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Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.

Ale Rodríguez “Pipo”

July 24th, 2013

Full Name: Alejandro Rodríguez Marrero “Pipo”
Team: U.D. Las Palmas
Position: Midfielder
Age: 18
Birth Date: August 19, 1994
Birth Place: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

In the recent youth tournament, the “Copa de Campeones” played in Vigo, U.D., Las Palmas announced the arrival of three young talents. One of them is Alejandro Rodríguez “Pipo”, a play maker of massive quality, not overly quick, his real quality is found with the ball at his feet, his dribbling and accuracy on passing.

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A couple of years ago he was on trial at La Masía, but F.C. Barcelona’s trainers decided to not submit a contract to let the lad play in their youth squads. Someone in the club mentioned that there were problems of attitude more than a negative skills evaluation. So he returned home, waiting for the moment to demonstrate his value. He enacted some level of revenge last Spring in the tournament in Vigo, where U.D. Las Palmas eliminated F.C. Barcelona, winning with a penalty kick earned and scored by Alejandro Rodríguez.

As result of all these good performances, next season he will play with the first squad, coming directly from the Juvenil División de Honor, without passing through Las Palmas Atlético (the second squad, which will play in third division). There is a big expectation around him to be the new star of the team after the departure of Vitolo (23 years old winger and top scorer of U.D. Las Palmas in the last two seasons who was recently sold to Sevilla for 3 million Euros).

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Waiting for Neymar and Isco – Preseason Begins in Spain

July 20th, 2013

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Yesterday was the first day of work for Real Madrid and Barcelona. All the players who hadn’t played Confederations Cup or for their respective National teams responded to Ancelotti and Vilanova, eager for the new season to begin. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were there; ready to start a new season and a new duel: who will win the Liga? Who will score more goals?

Isco, Illarramendi and Carvajal were also present, the three new faces of Real Madrid 2013-14, signed for a total of 80 million Euros. They will represent – together with Jesé Rodríguez, Álvaro Morata and Nacho Fernández – the Real Madrid youth revolution, promoted through young Spanish footballers. This is in stark contrast to the club’s strategy in recent times, when sometimes the team played with all foreigners. Now the priority for Real Madrid is to sell: Ancelotti does not have space for everyone, in Spain the first squads can be composed for a maximum of 25 players and today Ancelotti and Zidane have available 28. The first in going out could be Raúl Albiól (wanted by Rafa Benítez for Napoli) and Antonio Adán (the fourth goalkeeper). The Russian Denis Cheryshev (22 year old, coming from Real Madrid Castilla) is required on loan by Bayer Leverkusen and Gonzalo Higuaín is waiting for moving as soon as possible to U.K. (Arsenal and Liverpool the candidates to sign him). Once the sales are solved, Real Madrid’s management will be able to think about a last signing, having Gareth Bale, Luís Suárez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the top of their wish lists.

Barcelona’s situation is in a more advanced stage. Neymar came and David Villa left. Thiago Alcántara signed for Bayern Munich and his substitute will be young Sergi Roberto. Bojan Krkic, Rafinha Alcántara and Gerard Deulofeu have been loaned to Ajax, Celta Vigo and Everton; the next will be Afellay, Jonathan Dos Santos and maybe Isaac Cuenca. The only target from today to the end of the transfer market is a defender, with Brazilian Thiago Silva being the first on the wish list.

Both clubs, beyond who will came and who will leave, are preparing for a long season full of difficulties, where they’ll have among their opponents also José Mourinho (Chelsea) and Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich), a recent past that will be surely be a measuring stick for the rest of us to compare in the new year.

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Pauliño de la Fuente Gomez: The Canterano at Inter

July 16th, 2013

Name: Pauliño ‘Pau’ de la Fuente Gomez
Team: Inter Milan
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Age: 16
Birth Date: June 27, 1995
Int’l: Spain U16 (2 caps)

Pau came to light at the 2012/2013 Campeonat de Espana cadet. Playing for CF Basander at the time, a string of fine performances including a virtuoso display in Valencia in December where he scored the winner quickly made everyone sit up and take notice.

