Given the lack of football elsewhere, the U20 World Cup received more prominence than usual and the tournament did not disappoint particularly with Iraq’s run to the semi-final that perhaps should have been rewarded with an appearance in the final.
In truth, however, this is always an interesting competition; one that puts in the spotlight talent which is more than a promise. So it was this time, with the likes of Juan Quintero (Ecuador), Paul Pogba (France) , Jese Rodriguez (Spain) and Bruma (Portugal) all catching the eye as potential stars.
In some cases, the belief is that the talent is more than potential. Most certainly that seems to be the case with Bruma on whom a number of clubs are willing to spend a lot of money. And he’s not the only one.
That by the time they compete at this level most of the players are practically fully developed physically, thus removing a further layer of uncertainty, helps in making judgements of players’ abilities. A good portion of these players will have played for their club sides as well, and as such will have given better indications as to whether they will manage to transfer their form from youth to senior football.
Yet looking at the history of this competition serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as a guarantee in youth football. Henrique, judged to be the most outstanding talent of the competition two years ago, has struggled to play regular first team football and already has played for half a dozen clubs. Same goes for the Ghanaian striker Dominic Adiyah who won the Golden Ball in 2009 but currently plays his football for Arsenal Kyiv having failed to make much of an impact elsewhere.
Indeed, for every player who does make an impact after impressing in this competition, there are three or four who disappear.
All this confirms the difficulty in identifying potential that will flourish. If a player who excels on the world stage at Under 20 level isn’t guaranteed to be a star, then there truly isn’t a measure to determine potential success. That is why big clubs stockpile young talent: they know that they cannot pinpoint which players will make it and which will not so they buy as many as possible in the hope that at least a couple do fulfil their promise.
Little does it seem to matter to them that their inability to give games to these players will hinder them from fulfilling their potential.
PS - If it is impossible to judge players at the age of 20 and who have been through a number of filters then the opposite must apply to those players who at 16, 17 and 18 are told that they aren’t good enough. Something for a future issue of Blueprint for Football Extra.