In this new series of Top Fives, I will be looking at the top five prospects from each of the major footballing nations. To be regarded as a ‘prospect’ for inclusion in this list the players must still be developing and not yet regular first team internationals. There is no age restriction as such but the focus will by and large be on players who have established a reputation but still have potential to unlock. I’ll have a look at their strengths and weaknesses and offer a comparison to a star player.
There must be something in the water in Belgium because they are loaded with talent. Can these five be the core of a World Cup winning team?
Kevin De Bruyne (Chelsea, 21)
Background De Bruyne was picked up by Chelsea after decimating his way through the Belgian Jupiler League before spending last season on loan at Werder Bremen.
Position Best as a left sided attacking midfielder or in Gareth Bale’s central role behind the striker.
Strengths Pace and trickery but what really makes De Bruyne stand out is his end product which is unusually lethal for a player who operates at such speed. Last season he scored 10 and made 9 in 33 games. That is a scintillating record, especially considering it was achieved in a Werder Bremen team in which he was almost literally the only threat most of the time. De Bruyne gets himself in to dangerous areas and then makes the correct decision. His footballing intelligence leads to this, leads him to pick out the pass or take the shot himself. One of his most impressive achievements is that he has stood out as Belgium’s best player in qualification considering the talent they are loaded with and that he has only just gotten his way in to the team. He is bordering on world class and should be at that level in the next few years.
Weaknesses It’s pretty hard to find weaknesses in De Bruyne’s game but possibly one thing is going in to his trickery box set too often. He’ll sort that out though.
The next: Gareth Bale If he adds power running to his array of goal scoring and goal making and continues to do so at such pace he is going to get to that kind of level. Chelsea should put him straight in the team with Mata and Hazard.
Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari, 25)
Position Defensive midfield/central midfield
Strengths Physicality and endurance are Nainggolan’s biggest strengths. He is a run all day, press all day type midfielder who is relentless at his best. He’s a tidy passer of the ball but his main strength is his work off it. A true modern enforcer and he thrives when leading the pressing game. Prototypical fitness and work rate, covers more ground than an average midfielder. Starting to force his way in to a competitive area of the Belgian midfield. Tactically and positionally intelligent.
Weaknesses Not the most refined player but if deployed in the correct role he can overcome it. Isn’t the most composed player when on the ball or in and around the penalty area.
The next: Yaya Toure At 25, Nainggolan’s age, Toure had moved to Barcelona as a pure enforcer. He was clearly a clever player and possesed of immense power but little refinement. After a few years of polishing up he has matured in to the best box to box midfielder in the world. Nainggolan has the raw tools to be coached to that level.