No prizes for guessing that the big wigs of La Liga – Real Madrid and Barcelona would come calling. Valencia, Levante and Racing Club were interested too. In the end, he signed for Inter Milan.

Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn with fellow Cantabrian and Valencia midfielder, Sergio Canales as Pau constantly drifted into space, head up. Orchestrating and exhibiting a game understanding that bellied his tender 15 years. The touch, slaloming runs, feints and vision are a pleasant reminder of why Real Madrid paid €6 million to sign him in 2010.

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The Future:

Italian football is notorious for not handing opportunities to youngsters but the landscape is fast changing. The downturn experienced by the Italian economy and the recent successes of Italian teams in youth competitions has seen clubs turning to youth. El Shaarawy at Milan, Pogba at Juventus are examples of young players who have been handed major roles at big clubs in Italy. For Pau, the journey to the first team is still a very long one. He first hast to succeed with the U18s where he is now and then progress to the Primavera – the highest youth team.

He still has work to do. There is the tendency to overdo things – going for the spectacular when the simple would suffice but that should improve as he grows older. He only recently turned 16. He has the talent and if he develops as expected, Inter have on their hands a player that could become a world beater.

So friends, mark this day on your diaries. The day you first read about Pauliño de la Fuente Gomez.

Carlos Leto

July 9th, 2013

Full Name: Carlos Ramírez Gálvez “Leto”
Team: U. D. Las Palmas
Position: Right Back
Age: 17
Birth Date: December 12, 1995
Birth Place: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Height: 172 cm

Another young star is coming up from the U.D. Las Palmas prolific “cantera”: Carlos Ramírez Gálvez, known as “Leto” looks like the bright future of the canary team’s right back position.

carlose letoShort but strong and dynamic, his name is beginning to be thrown around by youth football experts, especially after his brilliant participation on the recent youth tournament “Copa de Campeones” played in Vigo last Spring: important newspapers like AS (who included him in the all-star team of the competition) and Marca (who dedicated a report on its TV channel) have underlined his qualities and it is known that Barcelona (eliminated from the competition in Quarter Final exactly by UD. Las Palmas) took note of his talents. Defensively reliable, he likes to go on the attack (he always says that his model is none other than Dani Alves) and he tends to impress in the more important matches.

Because of the retirement from active football of Pignol and because of the constant injuries of Aythami, this Summer Carlos Leto should train with U.D. Las Palmas first squad to permit coach Sergio Lobera evaluate if he is ready to compete with professionals.

You can find Mario Cipriano on Twitter @ciprianomario

Carlo Ancelotti to Instigate Youth Revolution in Madrid

July 4th, 2013
Morata (middle) and Isco (right) will be reuniting under Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid.

Morata (middle) and Isco (right) will be reuniting under Carlo Ancelotti at Madrid.

The Italian manager could be poised to unleash the power of La Fabrica during his time with Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho has all but ignored the burgeoning young Spanish talent in Madrid’s cantera but that is all set to change as Ancelotti has voiced his ambition to bring spectacular football back to Spain’s capital while doing so with their homegrown talent. Not only youngsters out of the club’s own cantera, but bringing Spain’s brightest diamond in Malaga’s Isco Alarcon to the flashing lights of the Bernabeu. The Italian will bring an atmosphere of positivity back to the club that was sorely lacking it for most of the season. The youngsters out of the cantera with the most to gain from his appointment include:

Dani Carvajal – Right Back
The twenty-one year old played all of last season with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. At the end of the season he was named one of the league’s best right-backs, behind Phillip Lahm and Schalke 04’s Atsuto Uchida. On June 3rd Madrid wasted no time in exercising the buy-back option on Carvajal and brought the canterano back into the fold. He was a part of the U21 sides European Championship triumph this summer and is set to compete with Arbeloa for a starting spot in Madrid, a competition which could very well spill over into the national team.

