Five starlets Manchester United should watch closely at the World Cup

by Dan Cancian

Having officially appointed Louis Van Gaal as their new manager almost a month ago, Manchester United have not yet bolstered their squad as some might have expected despite having been linked with a host of different players over the last couple of weeks.

As football’s biggest carnival kicks off in Brazil, United will be interested spectators and the World Cup often gives unheralded talents the opportunity to step up, so here’s five players United fans should keep an eye on in Brazil.

Mateo Kovacic

A product of LASK Linz’s academy, Kovacic furthered his football education within the ranks of Dinamo Zagreb where he followed in the path of former great No. 10s Zvonimir Boban and Luka Modric to develop into an extremely talented player capable of covering pretty much every position in midfield, from deep-lying playmaker to box-to-box dynamo and No. 10, a role he normally occupies for Croatia.

Having joined Inter Milan in January 2013, the Austria-born midfielder has struggled to impose himself at the San Siro, not helped by trying to find his feet in a side in transition and the 20-year-old averaged just over 50 minutes per game last season. He made only 14 starts during Inter’s Serie A campaign but still managed to deliver four assists and his 89.8% pass completion rate was the highest of any Inter player among those who made at least ten starts.

With Modric and Barcelona-bound Ivan Rakitic playing in tandem for Croatia, Kovacic is expected to be deployed in the No. 10 role, though he could drop deeper in the games against Mexico and Cameroon if Croatia were to opt for a bolder approach.

The 20-year-old, who became the Champions League’s youngest-ever goalscorer in 2011, has previously been courted by Real Madrid, Bayern and Juventus and a good World Cup could see a few additions to his list of admirers, particularly as his £13m price-tag is unlikely to deter his suitors.

Jordy Clasie


It might be a tad unfair to label Clasie as unheralded, for the 22-year-old midfielder has already been linked with a host of different clubs, including United, and has been an outstanding figure for Feyenoord as the Rotterdam outfit finished runners-up in the Eredivisie.

Clasie scored once and assisted seven goals in 32 league appearances, some turnaround for a player who was once considered to be too small by Feyenoord and was sent on loan to Excelsior Rotterdam, but it was the dynamism and the crisp passing he brought to Feyenoord’s engine room that convinced Van Gaal to hand Clasie his chance with Holland.

The 22-year-old might not start every game in Brazil, but he’s definitely one the players Van Gaal will be keeping an eye on in the transfer window even though with other clubs interested, it might take more than the current £6m to lure Clasie away from the De Kuip Stadion.

Sead Kolasinac

With Patrice Evra signing a new contract and Luke Shaw seemingly on the way, a left-back might not seem a priority for United, but the Bosnian defender is worth keeping an eye on as one for the future.

Born in Germany to Bosnian parents, Kolasinac played at youth level for Hoffenheim, Stuttgart and Schalke before making the leap to professional football with the Gelsenkirchen outfit in 2012 and has since gone on to become a regular for both club and country, despite being only 20 years old.

An aggressive marker, quick with and without the ball, the Bosnian can also play as centre-back and defensive midfielder when required and his tactical ductility has been lauded by Bosnia manager Safet Susic who, thanks to Kolasinac breaking into the first team, has been able to push Senad Lulic further up the pitch.

With a price tag of just £4m, Kolasinac could attract a lot of interest from European clubs should he perform well at the World Cup.

Eduardo Vargas

If Chile enter the World Cup’s group of death in bullish mood, a lot of their confidence is down to the form of the Napoli man. While he might not enjoy the same status of teammates Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, both of whom have been linked with United before, the 24-year-old is a crucial cog in Jorge Sanpaoli’s team and was his team’s joint top-scorer during La Roja qualifying campaign.

A right-winger by trade, Vargas is at times deployed as a striker in Chile’s ultra-attacking line-up alongside Sanchez with Jorge Valdivia acting as “false nine” to suit Sanpaoli’s attacking philosophy. The Chile manager seems to be able to get the best out of Vargas, with the 24-year-old scoring 32 times in 78 for Universidad de Chile under the current national team boss, before moving to Napoli for £11.5m in December 2011.

Vargas is yet to leave his mark on Serie A, however, and spent the second half of the 2012-13 season on loan to Gremio, before being loaned to Valencia in January where he enjoyed an excellent run of form, scoring five times and assisting four goals in 20 appearances and the World Cup could be the perfect stage for finally fulfil his talent.

Fast, strong and dangerous with the ball at his feet, Vargas fits the profile of the young, hungry player Louis Van Gaal prefers and a price-tag of just over £6m could make him an interesting outside bet for the summer.

Aleksandr Kokorin


One of the great hopes of Russian football and of Fabio Capello at this summer’s World Cup, the 23-year-old is very versatile and is happy to play as lone striker, a role he occupies proficiently for the national team having scored four goals in the World Cup qualifying campaign as well as a left winger, even though he’s at his best when playing just off the main striker.

A good finisher and capable to create chances – he scored 10 goals and assisted nine in 22 league games last season – Kokorin is under contract with Dynamo Moscow until 2016, having returned to Moscow after less than month with Anzhi Makhachkala once Anzhi’s funds had dried up, and his price-tag stands at around £16m.

With Russia drawn in a rather even group alongside Belgium, South Korea and Algeria and desperate to put the Euro 2012 debacle behind them, Kokorin could be one of to watch this summer.

Latest Top Stories...