This summer, for the first time in almost two decades, LaLiga fans were confronted with the possibility of life after Lionel Messi, as the Argentinian Barcelona great tried to engineer a move away from Camp Nou.
The 33 year-old has since decided to stay at the club, but his discontent gave rise to considerations of a Messi-less league. Luckily, with young talents like these 11 starlets ready to seize their chance this season, the future of the competition is in capable hands.
Pedri - Barcelona
Like a weary mountain climber looking for a way through a daunting ridge, Pedri has an eye for a pass. In fact, the 17 year-old has been likened to new Barcelona team-mate Frenkie de Jong for his ability to slot them through impossible gaps from deep-lying positions.
Pedri also has finishing in his locker, becoming Las Palmas’s youngest ever goal-scorer last season, at just 16 years of-age. With the self-confessed Barca tragic joining the likes of Ansu Fati in the Blaugrana dressing room, there is light breaking through the shadow cast by an ageing and increasingly disillusioned Lionel Messi.
Rodrygo Goes – Real Madrid
Throw a rock at the Real Madrid squad and you’re bound to hit either an established star or a talented young prospect dreaming of a chance in the first team. There’s every possibility that young talent will be returning from a loan somewhere, like Martin Odegaard or Take Kubo.
In the case of the latter, they may be about to be whisked away on another sabbatical, or the former, destined to warm the padded Bernabeu bench seats waiting for an opportunity to shine. Among all that shifting talent, perhaps the measure of a future star is gauged by whether or not he’s loaned out at all.
Bringing us to Rodrygo Goes, who doesn’t get the headlines of a Hazard, or the hype of a Vinicius Jr, but who has demonstrated his value to Zinedine Zidane with a number of eye-catching performances last season, on both sides of the attacking third. Versatile, resilient, dogged and capable of producing a match-winning play, Rodrygo is exactly the type of player Zidane likes. He’s gritty and tough, but can break a match open with a moment of magic.
Look for the year-old to upstage some of his more flashy team-mates this season.
Takefusa Kubo - Villarreal
Ambitious Villarreal has made more transfer window signings than an author at a book launch, but by far the most exciting is the prodigious Japanese talent plucked from the dying embers of Mallorca’s failed survival battle: Take Kubo. The 19 year-old loves taking on defenders, is dancing-shadow quick and can lay on an assist. Comparisons to Messi are inevitable and warranted. Yellow Submarine fans will have a season to enjoy him on loan from Real Madrid.
Ander Barrenetxea – Real Sociedad
Real Sociedad has more young talent than Junior Masterchef, with a generation of academy products ready to light up in 2020-2021.
Among the likes of Ander Guevara and Aihen Munoz, one name stands out in the fledgling pack: Ander Barrenetxea – the 18 year-old fleet-footed winger with a dazzling turn of pace and a knack for embarrassing opposition defenders. With more kids than a field of baby goats, Sociedad has brought in David Silva from Manchester City in a sensational bit of transfer business. The wily veteran will be the glue, allowing the likes of Barrenetxea to shine.
Oihan Sancet – Athletic Club
Tall, fast and with impeccable vision, the central midfielder will push for a regular starting spot in the Athletic Club midfield after making 17 appearances last season. The 20 year-old plays with the skill and foresight of Lyon’s Houssem Aouar, although he needs to develop more steel to cope with the inevitable attention he attracts from opposing defenders.
Sergio Camello – Atletico Madrid
Camello has racked up more than a decade of service already at Atletico Madrid, having joined the club at eight years-old – earlier than the great Fernando Torres.
But Camello has more than longevity in common with the legend, having demonstrated his ability to score more types of goals than a corporate motivation seminar. The teenager can fire them in off his head, rifle home from range and artfully dispatch them with the subtlest of dinks over the keeper, making him a prime contender to be the panacea to Diego Simeone’s long-term scoring problems.
Alejandro Pozo – Sevilla
Deployed at right back during a loan stint at Mallorca in the second half of last season, Pozo proved his versatility, having made his name as an attacking winger. The 21 year-old is unlikely to force his way into Julen Lopetegui’s first team this season, but his versatility and ability to play off both feet, his willingness to take on defenders and his growing defensive attributes, make the 21 year-old the perfect squad player.
With an ageing group in front of him, including Jesus Navas, Pozo can expect to see more game time as the season wears on.
Lee Kang-in - Valencia
Fans of Los Che will be hoping new manager Javi Gracia’s commitment to youth development will convince Lee to remain at the club, the young Korean star recently having refused to sign a contract extension amid talk he is seeking a transfer. If the gaffer can get the best out of Lee – who only made three starts last season – fans are in for a treat.
The 19 year-old is fast, skilful and precise with his passing. If you wanted to call him the ‘new someone’, Valencia alumni David Silva wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Fran Beltran – Celta Vigo
The Vallecano youth product plays like a La Masia graduate, with a knack for losing his marker, Xavi-style, and delivering crisp, pinpoint passes. The diminutive central midfielder established himself in the Celta engine room last season and will be looking to press claims for a spot in the senior national team this season, having represented La Rojiblancos at every level from Under-17 up.
Nehuen Perez – Atletico Madrid
The Argentinian central defender impressed enough on loan at Portuguese club Famalicao last season to suggest he could be pressing for game time at an Atleti side stacked with defensive talent. At home on or off the ball, Perez has the anticipation of a successful stock market speculator, racking up an average of five interceptions per game last season. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and adept at shutting down attacking moves. A clutch performer belying his tender years.
Diego Lainez – Real Betis
The 19 year-old Mexican attacker can operate on the right, left or centrally. His dribbling, speed and tight passing game make him a nightmare opposing defenders and his eagerness to be on the ball gives the Betis midfield a perpetual attacking outlet. Diminutive in stature, it’s perhaps inevitable Lainez has been compared to Lionel Messi, although the Mexican languishes behind the Argentinian in the goals and assists category, despite having a similar free rein across the Betis forward line.
His side will need him to improve in those key aspects of his game. If he can, the Seville club may final start to fulfil years of hype.