Bolivia may be the current Unofficial Football World Champions after their surprise, yet superb and thoroughly deserved 2-0 win against Argentina in their World Cup Qualifying clash in La Paz, but they are likely to face strong competition from other nations who are starting to bring through the new generation of players that could lead them to glory in the future.
Youth development continues to grow in importance, with several countries now placing considerable investment in academies and coaches in order to produce talented players who can lead their national team to glory. Belgium, Romania and Iceland are prime examples of emerging countries who have hugely benefitted from an influx of players who are not only able to compete at the highest level, but also give the best teams in international football a real run for their money. Standing still is simply not an option in the modern game, and although some nations can remain triumphant in the UFWC for a number of years, there will come a time when a new wave of players will have to come in and replace the old guard. It is then up to the managers to nurture the young talent that becomes available and ensure that they are ready to represent their country, as the pressure to perform and succeed can often lead to wonderkids not fulfilling their true potential.
It remains to be seen who makes their mark in the UFWC in the future, particularly those who were born in the 21st Century, but there are numerous standout names who are either already making a name for themselves or have the potential to become one of the best players their country has ever produced.
Kylian Mbappe (France)
Those who have watched the UEFA Champions League this season will know all about the explosive talent of Kylian Mbappe who has shot to prominence. The 18-year-old star has all the makings of a top quality player, with Mbappe likened to French legend Thierry Henry due to his considerable pace, agility and clinical finishing ability. His superb brace against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League Quarter Finals provided a real indication into why several major European clubs are lining up a big-money move for the French prodigy in the summer, although the game itself mattered little due to the bomb attacks on the German team’s bus less than 24 hours earlier.
Mbappe is a prominent part of a hugely talented AS Monaco side who have made a big impression in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League this season, with Betway tipping the French Principality side at 8/1 on April 13th to surprise everyone and win the latter of the two competitions. AS Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim may find it difficult to keep hold of a hugely talented star who has already picked up two caps for the French national team, and with Didier Deschamps believed to be a big fan of Mbappe, then the 19-year-old may become a household name sooner rather than later.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)
Legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has remained the Italy national team’s number one for many years, but in AC Milan starlet Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Azzurri may have found a perfect replacement. The 18-year-old has already made 61 appearances in an AC Milan shirt, and although his club are not the force they once were, there is no question that Donnarumma is one of the most talented goalkeepers around. His considerable frame of 6ft 5” is matched by excellent distribution, shot-stopping and handling skills, and given the fact he is just 18, he can only get even better as time goes by.
Donnarumma may have to bide his time before he fills the considerable shoes of Buffon on a permanent basis, and if he can reproduce the same level of performances for Italy as the 39-year-old did throughout his international career, then the team currently ranked 9th in the UFWC could find themselves much higher in the future.
Ezequiel Barco (Argentina)
Argentina, who are currently 3rd in the UFWC rankings after losing the title to Bolivia , have been blessed with some of the naturally gifted players in world football over the years, with Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona standing out as the best to ever play the game. Trying to find players of equal ability and talent has not been so easy in recent years, but in 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco, Argentina may have unearthed another gem.
The midfield starlet has broken into the Independiente side this season, featuring in all but two of their Primera Division games (seventeen out of nineteen, with five starts and twelve substitute appearances) as Gabriel Milito has shown excellent man-management to nurture his undoubted potential carefully. Barco has the exuberance of youth to break through defensive lines and take on his marker through skilful, fast dribbling that defenders struggle to deal with. He scored the second goal of his professional career in Independiente’s recent 5-0 hammering of Patronato to further increase their chances of qualifying for the Copa Sudamericana, and if Barco continues to progress at his current rate, then he could make a real name for himself in an Argentina shirt.
Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands)
The Netherlands has long remained one of leading countries in producing talented players that carry the technical ability required to enjoy a fantastic career in the sport. Although they have struggled in recent times, with Betway rating their chances of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup as low as 8/13 in the betting odds listed on April 13th after winning just two of their first five qualifying matches, there are always a number of highly-rated young prospects waiting in the wings to make a breakthrough into the national team.
17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt is enjoying a dream debut season as a professional footballer, with the Ajax defender not only following in the footsteps of Patrick Kluivert, Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard by scoring on his debut, but also winning his first Netherlands cap as a starter in their 2-0 defeat in Bulgaria. The result ultimately cost Danny Blind his job and has left the Netherlands in real danger of missing out on Russia 2018, but the fact that de Ligt was picked ahead of Joel Veltman and other more experienced options speak volumes of how highly they rate him. His strong aerial ability is matched by excellent body strength, positional sense and reading of the game, and although de Ligt is a grounded young man who knows he has a long way to go, he has all the attributes to become a big part of a national team, that have not held the UFWC crown since July 2014, in the future.