Every season sees a few footballers once considered stars fade from the spotlight or settle into retirement. Yet every season, a new crop of young players emerges to become a new generation of stars. These players emerge at different points in their careers, possibly even in a new setting, but have risen to the level of their competition and proven their worth. Whether this success is temporary or lasting will be determined in time, but these players have established themselves as capable of becoming leading stars.
While many factors play into the success of any individual, each player undergoes rigorous training and evaluation before they ever set foot in a competitive match. Once a manager decides to put them on the pitch, they are given a chance to test their mettle against the opposition. The tactical setup of a team can often determine whether a player will be a focal point or whether they will take on a supporting role. Often many different roles are experimented with before finding one that suits the particular skill set of a player and some players can go their entire careers without finding this harmony.
When an athlete finds himself in a situation where his talents can flourish, performances can elevate, and they can positively impact the performance of their teammates around them. A player must seize the moments when they can have an effect on the game and in these decisive moments are when the next generation of stars can emerge. Consistency and discipline are traits that can be developed in time, but greatness and stardom both remain innate qualities. The players on this list have proven this season, that they have the potential to be great.
15 Morgan Schneiderlin – Southampton
Morgan Schneiderlin has emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the most consistently performing central midfielders in the English Premier League. After starring at the youth level and a brief senior stint with Strasbourg, he moved to Southampton in 2008. While he may not have been developed through the academy, he has certainly benefited from the club’s expert talent development. He impressed in Southampton’s draw against Chelsea this season, where he caught the eye of Jose Mourinho. However, his best performance of the season came back in August against West Ham, when he scored twice to give his team a 3-1 victory.
14 James Tomkins – West Ham
Earlier this year, James Tomkins signed a contract extension that will keep him as a West Ham player for the rest of the decade through 2020. This deal is the culmination of a career that has been developed and nurtured by West Ham before finally emerging as a star during the current Premier League campaign. At 6’3’’ Tomkins is a physically imposing defender, willing to sacrifice his body to make challenges. This trend has caught up with him in recent weeks, as James picked up a broken nose and dislocated shoulder in separate incidents. However, this tendency has also made him one of the best aerial defenders in the league.
13 Jetro Willems – PSV Eindhoven
At only 21-years-old, Jetro Willems is already one of the most exciting left back talents in the world. He already holds the distinction of being the youngest player to ever feature at UEFA European Cup and last year made his debut at the World Cup for the Netherlands. With PSV Eindhoven this year, he has been one of the reasons that they have run away with the league, thanks in part to his 11 assists and average Whoscored rating of 7.58 in Erdivisie matches. Willems may be slightly undersized, but makes up for it with fantastic passing and defensive abilities, and is a great player in the air for a man of his stature. Willems is a name fans will want to remember and he could be on the move to a major European club this summer.
12 Memphis Depay – PSV Eindhoven
Last year in Brazil, Memphis Depay became one of the World Cup’s most exciting young players. Primarily deployed as a left winger, Depay has been a lethal attacking force for PSV Eindhoven and is the currently Erdivisie leader in goals scored with 19 so far this season. Depay has an unbelievable ability to shoot from distance with his right foot, but also excels at playing lethal through balls to his teammates. In a manner similar to an opposite footed Arjen Robben, Memphis can cut in from the wing to unleash his devastating shot and excels at creating his own space. It will be interesting to see where his career takes him next.
11 Gylfi Sigurdsson – Swansea City
Few players in the Premier League are capable of playing the variety of roles that Gylfi Sigurdsson has filled for Swansea during the 2014-15 campaign. After spending the two previous seasons with Tottenham, Gylfi’s return to Swansea has seen him improve significantly in almost every way. No longer having to compete in a crowded midfield, Sigurdsson has settled in nicely to his playmaker role at Swansea. He has already scored five goals this season and currently sits third overall among assist leaders with nine on the season. Sigurdsson’s knack for providing key passes has made him an indispensable part of the Swansea midfield and they should finish in an enviable position just out of Europa League qualification.
10 Felipe Anderson – Lazio
Lazio took an enormous risk in 2013, when they went about signing Felipe Anderson away from Santos and his third-party owner. However, the £6.6 million fee is now looking like a bargain, especially considering that he will be under contract until 2020 with his current deal. Anderson has excelled in Serie A play this season, averaging one goal every 142 minutes from his preferred wing position. He has already scored ten times this season in Serie A, but has also contributed with assists on six more goals. He has been honored with man of the match awards in eight matches this season and has one of the five highest match ratings among Serie A players.
9 Roberto Firmino – Hoffenheim
The last year has seen Roberto Firmino maintain the leap to greatness that he showed in 2013. 2014 saw him make his first appearance with the Brazilian National Team, an appearance he earned by being nothing short of impressive for Hoffenheim this season. Featuring prominently in a central attacking midfield role, Firmino is an inventive player with spectacular passing and dribbling ability. So far this year, he has racked up six goals and eight assists, while maintaining a 7.77 Whoscored rating in his 28 Bundesliga matches. Firmino is certainly unafraid of attempting the audacious and looks to be another in the line of Brazilian players to successfully make the leap to Europe.
