Adam Maher 19 Midfielder AZ Alkmaar
Of all the burgeoning reputations in Europe, Adam Maher's is perhaps the most justified. The Moroccan-born teenager is the talk of Football Town, his infectious, toothy smile becoming more and more familiar as he emerges as one of the most exciting young players in the Dutch game. At 19 years of age he is already a key player for AZ, the beating creative heart of a side that simply wouldn't be the same without him.
It's easy to see why some of the biggest and wealthiest clubs in the world are so keen to get a piece of Maher. Having only made his senior debut a little under two years ago, Maher forced his way into Gertjan Verbeek's thinking and became a regular last season. His best performances have been scintillating and the buzz surrounding him has quickly followed.
Maher's growing reputation has brought with it some extremely flattering comparisons and praise from high places. At the end of the summer an article by Mohamed Moallim published on A Football Report highlighted the remarkable focus upon him after a 5-0 defeat for AZ by Anzhi Makhachkala. Samuel Eto'o - one of the greatest strikers of his generation - and Guus Hiddink were positively falling over themselves to tell the media what they thought of Maher's ability.
But while he's being compared to Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, Maher's dealing with the business of fulfilling his potential. As well as becoming a pivotal player in AZ's attacking arsenal, he's starting to make his mark at international level too. Having elected to play for the Netherlands throughout his youth career, Maher has been expedited into the senior set-up with little Under-21 experience under his belt.
He was part of Bert van Marwijk's preliminary squad for UEFA Euro 2012 but did not make the final cut; perhaps his influence would have been a bright spot in an otherwise embarrassing Oranje performance. He eventually made his debut against Belgium in the Netherlands' August friendly. In September he was a late call-up by new coach Loius van Gaal for the World Cup qualifier against Hungary after not initially making the squad. His ascent to first teamer is a matter of time.
Maher is a relatively versatile midfielder, possessing the maturity to allow him to control a midfield but arguably more effective playing something approaching a traditional number 10 role. For the most part he is quietly creative, passing cleverly and efficiently, but he also has a wonderful confidence and a willingness to try the exceptional. The deadly incision available to the best attacking midfielders is already a part of his game.
He is capable of mesmerising footwork and spotless close control under pressure, and he can score a goal. This is a kid who has it all, but he is, like almost all teenage prospects, very raw. 2012 has been a successful year for Maher, who will undoubtedly be targeting the next World Cup to burst into the living rooms of the world. In October, AZ made a play to make sure they get their fair share should he move on either before or because of the summer of 2014; Maher signed a new contract to take him to 2015.
By then he could easily be a household name, because for all the kinks that need ironing out of his game he is making superb progress. The goals are starting to arrive, the skills are already in place and the football brain could prove to be one of the best in the business by the time the next European Championships. Remember the name.
"A steady year without truly hitting the heights. His absence from the disastrous Dutch campaign at the Euros might help him long-term, but for now he remains full of potential, if beginning to realise that in the new season." - John Dobson (European Football Correspondent)
C+ Starting to justify the praise