Pavel Pogrebnyak

The Youth Movement: 10 youngsters who could make an impact in Brazil

4 Comments

When Julian Green made the United States final 23-man roster, presumably over US legend Landon Donovan, headlines were made and decisions were second-guessed.

But Green isn’t even close to the only youngster – or even the only teenager – who will be making the trip to this summer’s World Cup.

You probably know the big name youngsters – Germany’s Julian Draxler (20 years old), Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj (19), and France’s Paul Pogba (21),  just to name a few.  Those players have been around for a while and have made a name for themselves already, including possibly breaking into their country’s starting lineup.

Here, we will focus more on the young players who aren’t such household names, and could be players who not only get a chance to break onto the big stage, but could be fixtures for years to come in their country’s squad.

Let’s get a brief overview of some players who not only represent the future for their country, but could even have an impact this year.

1) Josip Drmic and Granit Xhaka – Switzerland, 21 years old

With Switzerland coming into Brazil with forward bunch bursting with youth, this Bundesliga pair could very well make a major impact.

source: AP
Switzerland’s young striker Josip Drmic has come on strong recently and is looking to help prove they’re worthy of Pot 1.

Drmic didn’t do much during Switzerland’s qualification, but has bagged three goals in their last two friendlies, and with Switzerland’s inexperienced forward group, the young striker could find himself with ample opportunities during Group E play and beyond.

Xhaka is actually the Swiss’s most-capped forward according to FIFA.com, with 22 appearances for his country, although he is actuality is more of an attacking midfielder, even finding himself located quite centrally under manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Dating back to the last match of European qualification against Slovenia, the pair have scored four of Switzerland’s last five goals, and will be a driving force going forward if the Swiss are going to live up to their Pot 1 designation.

Along with Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Schar, and Ricardo Rodriguez, Hitzfeld selected five players 22 years old or younger, so no matter what happens this year for Switzerland, the country is set up for the future.

2) Kenneth Omeruo – Nigeria, 20 years old

A young, Chelsea-owned center-back, Omeruo impressed on loan at ADO Den Haag two years ago before staying in the country and spending time at Middlesbrough this past season.  With the Championship side in the hunt for a promotion playoff spot, Omeruo logged valuable minutes in the center of the Boro’s defense next to England youngster Ben Gibson, leading the way to a number of quality results, including a 1-0 win over nearly-promoted Derby County and a 2-0 victory over playoff participants Brighton.

Omeruo has already made a spot for himself in the Nigerian squad, leading the way for his country’s African Cup of Nations victory in which the Super Eagles conceded just four goals in their six tournament matches, including a shutout of Burkina Faso in the finals.

With his sights set on impressing Jose Mourinho, this World Cup could be a springboard for bigger things from Omeruo.  He has a tall task in front of him at Stamford Bridge, considering the current center-back pair is one of the best in Europe, and fellow loanee Kurt Zouma is also looking to do the same, but Omeruo has something Zouma does not: a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage.

3) Stephan de Vrij – Netherlands, 22 years old

One of the fastest-rising stocks in the European game, the Dutch defender was mentored at Feyenoord by the vastly experienced Joris Mathijsen.  At 19 years old, de Vrij’s name was on the tip of every scout’s mouth.  He took a serious regression two years ago as Mathijsen declined due to old age and Feyenoord’s defense temporarily slumped, but the youngster is back to his old level and ready for a move to a top-tier team.

However, he has a chance to showcase his skills at the World Cup, and Feyenoord has recognized the opportunity he has to boost his stock farther by reportedly putting all transfer talks for the 22-year-old on hold until after the event.

Surrounded by Mathijsen at Feyenoord plus Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi on the international level, de Vrij has had a wealth of experience to draw from and develop.  He’s started the Netherland’s last three matches at CB, and it would appear that the struggles he faced towards the end of World Cup qualifying have passed and he is back into Louis van Gaal’s graces for good.

4) Sead Kolasinac – Bosnia & Herzegovina, 20 years old

Schalke’s third-place finish this Bundesliga season was thanks in part to the young left-back’s breakout year.  After making a name for himself down the stretch two seasons ago as a 19-year-old, he again found himself on the bench to start the year thanks to an injury.

source: Getty Images
“The Destroyer” Sead Kolasinac doesn’t back down from a challenge and can keep up with the best of wingers.

But once recovered, the kid returned to the starting lineup and logged a run of 17 matches where he missed just six total minutes (during that span, Schalke lost just three matches – and it would have been just 1 had they not dropped the final pair of the long run).

Now in the national team fold, Kolasinac has featured in multiple matches for Bosnia since his return from injury in October, and that’s unlikely to change this summer.

