Top 5 U18 Latin American Starlets for the Future

(Article first featured on In Our Humble Opinion 01/11/11)

So everybody already knows about the burgeoning talents of Brazilian starlets Neymar, Lucas and Ganso, all of whom are still plying their trade in Brazil.  Despite Brazil’s current economic growth, allowing clubs to lure back old legends and keep hold of young talent for longer, the move across the Atlantic seems inevitable for these 3 players with the Premiership being a feasible destination.  The English league boasts some of the finest South American talent with the likes of Agüero, Suarez, Chicharito & Sandro all important players for their respective clubs.  And with Liverpool’s new deal with Uruguayan giants Nacional, the club that produced Suarez and Coates, it appears that England’s top teams are keeping a keen eye on the football factory that is Latin America.

So which young, lesser known players from Latin America can we expect to burst onto the scene in years to come?  Some of the players I’ll mention are already in Europe while others are still in their native countries. 

First up, staying with Liverpool, in the last couple of weeks are one of the clubs who have been linked with a move for Peruvian wonderkid Andy Polo.  La ‘Joya’ (the Jewel) of Peru has seen his stock take a meteoric rise in the last few months.  Still only 17, he has burst onto the scene with some break-taking performances for Universitario, helping them into the quarter-finals of the Copa Sudamericana. He has performed well on the international front too with 3 goals in 4 games for the Peru U-17 side.  Still a relatively unknown quantity, this diamond in the rough is blessed with blistering pace and a great finishing ability.  Although it seems likely that he’ll move to the Bundesliga, he could well one day follow in Nobby Solano’s footsteps and be the next Peruvian to make in big in the Prem. 

Another 17 year old that Europe’s top clubs, notably Chelsea, have been fighting over is River Plate’s Lucas Ocampos. I saw Ocampos play for an Argentina side at the U17 World Cup this summer and he was the one bright spark in a disappointing campaign for the Albiceleste.  Tall, strong, good in the air, absolutely rapid with a repertoire of skills he has drawn inevitable comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, as discussed in this recent article.  The wing-forward is now a regular for River and has made a big impact on the Primera B Nacional.  He certainly looks an exciting prospect but I worry that a move this early could be dangerous, especially having not even playing in Argentina’s top league yet.

Another Argentine that I am a huge admirer of is Juan Manuel Iturbe, already at Porto.  Hailed as the ‘Paraguayan Messi’ the 18 year old forward certainly shares many attributes such as great ball control and dribbling ability, raw pace and acceleration and bags of flair.  Like Ocampos, Iturbe too hasn’t played in Argentina’s top division but has valuable experience playing for Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno in the Copa Libertadores and for Argentina U20s, which convinced the Portugese giants to add the starlet to their wealth of young South American talent.

A youngster already on the books of a Premiership club is Brazilian attacking forward Lucas Piazon.  Some impressive performances for Brazil U15 and U17 led Chelsea to move quickly to secure the signature of the 17 year old from Sao Paulo.  Although more of a striker, inevitable comparisons to Kaka were made and Piazon can comfortably play in the hole too.  However, he didn’t quite live up to his star billing at the U17 World Cup, managing just 1 goal and 2 assists in 6 appearances.  It was Flamengo man Adryan and surprise package Ademilson  who really caught the eye, both registering 5 goals apiece.  It’s far too early to predict how Piazon’s Chelsea career will pan out but his talent should be nurtured at Chelsea although it highlights the potential dangers in buying talent that young.

After a successful summer, Joel Campbell earned himself a move to Arsenal and could be one to make an impact in England in the next couple of years.  The Costa Rican speed merchant impressed at the Gold Cup, U20 World Cup and Copa America and under the guidance of Arsene Wenger he could flourish.  However, it is his equally zippy compatriot John Jairo Ruiz who I’m going to focus on.  Still plying his trade in his native Costa Rica with Deportivo Saprissa, it won’t be long before a top European club comes knocking, with Barcelona apparently among those interested.  Ruiz eclipsed the much touted Campbell at the U20 World Cup, ending up as Costa Rica’s top scorer with 3 goals.  Either a support striker or flying winger, the versatile 17 year old has electric pace and is a smart finisher.

A potential source of further Central American talent could come from the batch of Mexican youngsters that lifted the U17 World Cup on home soil this summer.  I won’t go into much detail, as I have already mentioned many of the squad in a previous blog but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them follow the path set by Chicharito.

Chelsea have already acquired one of the stars of the U20 squad Ulises Davila, currently on loan at Vitesse, who impressed in Mexico’s run to the semi finals.  One wonders whether, like Piazon, he’ll get a chance at Chelsea but he looks a decent prospect.

And finally a word on some of the best of the rest…

Venezuela’s resurgence and future lies firmly in the hands of skilful, diminutive midfielder Yohandry Orozco, currently at Wolfsburg.  The U20 World Cup saw a very talented group of Colombians impress and I’m a big fan of the likes of James Rodriguez, Santiago Arias, Michael Ortega and Luis Muriel. Winners of that tournament Brazil also have some good youngsters in Oscar and Henrique (both of whom made my Team of the Tournament) as well as Casemiro and Danilo.

Abel Hernandez looks an outstanding prospect for Uruguay and U20 captain Diego Polenta will surely go onto bigger things too.  Finally, young Chilean striker Eduardo Vargas is having a cracking Copa Sudamerica and earning some attention from Europe.  The impressive Universidad de Chile side also contains young talent Angelo Henriquez.  Anyone of these players has a decent chance of making the move across the Atlantic if they haven’t already, and hopefully gracing the world’s finest league with their talents one day.