Major tournaments inevitably provide the stage for hot prospects and talented young guns to strut their stuff in front of a worldwide audience.
Representing your country is one thing, but securing a huge money transfer to a big club is quite another, and there is a rich lineage dating back decades of players hitting the big time on the back of some eye-catching tournament performances.
In more recent times the most obvious examples are James Rodriguez and Renato Sanches, who were snapped up by Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on the back of their efforts for Colombia at World Cup 2014 and Portugal at Euro 2016 respectively.
Some of the class of 2018 will be hoping to copy their route to the top, and with scouts from all four corners of the globe watching on, this summer’s World Cup in Russia will provide the perfect platform for under the radar young stars to etch their way to fame, fortune and footballing notoriety.
So who can we expect to emulate the stars of the World Cups of yesteryear and take the 2018 tournament by storm?
With Miroslav Klose’s career winding down, Germany’s World Cup win in 2014 was the last occasion on which they had a genuine out and out striker on which they could rely.
Since then they have experimented with various different tactics and combinations, but their relative failure at Euro 2016 was partly down to not having a natural threat through the middle, with Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler each forced to play out of position as a ‘false nine’ attacker.
The Germans were crying out for a centre forward back then….and they might just have found one now in the form of Timo Werner.
The youngster has been in fine goal scoring form for club side RB Leipzig in recent seasons, and he added another 22 to his CV last term despite the Red Bull funded outfit struggling to maintain their high of the 2016/17 campaign.
Werner has been battling it out with Sandro Wagner for a role in attack, but the 22-year-old’s three goals in qualifying might just have given him the nod.
A young man who has flown largely under the radar outside of his homeland, Werner could announce himself onto the world stage this summer.
If you can keep Manchester City’s outstanding shot stopper Ederson out of the national team then you must be doing something right.
Roma’s Alisson is hardly under the radar these days given his side’s run to the semi-finals of the Champions League, but the Brazilian goalkeeper could enhance his reputation yet further between the sticks for an outfit expected to go rather deep into the tournament.
Reliable keepers are worth their weight in gold – just ask Liverpool fans about that, and indeed it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Alisson was to rubberstamp a transfer to a huge continental concern like the Merseysiders if he takes his best form to Russia.
One of the least well-known players on this list, Hirving Lozano could well become a household name this summer.
He finished as Mexico’s top goal scorer in qualifying, and that – combined with a stellar campaign at club side PSV – will have his agent rubbing his or her hands together with glee.
Lozano is nominally a right-footed left winger, but his eye for goal – he notched 19 for the Dutch champions last term – should ensure he attracts plenty of attention in Russia. Alongside Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela in Mexico’s attack, the South Americans will have plenty of goal-power to make the most of.
Aged just 22, the young man known as ‘Chucky’ could be laughing all the way to the bank with major European interest expected for his services following the World Cup.
It will take some effort on the part of Corentin Tolisso to break into a French starting eleven that could include two or more of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Steven N’Zonzi.
But the 23-year-old is highly rated by Didier Deschamps and the Les Bleus hierarchy, and the World Cup could provide him with the perfect stage on which to make his international breakthrough.
Named Lyon captain at just 22, Tolisso secured a big money move – worth in excess of £40 million – to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2017, and a decent campaign with the German champions has enhanced his reputation further.
He was entrusted to start in six Champions League outings for Bayern, in which he netted three times and created two others – including an assist in the semi-final, second leg against Real Madrid.
Tolisso started France’s recent friendly with Ireland, and he may well get the nod alongside Pogba and Kante in a highly athletic midfield trio.
It would be fair to say that this exciting 20-year-old suffered from ‘second season syndrome’ in 2017/18.
After bursting onto the scene in the prior campaign, where he bagged 23 goals to help Ajax to the Europa League final, Dolberg found that he was a marked man last term and struggled to break the shackles.
Not aiding matters was the foot injury he picked up in December, which would keep him out for the best part of four months.
The frontman was slowly reintroduced back into the starting eleven in the final weeks of the campaign and finally got his just rewards for his efforts; scoring and being named man-of-the-match in Ajax’s final game of the season.
Perhaps that will signal a return to the trajectory which saw him make his Denmark debut, and score his first international goal, in 2017. The Danes could certainly do with an attacking spark to take some of the pressure off Christian Eriksen’s shoulders, and Dolberg offers a unique alternative to the pure physicality of Andreas Cornelius and Yussuf Poulsen.
Van Basten, Bergkamp, De Boer, Rijkaard, Davids and Vertonghen have all made their name as youngsters at Ajax….could Dolberg be the next big name off the production line?
Written by Craig Simpkin
A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.