Luke Shaw has received constant headlines in England with his explosion onto the international stage and likely transfer to Manchester United.  But Kolasinac has been rumored to also have been recently pursued by the Red Devils, and with reports of Shaw’s potential deal coming to a screeching halt, you could hear this kid’s name crop up more in the coming weeks, especially if he performs at the World Cup. He’s not as skilled as Shaw going forward, but is solid at the back and an accurate defender, earning the nickname “Zerstörer” or “The Destroyer.”

One storyline to keep an eye on: Kolasinac was born in Germany and only turned down the German national team only last year despite time for the German U-20 team.  There’s a serious possibility that Bosnia & Herzegovina could match up with Germany in the quarterfinals if things play out, and there could be some harsh sentiments towards Kolasinac from his country of birth.

5) Marco Verratti – Italy, 21 years old

Riccardo Montolivo’s World Cup dreams shattered just about the same time his left leg did just eight minutes into their recent 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland.  A massive blow for Italy losing one of its most experienced players and emotional leaders, Cesare Prandelli must now reach deeper into the player pool to replace him.

In Prandelli’s squad over the likes of Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro, Verratti looks primed to take Montolivo’s place in the midfield, and the Paris Saint-Germain youngster fully deserves it.  A masterful passer, his 91% pass accuracy in Ligue 1 play ranks second in the entire league of players who have at least 25 appearances, second only to his PSG and Italy teammate and central midfield partner Thiago Motta.

With Italy’s downfall often a disconnect between their defense and creative options, it would behoove Prandelli to take Verratti as someone who can take some of the creative weight off Andrea Pirlo’s shoulders and work on spreading around the ball.

6) Santiago Arias – Colombia, 22 years old

Manager Jose Pekerman has constantly been reminded how his back four are Colombia’s weak point.  Enter the 22-year-old PSV right-back, and things have eased up a bit for the man in charge.

Arias provides not just defensive solidity on the wing – his 60% tackle success rate at PSV this year is stellar considering the tough angles and isolation defenders face near the touchline – but also a burst of speed that enables Arias to take on defenders himself and create chances for his teammates. Arias’s 21 chances created ranks 16th among Eredivisie defenders, but he collected his in less minutes than all but one of those in the top 20.

With Pekerman clearly still tinkering with his defense throughout the recent friendlies, it’s hard to tell if Arias – or anyone, for that matter – will be a consistent starter in Brazil at the back for Colombia. One thing is for sure, if Arias can make the most of his minutes, he can use the World Cup as a springboard for later success at both club and country.

7) Diego Reyes – Mexico, 21 years old

It’s been a crazy year for Reyes, and one he won’t soon forget.  Having signed for European giants FC Porto last summer, he’s now going to his first World Cup under Miguel Herrera, and is hoping not just to go but to play.

source: Getty Images
Mexico’s Olympic star Diego Reyes, having battled with the likes of Didier Drogba in the past, is ready for serious minutes at the back.

Reyes is the cream of Mexico’s talented youth system, as he was the only member of the Olympic gold medal-winning team to start the country’s opening fourth-round CONCACAF qualification match against Jamaica.

Already standing 6-foot-4, Reyes is a beast in the air, but doesn’t lose any agility on his feet as tall defenders often do, using his large strides as part of his technical strength rather than a detriment to his game.

While the Mexican team isn’t light on defenders this summer, an injury of unknown severity to captain Rafa Marquez could give Reyes a chance to play serious time in Brazil.

8) Stefanos Kapino  – Greece, 20 years old

Panathinaikos goalkeeper Kapino isn’t the number one choice at the moment for Fernando Santos’s squad, but it’s not exactly a position of security for current favorite Orestis Karnezis, so it’s possible Kapino could make a late push for the spot. Karnezis was the man through Greece’s impressive qualification run, but he’s not even Granada’s first-choice keeper, making just six La Liga appearances last year.

If Karnezis – he of just 18 international caps – were to for whatever reason lose his place, it’s possible Kapino could beat out PAOK starter Panagiotis Glykos for the opening and make a play during his time at Brazil. But either way, Kapino appears to be a man for the future in Greece, and starting for a big club at just 20 years old could open the eyes of bigger fish, paving the way for a club upgrade as well.

9) Alireza Jahanbakhsh – Iran, 20 years old

Just a substitute off the bench for Eredivisie side N.E.C. this season, Jahanbakhsh hasn’t reached a breakout for his club just yet.  However, the World Cup would do nicely, and the big stage could do nicely as well.

