NBT. Next Big Thing.......
With the Final Tournament of the U19 European Championship in Romania only days away it is time to take a close look at some of the prospects that could become world stars after the tournament. This eight team tournament represents the best youth players Europe has to offer and has given viewers first glimpses of Fernando Torres, Phillip Lahm, and Yoann Gourcuff in previous years.
Many of this year’s teenagers could be playing on television screens in the forthcoming domestic season. I want to bring to your attention four exciting young players who could be bulging the onion bag for their countries in the next two weeks and certainly qualify as ‘ones to watch’.
19 year-old Muhammet Demir is leading the attack for tournament co-favourites Turkey. Turkey beat Germany in Group 7 of the Elite Round to finish the group unbeaten and with the best goal differential in qualifying. Eight of Turkey’s ten goals in the Elite Round were scored by Demir, including the only goal in his country’s victory over Germany. Demir is an intriguing prospect; he has been undeniably prolific throughout the youth ranks of the Turkish national team with numbers that eclipse that of Turkey’s all-time leading scorer Hakan Şükür at that age. In forty international appearances at various levels for Turkey Demir has scored thirty-nine goals. Demir currently plays for Bursaspor in the Turkish Süper Lig and he gained captaincy for their A2 side after only one year with the club. He has since been promoted to the senior side; however he has yet to open his account for the senior side due to injuries and limited opportunities. The likes of Chelsea and West Ham have inquired about the youngster but his club have rejected any overtures for their talented striker. If Demir can put on an impressive showing in Romania the chance of a move to a top European League is likely. Arsenal would seem like an appropriate first stop but there will be many teams monitoring his progress in the next month.
Nenad Lukić will face off against Demir’s Turkey in the opening match of the Final Tournament. The Serbian attacking midfielder is the second highest scorer left in the tournament with six goals and an assist in five matches. Serbia tied with Turkey for the most goals scored in the Elite Round and Lukić is a big reason why they are this close to a European title. The 18 year-old stands at around six feet tall and can cope with the physical side of the game which has teams from the English Premier League interested in acquiring his services. Lukić was offered a trial by Arsenal earlier this summer after the Gunners were one of many sides to be intrigued by his performances in the Elite Round of the U19 European Championships. Any deal on the lad’s future may come down to his performance in this summer’s tournament but he has already caught the eye of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Hoffenheim. It seems clear that this youngster is destined to play with a top European club but as of now he remains a player of Lokomotiv Plovdiv, a side in the Bulgarian A PFG. He has played fourteen games in the Bulgarian first division and has found the net three times, an impressive record for an 18 year-old.
This may be Belgium’s first U19 Championship since 2006 but I think it is safe to say that they will be regular attendees for many years to come. European football is now sprinkled with talented Belgian footballers such as Eden Hazard (Lille), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Romelu Lukaku (Anderlecht), and Jan Vertonghen (Ajax) and this is a trend that is not going away any time soon. Next on the proverbial conveyor belt of talented footballers comes forward Alessandro Cerigioni (and before you ask, yes, he has Italian roots). Cerigioni lead Belgium back to the U19 European Championships with an impressive three goals and three assists in just three appearances. The eighteen year-old currently plays for Lommel United in the Belgian Second Division but he could be seen in Ligue 1 or another top European league if he continues to develop.
Francisco Román Alarcón, better known as “Isco” may be the most important player in what many have said is one of the best generations of Spaniards in recent history, high praise indeed. Isco is a versatile attacker that likes to play behind a main striker, on the wing or in the centre. He could easily join fellow Spaniards Fernando Torres (2002), Alberto Bueno (2006), and Daniel Pacheco (2010) as winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot and already sits at fourth in the all-time goals list for his country at U19 level with seven, five behind the leader Juan Mata. Unlike the others I have profiled, Isco’s future looks set for the coming years. The Spaniard just left Valencia, the only professional team he has played for, to join the revolution in his home town of Málaga. The Andalusian side acquired the attacking midfielder for €6 million and Isco subsequently signed a five-year contract with Málaga CF. Manuel Pellegrini has long been an admirer of Isco’s and the manager was close to signing him during his tenure with Real Madrid. Pellegrini finally has his man and it was quite the coup as Isco was likely to be courted by many of Europe’s top clubs before the summer had ended.
Notable mentions have to go out to Republic of Ireland U19 forward Robert Brady and the Czech Republic’s Matěj Vydra, both players could impress fans and scouts alike at the tournament in Romania. Not only will this tournament be a great chance to see some of the game’s future stars, it should also supply the viewer with some excellent football so tune in on Wednesday for the first matches of the Final Tournament.
You can follow Caleb on Twitter @Gaffers_Corner.