Transfer talk takes a backseat at a World Cup, and this is a wonderful thing. Such an overwhelmingly dominant topic when it comes to club football, thanks largely to this age of internet transfer gossip and ITKs, it almost feels somehow wrong to hear transfer rumours during a World Cup. It is perhaps the one month in four years of the global calendar where all that transfer tittle-tattle takes a backseat.
That said, a World Cup is also the biggest stage of all for players to shine. Superstars are born, careers change permanently in the space of a month. It is not hyperbolic to say that legends are made. Think Kylian Mbappe in 2018 or Mario Gotze in 2014. Fairytales are written, names are etched into folklore forever.
The World Cup gives an opportunity to the best players to really write their names in history or announce themselves at the forefront of the sport’s leading names. For lower-ranked nations and players it offers a platform in front of the eyes of millions to alert people – potential new employees included – of their value.
Many a hidden gem has been discovered at World Cups and Qatar 2022 will be no different. After a hectic group stage and round of 16, with more than 50 games played in a little over two weeks, here is a selection of 15 players whose value has skyrocketed on the back of their performances at this tournament.
Expect to see a lot of transfer speculation around the following players once the World Cup ends…
Jude Bellingham – England – 19
For me the best young player in world football today. (21 or under). It is as simple as that. And this is not purely hindsight – on an interview with CNN when the England squad was announced I did say I believe Jude Bellingham will be considered one of the best players in the world by the end of this World Cup (see from 4m.18s).
For an Englishman to move to Germany at 17, learn the language and, by the age of 19, be captaining one of the country’s biggest clubs, Borussia Dortmund, tells you everything you need to know about this wonderful young midfielder. Maturity, game intelligence, simply unbelievable ability to read a game and make the right decision in key situations, Jude Bellingham’s talent is like nothing we’ve seen in England for decades.
Already bossing games at the highest level in the UEFA Champions League, Bellingham has shown in games against Iran, Wales and Senegal in particular what a precocious, hugely mature midfielder he is. Already an incredibly well-rounded midfielder who can operate defensively, as a box-to-box midfielder or even in more advanced areas, do not be surprised if Jude Bellingham goes on to break the transfer record for the most expensive signing in football history one day. He is that good.
Jamal Musiala – Germany – 19
At only 19 years of age it was stunning to witness just how important Jamal Musiala already is to one of the traditional powerhouses of international football. Front and centre as their most influential attacking player by far, all Germany’s flowing football went through their teenage starlet. He was the one to carry them in attack, the player most likely to make things happen. A link player who can receive on the half turn, shift his body effortlessly to create a yard of space, play effective passes through the lines or make intelligent runs in behind to get a shot away.
Musiala talked in one of the press conferences about his upbringing in England’s academy system (he was on the books at Chelsea until 2019) and how English academies focus ‘more on individual battles, 1v1 duels and expressing yourself in attacking areas’ compared to German academies.
This struck me as a really insightful comment which speaks a lot about the differences in youth development between the two nations at the moment, and certainly in the past four or five years you have to say English football looks to have taken over German football for youth development.
Already a key player for Bayern Munich and Germany, Musiala is an extraordinarily gifted footballer who looks to have an exciting future.
Mohammed Kudus – Ghana – 22
Maturity is a word you might see often on this list, particularly when it comes to younger players. That’s because, think about it for a minute. Think about the pressure it takes to represent your country on the biggest stage there is. Think about the potentially crippling psychological strain of knowing you carry the hopes of a nation of millions, and what that fear of letting people down can do to performance. Especially for younger players, we sometimes underestimate the mental toughness you need to withstand that pressure, remain calm and perform to a high level.
Ghana went into this World Cup still carrying the ghosts of 2010 on their backs – particularly having been drawn in the same group as Uruguay and their old nemesis Luis Suarez. You would think the older players would lead from the front, but instead it was 22-year-old Ajax forward Mohammed Kudus who stepped up as Ghana’s most clutch player in Qatar.
Two goals in a key win against South Korea and an assist against Portugal showed the creative talents Kudus has to offer as well as the danger he brings both in and outside the box. A fine dribbler and creator with a wicked shot, Ajax must be rubbing their hands together after watching his market value increase with every performance, even if Ghana did fail to escape their group.
Josko Gvardiol – Croatia – 20
Whether by design or good fortune, RB Leipzig’s decision to give Josko Gvardiol a new five-year contract two months before the World Cup now looks like a stroke of pure genius. The Croatian centre-back already had suitors during the summer, with Chelsea especially keen. But his performances in Qatar will elevate that interest to another level.