Having earned Iran’s Young Footballer of the Year in 2012, Jahanbakhsh has developed a wonderful wing partnership with Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah, and the two electrified the Asian qualifying tournament, scoring plenty of goals including Jahanbakhsh’s first-ever for the national team against Thailand.

Iran may not last long in Brazil, but they have some talents that could make noise on the European stage in the coming years, and Jahanbakhsh is at the head of that pack.

10) Pavel Mogilevets – Russia, 21 years old

Having just earned his first cap five days ago against Slovakia, the baby-faced midfielder from Zenit St. Petersburg is hoping to make an impression in Brazil this summer. He hasn’t made the squad yet, but is about as close as you can get.

Fabio Cappello has made some head-scratching decisions with his World Cup squad (such as dropping striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in favor of the injured Denis Cheryshev) but including Mogilevets could be a view into the future.  With the Italian’s squad down to 25 players, he has gone on record saying he already knows which players will be left out, but isn’t going to tell them until the June 2nd deadline.

The two eventually cut very well could be the pair of youngsters on the roster, Mogilevets and Andrey Semenov, but if he makes it to Brazil, he will have gone for a reason, and the kid who scored twice on loan to Rubin Kazan this past season could get a chance to see the pitch.

11) Julian Green – USA, 19 years old

It would be impossible to write a piece on youth at Brazil without mentioning the German-American teenager who was at the receiving end of Landon Donovan’s international demise.

Green has obvious talent, or he wouldn’t be in the Bayern Munich youth ranks.  However, he’s a pretty major unknown for the United States fan base, and to most of the soccer world as well.  He has barely been sighted in the senior squad at Bayern, mostly impressing at the U-21 level.

But Jurgen Klinsmann obviously loves what he sees, and Green is likely going to be a household name in America if he comes anywhere close to living up to the now-lofty expectations that come with taking a legend’s place.

Andrei Arshavin left out of Russia’s 30-man World Cup squad

1 Comment

Russian national team coach Fabio Capello has left out Andrei Arshavin from his preliminary 30-man World Cup squad.

Arshavin, 32, has been a star for Russia in previous European Championships in 2008 and 2012 yet has never played in a World Cup after the Russians did not qualify for the 2010 tournament in South Africa.

The Zenit St. Petersburg attacker has not been a regular in Capello’s squad for quite some time but many believed he would get one last chance to prove his worth by making the 30-man roster before Russia head to Brazil. The former Arsenal star is not going to Brazil.

MORE: All the latest World Cup roster announcements

So Arshavin, who has 75 caps and 17 goals to his name, will be watching on as the country he captained up until 2012 will play at their first World Cup since 2002 and only their third-ever World Cup finals.

One other notable omission from Capello’s squad is former Tottenham forward Romain Pavlychenko. Below is the squad in full.

Russia’s 30-man squad for World Cup

Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergei Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan)

Defenders: Alexander Anyukov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexei Berezutsky, Vasily Berezutsky, Sergei Ignashevich, Georgy Shchennikov (all CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat, Alexei Kozlov (both Dynamo Moscow), Andrei Yeshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrei Semenov (Terek Grozny)

Midfielders: Igor Denisov, Yury Zhirkov (both Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Gazinsky, Roman Shirokov (both FC Krasnodar), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Pavel Mogilevets (Rubin Kazan), Viktor Faizulin, Oleg Shatov (both Zenit St Petersburg)

Forwards: Vladimir Bystrov (Anzhi Makhachkala), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Artem Dzyuba (Rostov), Alexei Ionov, Alexander Kokorin (both Dynamo Moscow), Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Pavel Pogrebnyak (Reading/ENG), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Clint Dempsey to Fulham: A fake FAQ with real answers about the U.S. captain’s loan

4 Comments

Let’s pretend you didn’t know Clint Dempsey was going back to Fulham. Or maybe you’re a Premier League fan that doesn’t follow Major League Soccer, an MLS fan that can’t be bothered with England, or a United States Men’s National Team diehard that just wants to know what “Deuce” has gotten himself into. You may even be the one person who still loves a good FAQ.

Regardless, we’re here to help. With the U.S. captain returning to Fulham, this is as good a time as any to take inventory of what it means, what to expect, and what each party gets out of the deal. How does this benefit Dempsey? Fulham? Seattle, the U.S., and Major League Soccer? There are so many parties to this one, it’s hard to keep track of who has skin in the game.

In what’s likely a futile attempt to address all the issues in one place, here’s a list of real answers to imaginary questions. We start with the basics:

Who this Clint Dempsey you speak of?

Get out.

