Neymar, James, arguably Messi – three of the biggest stars from this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. But who will be making the headlines at the next tournament?
Over the next two days, we’re going to tip 10 players destined for great things in Russia in four years’ time.
It would rank as the biggest surprise in World Cup history if Brazil and Argentina did not make it, so the chances are it’s going to be Neymar and Messi again. If Colombia join them there’s little doubt James will be up there with them.
His Golden Boot-winning performances in Brazil have earned him a six-year contract with Real Madrid for an undisclosed fee, reported to be around €80 million. If that’s accurate, the move makes him the fourth most expensive player in history, the third highest in Real Madrid’s history, and the most expensive Colombian surpassing Radamel Falcao’s €60 million transfer from Atletico Madrid to Monaco in 2013.
Emile Heskey, Sony Team Ambassador for England and a former Liverpool striker, was so impressed with James in Brazil that he saw him as the Reds’ ideal replacement for Barcelona-bound Luis Suarez, although the Bernabeu was always the most likely destination.
“James Rodriguez lit up the World Cup,” said Heskey. “I’ve been very impressed with his general ability on the ball. His movement is very good too, he sometimes plays on the left, or off the front man, the inter-change in positions is causing lots of problems for defenders.
“His ability to move the ball is fantastic for such a young player, and to show that ability on the world stage is fantastic. His repertoire of goals has been impressive. He scored one against Japan when he left the lad on his back and then lifted it over the keeper.
“He scored a great header against Ivory Coast and then got a poacher’s goal when he tapped it in at the end of a lovely team move and he scored the 25-yarder scorcher against Uruguay.”
It is well documented how much Brazil missed Neymar following his back injury against Colombia in the quarter final, so 2018 represents another chance to light up the world stage.
For Messi, meanwhile, it will be his last chance to lift the World Cup and put to rest all the comparisons with Diego Maradona. Asked to judge the pair in a live web chat with fans, Sony Team Ambassador Alessandro Nesta replied: “It’s too early to say. Once Messi has retired then we can answer that question. Messi still has one more chance to win the World Cup.”
So who else is there? Two players well known to Liverpool and England fans, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, will keep the headline writers busy assuming their respective countries qualify. In the case of Suarez, he will hope it is for the right reasons while Sterling already has plenty of admirers and with time on his side, his fan club can only grow with his experience. It will be interesting to see how he fares without the Uruguayan at Anfield.