Man of the match against Belgium, where he more than anyone was responsible in helping Croatia escape with a 0-0 draw to qualify, the 20-year-old combines rugged, committed, aggressive defending with an eye-catching ability on the ball.
Quality left-sided centre-backs are like gold dust at the highest level of football and always uniquely in demand. Gvardiol can pass off both feet, brings the ball out of defence really well, with quality and confidence, is strong in the challenge and quick when he gets forward. His last-ditch tackle to deny Romelu Lukaku a certain goal in the dying moments was arguably the best defensive action of the tournament so far. A highly gifted defender.
Cody Gakpo – Netherlands – 23
With nine goals and 12 assists in 14 Eredivisie appearances this season Cody Gakpo was already running hot. But his eye-catching displays in Qatar leading the line for the Netherlands will undoubtedly intensify interest in the PSV forward.
The 23-year-old was the only player to score in every group game at this World Cup. His versatility is a great asset – he can play as a left wide forward, number 10 or central striker as he has been doing for Louis van Gaal’s side in Qatar. Manchester United and Arsenal have already been linked to the athletic forward, who has 105 goals and assists total in 159 games for PSV. This World Cup will take his value to another level.
Enzo Fernandez – Argentina – 21
There are some players who make immediate impacts at World Cups, their position clear from day one. Others grow into the competition, starting on the fringes before asserting themselves and making their positions indisputable. Enzo Fernandez is the latter.
A substitute in Argentina’s first two games, including their shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia, Fernandez came off the bench to score against Mexico in Argentina’s second game, a vital win which has helped propel them forward after a poor start.
The Benfica midfielder is a rugged, combative player with a touch of quality and class about him. See for example that goal against Mexico, a wonderful shimmy, a shuffle and a brilliant – and hugely important – finish. “Not many players have his character” said Ole columnist Roberto Trotta and you can understand why he is now a first choice pick in the heart of Argentina’s midfield behind Lionel Messi.
Gonçalo Ramos – Portugal – 21
While Cristiano Ronaldo is yet to score in a World Cup knockout game, one of the few achievements he has left to tick off, Benfica forward Ramos managed to score three in 67 minutes against Switzerland, a brilliant hat-trick that announced his name on the world stage and helped fire Portugal to the quarter finals.
Each of his three goals against Switzerland demonstrated a different side to Ramos’ game: a smashed finish on his left foot, a brilliant near post run and first time finish to grab a poacher’s goal, and a calm chipped effort when put through to demonstrate his composure. With 14 goals to his name already this season for Benfica, the Lisbon giants have another gem on their hands.
Eight other players whose stock has risen in Qatar:
Hakim Ziyech (Morocco) – He needs an escape from Chelsea and this tournament has reminded everyone of his ability, even if he can lack consistency for his club side. His manager Walid Regragui has revitalised him.
Kaoru Mitoma (Japan) – Though predominantly used as a substitute for Japan, Brighton’s zippy wide forward Kaoru Mitoma helped change the game in almost every match he appeared in, crucial to second half turnarounds against Germany and Spain that helped Japan beat both and qualify. Expect to hear more about him in the second half of this Premier League season, he has talent.
Tyler Adams (USA) – Showed a great deal of that word again… maturity, both on and off the field, to captain his country at the age of just 23 and inspire them to qualification in an impressive midfield trio that bodes well for USA’s future.
Yunus Musah (USA) – Energetic, quick, committed USA midfielder who spent a time at Arsenal’s academy before moving to Valencia in Spain. His performances against England and Wales were particularly instructive as to his abilities, and together with Adams and Weston McKennie they formed a strong midfield combination.
Moises Caicedo (Ecuador) – Another Brighton player (their scouting deserves huge credit), Caiced was fantastic for Ecuador, a midfield destroyer who won possession against Netherlands high up th field to contribute to their goal and scored against Senegal. At 21 his reputation will only have grown in Qatar.
Hassan Altambakti (Saudia Arabia) – Arguably man of the match in the stunning 2-1 win against Argentina, the centre back put in two top performances and was missed in the defeat against Poland.
Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco) – A rock at the heart of Morocco’s midfield, the Fiorentina midfield destroyer was phenomenal against Spain, even more so when you bear it mind it was revealed he was up all night with back trouble and only played thanks to a pain-killing injection before the match. A warrior who has had an excellent tournament.
Marcus Rashford (England) – After a difficult few years for the Manchester United forward he is back firing this season. Three goals at this tournament, despite only starting one game so far, show a man who is fit again and on form. His value will have increased significantly this World Cup, with contract talks at United ongoing.