Well, I know who Clint Dempsey is. But I’m trying to make a point. Why should I care about this loan?

Nobody’s asking this, but you don’t have to go far to find somebody in Electron Land who referencing Dempsey’s struggles with Seattle the throw shade on the importance of this move. To that, we retort:

  • This is the captain of a confederation champion, a team that will be at World Cup 2014. Did we have to point this out? And if we were writing for a Japanese audience, you’d be certain we giving Keisuke Honda’s move to Milan more attention. (Seriously: I should have written something more on that.)
  • That team happens to be the U.S.A. People tend to pay attention. Especially around these parts.
  • Over Dempsey’s final three years Premier League season, he averaged 12 goals per campaign. And it’s not like this guy’s a No. 9. That’s 12 goals from what’s essentially a supporting striker/attacking midfielder. That’s a goal every 234 minutes or 14.6 during a full 38-game season. So yeah, he was kind a good at goals, and stuff.
  • This is a Cottagers legend returning home. Nobody’s scored more Premier League goals for Fulham. The especially bitter Fulham faithful may remember him forcing a move to Tottenham. Most are relishing the chance to get some goals back, because …
  • Fulham needs help. The Cottagers are in 19th. They’ve scored 17 goals in as many games, and their best attacker (Dimitar Berbatov) is a daily feature in rumor roundups in three countries.

source:

How many games should we expect to him play?

Fulham’s announcement doesn’t specify an exact date Dempsey will return to Seattle, but let’s take them at their word and assume Feb. 24 will be his last day in West London. That makes him eligible for a whopping 11 games, starting with Fulham’s visit to Norwich on Thursday:

  • Dec. 26, at Norwich City*
  • Dec. 28, at Hull City*
  • Jan. 1, vs. West Ham
  • Jan. 4, at Norwich City (FA Cup)
  • Jan. 18, at Arsenal
  • Jan. 28, at Swansea City
  • Feb. 1, vs. Southampton
  • Feb. 9, at Manchester United
  • Feb. 12, vs. Liverpool
  • Feb. 22, at West Bromwich Albion

There are also FA Cup dates on Jan. 25 and Feb. 15. Maxed out, Dempsey could play 13 games for Fulham, though that means making an appearance at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.

* – It’s unlikely Dempsey will be registered to play these two games, with the transfer window officially opening on Jan. 1. The video below (spoiler) is iffy on it, with the interviewer hinting it’s a possibility while Dempsey only discussion traveling to the games. As one commenter astutely pointed out, however, one English outlet (the BBC) is reporting he will be ineligible until 2014, so asterisks for all!

Assuming he’ll play, where here will he play?

Interesting assumption. Where you trying to slip that past me, Imaginary Question Asker? Regardless, let’s put that aside for a second and revisit how Dempsey was being used when he left Craven Cottage.

Over his last two years at Fulham, Dempsey went from an almost exclusively wide role to somebody who began seeing more time through the middle, especially later in games. He’d start on the left, play wide until Mark Hughes or Martin Jol started making changes, then move in. Once it became clear Andy Johnson was out of gas, Pavel Pogrebnyak or Bobby Zamora weren’t going to get goals, or the Cottagers just needed Dempsey’s presence in the middle of the park, “Deuce” became as much as a focal point out coming of the back as an opportunist in the final third.

source: Getty Images
If Dimitar Berbatov stays at Fulham, Dempsey’s natural place would be one of the Cottager’s other two attacking roles. If the Bulgarian moves in the January window, however, Dempsey could find himself as an option through the middle. (Photo: Getty Images)

But with Martin Jol gone, it’s unclear how Fulham will play, let alone how they’ll use Dempsey. Over their last three games, Fulham’s use one forward and two wide attackers on top of a three-man midfield, and while Dempsey would be best-suited for one of the wide roles, René Meulensteen’s selections hint he could play through the middle. With Darren Bent still getting limited time while Dimitar Berbatov’s hurt, Dempsey could occupy the lead attacker’s role Adel Taarabt played this weekend, with small army of players (Kieran Richardson, Ashkan Dejagah, Alexander Kacaniklic, Pajtim Kasami, Bryan Ruiz, and Taarabt) as flanking options.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, Dempsey has to show up and work his way into the team, something that may require him getting back into playing shape. Fulham may be struggling for points, but they’re not short of options in Dempsey’s spots. Although his history at Craven Cottage hints Dempsey will likely get playing time, that history may prove irrelevant with a new squad playing under a new coach.

What should we expect, production-wise?

