Top ten rising stars
Monday, 9 March 2009
Inspired by FC Internazionale Milano defender Davide Santon's superb UEFA Champions League debut a fortnight ago, uefa.com picks out ten top young players making an impact in their first season in the competition.
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Inspired by FC Internazionale Milano defender Davide Santon's eye-catching UEFA Champions League debut against Manchester United FC a fortnight ago, uefa.com picks out ten of the best youngsters from teams in the last 16 making a mark in their first season in the competition.
Sergio Agüero (Club Atlético de Madrid)
When Agüero blazed on to the scene with a double strike to stun PSV Eindhoven on Matchday 1, European football's élite competition had added another world-class player to its ranks. With six more tournament appearances and a further goal to his name since then, the 20-year-old Argentinian attacker has bolstered his reputation as a player to fear. "He is a lot like I was," Diego Maradona said of Agüero, the father of his grandson. "He's chunky like me and uses his physicality to power his way forward." With UEFA Champions League debutants Raúl García and Miguel, both 22, also impressing, the future looks bright for Atlético.
Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona)
The son of former Barça goalkeeper Carles Busquets, Sergio has enjoyed a heady rise since winning promotion to the Segunda B with his club's youth team last season. The 20-year-old central midfielder, who has scored twice in five UEFA Champions League appearances, has established himself in Josep Guardiola's squad while also turning the head of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who called him up for the February friendly against England. Schooled at Barcelona's La Masia youth complex, where he developed a sound positional sense, neat touch and a powerful shot, Busquets' strong physical presence and solid tackling add to an impressive list of attributes.
Jonny Evans (Manchester United FC)
Evans, 21, has been thrust into the deep end this term but his impressive form, along with the promise shown by Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and twin brothers Rafael and Fabio, suggests United could continue to lead the way for years to come. Evans' development into one of the most promising centre-halves in Britain has been helped by loan spells at R. Antwerp FC and Sunderland AFC. Agile and aerially strong, the Northern Ireland international has provided cover for Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand, playing a key part in establishing United's defence as the tighest in the competition.
Hulk (FC Porto)
Named after the cartoon character he loved as a child, Porto striker Hulk has made quite an impression on the European game after four years playing in Japan. Powerful, pacy and with a brilliant touch and shot, the all-action striker was a constant menace to Atlético's defence the first leg of Porto's first knockout round tie in Madrid, earning the 22-year-old Brazilian comparisons with his compatriot Ronaldo in the Spanish media. "He's very strong and has an incredible work-rate," former Porto great Mário Jardel said. All he needs now is a goal to cap off a terrific first season in the UEFA Champions League.
Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyonnais)
Goalkeeper Lloris has proved good value for the €10m it cost Lyon to prise him away from OGC Nice last summer. Under intense pressure, he seamlessly replaced veteran Grégory Coupet and at 1.86m has drawn comparisons with Edwin van der Sar. Lloris, however, has not had a defence anything like as strong as the Dutchman's to protect him. Twenty-two going on 30, he made his France debut against Uruguay last November and kept a clean sheet in a goalless draw. Lloris seems to get better each game and produced a stunning stop to keep out Daniel Alves's deflected free-kick in the first leg against Barcelona.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
At 23, Marchisio might not be considered a youngster by European standards, but in Italy, where young players are made to wait for a starting role, Marchisio is a member of the 'Baby-Juve' alongside the likes of Paolo De Ceglie and Sebastian Giovinco. Since returning from a loan spell at Empoli FC, Marchisio has won over Claudio Ranieri and has repaid that faith with winning goals against ACF Fiorentina and SSC Napoli, drawing comparisons with the legendary Marco Tardelli in the process. Unsurprisingly, the Bianconeri have offered him a contract until 2014.
Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal FC)
The Welsh international is already delivering on the promise he showed two years ago when he became the youngest player to appear for Cardiff City FC, making his league debut at just 16 years and 124 days on 28 April 2007. Technically talented and comfortable in possession, Ramsey has played in five UEFA Champions League games for the Gunners, scoring just 21 minutes into his debut at Fenerbahçe SK. Ramsey appears destined for success alongside teenagers Carlos Vela, Jack Wilshere and Fran Mérida who are also making great strides under Arsène Wenger.
Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal CF)
Rossi actually made his debut in the competition three seasons ago while with Manchester United, but an exception has been made as he only played for two minutes. The diminutive forward has a strength of character that belies his age, and was described by Arrigo Sacchi as "the kid who had it all; desire, intuition and personality". Determined to receive regular playing time, the 22-year-old found the perfect match in Villarreal and with three UEFA Champions League goals in five appearances this season, as well as his Italy debut, he has already proven his worth on the highest stage.
Davide Santon (FC Internazionale Milano)
When you are a right-footed teenager playing as a left-back at a top Italian club, comparisons with the great Paolo Maldini come easy. Eighteen-year-old Santon, nicknamed 'Il Bambino' by his coach José Mourinho, does not fear such high expectations. His admission test to the UEFA Champions League was against United's Cristiano Ronaldo; Santon passed it with top marks and the praise of both managers ringing in his ears. "He is not a promising player, he is already a great player," said Mourinho, who also gave 18-year-old striker Mario Balotelli his competition debut during the group stage.
Simão (Panathinaikos FC)
Calm in the eye of the storm, the defensive midfielder has impressed with his composure, work-rate and the accuracy of his passing. The 20-year-old has established himself as a regular under Henk ten Cate in his second season at the club and has played in all but one of Panathinaikos's games in their run from the second qualifying round to the last 16. Signed from Clube Ferroviário de Maputo in 2007, Simão has proven a real find, and it is no wonder Panathinaikos have already twice prolonged his contract and upped his salary.