The finest players on the planet will be trying to bring glory to themselves and their country this summer, but a select few of them will not be established stars, but young players full of hope and potential. This week, we’ll be examining five young players looking to stake their claims to future megastardom in South Africa.
Vladimir Weiss – Slovakia
There are plenty of players who can claim footballing relatives, but Vladimir Weiss can lay claim to the one of the finest football pedigrees of anyone not named Maldini. Weiss’s grandfather, also named Vladimir Weiss, played over two hundred league matches for Inter Bratislava and won a silver medal with Czechoslovakia at the 1964 Olympics. His father, yet another Vladimir Weiss, is also his national team manager, and a former Czechoslovakian and Slovakian international who appeared in the 1990 World Cup. A tricky winger who likes to run with the ball, Weiss has been knocking on the door of the first team at Manchester City, was recently loaned to Bolton Wanderers to gain first-team experience. Described as one of the most exciting young players at City, he picked up his first six caps last year, and with his father as Slovakia manager, he should get a perfect chance to honor the family name in South Africa.
Davide Santon – Italy
At some point, every remotely talented young Italian defender is compared with Paolo Maldini. It’s almost a right of passage, and can usually be dismissed out of hand as media hype. But when the person making the comparison is none other than Italy’s World-Cup winning national coach Marcello Lippi, you kind of have to take his word for it. Lippi thinks so highly of the Inter Milan defender, he handed him his first full cap at the tender age of 18, and Santon only missed the Confederations Cup through injury, which has also limited his playing time this season. Last season, he made twenty first team appearances for Inter, and drew praise from Cristiano Ronaldo after going head-to-head with the Portuguese winger in Inter’s draw against eventual finalists Manchester United. Quick, technically proficient, and composed in defense, Santon’s dynamism could mean the difference if Italy aims to retain its crown in South Africa.
Dominic Adiyiah – Ghana
Dominic Adiyiah was, by all accounts, the breakout star of last summer’s Under-20 World Cup, making a clean sweep of the Golden Ball, Golden Boot, and MVP awards to match his Gold Medal. But Dominic Adiyiah is no stranger to expectation. In 2007, at the tender age of 18, he was named the most valuable player in the Ghana Premier League. In 2008, he was brought to Europe by Norwegian club Fredrikstad, before his explosive U-20 World Cup performances saw Italian giants AC Milan fork out a reported half-million Euros for his services. Powerful and athletic, he will hope to replicate his astonishing U-20 form (17 goals in 16 matches) on the biggest stage of all.
David Ki – South Korea
There are plenty of footballing rivalries, but there are a special few which go far beyond sport. There are players who wilt under that kind of pressure, and then there’s David Ki, or Ki Sung-Yong. At the tender age of 19, Ki scored his first goal for South Korea to equalize against North Korea. Just a few weeks later, he scored a 92nd minute winner for his club, FC Seoul, against their biggest rivals, Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Winner of the Asian Young Footballer of the Year for 2009, he was admired by such luminaries as Sir Alex Ferguson before signing for Celtic in January for ?2.1m. He was named man of the match on his debut. Already an important member of the South Korean national team, he will be given every opportunity to leave his mark on South Africa.
Jozy Altidore – USA
I couldn’t very well make this list and leave my main man Jozy off, now could I? At just 20 years of age, Jozy has left behind the “USMNT striker of the future” tag and stepped up the be the Yanks’ spearhead, utilizing his natural strength and athleticism to create chances for his teammates and himself. No stranger to expectation, Altidore holds the records as the youngest American to score: A goal in their first full international cap, a goal in World Cup qualifying, and a hat-trick in World Cup Qualifying. Owned by Villarreal but getting good reviews for his loan performances with Hull City, Altidore’s finest hour yet was perhaps his goal against Spain in the Semi-Final of the 2009 confederations Cup. The rest of the players examined here might all be great players someday, but none is yet as important to his national team as Altidore is to the USA.
Keith Hickey is a contribution writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com