Ones to watch in 2008
2007, like every year before it, has seen a number of talented young players emerge from the shadows to stake their claim in European football.
The likes of Sergie Aguero at Atletico Madrid, Anderson at Manchester United and Barcelona's Giovani Dos Santos have all used the past year to elevate their careers, and 2008 will be no different.
With a host of emerging stars plying their trade across Europe, here's a few to watch out for in the coming year:
Alexandre Pato (AC Milan)
Alex 'The Duck' as they like to call him in his native Brazil first shot to fame playing for Internacional in 2006. The young striker led the side to their first Under 20 Championship title, finishing as the competition's top scorer in the process, before being called up to the Brazilian U18 side. Starring in the Sendai Cup in Japan, Pato began to make waves and was even linked with a move to Europe, despite being only 17-years-old.
Internacional managed to negotiate an extra year's contract for him (containing a €22million release clause), but were unable to dissuade the interest of AC Milan, who paid up and got their man in August. Yet to play for Milan due to Italian football regulations that state non-EU minors may not be registered in Italy before the transfer window opens again, Pato will burst onto the scene in January in the hope of turning around an already faltering Scudetto campaign. Few would bet against the youngster having a similar impact to that of another Brazilian import, Kaka, in the future.
Bojan Krkic (Barcelona)
With so many stars at Barcelona, it speaks volumes that young Serbian Krkic has already made his mark on the first team at the tender age of 17. Keeping Ronaldinho on the bench in recent games, Krkic has starred alongside fellow youngster Geovani Dos Santos and looks set to establish himself as a real star of La Liga.
Finishing as joint top-scorer in the European U17 Championship in 2006, when he was only 15, the striker may be small, but boasts exceptional technique and has already proved himself to be above the level played by the reserves. With Lionel Messi to learn from, the sky really is the limit and this season has already seen Krkic score twice in his 12 appearances (9 as sub). His only problem appears to be choosing whether to play for Spain or Serbia when he is eventually called up to a senior side.
Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
Another youngster to have starred in the U17 World Cup, Kroos took home the Golden Ball after he was named the tournament's best player. He also scored five goals to establish himself as a bright prospect for the future. This season, however, he has really shone and has leapt ahead of established internationals in the Bayern squad to break into the first team at only 17-years-old. With rumours of dressing room unrest at the German giants, Kroos could be exactly what the club need in their midfield and will surely get more of a chance to impress in 2008.
Not content with one emerging youngster, Bayern have also snapped up 18-year-old Sao Paulo defender Breno, one of the stars of this year's Brazilian Championship, for a fee of around £9million. Beating off competition from the likes of Real Madrid and AC Milan, Bayern may have landed themselves a gem. Young and exceptionally talented, Breno has fellow countryman Lucio to learn from in the heart of the Bayern defence and much is expected of him.
Armand Traore (Arsenal)
Arsene Wenger may have a number of young stars getting the headlines in England, but in French left-back Traore he has virtually a carbon copy of the player already in that position, Gael Clichy. Fast, comfortable on the ball and with great stamina, Traore has seized his chance in the Carling Cup and Champions League and looks capable of fighting Clichy for a first-team berth in the near future.
Mexican youngster Carlos Vela is another who may be in Wenger's first-team plans sooner than expected. The striker will qualify for a Spanish passport in January 2008 and, impressing on loan at Osasuna, may be re-called. Keen to make his name at the Emirates, the pivotal figure in the U17 World Cup back in 2005 has a lot of hype to live up to.
Scott Sinclair (Chelsea)
With Arsenal's Theo Walcott taking up much of the newspaper talk, despite not having established himself at the Premier League leaders, Blues midfielder Sinclair may have escaped the attention of many. Being sent out on loan for much of 2007, the England U19 winger will be keen to get more of a chance to impress in the Chelsea line-up. He has some stiff competition to get past but, given the opportunity, Sinclair could certainly impress in the forthcoming year if he can build on a good performance against Liverpool in the Carling Cup.
Oscar Ustari (Getafe)
With 35-year-old Argentine stopper Roberto Abbondanzieri close to retirement, Ustari is next in line to take over his mantle for club and country. The 21-year-old goalkeeper had been tracked by both Manchester United and Barcelona before swapping Argentine football for Getafe in July for around €6million, but could now move on in search of regular football with the Spanish club keen for him to gain more experience. Ustari has already tasted international football, as he was called up to the Argentina squad for the 2006 World Cup, and has all the attributes to succeed if he can improve his playing time.
Macauley Chrisantus (HSV)
Yet to make his debut for the club he signed for in November, the Nigerian U17 star set pulses racing across Europe with his performances in the U17 World Cup. Finishing the tournament with the Golden Boot, the striker had attracted the attention of Arsenal, Manchester City and Ajax before signing for the German side. Certainly a player that falls into the 'developing' category, 2008 could be the year in which the Nigerian explodes onto the European scene.
Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus)
One of the most exciting prospects in Italian football, the diminutive striker is in the mould of Juve legend Alessandro Del Piero and has played for his country since U16 level. The 20-year-old is one of a number of talented young Italians, including Giuseppe Rossi and Giampaolo Pazzini currently making their names in Europe. Giovinco will return to Juve next year after impressing on loan at Empoli, especially with his dead-ball abilities, and should be a fixture in the famous 'Number 10' shirt for years to come.
Luis Suarez (Ajax Amsterdam)
Ajax have a history of blooding impressive young players through their youth system, although in 20-year-old Uruguayan Suarez, they paid FC Groningen €7.5million for the privilege. The money was well worth it though, as Suarez has scored nine goals for the Amsterdam club since his arrival in August. Considered one of the brightest prospects ever to come out of Uruguay, the striker is certainly in the right place to continue his development.