2013 Under 20 World Cup Winners – Where are they now?

2013 U20 winners

France has been a well-documented producer of great young players for a number of years now and with the FIFA Under-20 World Cup only a couple of months away, it seems a good time to reflect on how the successful side from 2013 have developed.

The 2013 edition of the tournament was held in Turkey and heralded the launching of some big-name players from around the world. In addition to the victorious French squad, the competition also saw the likes of Harry Kane, John Stones, Eric Dier, Ross Barkley, Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes, Ricardo Pereira, Gerard Deulofeu, Wilfred Ndidi and Marko Pjaca.

The French squad were coached by mainstay of the French youth system, Pierre Mankowski and he selected a strong side full of confidence, talent and flair which had qualified for the tournament by a run to the semi-finals in the previous years under 19 European Championships. After negotiating a tricky group stage, France motored with ease to the final against Uruguay. After 120 goalless minutes, it took a penalty shootout for Mankowski’s side to take the title. We look at the major players from that side and how things have gone since that tense night in Turkey.

Goalkeepers

Alphonse Areola

Then – Paris Saint Germain

Now – Paris Saint Germain

AreolaAreola was certainly one of those to make a name for himself as he played every minute of the tournament. He only conceded five goals in France’s run to the final and in that game, became the hero of the side with his two penalty shootout saves ensuring a first Under-20 World Cup win for the French.

With Salvatore Sirigu firmly in possession of the number one spot in Paris, Areola was sent out on successive season-long loans to Lens, Bastia then Villarreal. At each club his talent was becoming more and more obvious. At the start of the season, under new PSG coach Unai Emery, Areola saw off Kevin Trapp to become first choice. Unfortunately for the player, several high-profile errors have seen doubts creep in to his game and he has drifted in and out of the side lately. Call-ups to the senior national side will boost the confidence of a player of great potential who must react after recent knocks.

Defenders

Dimitri Foulquier

Then – Rennes

Now – Granada

Then Rennes rightback Foulquier firmly established himself as first choice for Mankowski and with good defensive attributes combined with a love of getting forward, it seemed France had found a long-term solution for their problem rightback position.

Unfortunately for Foulquier, he found himself battling with legendary Rennes fullback Romain Danze for that position at club level. Lack of playing time resulted in him being loaned out to Granada before eventually making the move permanent. He’s performed reasonably well for the Spanish side without ever really making the progress many hoped. One of those players who may sadly fall into the “what if” category.

Kurt Zouma

Then – Saint-Etienne

Now – Chelsea

Having seemingly been a first-choice starter for Saint-Etienne for years and coming into the tournament having already tasted cup success earlier in the year in the Coupe de la Ligue, Zouma brought quite a rare level of experience for this age group. Whilst not a starter in the early matches, Zouma was brought in as a replacement for Naby Sarr and from the last group game onwards, secured a starting position at the heart of the French defence.

There have been few defenders who had such athleticism and physical presence at such a young age as Zouma. By January 2014, he had secured a big move to Chelsea who acted quickly to sign one of the continent’s most promising young defenders (that even after Zouma had served a 10-match ban for a horror tackle). Zouma has been able to show the Premier League exactly what he can bring but his progress was hampered by a cruciate knee ligament injury picked up in February 2016. His nine months out also meant he missed a spot in the French Euro 2016 squad on home soil. He’s now returned to action but under a new manager in Antoine Conte, Zouma must find a way to break back into the first team.

Samuel Umtiti

Then – Lyon

Now – Barcelona

UmtitiAs with Zouma, Umtiti was already an established player at club level having broken into Lyon’s first team back in 2011. He formed an excellent partnership with both Sarr and Zouma throughout the tournament and was unlucky to miss out on an appearance in the final due to suspension.

Umtiti went on to become one of the finest centre-backs in Ligue 1 and racked up the appearances with the club he’d been with since an eight-year-old. With pace, strength and a superb reading of the game, calls for a senior call-up grew as he became one of Lyon’s most important players alongside great friend Alexandre Lacazette. It took until Euro 2016 (together with several injuries) before he was recognised by Didier Deschamps. His first appearance for France came in the quarter final against Iceland and he maintained that spot through to the final. It therefore came as no surprise to see Europe’s elite come knocking at Lyon’s door in the summer. Spanish giants Barcelona were the lucky winners as they captured the signing of Umtiti. He has gone on to become a key component of the Catalan side, who have yet to taste league defeat when Umtiti has played.

