Like a fortune teller using a crystal ball or a series of tarot cards to determine a person’s future, predicting how football will play out over the coming years is a fool’s errand.
It’s facile to judge what transpires in the present, but not so much when it comes to around the corner. Especially in football, where factors like injuries, form, and transfers can flip a player’s career on its head.
As part of Monday’s lavish FIFA ceremonies in London, the football governing body announced the FIFPro World XI, and there were very few surprises as La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona dominated the assemblage of football’s best.
Of the 11 players selected, only Neymar (24), Toni Kroos (27), and Marcelo (29) are younger than 30 years old, and despite the stranglehold many of the players have on the FIFA XI, time is a factor beyond the control of even the world’s best.
With that in mind, here’s a hypothetical glance at what the FIFPro World XI could look like in five years’ time:
Alban Lafont (Toulouse) – Currently plying his trade with Ligue 1 side Toulouse, Lafont, 18, already has 70 first-team appearances with Les Pitchouns, and has displayed a knack for pairing shot-stopping with distribution. AC Milan‘s Gianluigi Donnarumma is the popular pick, but look for Lafont to make an eventual move to Paris Saint-Germain to boost his stock while filling his trophy case with domestic and continental honours.
Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – Playing for Real Madrid is a shortcut to success and for Carvajal, 25, the sky’s the limit for the slick-passing right back who is set to take World’s Best full-back honours from Los Blancos brethren Marcelo. One concern for Carvajal would be a history of minor injuries having appeared in 22 and 23 La Liga matches in each of the last two seasons, respectively. Countryman Hector Bellerin may give his colleague a challenge.
Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain) – Remarkably still just 23 years old despite more than half a decade of first-team football, Brazilian centre-back Marquinhos has become a symbol of consistency in the French capital. With fellow La Canrinha Thiago Silva in decline, expect Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe to be anchors at the back for the future Champions League winner.
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – Like Marquinhos, Real Madrid defender Varane, 24, plays for a continental power, and like his fellow centre-half, receives a fraction of the praise of his peers. It’s hard to imagine that bothering the reticent Frenchman, and with passing skills and positional awareness of a player five years his senior, the only way is up for a player likely to continue earning trophies at a rapid rate. John Stones may have something to say about this.
Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City) – There’s a reason Manchester City shelled out a record amount for a defender when it lured Les Bleus star Mendy to the Eithad. Arguably one of Europe’s best crossers of the ball, Mendy provides width in attack, creating space for midfielders while demanding the undivided attention of the opposing right-back. He’s also a peach of a fella, a factor that can’t hurt his popularity among peers and media.
Dele Alli (Tottenham) – There are a slew of burgeoning attacking midfielders to choose from, and at the expense of Los Blancos star Isco, 25, Tottenham‘s Alli makes the list by virtue of a versatile skill set uncommon for a player not yet 22. Assuming he remains an integral part of a young core at White Hart Lane alongside Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, Alli’s rise could see him become one of England’s greatest-ever players.
Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich) – Arguably the Bundesliga’s best player last season, Alcantara is a Jack-of-all-trades midfielder without a glaring weakness. With Bayern likely to build around him as an aging core hits the wall, Alcantara, 26, is set to become a focal point for both club and country courtesy of a versatility that has him among Europe’s best.
Marco Asensio (Real Madrid) – From La Casilla grad to first-team saviour, Spanish attacking midfielder Asensio, 21, enjoyed a brilliant 2016-17 campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu. There’s no reason to think that his meteoric rise shows any signs of slowing, and with the majority of the Real Madrid squad approaching footballing twilight, Asensio should be the attacking piece the capital side builds around.
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) – One of the first names on this hypothetical teamsheet, there aren’t any words of praise to fairly describe 18-year-old PSG forward Mbappe. Equal parts fluid runner and dribbling wizard, Mbappe’s modesty and demeanor will only help the versatile right-footer become the world’s best footballer.
Harry Kane (Tottenham) – To all those who called Tottenham goal-machine Kane a one-year wonder, eat a Spurs scarf dipped in hot sauce. Kane, 24, is both the world’s in-form striker and its most clinical finisher, and whether his future be in north London or with one of Europe’s behemoths, the England international’s nose for goal is an asset that should appreciate as he develops further tricks and turns in the penalty area.
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain) – The sole remnant of the 2017 FIFPro XI, Neymar is set to excel as his senior peers Messi and Ronaldo make retirement plans. The flashy Brazilian, 25, can delay his own plans for backgammon and beach towels as he notches a first Ballon d’Or in 2019 after leading PSG to a second Champions League title on the trot.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)