SWOL Top 100: The Best U-21 Footballers to Watch in 2013 (1-20)
At last, SWOL analyst Mohamed Al-Hendy finishes his countdown of the best U21 footballers in the world that you should watch in 2013 as we finish up the list with no. 1-20.
Note: While the comments made below are current, the ranking of the players listed was made in January. Keep in mind that many may have progressed or regressed since then.
Oscar dos Santos
2. Mario Gotze
3. Stephen El Shaarawy
4. Erik Lamela
5. James Rodriguez
Since this article was originally written, three of the players in the top five have made moves to different, arguably bigger clubs. Neymar finally left Santos for Barcelona, where he will finally be tested against the best of Europe and in a league rated by some as the best and most technical in the world. Mario Gotze made the jump from Borussia Dortmund to no. 1 league rivals and current Champions League holders Bayern Munich, and it will be interesting to see where and how he fits with his new team. Finally, James Rodriguez made the most risky move of the three, moving to noveau riche Ligue 1 newboys Monaco, where he'll be teaming up with former Porto teammate Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao.
Stephen El Shaarawy has struggled significantly since January with AC Milan, but remains a huge talent and major weapon for his club, while Lamela likewise is looking to establish himself as a key element of Roma's future and elevate its status in the coming season.
6. Cristian Eriksen
7. Thiago Alcantara
8. Jack Wilshere
9. Marco Verratti
Once again, here we have Alcantara and Isco moving to Bayern Munich & Real Madrid respectively, where they'll be looking to reach the next stage of their development as footballers. Isco will have to fight the likes of Mesut Ozil & Kaka for playing time, while Alcantara faces even more competition from the likes of Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and occasionally Gotze & Toni Kroos.
Of the five on this list, Wilshere is the one that seems to have stagnated the most, as injury problems & Arsenal's inability to progress as a team have limited his growth. Verratti too faced some struggles last season, but remains a huge part of Paris Saint-Germain's future, while Eriksen is continuing to take enjoy his time at Ajax until a major club attempts to sign him.
11. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
12. Mattia Destro
13. David Alaba
14. Raheem Sterling
15. Lucas Moura
Since these rankings Alaba has rocketed himself into the top 10 with some excellent play at Bayern Munich, playing an instrumental role in his club's historic treble-winning season. The other four, however, remain a little rough around the edges. Oxlade-Chamberlain & Raheem Sterling both showed great promise last season, but they'll need to show they can deliver on a more regular basis in order to earn more playing time.
Destro & Moura too have much to prove, coming off debut seasons for their new clubs. Both are blessed with incredible pace, but Lucas will have to prove himself good enough to keep out PSG's several other big names out of the lineup, while Destro needs to shake off the injury problems that plagued him last season and show himself to be Roma's best option up front.
16. Iker Muniain
18. Xherdan Shaqiri
19. Thibaut Courtois
20. Raphael Varane
Again, since the publication of this list, Varane & Shaqiri have probably proven themselves to be top 10 talents down the stretch of the season, and its hard to say there's anything Courtois hasn't done for Atletico Madrid either. Oscar will not find life easy at Chelsea with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle arriving at the club, but he certainly showed enough promise last season to indicate that he should be able to hold his own and at the very least a rotation spot at Chelsea.
Of all the guys on this list, Muniain is probably the one who has lost his way the most, due to the regression of his club, Athletic Bilbao. After finishing as runners-up for the Copa del Rey and Europa League in 2011-12, and finishing in an impressive sixth place in La Liga in 2010-11, Bilbao had a terrible season last year, finishing 12th in La Liga and failing to even qualify out of the group stages of the Europa League.
This regression has negatively affected Muniain, who registered only a single goal and assist in 33 league appearances for Bilbao. This coming after he had recorded nine goals and eight assists in all competitions the previous season. Muniain is still young, somehow still 20 years old after four years at his club, but if Bilbao cannot return to their previous heights, it might me time for Muniain to consider his future and find a bigger club to join.
We hope you've enjoyed the list; hopefully we'll have one out for 2014 during the winter. Let us know what you thought of the series in the comments below, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter!