For every Marcelo Salas, signed by Lazio from River Plate for the-then fourth highest transfer fee in Serie A history on the strength of his performances at France ‘98, there’s an El-Hadji Diouf or a Kleberson to remind us that not all players that shine on the World Cup stage are the finished article.
But there’s no doubt that big performances in the global spotlight will enhance a young player’s credentials (and price tag), and as the transfer window opens in January some of these starlets will be in the crosshairs of clubs looking to improve on a mediocre first half of the domestic campaign.
So who will be 2022’s World Cup wonderkids….and they will prove to a Baggio or a Diouf in the years to come?
A lack of traditional central midfielders of international quality in England has forced Gareth Southgate’s hand: he could no longer hold Jude Bellingham back from a role in his starting eleven.
But the Three Lions boss was rewarded in ultimate fashion, with the 19-year-old scoring his first international goal and recording a stunning 94% passing accuracy rate against Iran.
Tougher tests are to come, but the signs from Bellingham’s time at Borussia Dortmund so far suggest he is open to more improvement. Despite still being a teenager, Bellingham has won a staggering five Man of the Match awards in 20 Bundesliga and Champions League games this term, which is an astonishing rate given the calibre of player he is playing with and against.
Birmingham City were mocked when they retired the number 22 shirt that the midfielder wore for them in a short stint at the club, during which he became the youngest player to appear in the first team in the Blues’ history. Bellingham has since gone on to become Dortmund’s youngest ever goalscorer and the youngest Englishman to ever start a Champions League game.
One of the hottest properties in world football, Bellingham will have his pick of new clubs to join in January if he wishes, and Liverpool’s woes in midfield would make a move to Merseyside a definite possibility.
Bellingham isn’t the only 19-year-old causing a stir in the German Bundesliga.
Jamal Musiala torched the record books when he was directly involved in nine goals in Bayern Munich’s first nine games this season, assisting four and finding the net on five occasions himself.
The irony, perhaps not lost on Gareth Southgate, is that the teen was raised in Croydon, and even represented England at youth level. But Musiala was born in Germany, and after securing a move to Bayern from Chelsea aged 16, decided that he wanted to represent the country of his birth.
Able to play from wide areas or through the middle, there will be no shortage of suitors for Musiala in the next few transfer windows….could a move back to England be in the offing?
With Portugal struggling to see off the gutsy Ghana in their Group H opener, head coach Fernando Santos sent on Rafael Leao as a late substitute.
And those that have followed his career from Sporting Lisbon and Lille to AC Milan will not have been surprised when the 23-year-old stepped up to net what would be the winning goal for the Portuguese.
Scoring goals (and making them) is just what Leao does. He was involved in 19 of them during Milan’s run to the Serie A title in 2021/22 (eleven scored, eight assists), and he’s now a veritable Champions League veteran with ten appearances in the competition to his name….with two goals and three assists.
Although Canada lost their opening World Cup game against Belgium, they came out of the contest with plenty of credit thanks to their direct, aggressive and rapid style of football.
Chief to that was the channel-running of Jonathan David, whose pace across the turf was the stuff of nightmare for the creaking legs of veteran Belgian defensive pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
He’s notched 37 goals in 76 French top-flight starts, and has even proven himself capable at Champions League level having found the net three times in the 2021/22 edition of the compeititon.
In an interview prior to the World Cup, David admitted he is a Barcelona fan, and while the Catalans’ impecunious finances mean a move there won’t happen any time soon, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Canadian was unveiled at the Nou Camp at some point in his career.
In the meantime, Ligue 1 has long been considered a suitable proving ground for Premier League stars of the future, so David’s World Cup exploits will have plenty of scouts on red alert.
The Netherlands needed a moment of magic to break the deadlock against Senegal in their World Cup Group A contest, and that came courtesy of Cody Gakpo in the 84th minute.
The PSV frontman showed his predatory instincts to hand Holland a late lead against the Africans, and that capped a fine all-round display in which he also provided an Expected Assists count of 0.31 from a false nine position.
The exploits of the 23-year-old are well known to anyone that follows the Dutch Eredivisie, and the 2022/23 campaign is already shaping up to be the best of his fledgling career.
Gakpo has contributed an extraordinary 21 goals in just 14 Eredivisie appearances this term (nine scored, twelve assists), to go with five in five in the Europa League and, now, that first World Cup strike.
His versatility (the PSV man can play through the middle or off the left-hand side) confirms him to be a young man in demand, and a move to one of Europe’s big five leagues seems a certainty in 2023….perhaps as soon as January, if his World Cup form holds.
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