Jesé Rodriguez – Forward
The twenty year old led his team in goals with twenty-two this season, helping Real Madrid Castilla finish the season as top scorers in Liga Adelante scoring eighty goals and breaking a team record that had held since the 1983/84 season. The youngster may be best Madrid’s canterano since Casillas. Last summer, Jesé almost single-handedly won the European U19 Championship for Spain, collecting awards for best goal scorer and best player of the tournament and he is on his way to doing the same during the U20 World Cup this summer.

Alvaro Morata – Forward
Twenty year old Alvaro Morata is a complete center forward. His large 6 foot 2 inch frame makes him an aerial threat but he has a change of pace that is not typical of a player his size. He is a tricky dribbler and is not afraid to shoot from any angle, often catching keepers off guard. His scoring record is nothing short of prolific with forty-four goals in eighty-three games with Castilla, two goals in fourteen appearances with the first team, and twenty goals in twenty-six matches with the various youth levels of La Roja.

José Rodríguez – Central Midfielder
José came to prominence in the summer of 2011, when he was voted Most Valuable Player of the Under-17 Club World Cup, where Real Madrid were knocked out by Barcelona on penalties in the semi-final. In a deep midfield position, he stood out above all the rest, really dominating proceedings and showcasing his wide range of talents. Perfect technically, crisp and assured passing, strength and ‘arrogance on the ball’, he is definitely next in line to complement an aging Xabi Alonso.

Vicente del Bosque’s Spain

July 2nd, 2013
An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

An unfamiliar experience for the Spaniards.

Let me preface everything I’m about to say with the fact that Spain had another fantastic tournament. Losing in a final is tough but the fact that La Roja found themselves in another final is a feat that cannot be taken lightly. I am not one of those calling this the end of Tiki Taka and Spain’s dominance but I hope to lay out the issues as I see them as well as a few solutions to Spain’s, and Barcelona’s recent malaise.

There are those of you who are already raging at my last sentence but the fact is that Barcelona were utterly dominated by Bayern Munich in this year’s Champions League Semi-Final and Spain were similarly disposed of by Brazil yesterday. Those who thought that the Champions League was a fluke or just a blip in the success of Spanish football have to be wondering after the Confederation Cup Final where the experience and world class talent of the Spanish side was dominated by a young Brazilian side (albeit with an entire country behind them).

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

Xavi & Torres are both past their prime yet remain as undisputed starters.

There are two major areas of concern and they are consistent across the national team and FC Barcelona. One is the efficacy of starting Xavi at the end of another marathon season and the other is the questions about Pique’s defensive abilities. No one respects and loves Xavi more than me but the fact is that he is 33 years old now and his body is not what it used to be. In the last three years since his thirtieth birthday, the midfield maestro has played 172 games, that is a game every six days on a body that is past its prime and he is expected to set the pace for Spain and Barcelona’s possession game and high pressure off the ball. Iniesta, his partner in crime, seems to be improving from year to year, leading La Liga in assists this campaign and being honored as the second best player in the Confederations Cup.

It is safe to say that Gerard Pique misses Carles Puyol. The charismatic cave-man leader has been out injured the majority of this season and his absence was felt keenly in both the Champions League Semi-Final and the Confederation Cup Final. Pique’s distribution and ability on the ball is as good as it’s ever been, but when Spain are not at their dynamic, possession-keeping best he and his teammates have been found wanting.

So what to do? My biggest criticism of Vicente del Bosque has been how predictable his squads have been over the last four plus years. His teams have rarely varied further than his group of fourteen favored players which include: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Puyol, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Villa, Torres, Navas, and Fabregas. The likes of Silva, Cazorla, Mata and Javi Martinez have been fringe players for a while now. Brazil beat Spain on Sunday with a squad that did not include any of their senior players (Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho were not even in the squad).

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

The next generation of Spaniards are ready to contribute.

