so we’ll highlight the name of Tottenham Hotspur’s Steven Caulker here. He’s had an exceptional year, has played well and his prospects look reasonable, but we consider there to be better players around, so he misses out. There are individuals from just about every country in a similar predicament but we have to make a call on where the axe falls.
We’ve looked at the last year, but kept one eye on the next when selecting. To give an example; we really like the look of the Zenit pair Maksim Kannunikov and Luka Ðordevic, but despite their talent, neither look set for huge amounts of first team football in the coming year. They aren’t included. A fractured skull for Sparta Prague’s excellent young forward Václav Kadlec came at a bad time in November, and while he has returned to playing, such a nasty injury spooked us into giving his place to someone else. We hope he comes back stronger. As for potential; Celtic’s Tony Watt and Ajax’s Viktor Fischer came close, as did São Paulo’s Ademilson and Dinamo Zagreb’s Alen Halilović, but we’ll give them another year. We did take a stab at a few others though and thirty teenagers get the IBWM call.
The name that we expect to get the most flak for ignoring is that of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. Yes he’s back, yes he’s playing, but that was one heck of a gap for someone so young and getting back to full tilt is going to take time. On ability alone, he’d have been guaranteed a place, but we’ll reserve judgement for now. He’s (just) young enough to qualify for next year and we expect to include him then.
We really wanted to include players from club sides in Africa and Asia this time, but despite seeing some outstanding individual performances - and we mean this without any disrespect - the standard of play has to be taken into context. We could have included players doing well in leagues a little more off the radar, but the football on display would often be inferior to the lower divisions of England, Germany, France and Spain, and we didn’t want to go below the top flight in any country. More often than not, the very best young players from these continents have long since been collected by European clubs anyway, so if they’re good enough, they’ll find their way in. There are some truly wonderful players from Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Australia, Japan, Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Ghana and South Korea in The 100 this year.
With the league really flying we were also hoping to get some MLS players over the line, but despite the respective merits of several contenders, Whitecaps defender Gershon Koffie and Juan Agudelo of Chivas spring to mind, there were better players elsewhere. Several US nationals came close too - Terrence Boyd going especially well in Austria for example – but missed the final edit.
Inevitably, Europe and South America dominate The 100, but if we are going to approach this properly, it couldn’t really be any other way. Brazil top the list with ten entrants, and alongside the more familiar names of Neymar and Oscar come a group of real throwbacks to Brazilian starlets of years gone by. Whether the likes of Bernard, Adryan and Bruno Mendes can emulate Ronaldo, Bebeto or Garrincha is impossible to ascertain, but these boys can really play.
Argentina has shown strongly this year with some tremendously gifted youngsters included, and not just those playing in Europe. We also have representation from Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico, giving The 100 a strong Latin flavour.
From Europe; Spain and France feature strongly, as you would expect, but for a long while the Netherlands was the most represented nation on the list. Jerson Cabral, Stefan de Vrij and Memphis Depay among several strong runners that narrowly missed the final cut. Seven other Dutch masters didn’t.
A slightly condensed group of five players come from Germany, but the Bundesliga is the most represented league on the list with a dozen entrants. Despite a clear push from Roy Hodgson to invigorate his England team, only two English players make The 100 this year. The other contenders either not yet playing enough, or just not up to the standard of their rivals in other nations.
The old Eastern block is well represented too and we have lofty ambitions for some very able youngsters from Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Youthful delegates from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are also involved, while five rapidly improving Italian combatants and two Greek challengers make a stand.
When do we run?
We publish The IBWM 100 at 11am GMT on Wednesday 19 December and we would love to read your comments on the site (you don’t need to leave your mail address) or via our Twitter. Much bigger media organisations will claim to have a better handle on this sort of thing, but we guarantee you won’t find a more thoroughly researched or more lovingly crafted portfolio anywhere on the web.
Why do we do it?
There is no why, we just have to do this. We just have to. You need to know these names. If you don’t agree with our selection, that’s your call, this one is ours.
If you are able to help promote The 100 via any media channels (social or mainstream) we’d really appreciate your support. Shout it from the rooftops, tell your friends, get us on your radio show!