As a follow up to our feature of the top 10 young Spaniards last month, ForzaFutbol now takes a look at the best overseas talent coming through in the Primera División. Although options are more limited, there is no shortage of talent to choose from. Which of the following ten players could we see dominating the world game in the coming years?
Please note: This list is only for players born in 1990 or below, so for that reason the likes of Rondon, Piatti, Weiss and Feghouli cannot be included.
10) Rui Fonte (Espanyol)
Having learnt his trade at the renowned academies of Arsenal and Sporting CP, Rui Fonte joined Espanyol, another club famed for their admirable youth policy, on loan in 2010. After starring in the reserves, the Portuguese winger soon found himself in the first team, and played well enough to earn a permanent transfer the following year. Up until recently the 21 year-old was on the fringes of Pochettino’s first eleven, but has been starting more often than not in the last couple of weeks, and even opened his goalscoring account against Granada last month. Apt both on the wing or as a forward, some have even gone as far as comparing him to the legendary Luis Figo for his impressive performances in Portugal’s U21 side.
09) Hiroshi Ibusuki (Sevilla)
One of many up and coming Japanese starlets, Hiroshi Ibusuki has been making waves in the Spanish lower leagues for a few years now. Since arriving in 2009, the gangly striker has scored double figures in three separate seasons for Zaragoza B, Sabadell and Sevilla B, and now has his sights set on La Liga. Last season, the 20 year-old starred alongside Barcelona star Isaac Cuenca in Sabadell’s promotion to the Segunda Division, and is doing the same for Sevilla Atlético this year with a league best of 13 goals already to his name. His explosive form earned a debut from the bench in the derbi against Betis, and despite not being able to make an impact in his seven minutes, he made sure he was on the scoresheet when the reserve sides met the following week. The signing of Papa Diawara could see his first team chances limited for the time being, but surely it can’t be long until Ibusuki joins Marcelino’s squad on a more regular basis.
08) Thievy Bifouma (Espanyol)
Another of the Espanyol contingent, French teenager Thievy has this season helped fill the void left by the outgoing Osvaldo by partnering Alvaro Vazquez and Vladimir Weiss in the Catalan’s exubertant, Champions League-chasing strikeforce. After shooting to fame with a hat-trick against a Barcelona XI in pre-season, the 19 year-old has forced his way into los Pericos first eleven with a sequence of impressive performances. Deployed mainly on the left by Pochettino, Thievy’s tireless workrate and power on the ball has gone down well with the club’s faithful, who could well be watching a golden generation of talent should the club be able to fend off the inevitable interest that will come their way.
07) Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal)
He’s made over 80 appearances for Villarreal’s first team, but it’s often very easy to forget that Mateo Musacchio is just 21 years-old. In a season filled mainly with disappointment, the Argentine defender has still managed to hold down a regular spot, and despite the odd defensive lapse, has remained solid alongside compatriot Gonzalo. Good on the ground and solid in the tackle, the youngster came very close to joining Real Madrid back in 2008, and you have to wonder just how long it will be until a club of that stature take further interest in the former River man. Now a full international, Argentina look set for the next 10-15 years at the back with the likes of Musacchio, Ezequiel Muñoz, Otamendi, Fazio and Marcos Rojo all breaking into the squad.
06) Lass Bangoura (Rayo Vallecano)
Much like his style of play, Rayo Vallecano’s Lass has risen rapidly through the ranks in just 18 months to establish himself as a key first team player. Currently at the African Nations Cup with Guinea, Lass began last season with Rayo’s Juvenil A team, but soon made the step up to both their reserve and senior sides, appearing four times in the Segunda Division by the end of the season. However, this year he has gone a step further, starting 10 times in La Liga and earning interest from Real Madrid, Valencia and Atletico. Full of pace, excellent dribbling and crossing ability, and above all, a €6m buy-out clause, Lass will surely be staying in the Primera for years to come, even if Rayo don’t.
05) Phillippe Coutinho (Espanyol, on loan from Inter)
On the last day of the winter transfer window, Espanyol pulled off a major coup by sealing the loan signing of Inter’s teenage playmaker Phillippe Coutinho, with an option to buy included. Despite not having played in Spain yet, the youngster’s game is perfectly suited both to his new team and the division, as Rafa Benitez realised by introducing him to Inter’s first eleven in his short spell last season. Since then Coutinho has seen his playing time limited, but the move to Catalonia could be hugely beneficial to all parties involved if everything goes to plan. At just 18, the former Vasco man debuted in the Brazilian national team, and is now at the perfect club to grind out his talent and help re-establish him as one of the stars of tomorrow.
04) Jonathan dos Santos (Barcelona)
Currently stuck in between the Barcelona first team and second string, Jonathan dos Santos is desperately trying to do what brother Giovani couldn’t and hold down a first team place at the Camp Nou. A favourite of Pep, JdS debuted in La Liga as a starter back in early 2010 against Villarreal, and although he perhaps has not featured as often as some would have expected since then, a chance looks to be opening up for him due to the absences of Keita and Afellay. Another full international, Jonathan has the ability to sit in midfield or even fill in at right-back, and as you would expect from any Barcelona midfielder, is blessed with technical prowess and creativity. Breaking into the world’s best midfield may not be possible for the Mexican, but you can expect him to make the step up from Barça B to a top division team in the near future.
03) Thibaut Courtois (Atlético, on loan from Chelsea)
Most fans of Atlético de Madrid will have wondered, “who?”, upon hearing the news that rookie goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was the man chosen to replace David de Gea last summer, but six months on and many are now heralding the Belgian as a better goalkeeper than their former canterano. Although on loan from Chelsea, Courtois may well be in the Spanish capital for another couple of years, and going by his performances so far that will be more than welcome decision. The 19 year-old is tall and well-built, but also incredibly agile and commanding in the air. Courtois exudes the confidence that De Gea seems to be lacking at Manchester United, which his 13 clean sheets this season only partly demonstrates. A title-winner with Genk last season, you can expect him to step in at Stamford Bridge when Cech moves on, but if he keeps improving at his current rate, he could even displace the Chelsea number one before then.
02) Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid)
Possibly the most promising young defender in world football, 18 year-old Raphael Varane had the choice of Europe’s elite in the summer following an excellent debut season with Lens. When joining Real Madrid, many forecasted that, like Canales the year before, he wouldn’t get a look-in, but the Frenchman has already proved the doubters wrong, playing nine full games with the same confidence and authority that you would expect from one double his age. His dominance in the air, assurance on the ball and outstanding distribution have already seen him compared to Fernando Hierro, and like the former idol, you would not be surprised if he went on to lead Real’s defence for the best part of the next decade. How long until he manages to hold down a regular starting place at the Bernabeu?
01) Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)
There seems to be a lack of real, top-class wingers in the modern game, although with talent like Antoine Griezmann coming through, that may not be the case for much longer. Now in his third full season with Real Sociedad, the Frenchman has firmly established himself as the club’s prized asset. He made a slow start to the current campaign but has hit form in recent games, most notably scoring the winner at the Mestalla last month, and scoring and assisting in a man of the match performance over Sporting the following week. Griezmann came to the attention of many of the world’s top clubs after a phenomenal tournament with France’s U19 side in the 2010 European championships, and further enhanced his reputation when making the transition from Segunda to Primera in the same year. With just about every skill needed to be a world class winger in his armoury, interest in the 20 year-old is rife. La Real fought tooth and nail to stop Griezmann joining Atlético in the summer, and will have another battle on their hands to stop him moving on in the next transfer window.