8 Jordan Amavi – Nice
In his first full season in the senior squad at OGC Nice, Jordan Amavi has asserted himself as the first choice full back and is making a case to be included in the French National Team. He has featured several youth levels for France despite also having eligibility for Togo. This left back has been blessed with quick reactions and foot speed that make dribbling through opponents and intercepting their passes a simple task for Amavi. His tackling and aerial abilities are both on the level for Ligue 1 competition and should improve as the 21-year-old continues to progress. Amavi is a consistent defender capable of brilliance, and his 7 MoTM awards this season serve as evidence.
7 Franco Vazquez – Palermo
In March 2015, Franco Vazquez was given an opportunity to appear on the Italian National Team during their UEFA European Cup Qualifying match against Bulgaria. The appearance came under fire from Roberto Mancini, who found fault with Vazquez’ Italian-Argentinian heritage, but thankfully Italy manager Antonio Conte disagreed. Otherwise, the Italian midfield would be deprived of this elite attacking midfielder. Vazquez has scored 7 goals and helped with 9 assists in his Serie A appearances this season. His performance against Napoli was one of the most outstanding of the season, where Vazquez shone with one goal and two assists.
6 Willian - Chelsea
While Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have received the lion’s share of media attention as Chelsea continue to march to the Premier League title, Willian has been the unsung star that has made everything work. Jose Mourinho initially purchased the right midfielder to prevent rivals Tottenham from the player, but found himself with a tireless worker that shows up when he needs him most. Willian provided a crucial assist on Branislav Ivanovic’s winning goal against Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal, as well as the only goal of their victory against Everton. Willian is capable of contributing both as a starter or substitute, and, in perhaps the biggest compliment, has made it difficult for highly touted Juan Cuadrado to earn playing time.
5 Mohamed Salah - Fiorentina
Since arriving at Fiorentina on a loan deal away from his nightmare time at Chelsea, Mohamed Salah has blossomed as a talent. The 22-year-old Egyptian right wing impressed when given playing time and was immediately an overwhelming success. After limited appearances with Chelsea, he has scored 7 goals and two assists in 10 matches with Fiorentina. Since arriving, he has expressed his desire to never return to Chelsea and who can blame him now that he is scoring once every 94 minutes. Salah has appeared to embrace the club’s culture and the Italian fans have grown to love his mazy runs and amazing passing ability.
4 Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg
Although he shares a name with a WWE personality, Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodriguez is the preeminent sporting personality of that name. The son of a Spanish father and Chilean mother, Rodriguez plays his international football for Austria and has already earned 29 appearances for his country at the age of 22. Typically, Rodriguez plays a left back, but he is excellent at flying up and down the flanks to contribute on both ends of the pitch. Rodriguez has scored 10 goals in all competitions this season, including two crucial goals against Lille, to help Wolfsburg advance in the Europa league. His passing ability makes him a valuable asset, but his free kick and penalty taking ability make him one of the most well-rounded left back talents in the world.
3 Kevin De Bruyne – Wolfsburg
This summer, Kevin De Bruyne made a move away from European giants Chelsea to Bundesliga mainstays Wolfsburg. The move paid dividends almost immediately with De Bruyne quickly becoming one of the most exciting young talents in the German league. He has been a revelation in his 38 matches in all competitions this season, with 14 goals and 22 assists. Those amazing performances have allowed him to boast an incredible match rating of 8.03 in Bundesliga matches this season. The Belgian midfielder’s playmaking skills have truly been on display throughout this season and he has been amazingly consistent during his appearances this year. While he has found success in Wolfsburg, it will be interesting to see if a big club can tempt him away again in the future.
2 Antoine Griezmann – Atletico Madrid
After toiling in relative obscurity during his youth career and five seasons with Real Sociedad, Antoine Griezmann has become a superstar in his first year with Atletico Madrid. He assisted the only goal of the Spanish Supercopa against mega-rivals Real Madrid and has been flying ever since, with 21 goals and one assist in all competitions. Griezmann is the focal point of Diego Simeone’s attack and his killer instinct has made him a thorn in the side of his opponents. In January, he was awarded La Liga Player of the Month, despite only appearing in three matches. Griezmann is now a bonafide superstar and has been a vital part of Atleti’s success this season.
1 Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur
Harry Kane is having one of the most incredible seasons in recent memory. He is contributing significantly for Tottenham, the club that developed his talent, and has them once again competing for a valuable spot in Europe. At 21-years-old, Kane signed a five year contract extension that will keep him at White Hart Lane at least until Real Madrid comes calling. Kane was the driving force behind Spurs’ stunning victory over Chelsea and has been invaluable for them this season. Kane now has 19 goals in the Premier League, which has him tied with Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero and challenging them for the Golden Boot. To make things even better, Harry earned his first call up to the England squad and scored 80 seconds after replacing Wayne Rooney.