This time defenders who I believe have the quality and ambition to make 2015 their own. Once again players who are performing at a consistently high level and are under the age of 23. The Players’ Football Association (PFA) Young Player of the Year award can be given to anybody under 23, so that seems a reasonable age limit for these defenders (who can be from anywhere).
Ricardo Rodriguez (22) VFL Wolfsburg
Depending on your interests he is the best left back in football or the best kept secret in football. At the age of 22 he has 27 international caps and has transformed in to one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent performers.
Signed from FC Zurich in January 2012 for a meagre fee of €7.5 million he has blazed a trail in Germany. According to OptaJoe during the 2013/14 season he played a hand in 14 goals – more than any other defender in Europe. A move to a bigger European club was on the cards with a host of top clubs interested in the young defender but he has recently put pen to paper on a new contract that will see him – in theory – at the club until 2019. Will he still be at Wolfsburg if a bigger team makes an aggressive move for him? Unlikely
Aymeric Laporte (20) Athletic Bilbao
Born on May 27 1994 he is five months and two days older than me. That puts what he has already done in to perspective. A commanding centre-back the Frenchman, wait what? Yes he is only the second ever French player to play for Bilbao after Bixente Lizarazu. That statement alone sets the standard for what this player is all about.
He can cover left-back if needed but where he really shines is in the centre. Monitored by almost every European club worth their salt, Laporte is attracting huge attention. He was at the heart of Athletic Bilbao reaching the Champions League for the first time in 18 seasons. What makes him a rare commodity is that there are really only a handful of truly world class centre backs – defenders who are as comfortable on the ball as they are chasing it – and Laporte has it all. Contracted until 2016 he will go for nothing less than his €27.5 million buyout clause.
Éder Alvarez Balanta (21) River Plate
South America has never really been renowned for defenders. Colombian born Balanta bucks this trend. Playing for Argentinean giants River Plate he has been lauded as the top defending talent coming out of South America. This was further complimented by his inclusion in the Colombian World Cup squad.
Standing half an inch shy of 6 foot the player is intensely physical, but possesses the agility and speed of a man half his height. Primarily left-footed he has shown that he is comfortable on his right as well. In a particularly memorable Copa Sudamerica match he put in a man of the match performance that also included a cheeky nutmeg in the opposition’s half. This particular match also shows one of his defining traits; his ability to read a game. His ability to read the game is world class but he also manages to combine this with playing out of defence and moving the ball quickly up the pitch. He never represented Colombia at underage level due to injury after injury which is the only negative next to his name.
Hugely talented he is set for a move away from River Plate. River Plate Vice-president Matias Patanian said:
“If the amount of money that the newspaper mentions is true and we receive an offer like that, then River could sit down and start negotiations as it would be close to the amount the club expects for transferring Balanta.”
Terence Kongolo (20) Feyenoord
How much more talent will come out of Belgium? A seemingly limitless amount of talent is being harnessed in the Eredivisie and Terence Kongolo is at the forefront. The Swiss born centre back represents Netherlands and featured in the World Cup squad that travelled to Brazil. Coming through the Feyenoord academy – voted best in Holland for the last 5 years – he is following in the footsteps of Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij.
There is no doubt in my mind that he will surpass both these players in a few years. What sets Kongolo apart is his bravery and his mindset that every ball is his to win. During the 2013/14 season he was booked only twice in almost 2,000 minutes of play. Starting originally as a left-back his lack of pace has seen him move to centre-back. This move has seen a rise in the fortunes of Feyenoord and they have lost only one of the last 10 matches he played in – a 4-3 away defeat to PSV. Only Sven van Beek has made more appearances in the Eredivisie this season for Feyenoord. Great things await this Dutch destroyer.
Tin Jedvaj (19) Bayer Leverkusen (on loan from AS Roma)
The Croatian right back is the youngest player on the list. Originally signed from Roma on a two-year loan deal the youngster has gone from strength to strength. Displacing Giulio Donati and Roberto Hilbert at full back he has gone from back up defender to first team regular and has played in every position across the back four this season.
This versatility coupled with extreme energy has shown Jedvaj to be a handful for opponents when he attacks as well as his resoluteness while defending. An own goal against Hertha Berlin saw his positioning come in to question but he scored the equaliser in a game they went on to win 4-2. He also scored and assisted in a 3-3 draw with Bremen. His idol he says is PSG’s Thiago Silva and Jedvaj certainly has a flair for central positions – a move later on in his career could be to centre-back. Brimming with potential Leverkusen have shown fantastic foresight by getting him on a two-year loan deal and first refusal on any offers if Roma ever wish to sell the Croat.
Eliaquim Mangala (23) Manchester City
Mangala deservedly earned a big money move to Manchester during the summer. Despite playing excellently for Porto he hasn’t found what made him tick at City yet and never looks entirely comfortable. Out of position and failing to spot danger at City has seen him miss out.
Marquinhos (20) Paris Saint Germain
A fine defender 2014 will be remember for his wonderful goal-saving tackle against Barcelona in the Champions League. This was the highlight of an otherwise safe season. Hopefully he can kick on this year but limited first team matches could hamper his progress.
Raphaël Varane (21) Real Madrid
Varane could have easily made this list. A mainstay in the Champions League his appearances in other competitions haven’t been so plentiful. Missing out on the 2013 Golden Boy award to Paul Pogba, Varane has fulfilled most of the potential that a bit-part player can fulfill. A move away from the Bernabeau or a starting place on the team is the next move for the defender.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below what you think or who I may have missed out on.