What impresses me more is the rate at which La Liga is churning out brilliant youngsters. The academies of these clubs and the various ‘B’ teams in lower leagues really seem to be helping the youngsters along the line. Even taking in loanees, they help advance them incredibly.
In my opinion, La Liga is the best league in which young players can gain experience. Here are the young players (aged 23 or under) that I feel have developed best and/or have most potential in La Liga:
GK. Thibaut Courtois, 20 years old: Can anybody question the ability of this man? On loan to Atletico Madrid since summer 2011, he has already won the Europa League and the European Super Cup. With superb reflexes, a commanding presence in the box and a great talent for shot stopping, Courtois is sure to go on to be one of the world’s best.
RB: Martin Montoya, 21 years old: Montoya may not be getting much game time with Barcelona at the minute but he is not entirely inexperienced. With an U21 European Championship trophy with Spain under his belt he looks like he will have a bright future.
CB: Raphael Varane, 19 years old: Now I must admit I’ve been incredibly impressed with Varane’s performances when he’s had the chance. The Real Madrid centre back has recently been getting more of a chance in the side and has a great footballing mind. Combine that with his remarkable ability to read the game and we have a little (I say little, he’s 6 foot 3 inches) starlet on our hands.
CB: Mikel San Jose, 23 years old: A regular starter for Bilbao, he has done well in the side and although for some, there might be a better choice of centre back, I rate him highly. With more development I believe that San Jose could become a fantastic player.
LB: Jon Aurtenetxe, 20 years old: Another youngster already established in the Athletic Bilbao side. He has struck up a great partnership with Iker Muniain on the left side and surely with time he can make this combination more deadly.
CM: Koke, 20 years old: Koke may be further down the pecking line in Atletico Madrid due to Tiago and Mario Suarez, but he won’t be for long. The Spaniard is a fast developing talent and with a great passing ability and great vision he can be a real talent in years to come.
CM: Ander Herrera, 23 years old: Relatively unknown outside of Spain before last season, Herrera has caught the eyes of many. Able to complete the most difficult pass and a powerhouse in midfield, I feel that Herrera will be lingering on the radars of bigger clubs for quite some time.
CAM: Thiago Alcantara, 21 years old: Probably my favourite player in Europe under the age of 23. A truly great footballer and definitely one to watch, Barcelona have talent on their hands and Thiago is certainly a player you should keep track of.
RW: Cristian Tello, 21 years old: In just 20 league appearances, Tello has proved he has an abundance of talent. Pacy, intelligent and an eye for goal, he has drawn the eyes of a number of teams including Liverpool. Barcelona would be insane to let such brilliance out of their ranks.
ST: Carlos Vela, 23 years old: After an unsuccessful period at Arsenal, Vela was given a chance out on loan at Real Sociedad last season and with 14 league goals he was signed permanently. A fresh start for the young Mexican may just be what his career needs.
LW: Alexis Sanchez, 23 years old: Very skilful, explosive pace and one of the most dangerous footballers in La Liga. At just 23, we can’t have seen the best he has to offer just yet.
There you have it, a simple 4-2-1-3 formation of the 23 and unders in Spain that I think show the most talent.
Honourable mentions: Jordi Alba, 23 years old. Isaac Cuenca, 21 years old. Inigo Martinez, 21 years old. Iker Muniain, 19 years old. Isco, 20 years old. Players I feel are fantastic, but just don’t make my 11 man cut.