Some new blood is needed in the national team, and luckily no country has more young talent then Spain. Two players that are ready to make the leap to the first team have tasted international success already this summer. Isco Alarcon and Thiago Alcantara led the Spanish U21 side to European Championship glory this summer and look ready to add a new dynamic to the national team. Thiago can provide the metronome passing that Spain have come to expect, taking some of the pressure off of Xavi and brings more flair and creativity to the table than the thirty-three year old. Having Isco and running at opposition defenses will give Iniesta a dynamic threat to work with and create more opportunities for La Roja.

There are more youngsters rocketing through the youth ranks, watch for Martin Montoya and Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal to challenge Alvaro Arbeloa for his spot, a spot which should have been contested long before now. Alvaro Morata and Jese Rodriguez maybe a few years away but both could provide a nice alternative to Spain’s striking conundrum at the moment. Inigo Martinez could slot in at centre back sooner or later as well, the youngster plays in a similar style to Carles Puyol. Regardless the future is bright for La Roja, hopefully Vicente del Bosque sees this too.

Jesé Rodríguez to Star in 2013/14 Season

June 25th, 2013

Full Name: Jesé Rodríguez Ruiz
Team: Real Madrid
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Birth Date: February 26, 1993
Birth Place: Las Palmas, Spain
Height: 5 feet 10 inches

Jesé Rodríguez has been with the Real Madrid organization since 2007 when he was fourteen. Born in the Canary Islands, the youngster may be best Madrid’s canterano since Casillas. This is no joke. Last summer, Jesé almost single-handedly won the European U19 Championship for Spain, collecting awards for best goal scorer and best player of the tournament. He joins a prolific group of young strikers currently with the Castilla including Álvaro Morata and Raul De Tomas. Jesé has drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo because of his playing style and impressive dribbling ability. He scores many of his goals from distance and his competitive edge and powerful build make him a force to be reckoned with for defenders. Two years ago he was the undisputed star of Madrid’s Juvenil A team; he scored seventeen goals that season and was promoted to the reserve team at the beginning of this season making them odds on favorites in bwin football betting.

Jesé’s talents and form were noticed by Jose Mourinho who called him up to the first team for the 2011 pre-season tour. He played two friendlies over the summer and scored his first goal for the Merengues against Guangzhou Evergrande FC. He started the season with the reserves where he scored in his first appearance. He had a great debut season, scoring ten goals in forty-two appearances and Mourinho had him with the first team again against SD Ponferradina in the first round of the Copa del Rey. Jesé proceeded to make his La Liga debut this March against Real Sociedad with Jose Mourinho showing faith in a young player which we haven’t seen much before.

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The 2012/13 season was a character building one for the youngster. Mourinho seemed determined to snub the 20 year old and his manager at Castilla no matter how good the lad played. Real Madrid Castilla finished the season as top scorers in Liga Adelante scoring eighty goals in the season and breaking a team record that had held since the 1983/84 season. Jesé led his team in goals with twenty-two on the season making a very strong case to whomever takes over the first team that he is ready for top level football.

The only criticism of this prodigious talent is the fact that he is a little hotblooded. That is his only weakness. He gathers too many cards, and can be immature at times. In February he celebrated his 20th birthday, it may be time to calm down and start maturing. Fortunately, he seems to keep his passion and hot-bloodedness on pitch. In normal life he is a humble, wise and calm person.

With the national team, Jesé is forming a strong chemistry with fellow Spanish starlet Gerard Deulofeu. The two seem to complement each other well and seem to get on considering their two clubs’ massive rivalry. He is already lighting it up at the U20 level and looks destined for greatness with the senior side if he continues on this path.

Preview to the U-20 World Cup: ‘Group of Death’(Group A)

June 11th, 2013

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The U-20 World Cup is upon us. It includes some of the best young talent under or at 20 years of age. This youth World Cup has been held every two years since 1977. Players such as Fernando Morientes, Xavi, Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole, and Michael owen have all played in this tournament.  Since it has come into commencement, only eight different countries have come away with victories—Argentina currently having the most with six titles and Brazil the last team to win the Cup. But astonishingly enough both teams have failed to qualify for this esteemed tourney. This of course leaves more leeway for a more equal tournament with both of the South American powerhouses out.

