Fresh Faces Galore

BOCA juniors' Juan Sanchez Mino (right) has many a suitor in Europe.-AP BOCA juniors' Juan Sanchez Mino (right) has many a suitor in Europe.

A new generation has caught the fancy of the football world. Young stars like Raheem Sterling, Tony Watt and others are a treat to watch, writes Brian Glanville.

When Sweden met England at the opening of Stockholm’s splendid new stadium, replacing the historic old Rasunda Stadium where the 1958 World Cup Final was played, exciting new talents figured in both squads. On the Swedish side a player who had already established his credentials, the 21-year-old attacking midfielder, Alex Kacaniklic, and the merely 17-year-old left wing prodigy, Raheem Sterling for England. The connection between them being, somewhat strangely, that both have been at Liverpool.

The fast, confident, precocious Raheem is of course still there. He joined them for GBP500,000 with more to come depending on his almost inevitable progression, from West London’s Queens Park Rangers, though born in Jamaica who would dearly like him to wear their colours; surely a retrograde step. He was outstanding as a tiny 14-year-old in QPR’s under-18 team seemingly inconsolable in any defeat. At 15, he became the youngest ever Liverpool debutant when Roy Hodgson, now picking him for England, started his first team career in a European match against formidable Borussia Dortmund. He is a shrewd young man while though modest in behaviour and demeanour, knows his own high value.

Kacaniklic by contrast may be said to have failed in his brief stay at Liverpool where he was allowed to drift away; and find a home now in delighted Fulham. Even when, fast, direct, determined, he was finding it hard to find a regular place in the Fulham attack he was doing great things for Sweden.

Above all in Berlin, where his entry, as a second half substitute, galvanised a Swedish side, four goals down against Germany. Kacaniklic laid on two goals and his team gained an astonishing 4-4 draw. More recently he headed a fine goal for Fulham at Arsenal.

And what of the three young players who excelled in a weakened Celtic team which sensationally defeated mighty Barcelona 2-1 in Glasgow? Evoking golden memories of the Celtic team which in Lisbon in May 1967, beat Inter 2-1 to become the first ever British team, every member from in or around Glasgow, to win the European Cup.

The 24-year-old ‘keeper, Fraser Forster, a hero at Nou Camp when his team lost only to a very late Barca goal, had a sensational game at Celtic Park, twice thwarting the formidable Lionel Messi. Celtic had taken him on loan from Newcastle United, his local club, but finally bought him for their own for GBP2 million last summer; which now seems like a bargain.

A modest young man, Forster was less interested in talking about himself than in eulogising the 18-year-old substitute Tony Watt, whose phenomenally cool finish from the right, exploiting a long kick from Forster himself, gave Celtic the winning goal. He had joined the club from Airdrie United on the 2 {+n} {+d} division for a negligible GBP80,000 — due now to be increased — and arrived in January 2011. “Tony’s got a great future,” said Forster, incontrovertibly. “Nothing fazes him and he’s a tremendous finisher. He just scores great goals. He’ll definitely end up being a great hero here.” Which he surely already is!

These two, of course, are Scots. The third young star of a remarkable evening comes from far away Kenya, the 21-year-old midfielder, Victor Mugabe Wanyama, whose powerful header gave Celtic their first goal. He was bought from Belgium for a bargain GBP900,000 and today would command a hugely larger fee from the major English clubs which reportedly covet this forceful player.

Yet, fascinatingly, it is to previously unfashionable Mexico that one should look for a remarkable profusion of young talent. By whom tournament after recent tournament has been won, culminating with the Olympics at Wembley.

The supposedly dazzling young Brazilians were utterly surpassed. Marco Fabian who plays as main motivator for Guadalajara as well as being a salient star of the Olympic winners is 23. Bayern Munich were recently prepared to pay GBP10 million for him but were brusquely turned down. It was from his accurate cross that Oribe Peralta, a rare veteran in an otherwise young team, scored Mexico’s second in that Wembley final.

The 22-year-old right winger, Javier Aquino, another Olympic winner who often cut in from the flank, is small but indomitable. A Cruz Azul player, he had a difficult first team debut last September away to Costa Rica but did so well that he was voted man of the match.

And the Mexicans won that Olympic title without even the incisive opportunist presence of Chicharito, alias Javier Hernandez, allegedly discouraged by his admirer Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United from playing for the Olympic team. The 24-year-old, whose opportunism and sense of scoring chances have turned many a game for United, would have made that Olympic team still more formidable.

Argentina continues to produce star after star.

One of the latest already sought after by Napoli and Juventus is the highly versatile Boca Juniors’ 22-year-old, Juan Sanchez Mino. No giant, he can play effectively at left back or in midfield and there is reciprocal admiration between him and that supreme playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme — his hero.