Tuesday, April 7, 2009
My friend Tom Legg has a keen eye for talent. He's often telling me about this new prodigy or that new wunderkind that I should be keeping my eye on. He knows more about the Beautiful Game than just about anyone I know!
With that in mind, I asked him if he'd share a post he recently started on the famous soccer forum BigSoccer.com about the Top 10 African Youngsters every one will be talking about come the 2010 World Cup.
I hope to share more of Tom's insights with you in the future.
With that in mind, take it away Tom!
I started a review of the top 10 African prospects back in 2005 and have only recently begun updating my initial reviews of them. For those of you interested in joining in on the discussions, please visit the forum post here.
The list below highlights some of the best under-23 African players and other young players I expect to be on your lips, and the lips of many European pundits come the end of the 2010 World Cup:
1. Taye Taiwo (Olympique de Marseille/Nigeria): Over the last three season Taye has made the left back berth at OM - and Nigeria - his own. Although his development into a 'battering ram' attacking full-back has drawn praise from some quarters, its his defensive limitations - positioning, lapses in concentration and slow in the transition - that have deterred English and Italian suitors. He is without doubt a fantastic left back on his day; a pocket rocket with a shot to match, strong in the tackle etc., I only hope he gets the opportunity to move to a Premiership club at the end of this season to aid his development further as I for one would love to see him blossom into a excellent - all-round - left back in time for the 2010 World Cup.
2. John Obi Mikel (Chelsea/Nigeria): Being a Man Utd fan I should resent John Obi for what he did to us prior to joining Chelsea, but I don't. Over the last two season John seems to have finally settled down in London, securing a place - in the absence of the excellent Michael Essien - in the heart of the Chelsea midfield. But for those of us who watched John in his earlier years at Lyn, there is a hint of disappointment when I see him sitting in front of that Chelsea defense, void of creative duties. Of course he is currently not a spot on Frank Lampard as an attacking option in the middle, but give the lad a chance at least. The Chelsea fans I know are still not keen on him, generally speaking, but that's mainly due to them never seeing him played consistently in a position that suits him best. Saying this, I do believe he could turn out to be a more than effective defensive midfielder, if Chelsea decide to settle on that role for him and coach in accordingly. But there will always be a hint of ‘what if’ in my mind when I see him play. Lets hope in the next two season he can settle into a position and begin to convince the doubters out there. He certainly has the potential.
3. Alex Song (Arsenal/Cameroon): The defensive midfielder is seen as the most utilitarian player in the Arsenal first team this season, playing right back, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, central defender and left winger. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to watch the young Cameroonian play, imagine a player with the squad standing of John O’Shea (Man Utd) but double the ability (Man Utd fans out there, don’t you dare even think of retorting to that statement).
Without a doubt, Alex’s best position is sitting in front of the back four doing all the dirty work. The 21 year old's determination and sheer power in the tackle has made him a fan's favorite at the Emirates; during Arsenal’s ‘purple patch’ at the end of 08, Alex was one of the few players void of criticism from all of my Gooner “friends”. Similar in some cases to John Obi, let us all hope that Alex can find his place at Arsenal in the next two seasons, in time to impress us all in South Africa.
4. Jonathan Quartey (Kaizer Chiefs/Ghana): Currently playing for Kaizer Chiefs; to be honest, I haven't seem Jon play for a while. But the move to Kaizer's in 2008 is a positive step for the 20 year old. The PSL will give the central defender a good development platform and chance of being scouted to play in Europe; most likely France or England. ‘Giant Jon’ as he’s know in Ghana is a product of the famous Liberty Football Academy and first caught my eye at the 2005 U17 World Cup in Peru. A player who from an early age resisted the chance to move to Europe, preferring to develop in an environment where he's guaranteed first team football, Jon is a player with a firm grasp on his present and future development. He recently made his debut for the national team in Ghana’s opening World Cup Qualifying game against Benin.
5. Isaac Promise (Nigeria/Trabzonspor): Captained the fabulous Nigeria side in the Beijing Olympics last year and impressed several European/Nigerian scouts/officials at the competition. Currently playing for Trabzonspor - one of the top five in Turkey - and doing very well indeed. He has blossomed into a typical number 9, good on the ball, fantastic positional awareness and good first touch. The one thing he lacks at the moment? A decent goal ratio. A move to Germany or France would aid the 21 year old's progression greatly.
6. Stephan Mbia (Rennes/Cameroon): Regarded as one of the best all round midfielders in France, Mbia and Song will be the foundation for Cameroon’s midfield for the next 10 years. Song’s power, combined with Mbia’s unbelievable engine is a combination most international sides would be more then happy to have.
The 22 year old is regularly linked with moves to the Premiership; Newcastle, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham and Everton who have all been keeping tabs on the energetic midfielder over the past two seasons. If he doesn’t move this summer, I will eat my hat and scarf!
7. Gervinho (Le Mans/Ivory Coast): The 21 year old forward is on a fast-track to success; he has already made 3 appearances for the Ivory Coast and is continually linked with the big clubs in France and Premiership giants Arsenal. By no means a prolific striker the young Ivorian is usually deployed as a support striker/winger. The worry I have for him is that the Ivorians are blessed with options on the wings and upfront; Baki Kone, Drogba, Kalou, Sanogo, Sekou Cisse, Arouna Kone, Dindane, the list goes on. I really hope Vahid takes a chance with the speedy Gervinho and includes him in the squad.
8. Andre Ayew (OM/Ghana): Son of Ghana legend Abedi Pele, Andre has been causing waves for Ghanaian youth sides over the past season. Dede - as he’s know - captained the U20 side to victory in the African U20 championships in Rwanda earlier this year and impressed continental and international pundits with his performances. Like Gervinho, Dede is regularly used as a winger/second striker for both club and country.
A quick turn of pace, good eye for goal and a decent box of tricks, he should develop into a more than useful asset for the Ghanaian national side. My worry with Dede is his build; relatively short and slightly built there are times when simply disappears in more physical games. For me he has to address this as the foremost area of development in his game if he's to be a success in South Africa.
9. Clifford Mulenga (Zambia/Bidvest Wits): Voted CAF Best Young Player in 2008, Zambia’s Ryan Giggs is one of Zambian football's biggest superstars. The speedy winger was, in his youth, linked to such clubs are Real Madrid and Lyon but the player has suffered from an hugely inflated opinion of himself over the past few seasons. His ability to striker fear into the eyes of covering defenders with his direct style of play has won over some Zambian journalists, but his petulance and ego leads him to over do the basics and frustrate team mates at club and international level. He has undoubted potential, and at 21 has plenty of time to grow up and realize that talent. Let's hope a World Cup stage will allow him to do that.
10. Anthony Annan (Rosenborg/Ghana): You may all rave about Ghana’s midfield three of Appiah, Essien and Muntari; but the apple of my eye is 22 year old Anthony Annan. I have saved the best for last folks, he’s brilliant in the tackle, quick in the transition and he will be coming to a TV screen near you in 2010. Those who worry that the decline of Stephan Appiah will have a detrimental effect on the Ghanian side, worry no more! With Appiah sitting in front of the defense - unable to move those old legs of his, Annan and Essien will do all the running... and then some.
Annan could become everything that Michael Essien has developed into, and more; his range of passing is far superior to Essien, with the young Rosenborg defender as comfortable with a 40 yard pass then he is with a 5 yard one. I hope for Ghana’s sake they play five across the middle when defending, then allow two; Muntari and Essien/Annan to bomb forward and support a loan striker.
Besides the players above there are two other players that you will not be seeing in 2010, but should hear more about in the coming two seasons.
Mcdonald Mariga and Osmane Jallow.
Osmane (Brondby/Gambia) is one of Gambian football's best kept secrets. Jallow currently plays for the famous Brondby IF in Sweden. Netted 5 in 10 this season and one Brondby fan I know has said the tall and agile Gambian is already a fan favorite. After a spell in Qatar with Al Ain and then Raja Casablanca, he made the move to Sweden at the start of this season. Already a full international with Gambia - 3 games and 1 goal - Jallow is one African player who's stock is rising by the game. He hit 11 in 15 for Al Ain and 15 in 19 for Raja. This kid is going places people. I've seen one league game this season - Brondby against SønderjyskE - where Jallow scored a sublime over-head kick. Big, quick and with a goals ratio to write home about, the striker will no doubt be on the radars of some of Europe’s elite this coming summer.
McDonald Mariga (Parma/Kenya) has not only blossomed into one of Parma's best players this season, but one of Serie B's most consistent and impressive midfielders. The tall midfielder was already on the verge of a Premiership move in 2007, but his £2.7 million pound move to Pompey broke down due to work permit problems. He moved to Parma instead, initially on loan, but impressed so much that cash strapped Parma decided to splash the cash on Mariga and make his move permanent.
This season's performances have drawn speculation that the midfielder will move to new pastures in the summer, with AC Milan and Juventus the most likely destinations. I only hope that if he does move in the summer, he will not be warming benches in Turn and Milan next season.