Argentine superstar Lionel Messi won a record fifth Ballon d’Or on Monday, again finishing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and continuing the pair’s dominance of the FIFA awards. Meanwhile, a continuation of the status quo was also evident in the FIFA FIFPro World XI, which featured four players each from Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Yet what of the young players across the globe who perhaps one day could get their name among the world’s best? Here’s a look at five players who, while they may not be featuring in next year’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, could have big years, and careers, ahead.
Jesús “Tecatito” Corona (FC Porto, Mexico)
The past 12 months were already pretty impressive for the 23-year-old. Corona’s performances at FC Twente in the Netherlands earned him a move to Portuguese giants Porto, while he also proved the sole bright spot in Mexico’s disappointing Copa America campaign. He also finished 2015 at international level by scoring an outstanding individual goal as Mexico ended their long winless streak in Honduras. But 2016 could well be the year he becomes an even bigger star. It has already started in impressive fashion, as the attacking midfielder showed his silky dribbling skills with another memorable strike for Porto this weekend. Whether he plays a part in Mexico’s attempts to win a second straight Olympic gold medal or goes to the Copa America Centenario, his reputation should only be enhanced this summer.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus, Argentina)
After making their worst start to a Serie A season for more than a century, many were questioning whether Juventus’ summer overhaul and an influx of younger talent would lead to a dramatic collapse of Italy’s title winners for the past four years. Yet those with such dark fears clearly hadn’t seen enough of their biggest signing of the summer. Eyebrows were raised when Juventus paid Palermo 32 million euros for Argentine youngster Dybala, but his performances had merited such a fee and so have his displays since moving to Turin. The diminutive 22-year-old has adapted swiftly to life at a European giant and his nine Serie A goals have played a major part in Juventus getting firmly back into title contention. Blessed with excellent technical skills as well as a deadly eye for goal, Dybala also made his debut for Argentina last September. While competition for places up front for the Albiceleste is incredibly fierce, Dybala’s claims for a regular role will be hard to ignore.
Leroy Sané (Schalke, Germany)
It would be fair to classify the rise of Sané as meteoric. Only a year ago he had yet to start a single Bundesliga match. Yet then came a starring performance off the bench as Schalke beat Real Madrid 4-3 at the Bernabeu and came agonizingly close to knocking out the holders and securing a quarterfinal place. The son of a former Senegal international and a German gymnast, it is no surprise that Sané is an incredible athlete. Left-footed and blessed by blistering pace, Sané has operated primarily from the right wing, cutting inside onto his stronger foot, although he can be deployed in any position behind a striker. In November, he made his international debut in Germany’s ill-fated friendly with France in Paris, just four months after competing in the European Under-19 Championship. Since then he has been strongly linked with Manchester City, although reports in France now claim that he has already agreed to join Barcelona in the summer for 37 million euros.
Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls, USA)
Few people outside of the New York area had even heard of the then-teenage center-back going into the 2015 Major League Soccer season. But Miazga finished it as arguably the best defender in the league and has therefore been linked to clubs with the profile of Premier League champions Chelsea. Assured beyond his years, the 20-year-old Red Bulls academy product was a regular as the Red Bulls won the MLS Supporters Shield in 2015 and came agonizingly close to reaching the final of MLS Cup. A commanding physical presence, but not slow on the ground and adept with the ball at his feet, Miazga has all the makings of an exceptional modern central defender. Having been eligible to play for either Poland, through his parents, or the United States, the New Jersey native impressed for the U.S. in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup before tying himself to his country of birth with his first senior cap in a November World Cup qualifier. The fact that he has a European Union passport has only added to his attractiveness to clubs in Europe and Miazga is thought to be exploring his options, reportedly having already turned down a move to Serie A.
Michy Batshuayi (Marseille, Belgium)
Not exactly short of talent already, Belgium have yet another potential star in the making. After spending his first season in Ligue Un mainly coming off the bench, yet still scoring nine goals, the 22-year-old striker is taking France’s top division by storm this campaign. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more than Batshuayi’s 11 goals in Ligue Un, leading to strong speculation linking him to Premier League clubs Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle United. Any transfer won’t now happen in January after he signed a new contract with Marseille last week. Yet his current club will surely realize that, if he continues to develop at this rate, it is only a matter of time before the offers arriving prove too good to resist. A predatory finisher and powerful presence leading the line, Batshuayi still retains rough edges. Still, he has scored on each of his two appearances for Belgium, both off the bench, and could make a big impact at Euro 2016.