But alas let us focus on the competition ahead. Group A contains the likes of France, Ghana, USA, and Spain which is also known as ‘the group of death’. This group is consisted of by far the most talented and well-rounded group in the tournament.

 

Spain:

KEEPERS: Dani Sotres (Racing Santander),   Adrián Ortola (Villarreal)

DEFENDERS: Manquillo (Atlético Madrid), Jonny Castro (Celta), Derik and Llorente (Real   Madrid), Isra (Sevilla), Gaya (Valencia)

MIDFIELDERS: Ager Aketxe (Athletic Bilbao), Oliver Torres and Saúl Ñiguez (Atlético Madrid), Ruben García (Levante), Suso   (Liverpool), Denis Suárez (Manchester City), Jairo (Racing Santander),   Campana (Sevilla), Juan Bernat (Valencia)

FORWARDS: Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona), Jesé (Real Madrid), Paco   Alcácer (Valencia).

Spain arrive at Turkey 2013 as one of the favorites for the title after their successful victory at the UEFA European U-19 Championship 2012. They are under the tutelage of Julen Lopetegui, former goalkeeper for Barcelona and Real Madrid.  The juvenile Spainiards play a style similar to that of the country’s senior team. The heart of their play is focused on short passing and possession combined with technical ability. This is a style which central midfielder Oliver Torres is at the cornerstone and  is the chief orchestrator. He pulls the strings of this young side playing deep as a regista, almost similar to the role of Pirlo at Juventus. The only exception is that Oliver Torres possesses the mobility that Pirlo doesn’t. Oliver Torres is not alone, he has the help of the two influential wingers Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona B and Jese Rodriguez from Real Madrid Castilla. Jese was the leading scorer of the U19 European Championships last summer with 5 and has scored 22 goals in the Liga Adelante this season. He is a pure winger and has the ability to take on players with his speed, power and intensity.  Deulofeu is a similar player. He makes darting, powerful runs through the center of the pitch. He mainly occupies the left wing as an inverted winger and tends to cut onto his favored right foot. Both players will be eager to prove to their clubs that they are able to play in the first team. The U-20 World Cup could certainly be the door to the future.  This squad will be ambitious to replicate the senior side in attaining more and more silverware. With Brazil out of the tournament they could regain the title they lost two years ago.

 

Ghana:

GOALKEEPERS: Eric Ofori Antwi (Amidaus Professionals), Felix Annan (Asante Kotoko), Michael Sai (Berekum Chelsea)

DEFENDERS: Richmond Nketiah (Medeama FC), Jeremiah Arkorful (Tema Youth), Lawrence  Lartey (Ash Gold), Ahmed Adams (Berekum Chelsea), Ofori Ebenezer (New  Edubiase United), Baba Mensah (Neve Yosef, Israel)

MIDFIELDERS: Seidu Salifu (Wa All Stars), Derrick Mensah (Tema Youth), Michael Anaba  (Asante Kotoko), Clifford Aboagye (Udinese, Italy), Emmanuel Gyamfi (Wa  All Stars), Moses Odjer (Tema Youth), Frank Sarfo-Gyamfi (Maritzburg  United, South Africa), Kwame Boahene (Liberty Professionals), Jacob  Asiedu-Apau (Medeama)

FORWARDS: Kennedy Ashia (Liberty Professionals), Ebenezer Assifuah (Liberty Professionals), Francis Narh (Tema Youth)

Foreign-based players to join later: Alfred Duncan (Inter Milan, Italy), Richmond Boakye Yiadom (Sassuolo, Italy) Baba Rahman (Greuther Fürth, Germany)

The Ghana U-20 team known as ‘Black Satellites’ are one of the teams in favor of winning this tournament. They are the former victors of the U-20 World Cup as well as the African Youth Championship. They are the only African nation that have challenged the footballing giants of Europe and South America and have had success. The Ghanian team is filled with young talented players who blend their technique and skill on the ball with their sheer pace and determination. Their coach is Sellas Tetteh, who was in charge of the 2009 side that won both the African U-20 title as well as the World Cup. He has opted for mainly locally based players even with some options in Europe including Inter Milan’s Alfred Duncan. The Black Satellites will be without star players Andre Ayew, and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu. Will key players such as Lawrence Lartey, Ebenezer Assifuah, and Eric Ofori Antwi be able to stand out such as their predecessors did not so long ago?

