2007 was the year when the mantle was passed from the older superstars like Zidane and Beckham a new group of young superstars. Young players liked Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi transformed themselves into world-class performers during 2007.
Ronaldo, 22, and Messi, 20, were named as runners-up to Kaka in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards and Fabregas, 20, has helped turn Arsenal in to genuine Premier League title contenders.
Behind Ronaldo and Messi there is another group of young stats waiting to make their mark on the game.
Here are the next group of soccer superstars that will be looking to make there mark in 2008-2009.
Sergio Aguero, 19, Atletico Madrid, striker
Yet another Argentine youngster who has been tagged “the next Maradonna”. Aguero joined Atletico aged just 17 in June 2006 from Independiente for a club-record fee of £15.75m. Struggled to cope with the pressure in his debut season but has already scored 12 goals in 22 games this term.
Karim Benzema, 20, Lyon, striker
Came through the ranks at Lyon and has caught the eye of Arsenal, Real Madrid and Juventus after scoring 12 goals in 16 matches this season. Made his international debut for France in March and has netted three times for Les Bleus in eight games. Arsene Wenger described him as “an immense revelation”.
Breno, 18, Bayern Munich, defender
Brazil Under-20 skipper who will join Bayern Munich on January 1. Bayern paid Sao Paulo around £8.5million for the skillful central defender. Ex-Brazil and Bayern striker Giovani Elber described Breno as “an absolutely stunning prospect” after he agreed his big-money move.
Macauley Chrisantus, 17, Hamburg, striker
Manchester United , Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City were all interested in signing Chrisantus after his exploits at this year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The scintillating striker fired seven goals in seven games and was the top scorer as Nigeria won the competition. Joined Hamburg in November 2007.
Denilson, 19, Arsenal, midfielder
Brazilian star who is a regular fixture in the Arsenal youthful Carling Cup sides. Bought from Sao Paulo in August 2006 for £3.4m despite just four starts for the club. All-round midfielder who is comfortable going forward but also a tenacious tackler.
Franco Di Santo, 18, Chelsea, striker
Argentine wonderkid who will join Chelsea in January for £3.4m from Chilian side Audax Italiano. Like Lucas Leiva at Liverpool, he holds an Italian passport and will be able to play for Chelsea immediately. May struggle to break into Avram Grant’s star-studded team but should earn a few run outs in cup competitions in 2008.
Giovani dos Santos, 18, Barcelona, striker
Came to prominence in 2005 when he was one of stars of the Mexico team that won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. Has been a regular feature for Barcelona this season and has managed to keep Ronaldinho out of the starting XI. Already has four caps for Mexico. Now plays for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League.
Stevan Jovetic, 18, Partizan Belgrade, striker
A £7m target for Manchester United after becoming the top scorer in the Serbian league with 11 goals. Was named captain of the Montenegro Under-21 side aged just 17 and has already made his full international debut. A creative striker who likes to drop deep and run at defenders. He is also a deadly-accurate finisher.
Bojan Krkic, 17, Barcelona, striker
Hailed as Spain’s answer to Lionel Messi by Barcelona fans after scoring over 800 goals in the Catalan club’s youth teams. Broke the record as the youngest ever player to feature in a Champions League match in September 2007. A month later, he became Barcelona’s youngest La Liga goalscorer.
Toni Kroos, 17, Bayern Munich, midfielder
Named player of the tournament at the 2007 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and has already made his Bundesliga and European debuts for Bayern Munich. A creative, goalscoring midfielder, Kroos shone at youth level for both club and country. Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness has already earmarked him for the revered No10 shirt.
Lucas Leiva, 20, Liverpool, midfielder
Signed for Liverpool in the summer from Copa Libertadores finalists Gremio after winning the Brazilian Footballer of the Year award. Likened to Steven Gerrard before his move to England, the box-to-box midfielder has already featured heavily in Rafa Benitez’s side and should be a key player in 2008.
Lulinha, 17, Corinthians, midfielder
Transfer target for Italian champions Inter Milan after starring for Brazil’s Under-17 side. Scored 12 goals in seven matches during the South American U-17 Championships before being one of the stars of the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup. The tricky attacking midfielder has an eye for goal and is already being touted as the long-term successor to Ronaldinho.
Alexandre Pato, 18, AC Milan, striker
Known as ‘the duck’, Pato shot to fame when AC Milan shelled out £15m for his services in the summer — despite rules stopping him from playing until January 3. Milan have high hopes for Pato, with president Silvio Berlusconi claiming he expects the youngster to score 30 goals between January and the end of the season. Brazil coach Dunga has dubbed him “the new Ronaldo”.
Ivan Rakitic, 19, Schalke, midfielder
Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric may have ended England’s Euro 2008 qualifying hopes but new England boss Fabio Capello will have to watch out for Rakitic in 2008. The Swiss-born attacking midfielder is the latest Croatian star to catch the eye and was snapped up by German champions Schalke in the summer.
Adel Taarabt, 18, Tottenham, midfielder
Young French midfielder who has established himself as a regular member of the Tottenham match-day squad. Compared to Zinedine Zidane before his move to North London, the left-footed trickster has already wowed the White Hart Lane faithful with his ambitious runs and long-range strikes.
Carlos Vela, 18, Arsenal, striker
The Gunners snapped up Vela after he finished top scorer in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2005 — a feat that Cesc Fabregas achieved two years earlier. The Mexican has been on loan in Spain for the past two seasons and will return to North London in January. An exciting prospect who should make his Arsenal debut this term.