La Liga 2010-11: Five young stars to watch this season
Simon Jalie’s pick of five promising youngsters to keep your eye on in the Spanish league this season.
1) Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad)
Antoine Griezmann is a left winger from France who was snatched up by Real Sociedad at a very young age and has since worked his way up through the B team and into the first squad, where he made his debut last season. He was an immediate hit in the second division thanks to his electric pace and his natural dribbling skills, which have so far allowed him to cause problems for any defenders marking him on the left flank.
The French teenager only turned 19 in March but he was hugely influential as Real Sociedad won La Segunda last season and now he has a chance to showcase his talent in the Primera Division. If he manages to match last season’s efficaciousness he could be the most exciting young addition to the league and the big clubs will no doubt be sniffing around him. The suspension of France’s World Cup squad could lead to a full international call-up this season if Griezmann fulfils his promise.
2) Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao)
Iker Muniain made his debut for Athletic Bilbao last season and not only broke the club record for youngest player and scorer, but also became the youngest top flight goalscorer in Spanish history when he scored against Real Valladolid aged 16 years and 289 days. Muniain has starred for Spain at under-17 and under-19 levels and, judging by his explosion onto the scene, it won’t be long before Vicente Del Bosque will be having a look at the Basque player with a view to a full international call-up.
Muniain is one of those tricky wingers with a low centre of gravity and, like most top calibre players, he has that extra yard of pace which puts his markers at a disadvantage. Joaquin Caparros may promote him to a permanent position on the left flank this season if he continues to improve but he will have to displace the technically gifted Igor Gabilondo first.
3) Sergio Canales (Real Madrid)
Sergio Canales was the most notable young breakthrough player in La Liga last season, putting in some match-winning performances for Racing Santander as he helped the Cantabrians narrowly avoid relegation. Canales is quick, skilful and has startling vision for a player so young, but most importantly he has that self-belief that you only see in the top players. Everybody in Spain took notice and Real Madrid were quick to pounce on the teenager, agreeing a deal at the beginning of the year to bring Canales to the Santiago Bernabeu for around 4.5 million euros plus add-ons.
Most people expected the Cantabrian to be loaned out by Real Madrid this season but he has been so impressive in pre-season for Jose Mourinho that there has never been any such consideration. His starting appearances may be limited due to the fact that he will be competing with Pedro Leon, Kaka, Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Granero for attacking midfield berths in Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1 formation, but he should still get plenty of playing time.
4) Ivan Bolado (Racing Santander)
Ivan Bolado is the young Racing forward who will be charged with replacing Real Madrid-bound Sergio Canales at the Sardinero this season. Bolado is two years older than his former team mate and is still yet to nail down a regular place in the Racing first team but he has the natural ability to be a big star in this league and his few outings last season showed real encouragement. Injuries restricted the young striker to just twelve matches in La Liga in 2009-10 and most of those came as a substitute, but he still managed to score a couple of goals and caused plenty of problems for opposing defenders besides that.
Mohamed Tchite currently holds sway as Racing’s central striker and the abundance of prominent midfielders at the club could see a five-man midfield deployed by Miguel Angel Portugal so Bolado will have to force his way into the team. Tchite has had injury problems in the past and that could be one way in. Another would be to knuckle down in training and show the manager that he is Canales’ worthy successor.
5) Ander Herrera (Real Zaragoza)
Real Zaragoza fans witnessed so many comings and goings last season as club president Agapito Iglesias spent heavily in January after coming in to keep the Aragonese club in the top flight. Despite all this traffic, there was one constant in the heart of the Zaragoza midfield – 20-year old phenomenon Ander Herrera. Herrera can operate in central midfield or just behind the strikers and is a player very much in the mould of Andres Iniesta.
His footwork is incredibly quick and if you need proof of that you only have to look to the fact that Ander was the most fouled player in La Liga last season by some distance. He links the play up brilliantly and, while he is not as explosive as the other names on this list, he is just as effective. Unlike most of those profiled here as well, Herrera will be an automatic first choice at his club in 2010-11.