 

USA:

GOALKEEPERS: Cody Cropper (Southampton FC; Maple Grove, Minn.), Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara; Santa Rosa, Calif.), Zach Steffen (FC DELCO; Downington, Pa.)

DEFENDERS: Eric Miller (Creighton; Woodbury, Minn.), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Guadalajara; Riverside, Calif.), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids; Boulder, Colo.), Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy; Los Angeles, Calif.), Caleb Stanko (SC Freiburg; Holly, Mich.), Javan Torre (UCLA; Santa Monica, Calif.), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders; Seattle, Wash.)

MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; Plano, Texas), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake; Garden Grove, Calif.), Benji Joya (Santos Laguna; San Jose, Calif.), Mikey Lopez (Sporting Kansas City; Mission, Texas), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew; Gahanna, Ohio)

FORWARDS: Daniel Cuevas (Santos Laguna; Sacramento, Calif.), Danny Garcia (North Carolina; Dallas, Texas), Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire; Bolingbrook, Ill.), Alonso Hernandez (C.F. Monterrey; El Paso, Texas), Mario Rodriguez (1. FC Kaiserslautern; North Hollywood, Calif.), Jose Villarreal (LA Galaxy; Inglewood, Calif.)

The ‘Stars and Stripes’ will be making their 13th appearance since this competition.  After missing out on the last finals in Colombia they have come more prepared than ever. They may not be one of the favorites to win this competition but they are currently at their pinnacle. The U.S.A are led by their engine and powerful force Benji Joya, an attacking midfielder who is naturally right-footed but he scores most of his goals with shots off his left.  His orchestrations and link up play with Jose Villareal will be a vital part of this group. This squad is led by their coach Tab Ramos, who represented the States at the 1983 U-20 World Cup. This team will continue to prosper as the development of U.S. Soccer continues.

 

France:

GOALKEEPERS: Alphonse Areola (París SG/L1), Paul Charruau (Valenciennes), Maxime Dupe (Nantes/L2)

 DEFENDERS: Lucas Digne (Lille), Dimitri Foulquier (Rennes), Christopher Jullien (Auxerre), Jérôme Roussillon (Sochaux), Youssouf Sabaly (PSG), Mouhamadou Naby Sarr (Lyon), Samuel Umtiti (Lyon), Kurt Zouma (Saint-Etienne)

MIDFIELDERS: Geoffrey Kondogbia (Sevilla), Mario Lemina (Lorient), Axel Ngando Elessa (Rennes), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Jordan Veretout (Nantes)

FORWARDS: Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (Troyes), Alexy Bosetti (Nice), Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre), Florian Thauvin (Bastia), Thibaut Vion (Porto).

Last but not least we have the nucleus of youth football, France, also known as Les Bleuets. The French have never lacked talent. The recent uprisings of Pogba, Sevilla’s Kondogbia, Thauvin, Zouma and others have sparked a new age for French football. This is the first time that France have qualified for two consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cups. Having participated in the first-ever event, they had to endure a 20-year wait for their second appearance, and then another four for their third, followed by a decade-long gap before their fourth and most recent qualification, in 2011.(Fifa.com)They are led by Pierre Mankowski former assistant coach of the France National team. These group of players have experience and most have already played at the highest level. They play a 4-2-3-1 formation, designed to be compact and competitive in midfield with the tenacious partnerships of Kondogbia and Pogba, as well as the pace of the young 20-year old maestro/forward Florian Thauvin.  A  new renaissance and evolution has come to France and this team is at the center of it.

A new crop of fresh young talent will be at this respected tournament with the squads from the ‘Group of Death’ being at the quintessence of it. Its only a matter of time before they become world class players.

