10 of the most exciting young players to watch in La Liga emerging in 2013. Part of The 10 Series brought to you by Just-Football.com. Follow this link for an introduction to The 10 Series (including criteria) and here for 10 of the best young players in Italy, France, Holland and Germany’s Bundesliga:
by David Cartlidge
(Rayo Vallecano, 20 years old)
He was picked up from indoor football and best friends with Neymar, before a move to Spain never materialised after he suffered from hepatitis. When the move finally arrived, he broke his collarbone and couldn’t play for a year.
Last season the Brazilian, with an Italian passport, was toiling away in Segunda B. Now, he’s one of La Liga’s most exciting talents. Leo’s got an athletic physique that not only speeds away from players but powers past them too. With his long strides he keeps the ball close, and harnesses a sharp change in direction, showing some of his old indoor football tricks. He’s versatile too, operating as a winger, a striker and as a false 9 at different times this season. A true raw talent, with every game he appears to get better. Given the right education, he might just join his friend Neymar at the top.
My favourite thing about Léo, though? He plays like every kid on a patch of grass near your house; he genuinely enjoys this game.
(Real Zaragoza, 23 years old)
This season just wasn’t meant to happen like this for Víctor Rodríguez. He was signed for Real Zaragoza ‘B’ but ended up getting a call-up to the first team, and that’s where he has remained. A string of excellent performances as his team made steady progress put Victor down as one of the first names on the team sheet, and he’s since weighed in with 5 assists to become a key player.
Capable of operating both wide and central, the 23-year-old who spent time in La Masia is technically gifted, quick and can deliver from a dead ball or in motion expertly. Zaragoza have had lots of surprises in recent years, more bad than good, but Victor certainly falls into the latter category.
(Valencia CF, 23 years old)
Written off and tossed aside, Sofiane Feghouli must have thought his Valencia career was over before it began. Injuries, and an ill-fated loan spell at Almería nearly cost Feghouli, but he’s turned things around to become a key man at Valencia. Feghouli’s gone from being a bit-part impact player to leading star alongside Roberto Soldado, and it’s all his own doing.
The Algerian acknowledged the weaknesses in his game and set about making them strengths, from his work ethic in games to the decision making in the final third. Although quick and with plenty of skill, Feghouli’s become a versatile, reliable winger/creative player that his team can depend upon in games that lie in the balance.
(Deportivo La Coruña, 23 years old)
His hair, his playing style, his name. The list could go on but everything about Pizzi is just, cool. After a troublesome first spell in Spain on loan to Atlético Madrid, where he found regular games hard to come by and injuries very easy to encounter, few gave Pizzi a chance. His time at Atleti was a case of desperately trying to impress but ultimately making more mistakes than anything else.
At Depor the story has been different, as the Portuguese has weaved a web of his own in Galicia each weekend. Pizzi drifts across the attack effortlessly, linking up with others or going it alone, all the while showing a neat technique and intelligence on the ball. He’s taken the burden off Juan Carlos Valerón and got Riazor on its feet again with his individual pieces of skill. Next season he’ll be at Atleti permanently, and the hope will be he can develop even further in the capital.
(FC Barcelona, 21 years old)
After he’s finished playing football Martín Montoya might want to write a book called ‘How to take the place of the world’s best right back’, because that’s exactly what he’s done this season. Montoya worked quietly and efficiently at both Barcelona ‘B’ team and Spain U-21 levels before his moment came, and it’s that focus along with his obvious talent that has him battling Dani Alves for the starting berth in Barcelona’s team.
The most admirable thing about Montoya is that determination and desire; he goes about his business without a fuss and rarely slips up. He balances both attack and defence well, pushing on and linking with the attack but also performing excellent cover work at the rear. Next stop: Spain’s first choice right back.
(Málaga CF, 22 years old)
Everyone used to talk about Nacho Camacho, and some couldn’t stop. The hype around him was significant, and for a while he even managed to live up to it. A string of fantastic displays with Spain at youth level had many tipping Camacho for greatness, and when he made his debut at 17-years-old for Atlético Madrid it grew to an unprecedented level.
He didn’t falter at first and if anything looked mature on the field, before a series of injuries took hold. Upon regaining fitness he found Atleti in numerous different cycles of players and coaches, before he eventually moved on. Málaga were there, and this season he’s found the level everyone used to talk about again.
Camacho has provided a tireless, strong and dependable presence in defensive midfield, covering wide areas of the field. Although his chance came around largely due to Jeremy Toulalan’s injury, Camacho has grasped it with both hands and provided the security Manuel Pellegrini’s system is built upon this term.
(Getafe, 23 years old)
It took a fine piece of scouting for Getafe to pick up Abdel Barrada, one that will not only help the club on the field but inevitably off it too. Barrada has played a key part in Luis Garcia’s side’s march up the table, filtering between the lines of attack and midfield with a clinical edge.
Quick, sharp and a smart with his movement, the 23-year-old offers a direct presence in the Getafe team similar to that of Feghouli at Valencia. He’s a skilful player too, and in a rigid Getafe system he can provide a spark at any given moment to change a game. Real Madrid already asked about his availability, they weren’t the first and most certainly won’t be the last.
(Celta Vigo, 21 years old)
When a highly-rated player in Segunda makes the move to Primera, it’s always interesting to see the adaptation. For Hugo Mallo, the change has been effortless and the right-back is proving to be a real hit in Spain’s top flight. Strong, agile and decisive we see Mallo galloping the right flank with plenty of power in his running. He can out muscle you, but also out run you and this makes Mallo a fantastic competitor. If people are to truly acknowledge him though, another move to a bigger club will likely be necessary.
(Real Sociedad, 21 years old)
First things first, let’s not talk about ‘those goals’ Iñigo Martínez scored. Let’s just focus on his best asset, his defensive abilities. With many young centre-backs in Spain failing to develop, Martínez this season has shown to be the most promising of them all.
Rather than a ball-playing defender, Martínez is of a more classic mould built on strength, presence and recovery. His reading of the game in defensive phases is always improving, and with such a genuine physical presence he can dominate strikers. If he keeps his focus there is no reason Martínez can’t eventually be a first choice for Spain, as long as he avoids the failures Víctor Ruiz and Alberto Botía etc, have encountered.
(Atlético Madrid, 20 years old)
Koke has been a name known in Spanish football for years, much due to his consistency at youth level with the national team. Frustration occurred however when a regular place within the first team evaded him, and when he did play it was only seldom.
This season however, with Diego Simeone’s high energy, aggressive approach proving to be a great success, Koke has been a soothing presence in midfield. The 20-year-old has shown he doesn’t merely play it safe, but one who can also roam in central areas, link midfield and join an attack in a more purposeful manner. He’s weighed in with 4 assists this season, and 2 goals, showing the sort of contribution Simeone expects – and everyone else after watching this technically gifted, intelligent midfielder.
Which young La Liga players do you think should be watched closely in 2013? Have your say by leaving a comment below.