With a sensational extra time victory over the Czech Republic at the weekend, Spain's youngsters added the European U19 Championship to the U21 crown sealed earlier in the Summer and the European and World Champion status the senior side currently prides itself upon. While the vast majority of the squad are far from household names and at embryonic stages in their footballing careers, you only need to look at previous players of the tournament such as £50m man Fernando Torres to see it is one of the most prominent showcases for future superstars on the planet. Here's the low-down on 5 of Spain's young starlets who could make the breakthrough in the next few years:
With a sensational extra time victory over the Czech Republic at the weekend, Spain's youngsters added the European U19 Championship to the U21 crown sealed earlier in the Summer and the European and World Champion status the senior side currently prides itself upon.
While the vast majority of the squad are far from household names and at embryonic stages in their footballing careers, you only need to look at previous players of the tournament such as £50m man Fernando Torres to see it is one of the most prominent showcases for future superstars on the planet. Here's the low-down on 5 of Spain's young starlets who could make the breakthrough in the next few years:
Sergi Gomez, FC Barcelona – Despite only being 18 years of age, Gomez has lots of experience, having completed a rare feat last season by appearing for the 'Juvenil A' U19 side, the B team, and being called up by Pep Guardiola's senior team all in the space of a few months.
Gomez is a strong centre back certainly in the Barcelona mould, with renowned ability when it comes to passing the football. This is a trait that has become increasingly valued in the top leagues in recent years as clubs attempt to emulate the likes of Pique and Puyol starting off attacks from the very back. Gomez should slot in nicely into the hole left in the B side by Andreu Fontas' call up to the first team.
A leader, Gomez is as cool on the ball as centre backs come and brings with him a real winning and determination mentality that will certainly go a long way in helping him find his place in one of the world's best central defences.
Ignasi Miquel, Arsenal – Miquel is another youngster who left Barcelona for Arsenal at 16, however in this case, it was the Catalans who released him rather than a controversial free transfer of a hot prospect. Having chosen to move to sixth tier UE Cornella upon being let go, it wasn't long before scouts from all over Europe were regular fixtures at his games to see how a player from the youth side of such minnows had made the national team setup for his age group. With Manchester United only offering a trial, Miquel chose to join his compatriot and idol Cesc Fabregas in London.
In the past year, Miquel has really shown his worth to Arsene Wenger's side; as evidenced by him being handed the captaincy of the club's reserve side not long after his eighteenth birthday. He was fasttracked into the first team and made a good impression in 180 minutes of FA Cup action against Leyton Orient.
Miquel finds himself in a great place – at a massive club which is crying out for new strength in his position. He is regarded as a real rock at the back, using every inch of his 6'3" frame to dominate aerial battles. Having played every minute in all but one of Spain's European Championship games, Miquel is certainly one for the future; and if Fabregas' homesickness is anything to go by, possibly a player Barca fans should keep a keen eye on as he makes the step up to the Arsenal first team.
Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid – 'Know your enemy' wrote Sun Tzu famously in The Art of War, and Morata's is certainly a name worth remembering. The main goalscoring threat for Spain and the only player in the history of the European U19 Championship to finish with 6 goals, the former Atletico youngster is one of the biggest hopes to put Real's la fabrica youth academy on the map again, a full decade since it last produced a real star for Los Blancos themselves inIker Casillas.
Morata's promise is such that the Madrid media declared him the best solution to the injury crisis suffered among Mourinho's strikeforce after Christmas. In the end, Emmanuel Adabayor was signed with Mou declaring Morata "unprepared to start", but Morata must have been spurred on by his manager's words– finishing the season with 15 goals in the third division with Castilla and carrying that goalscoring form with him to Romania and the mini seleccion.
With the Portuguese's declaration of "faith in the cantera not for the present but for the future", he might be prepared to start giving more and more youth team players a chance to play alongside the Galacticos of the first team. If he does, Alvaro Morata's combination of speed, power, and ruthlessness in front of goal should be atop his priorities.
Francisco 'Paco' Alcacer, Valencia – While he was far from a regular starter over the course of the past month, Alcacer truly showed his worth at the most important stage with heroics in the final.
Having come off the bench with Spain trailing 1-0 in the second half, the young Valencian striker led the fightback which took the game to extra time; before sealing the trophy with a brace which overturned the Czech's one goal advantage. Alcacer also made an impression at the U17 Euros last year, finishing with the Golden Boot.
Alcacer remains with Valencia's second team having led them to promotion last season, but will almost certainly see extended first team action in the upcoming season. Interest from Barcelona has been previously speculated, as well as from the likes of Milan, Liverpool and Arsenal. Blessed with extraordinary pace and profligacy, comparisons to David Villahave been unavoidable; and fans of Los Che will hope this is one talent whom their financial position will not force them to relinquish.
Gerard Deulofeu, FC Barcelona – Girona-born Deulofeu was the consensus star of the tournament and is the latest fantastic prospect coming off the La Masía factory line. The ease with which he tore apart the Serbian defence as Spain qualified for the semi-final showed the type of age defying skill and quickness of thought that followers of Barcelona's youth sides will have been more than familiar with in recent years.
Deulofeu hit the headlines at the beginning of the summer with British media reports of Catalan "fury" as Arsenal attempted to 'poach' the youngster a la Fabregas. Like the best wingers, Deulofeu runs at defenses as if the ball is an extension to himself; slaloming and changing direction with it rarely leave his feet. The young man himself has reaffirmed that he is more than happy to stay, telling radio "I want to triumph here at Barca."
I re-watched the game with Ireland and the impact Deulofeu had after switching wings to the left side was immeasurable. At 0-0, despite Spanish domination, the game was in the balance on the half hour mark; but Deulofeu quickly changed that, cutting in from the left wing and driving a stunner to the roof of the net. Although he is naturally right footed, the left is where Deulofeu is most at home and, should Guardiola give him a first team chance, he would excel in a Pedro-style inside forward role where his creativeness, dribbling ability and eye for goal would come to the fore.
The panic in defenders that is evident when he gets into his stride with the ball at his feet is something only the likes of Ronaldo and Messi can create in modern football, and with the chances Guardiola has consistently given to outstanding youth team players, he couldn't really be in a better place. Simply put, his potential is boundless; but the next few years will decide whether he is the next Messi or the next Jeffren. With the progress and headlines he has been making of late, the former doesn't seem that unrealistic.
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