Follow on twitter: @PureCatenaccio

 

Asier Illarramendi

June 10th, 2013

Full Name: Asier Illarramendi Andonegi
Team: Real Sociedad
Position: Midfielder
Age: 23
Birth Date: March 8, 1990
Birth Place: Mutriku, Spain
Height: 5 feet 9 inches

The Basque youngster continues a rich tradition of great talent coming out of this particular region of Spain. Athletic Bilbao often get the plaudits for their development of players like Iker Muniain but this time it is their fierce rivals, Real Sociedad that are bringing youngsters up through their ranks. Illarramendi is another defensive midfielder that seems destined for the senior national side, a side that already boasts, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez as world class midfield anchors.

Illarramendi is a small town lad, who still lives in his hometown of Mutriku, a coastal town in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Despite the fact that his performances for La Real this season will have drawn the gaze of clubs from all over Europe, he maintains that he is happy in Spain.

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“I go to train every day with Real Sociedad and then come home,” he told UEFA.com. “I’ve got everything I need there – family, friends, my girlfriend. I’m happier there than anywhere else.”

Despite this, he looks to be a key cog in Julen Lopetegui’s side in Isreal for the U21 European Championship and for the senior side moving forward.

The twenty-three year old is a one club man so far in his career, having been brought up through La Real’s cantera and then spending three seasons with the B side, learning his trade and helping them gain promotion back to the Segunda Division B. There are few players who can dictate the tempo of a game in such a way that it looks effortless and Illarramendi is one of those. Everything starts with him when he is on the pitch, whether for club or country, he begins attacks playing on his more creative teammates with clever passes. Defensively his positioning is sound, allowing for those same creative players to commit forward, knowing that Asier is behind them ready to win the ball back and start the cycle all over again.

Illarramendi anchored Real Sociedad to an impressive campaign which saw the club finish fourth in La Liga, lining them up for a UEFA Champions League qualification spot over the summer. His summer with the U21 Spanish side could be a great finish to a stellar season for a youngster who we have not finished hearing about.

Thiago Alcantara

June 9th, 2013

Full Name: Thiago Alcantara
Team: FC Barcelona
Position: Center Midfielder
Age: 22
Birth Date: April 11, 1991
Birth Place: San Pietro Vernotico, Italy
Height: 5 ft 7 in

The Italian, born to a Brazilian father (Brazilian 1994 World Cup winner Mazinho), that chose to play for Spain, is a genius in the making. He started playing at the age of five in the youth system of Flamengo in Brazil before moving to Spain to continue his footballing education. At the age of ten he returned to the Brazilian club where he stayed for four years before signing for FC Barcelona.

His patience at FC Barcelona, having worked all the way through the youth ranks at La Masia has begun to pay off as he has combined his innate Brazilian flair for the audacious with a Spanish appreciation for the simple play. This unique combination has created a dynamic player who can play in a deep lying playmaker position, or right behind the center forward. He is a playmaker first, but is not afraid to shoot from distance, his vision for through balls is exquisite and his work rate off of the ball is something that he has learned over the years from his colleagues.

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The twenty-two year old has earned comparisons to Xavi with his accuracy and eye for the killer pass. But in truth, his play is one part Xavi’s reliability and another part Iniesta’s creativity and dribbling, a truly exciting prospect for fans of La Roja and FC Barcelona. He is a U17 and U21 European Champion and is the captain of the current U21 side. Thiago has already been capped for the senior national side and will likely be the next midfield general for Vicente del Bosque’s side when Xavi chooses to retire from international play. With FC Barcelona he has two UEFA Champions League titles and four La Liga titles, a trophy cabinet that will only get bigger as this young star continues to develop as a player.

It is curious to note that Thiago’s cousin, Rodrigo, played with Real Madrid’s youth system and now is a prolific scorer for La Rojita and with Portuguese club Benfica, his brother, Rafinha is currently a member of FC Barcelona B and will likely be with the first team starting in the 2013/14 season.

Football Cantera

The future of La Roja is now.