SWOL Top 100: The Best U-21 Footballers to Watch in 2013 (80-76)


SWOL analyst Mohamed Al-Hendy continues his countdown of the best U21 footballers in the world that you should watch in 2013 as we break into the the 70′s with places 80-76.

Ishak Belfodil of Parma FC (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

80. Ishak Belfodil

Ishak Belfodil has been a real revelation for Parma this season.

After being limited to nothing but cameos for Lyon and Bologna over the last three years, his performances and goals this season have been a very pleasant surprise.

He now has six goals in 17 games—three of those in his last three starts for Parma—all of which have been victories.

Belfodil has always been a strong player, but his reactions and heading accuracy have improved significantly over the season as well, making him a more dynamic player.

He has reportedly begun to attract attention from Arsenal (h/t Tribalfootball), and Algeria are so keen to get him to commit to them instead of France that they’ve invited him to join their squad for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (h/t Al Arabiya).

Belfodil probably needs another year at least at Parma to sharpen his skills with adequate game time, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t be the next big North African striker in Europe.

Diego Reyes of Mexico (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

79. Diego Reyes

The Mexican national team that won the 2012 Olympics was packed with young, talented and hard-working players hungry for success.

One of the best among them was Diego Reyes, a centre-back for Club America.

Reyes is a straightforward, no-nonsense centre-back. He doesn’t score much or provide much of anything on offense, but his defensive game is among the best in the Mexican league.

This December, Reyes was signed by FC Porto and will be joining the club at the end of the season (h/t Fox Sports).

If he can break through at the Portuguese club, he’ll be able to take his game to new heights and probably become a regular for the Mexican national team as well.

To do so though, he’ll have to work very hard to beat out his competition at the position. It won’t be easy, especially with all the quality Porto have at centre-back.

But the talent is there. With enough hard work, he just might be able to do it.

Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

78. Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha has been the Championship’s most-followed player this season, and the media has been heavily covering the player’s progress ever since he scored two consecutive doubles against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley at the start of October 2012.

Zaha’s rise to prominence can be traced back to Crystal Palace’s shocking victory over Manchester United in the 2011-12 season. Zaha was credited that day for playing a major role in the win, his pace giving United’s defense plenty of problems.

Dan Talintyre, an EPL-focused Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, shared his thoughts on Zaha’s future recently:

There is little doubt that the latest England international will explode in 2013—the biggest question is just whereabouts the Crystal Palace winger will truly thrive.

Rumored to be making a move to the Premier League sometime this January, Zaha would no doubt be an instant hit at United, Arsenal or Tottenham—the three clubs thought to be closest to attracting his services in 2013.

Either way, the mazy winger with great on-ball skills and attacking intent can thrive in the Premier League—much like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has over the past year or so.

The 20-year-old has the skill, and the strength, and he’ll prove just how much more he also has next year.

I can’t lie; I’m far more skeptical about Zaha’s abilities than everyone else because he has not produced goals or assists in the Championship with the consistency of a player being regularly linked with the EPL’s top six clubs.

Nevertheless, I’m excited to see where Zaha turns up, and I’d be happy to see him prove my doubts to be completely ill-founded.

Kevin Volland of Hoffenheim (Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images)

77. Kevin Volland

In a season full of disappointments and flops, Kevin Volland has been arguably the sole shining light of Hoffenheim’s 2012-13 season.

Though he could use some work in the goalscoring department, Volland has been an assist machine in his first season in the Bundesliga, assisting nine goals for his club at the halfway mark of the season.

This is without a reliable striker to partner with up front, as neither Joselu nor Eren Derdiyok have been able to provide the goals Hoffenheim expected when they purchased the pair.

Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino is the club’s other major U-21 talent, but so far he has been affected by the club’s struggles on the pitch as much as anyone else.

Hoffenheim have more than enough talent to turn their fortunes around, and if Marco Kurz can get the likes of Firmino, Volland and Joselu all working together, he should be able to avoid the drop to second division with ease.

His first test in the Bundesliga begins against Borussia Monchengladbach on January 19, and if he’s to secure a positive result, you can bet that Volland will be asked to deliver a big performance for the team.

Kurt Zouma (Photo via Getty Images)

76. Kurt Zouma

When a player becomes a starter at a solid Ligue 1 club at the age of 17, you already know he’s going to be something special. Such was the case with Kurt Zouma.

Zouma spent last season proving himself to AS Saint-Etienne manager Christophe Galtier and covering for the club’s injured centre-backs.

Though it seemed Zouma would not make his breakthrough at Saint-Etienne until the following season, Zouma stayed patient and focused, and his consistent play, coupled with two well-timed goals, helped ensure that he became a starter at centre-back for the club.

Now, when fit, Zouma is first choice at the club and a top-caliber talent, too. Even at his young age, he is one of the strongest centre-backs of Ligue 1, and his tackling is tough to beat.

He’s very good in the air with his head, capable of jumping high and accurately converting the ball into the goal.

It’s no wonder Zouma has drawn interest from Manchester City (h/t Mirror Football) and, according to less reputable sources, Manchester United, too. If he’s smart though, he’ll resist the temptation to take the money and work on developing his game further before moving.

If he does, he’ll do his career a huge favor in the long run.

Check back Monday March 5th for players (75-71).

If you missed any previous posts on the SWOL Top 100 U21 countdown find them here:

SWOL Top 100 U21 Guidelines

SWOL Top 100 U21 (100-96)

SWOL Top 100 U21 (95-91)

SWOL Top 100 U21 (90-86)

SWOL Top 100 U21 (85-81)

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