France's new players Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane during the World Cup 2014 Qualification Round Group I, France Vs Georgia at Stade de France in Saint-Denis suburb of Paris, France on March 22, 2013. France won 3-1. Photo by Henri Szwarc/ABACAPRESS. COM

Where are they now? The Guardian’s 10 ‘next big things’ from 2014

The Guardian have quite the knack of identifying the most promising players emerging in European football, but they don’t always get it right. 

Ever since 2014, their comprehensive ‘Next Generation’ series has earmarked some players – such as Jadon Sancho, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Manuel Locatelli – long before they broke through.

Prior to that annual feature, they’d run regular lists, and earlier in 2014 they picked out 10 players aged 20 or under as ‘The next 10 big things: Europe’s top youngsters and stars of the future’. Nine years on, all of those players should theoretically be at the peak of their powers and tearing it up.

Here’s how they’ve got on.

Paul Pogba

This wasn’t exactly the wildest shout, given Pogba had already made his Manchester United debut against Leeds some years prior and had left to become a Scudetto winner at Juventus, while captaining France as they won the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

During the 2013-14 winter window The Guardian noted: “United want him back and have been linked with a £40m bid this month. PSG are also keen.” Sure enough, he did eventually move back to Old Trafford – for a club record £93million fee – after four title-winning seasons in Turin.

The midfielder dazzled as France won the World Cup in 2018, but silver pots were few and far between back at Old Trafford – he won the League Cup and Europa League in his first season back, but nothing else in five long years since – and has been ravaged by injury since he returned to Juventus.

Pogba has clocked up just one 21-minute cameo for the Old Lady in Serie A this season.

READ: The 10 players Man Utd let leave alongside Paul Pogba in 2012

Julian Draxler

Draxler had long since emerged as a special talent at boyhood club Schalke back in January 2014, and at this stage we were nearing the stage where he was a near-daily fixture in the transfer gossip columns, regularly tipped to join the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool.

The German winger ended up spending 18 fruitful months at Wolfsburg before moving to PSG in January 2016. He was a decent enough squad player for the Ligue 1 giants, notching 26 goals and 41 assists in 198 appearances, but he hasn’t exactly become the bona fide world-beater some tipped him to be.

Draxler is currently out on loan at Benfica, where he’s set to lift yet more silverware, but he’s only played a peripheral role for the Portuguese giants this season.

Romelu Lukaku

“Am I getting ready for Chelsea again? Of course. I want to become one of the best strikers in the world,” The Guardian quoted a 20-year-old Lukaku when he was scoring goals for fun on loan at Everton.

But they also noted that then-Blues boss Jose Mourinho remained “curiously unconvinced” by the young Belgian, who ended up leaving for Goodison Park on a permanent deal a few months later.

Lukaku has taken the long way round, rejoining on a club-record £97million after becoming a key part of Inter’s 2020-21 Scudetto win. He’s also one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of international football.

His return to Chelsea didn’t quite yield the expected results, however. He’s yet to pull up any trees during his loan stint back at Inter, either, while his days at Stamford Bridge appear numbered.

Adnan Januzaj

Cast your mind back to January 2014, when Manchester United were suddenly rubbish and David Moyes was struggling to fill Fergie’s boots.

The Red Devils eventually finished 7th, their lowest placing of the Premier League era, but at least Januzaj was emerging as one to watch – “the only consistent bright spot in United’s tough season.”

“I’ve played at United and you’re very conscious of adding too much pressure to young players. However, I genuinely think this guy could be one of the best in the world. I think he’s that talented,” Gary Neville said that year.

Januzaj didn’t turn out to be one of the best players in the world, struggling on loans at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland before eventually signing for Real Sociedad in 2017, but he’s been decent enough.

The Belgium international clocked up over 100 appearances for La Real before moving to Sevilla on a free transfer last summer. He’s currently out on loan at… Istabul Basaksehir. The Turkish Super Lig sounds about right.

Raphael Varane

Just the four Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles and a World Cup for Varane since this was written.

And now a League Cup, too. You get the feeling it’ll be the first of a fair few trophies under Erik ten Hag at Manchester United.

Florian Thauvin

Thauvin had left Bastia – where he was named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year – for Marseille a few months prior and was really starting to show what he was capable of at the Stade Velodrome.

He then moved to Newcastle United in the summer of 2015, but that was during Steve McClaren’s disastrous stint in charge of the Magpies and unsurprisingly he failed to find any kind of form on Tyneside.

The winger swiftly returned to Marseille, originally on loan, where he once again began to turn heads – 71 goals in 200 appearances during his second stint – resulting in 10 caps for France and a place in their team for the 2020 Olympics.

Surprisingly enough, he made a leftfield move in 2021, following in the footsteps of former team-mate Andre-Pierre Gignac by moving from Marseille to Mexican side Tigres.

Thauvin recently returned to Europe, signing for Serie A club Udinese, where he features alongside…

Gerard Deulofeu

It’s been a strange career of back-and-forths for Deulofeu, who has intermittently delivered on his promise as a jewel of Barcelona’s La Masia academy.

He was earmarked as a future star during a loan away to Everton, while he subsequently went to Sevilla before moving back to Goodison Park in 2015.

He then rejoined Barcelona to try help fill Neymar’s boots in 2017, leaving once again for Watford – before joining the Pozzo’s sister club.

READ: Where are they now? Barcelona’s five Neymar replacements from 2017


“Marcos Aoas Correa will only be 20 this summer, by which point he could be forming part of the defence entrusted with helping Brazil to win their home World Cup,” noted The Guardian.

“He has the temperament to remain undaunted, the talent to succeed, and could benefit from playing alongside his club team-mate, Thiago Silva.”

The young defender ended up missing that World Cup due to injury, but Marquinhos continued to learn under his compatriot Thiago Silva for many more years and he’s now one of PSG’s most experienced and entrusted players.

Luke Shaw

There was a time, particularly during his injury nightmares and time spent under Jose Mourinho, that Shaw looked set to be a sad story of unfulfilled potential.

“Solid defensively and relentlessly enterprising going forward, he seems certain to become a regular for England and for a Champions League club,” was how The Guardian described him while he was developing under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and at the time few could have disagreed.

He moved to Manchester United in the summer of 2014 and after a rocky few years, seems to have fully realised that potential – he was one of the outstanding left-backs in the Premier League in 2020-21, and at Euro 2020, where he opened the scoring in the final against Italy.

Shaw has once again looked back to his very best under Ten Hag.

Kurt Zouma

Zouma was earmarked as one to watch on the eve of his move from Saint-Etienne to Chelsea in January 2014.

An Under-20 World Cup winner alongside Pogba in 2013, Zouma went on to be named Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year during their title-winning 2014-15 campaign.

Another league title followed in 2016-17 as well as the Champions League in 2020-21, but you never quite got the feeling that Zouma would ever establish himself as one of the Blues’ first-choice centre-backs amid loans away to Stoke and Everton.

In 2021, he moved to West Ham, giving the local feline population of London’s East End something new to worry about.

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