This should really be the last question, right? Screw it. I’m skipping to it. Fulham fans are hoping for the player who scored 29 goals in 74 games over his final two seasons in West London. Others will remember Dempsey scoring a more modest seven times in 29 games for Spurs, while true pessimists are looking at one goal in 12 games for Seattle and projecting a face plant for Deuce’s Premier League return.

For a number of reasons, we can throw the Seattle numbers out the window. Dempsey was never truly healthy, he was playing a role that doesn’t exist at Fulham (tip of a midfield diamond), and the Sounders were in chaos.

A better “guestimate” would look at last Fulham seasons as the best case scenario, note it was two years ago, and see his Tottenham days as a slight return to earth. But that even return to earth (a goal every 285 league minutes) wasn’t such as big drop off from his Fulham heights (a goal every 221 minutes during his final two seasons).

If Dempsey plays 10 games, averaging 75 minutes per, and performs to his capabilities, we’re looking at around three goals. At least, that’s the kind of output his final three Premier League seasons suggest.

So what does this all mean for Dempsey …

Remember: The goal here is to stay sharp, getting some playing time at a top level in during a World Cup year. In that respect, the numbers don’t matter. Whether he scores eight goals or none, the point is to build toward Brazil.

If he gets regular playing time, that’s practically mission accomplished. While keeping his spot means he’ll probably have to produce, the merits of those numbers are for René Meulensteen to decide. The most important number when gauging this loan’s success will be minutes played.

… the U.S. National Team,

Given Jurgen Klinsmann wants his MLS players to stay active, this looks like plus for the national team. But there’s another way to look at it. Fulham’s loan spell gives Dempsey, a 30-year-old not lacking in professional experience, two months worth of injury exposure.

source: Getty Images
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has encouraged his MLS-based players to go out on winter loans, with Dempsey having negotiated a clause in Seattle contract that allowed this winter’s move.. (Photo: Getty Images)

Is that worth it for a player unlikely to improve during the loan? Let’s hold on to that thought.

You always have to balance training against risk, but MLS would give Dempsey three months of competition before the national team assembled for Brazil. Add in the January national team camp and preseason training in February, and Dempsey wasn’t looking at much of an offseason to begin with. This whole idea that players have to go to Europe to stay fresh during the winter break should really get more scrutiny.

Now, back to that thought. Dempsey’s situation is slightly unique. He needs to get his groove back, and for a player that went through a rough return to MLS, West London is Jamaica. And Fulham may be Taye Diggs.

Dempsey doesn’t just need to stay in shape. He’s a key to U.S. success in Brazil. He needs to recapture his form, and in that sense, given what he did in 2009-10 and 2010-11, there was no better offseason destination than Craven Cottage.

… Fulham,

This is a low-risk chance for a team to get the club’s most productive Premier League back for two months (insert non-existent “no duh” emoji here). Worst case scenario: He takes playing time from somebody contributing to the team’s 19th place standing. Best case scenario: He goes on another tear, scored five or six times, and helps his former club snare points that could save them from the second division.

… Major League Soccer,

Nothing. At least, it’s unclear this means anything good or bad for MLS. Some will see this as a talent  wanting to test himself against competition the league can’t provide. Others will see it as MLS having players the rest of the world still covets. More likely: This is a very specific situation for a somewhat unique player, rendering any broad conclusions meaningless.

… and the Seattle Sounders?

Nothing good, but they knew what they were getting into. They won’t see their most important attacking player until late February. When he returns, he’ll be plopped into a role he didn’t play at Fulham – the most important position in Seattle’s attack (assuming Sigi Schmid stays with a diamond midfield). In a role he struggled with last season, Dempsey will out of practice and unfamiliar with a number of new players around him.

Then, Seattle will lose him again for chunk of the middle of the season. When he returns from Brazil, Dempsey will have played soccer in 21 of the previous 24 months, with the three-month MLS homestretch coming into view. And given the U.S. National Team doesn’t use the same setup as the Sounders, Dempsey will again have to re-adjust to his place behind Seattle’s strikers (assuming he doesn’t master the role between March and May).

That sounds bad, and it’s even worse when you consider how much Seattle’s paying Dempsey this year. Still, MLS’s is a long season. Assuming they can make the playoffs, the Sounders only need to get things together November. Dempsey’s absence (along with Brad Evans’) met force them to focus on that goal.

As their run to first in the West last season showed, a slow start need undermine the campaign. And as their October collapse affirmed, it’s more important to be playing well at the end of the season than in the middle.

Do you have a video of Clint talking about the move? Maybe one where they make him say something awkward and Texas-y at the end?

Kinda. This is via Fulham’s YouTube account:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ioiOygWqgU]