One day Rene Ricard, considered among the pantheons of New York art critic, walked into the apartment of artist Jean-Michel Basquait to see what would be some of the most valuable pieces of modern ghetto art, strewn across the floor. Rene Ricard specialised in writing about total unknown, frighteningly young, artist. A young auteur whose career he can latch onto to write about for a long time, through the glory, ignominy, and growth. Football supporters and football writers armed with Twitter accounts and column inches are essentially all Rene Ricards after a fashion. And many of us are tuning into the ongoing Under-20 World Cup in Poland with the very same reason.
Why? Before most of the world, Japanese football followers were the first to see the imperious, cockerel-in-heat confidence of Diego Maradona perch to the podium to lift the 1979 World Cup. Before Balkan was shattered into pieces, Davor Suker scored six goals for a united Yugoslavia in Santiago, Chile. Before Ronaldinho had locks and multi-million dollar boot endorsements, he was skinny, bald boy dragging his team to reach the 1999 U20 WC quarter finals in Nigeria. Imagine the vicarious joy a football follower must feel when he sees the foal he backed become a prize horse.
Here are five for your perusal:
What's common between Luis Figo and Michael Laudrup? Right, they have turned up against Barcelona and bitter rivals Real Madrid and scored. But Juan Camilo 'Cucho' Hernandez had the mettle to do that before he reached drinking age. At gameweek 3, he scored against Barcelona for Huesca, then to later stun Santiago Bernabeu putting the minnow team one nil up against the run of play. he's also scored against Villarreal. He's an explosive center-forward in the mold of Liverpool's Sadio Mane, who is equally adept at playing across the front, as well as being a big-game player.
The step-up to the Liga has been a learning curve. But consider the fact that during the 17-18 season which saw Eibar surprise themselves, he came in like a wrecking ball with 16 goals and eight assists.
Coming from the back alleys of Colombia, he's not a shy character. He has picked up 15 yellow cards in the past two seasons. You can expect an outburst or two, naturally. And if you tend to lean towards players who play with grit, he's one for you.
He featured in Colombia's winning start vs Poland, and you can watch him next Sunday against Senegal, who beat Tahiti 3-0 in a Group A fixture. You should be seeing more of him after the U20 World Cup too, once he returns to Watford in the Premier League upon the completion of his loan spell at Huesca.
Tim is the son of ex-footballer, Ballon d'Or winner and President of Liberia, George Weah. Tim Weah doesn't have a New York minute for his markers. Loaned out, he scored on his debut for Celtic, coming off the bench. He is the product of America's long, hard, and continued introspection after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He's not unfamiliar to playing in the big stage, having scored three goals in a 3-0 win vs Paraguay in the Under-17 World Cup.
This tournament will be a shop window for Tim Weah. Ultimately, if he has to make good on his potential, he'd need a club like Christian Pulisic had Dortmund. His parent club, PSG does not fit the bill as a club who makes room for young prospects since the oligarch takeover. It was previously, producing a multitude of future French stars, but the current scenario in the dressing room is engulfed in the toxicity of an ego battle between Neymar and everyone else. Earlier this week, Kylian Mbappe came out at the Ligue 1 awards to un-tastefully declare his intention to leave Paris. Not the ideal environment.
If you're looking for a legacy story to root for, Tim Weah represents the American dream. You can catch him in action vs Nigeria on the 27th of May, 23:30 IST.
Portugal is in the middle of another upturn of talents. Leading the banner is Joao Felix, but sadly for the viewers of the tournament, the wonderkid has been assimilated into the senior national team plans. The next best spectacle in the red of Portugal is Gedson Fernandes, one of the most hyped up players in this edition of the U-20 World Cup. You could think of him as a more measured version of Renato Sanches. The European U17 Championship winner had a breakneck start in 2017. But like many youngsters thrust into the spotlight, all the bright lights came too fast for him.
His rise has been meteoric. Joining S.L. Benfica's youth system, he immediately accelerated through to the club's reserve team in 2017, then making his professional debut with Benfica B. The very next season he was pushed into the deep end of senior team action.
With 46 appearances this season, he has shown signs of burnout that young players often face.One thing Gedson Carvalho Fernande struggled to come with is the face of senior football. Playing with the U-20s may have come in at possibly the perfect time. A host of European elites like Manchester United will be monitoring his progress. The best move for Gedson at this stage should be moving to a club that wouldn't depend on his as heavily Benfica do. Whether or not he gets that move will depend on how he plays in this tournament.
France/Olympique de Marseille
Capable of playing across the back and as a central defensive midfielder, Boubacar Kamara, have a host of top European clubs measuring his every move. Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp are taking particular interest in the defender. He's an absolute banker if you want a safe bet to succeed.
Terrific at one-v-one situations, and blessed with both reading of the game and an exceptional speed to cover gaping holes in defence of his ultra-attacking all-star France U20 team. In fact, think of Dan-Axel Zagadou of Borussia and the likes, and more than half of this France team would coast into the starting 11 of many of Europe's top 6 clubs in Europe's top 5 leagues.
What's a World Cup without a generational Argentinian talent? Ezequiel Barco came into the world's eyes with goal of the week highlight reels at the MLS, often going viral over Reddit and Twitter. He scored four goals in eight matches with three assists for Atlanta this season, wowing many American soccer fans with his panache. Last season, he struggled to get into the groove of the MLS and yet produced six goals and five assists. Barco displays the cheeky confidence of a young Francesco Totti, and will compete with Jota of Portugal to being the most dazzling left-forward/playmaker in the tournament.
He's filled in the big boots left behind by a departing Miguel Almiron (to Newcastle), and is generally unfazed by challenges. He scored the goal that helped his previous club Independiente secure the copa Sudamericana.
Him, Agustin Almendra and Gonzalo Maroni could make perennial underachievers Argentina unlikely contenders for quarter-finals, at least.