They are not the finished article - not by a long way. They are only kids in a man’s game but they’re good enough, so they’re old enough.
At the tender age of 22, James Rodriguez is already past it. Arguably the best player at the 2014 FIFA World Cup is too old to be in the running for FIFA’s Young Player award. Only those born on or after January 1st 1993 are eligible for the prize.
It is one of the great joys of any World Cup to watch the bright new stars shine. It is generally accepted a professional doesn’t reach his peak until his late 20’s so these talented youngsters are years away from the pinnacle of their powers.
Yet here they are. Gifted, confident and impactful young men, playing without fear and leaving their individual calling cards on the biggest stage of all. They exude maturity beyond their years, allowing them to fit in and play effectively alongside veterans who might be a decade or more their senior.
Here, then, are my top 3 wonder kids, looking to leave Brazil with the Young Player Award and a World Cup medal around their necks:
Paul Pogba (France)
The closest thing I’ve seen to Patrick Vieira since the elegant French midfielder hung up his boots three years ago. Like his mentor, Pogba is tall, rangy and powerful, both in the air and on the ground. He has a good change of pace and a well-tuned engine which effortlessly gets him from box to box.
Pogba encapsulates the new generation of French swagger - unburdened by the infamous players’ rebellion of 2010. He’s both a defensive competitor and offensive creator but must guard against being over-aggressive. He’s well equipped to be France’s midfield general for the next 10 years but doesn’t need a reputation that referees are keen to punish.
Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
The super-sub of this World Cup. In a team that features Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, merely getting minutes is no minor feat. What you do with those brief cameos is up to the individual. Get up to speed with the game and then make a difference.
Depay has done that. He’s like a greyhound waiting to be unleashed. In just 97 minutes of work over three games, Depay has scored two goals and added an assist for the Dutch cause. He’s an impactful winger who loves to drift inside when the moment presents itself. His Brazilian adventure may have some way to run.
Raphael Varane (France)
Any successful team has a strong spine. An agile goalkeeper, a reliable central defender, a visionary midfielder, and a predatory striker are all essential ingredients. Varane has proved himself that defensive rock - not bad for a 21-year-old who has yet to fully establish himself at Spanish giant Real Madrid.
Varane does more than merely read the game well. In a position where a player is occasionally forced to ‘take one for the team’, his timing has been impeccable. Up to and including the Round of 16 win over the speedy Nigerians, Varane had not committed a single foul. For a centre back, it doesn’t get any better than that.
There are many other youngsters who have caught the eye. Colombia’s Juan Quintero, England’s Raheem Sterling and and Belgian Divock Origi all deserve honourable mentions. Here’s hoping we can sit back, relax and let them entertain us for years to come.