The World Cup was full of fun and excitement. We saw the best team best the best player in the final, and while Lionel Messi may have won the Golden Ball, it was far from a one man show. Here is a list of some of the young up and coming players who made their mark on the biggest stage, and will surely be around for years to come. Starting with the most obvious one…
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Nobody would have picked him before the tournament to be the top goal scorer, yet here we are. No player made a bigger impact than James (which as we all know now, is pronounced “Haa-mess”). Colombia were always expected to be good, but when their star striker Falcao was forced out with injury, it seemed that their chances had gone with him. But instead there was an even greater star waiting to make his name… James Rodriguez. He’s a finisher and a provider for others too. He can score the boring goals and the sublime ones. He has amazing skill on the ball, he can dribbe, cross, pass – he’s got basically everything you can ask for in a creative winger. His goal against Uruguay will rightly be remembered as the best of the tournament by many, though his silky finish against Japan was equally brilliant. Rodriguez only signed for Monaco a year ago on a £30m transfer, but he is now a proud Real Madrid winger and the tied-thrid most expensive player of all time. Imagine a team with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez. Well, you don’t have to, it’s real. Real Madrid that is! James Rodriguez is the number one breakout player of Brazil 2014.
Paul Pogba (France)
Here is a player who has had some big expectations on his shoulder for a long time. The French midfielder had been a star prospect for Manchester United, but got transferred to Juventus when he felt like he was not getting enough chances in the top team. At the age of 21, he has already had a couple of superb seasons for Juve, and he carried that form into the World Cup where he anchored the midfield for a surprisingly good French team. With his long strides, he has been compared to France and Arsenal legend Patrick Viera, but Pogba is a true goal scorer too. His crushing long shots didn’t get the chance to shine but he still popped up for a headed goal in the win over Nigeria. Having been crowned the Young Player of the Tournament in Brazil, speculation is that Juventus may be hard pressed to keep him, though it looks now like he’ll be hanging around in Turin for a season or two yet.
Mario Götze (Germany)
Even if he were to never play another game, Mario Götze will still be a German legend. That is what happens when you score the winning goal for your country in the World Cup final. It is what every young player dreams of! Luckily though, the 22 year old seems primed for a long and succesful career. He will not be in the transfer columns like many of these other players though. That is because Götze has been a future star for a while now, signing for Bayern Munich in 2013 for £27m – the second highest ever transfer fee for a German after Mesut Özil – after rising through the Borussia Dortmund academy. He had some great moments and some frustrating ones in his first year with the reigning Bundesliga champs, playing off the bench a lot as he struggled to break into a stacked midfield. But with Toni Kroos leaving for Real Madrid, the path looks clear for the most popular man in Germany.
Enner Valencia (Ecuador)
Enner Valencia was a star for Ecuador, and a World Cup hero despite not even making it into the knockout stages. He bagged three headed goals in his nation’s three games, earning a whole lot of fans in the process. Not the least of which was Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, who quickly signed the lanky forward for a £12m fee. They see him as a great match for the powerful Andy Carroll, given Carroll’s latest injury, and we agree. The 25 year old scored every goal for his country in Brazil, and previously played for Mexican club Pachuca. As a young player, he was actually used more as a wing-back or a winger, and he had to overcome a childhood of poverty get where he is. Unfortunately a work permit delayed his West Ham transfer and we did not get to see him down under against the Phoenix. It looks like the Hammers really needed him though! We will no doubt see plenty more of Enner Valencia in the future.
Stefan De Vrij (Netherlands)
In a Dutch side which did not look very good on paper (aside from the attacking trio of RVP/Robben/Sneijder), they found success in a mixture of youth, experience and tactical genius. 22 year old De Vrij falls in the youth category, and he was one of their best players throughout the Cup. Plying in the heart of the Dutch backline, he was always well positioned, and was one of the better distributors of the ball from the defence. Despite only having played 12 internationals beforehand, Louis Van Gaal picked De Vrij in all 7 games that the Netherlands played – with young Stefan even scoring a goal against Spain. He is currently playing for Feyenoord in the Dutch league, though a transfer to a big team is probably coming. Lazio were close to signing him, until interest picked up from a number of Champions League teams thanks to his World Cup performances.
Mats Hummels (Germany)
Mats Hummels is 25 now, and has been around for a little while. He commands the back for Borussia Dortmund and has helped turn them into one of the best teams in Europe. He was superb for Germany at the World Cup, despite struggling with injury, and he even managed a couple of goals! There is no question that he will be the leader of the German backline for the next decade, but his chances of staying at Dortmund seem slim with the best teams in the world after his services. Any team would be improved by having a defender as good as Mats Hummels.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
This man scored the second and final hat-trick at Brazil 2014 (Thomas Müller got the other one). Shaqiri’s treble was a thing of beauty, full of great goals and clever finishes. It was the 50th ever hat-trick in the World Cup, and a valuable moment in the spotlight for a young player who has struggled to make an impact at Bayern Munich since signing in 2012 from FC Basel. With Robert Lewandowski joining Bayern this upcoming season, the chances for Shaqiri to play seem slim, so the World Cup was massive for the 22 year old and he did not disappoint. At only 5 foot 6, he possesses wonderful vision and is a born finisher with a lethal left foot. Liverpool were keen to bring him to Anfield, though recent reports say Shaqiri has agreed personal terms with Roma in Italy. With regular football coming his way, there are hopes that Shaqiri could develop into a true world beater.
DeAndre Yedlin (USA)
This 20 year old American right-back may have gone unnoticed by a lot of people, but he showed everyone what he can do in limited game-time with displays full of pace, skill and composure beyond his years. Currently playing for the Seattle Sounders in America, he is strongly expected to make the move to Europe sooner rather than later. He may not have gotten a whole lot of opportunities at the World Cup, but when he played he was electric. Yedlin has expressed his love and support for the Sounders, but the list of European clubs interested in him just keeps on growing.
Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland)
Ricardo Rodriguez is hot property in the world of football. He is the son of a Spanish father and Chilean mother, but was born and raised in Switzerland and after coming through the youth system, he made his senior international debut at the age of just 19 years old. The long-haired left back was a star for Switzerland throughout their campaign in Brazil, defending solidly and even setting up a couple of goals in the crucial opening win over Ecuador. He is one of the most highly regarded young players in his position, and his club Wolfsburg in Germany are having to fight off interest from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid, among others. At the moment they are busy trying to renegotiate his contract in a bid to get him to hang around for a while longer, having been one of the best performing fullbacks in the Bundesliga in 2013/14.
Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
You probably remember him as that other Colombian winger. The guy with the funny mimi-dreadlocks. Well, while James Rodriguez was hogging the headlines, it was Cuadrado setting him up, with 4 assists for the tournament – tied for first place with Toni Kroos. At 26, Cuadrado is no stranger to world football, gaining some fame for his post-goal celebration dances (which we saw for ourselves at Brazil 2014). After his performances at the World Cup though, he may finally have proved that he belongs amongst the best creative midfielders in the world. His club Fiorentina are getting transfer offers from ‘half of Europe’, among them teams as big as Barcelona and the best teams of the Premier League.