Naby Sarr

Then – Lyon

Now – Red Star

Back in 2013, big things were expected of Sarr. He was just emerging through the famed Lyon academy and alongside Umtiti, he was expected to be one of the next big hopes for club and country. He was selected alongside Umtiti at centre-back and looked the cool and calm defender many knew him to be. Whilst he did lose his place to Zouma, he made an appearance in the final due to Umtiti’s suspension.

Sadly for Sarr, his promise has not been fulfilled. Whilst Umtiti stayed and became a key player for Lyon, Sarr made the move to Portugal as he joined Sporting. He only made a handful of appearances for the Lisbon side before making another move, this time to Charlton Athletic. He struggled to hold down a starting place as the South London side were relegated from the Championship. In the summer of 2016, Sarr made his return to France as he signed a season long loan deal with Ligue 2 side Red Star. With the Paris side, he seems to have found a place to experience regular football however whilst that’s good to see, it leaves a feeling of a career filled with missed opportunities.

Lucas Digne

Then – Lille

Now – Barcelona

Digne came into the tournament off the back of a real breakout season with Lille. He’d established himself as first choice for his club side and Mankowski entrusted him with the same role for the Under-20 side. Playing every minute of the tournament, Digne was able to demonstrate just how good of a modern fullback he was with strong defensive displays alongside threatening bursts forward.

After a season and summer to remember, Digne secured a big money move to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain. Upon arrival in the capital, however, it quickly became apparent he would find it tough to establish himself as first choice leftback with veteran Maxwell still close to the top of his game. After two seasons in Paris during which he struggled to find consistent game time, although he did break into the national side, he found himself further under threat with the arrival of Layvin Kurzawa from Monaco. Kurzawa’s arrival signalled the need for Digne to leave to find first team football. That led to a loan move to Roma, under his former Lille coach Rudi Garcia. The move proved a success for Digne and ultimately resulted in interest from further afield. In the summer of 2016 Digne made another big-money move, this time joining fellow Frenchman Umtiti at Barcelona.

Midfielders

Geoffrey Kondogbia

Then – Sevilla

Now – Inter Milan

After a move to Sevilla at a young age, Kondogbia came into the tournament after a season of real development. He played at the heart of Mankowski’s midfield providing protection for his defence whilst also using his power to surge forward when needed as he chipped in with a couple of important goals.

Kondogbia joined Monaco shortly after the tournament as the principality side were in their summer of big spending. His signing perhaps fell under the radar as the likes of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho were all signed up. However, Kondogbia went on to have two very strong seasons with the club seeing his development really take him to another level. His role with the club became slightly less defensively focused as he was allowed to take on a more box-to-box role with the club. His strong physique allowed him to boss the midfield and his endless energy meant he could still power forward late in the game. His performances against Arsenal in the Champions League alerted Europe’s best to just what he could offer. With Monaco’s strategy evolving into that of selling players for a profit, Kondogbia made a move to Inter Milan in a deal for excess of €30 million. Whilst he initially struggled to replicate his Monaco form in Italy, there have been signs of late that he’s turning that round.

Paul Pogba

Then – Juventus

Now – Manchester United

Pogba manuEven coming into the tournament, the talk around Pogba was growing. Since his move to Juventus, the Pogba name had been circulating as a player to keep a close eye on. During the tournament, he only enhanced his reputation. Handed the captain’s armband, Pogba took the responsibility with ease as he produced one strong performance after another. He was subsequently awarded the Golden Ball award as best player of the tournament.

Since that, it’s been all quiet for Pogba and nothing much has happened……!

Oh, he just went on to become one of Juventus’ key players, an automatic starter for the national senior side and in the summer of 2016 became the world’s most expensive player as he secured a €105 million move back to his former club, Manchester United. He’s continued to blossom as a player and whilst he will always find it tough to live up to that price tag, there is no doubting that on his day he is one of the best. He just needs to ensure that his “brand” doesn’t outshine his talent on the pitch.

Jordan Veretout

Then – Nantes

Now – Saint-Etienne

Another youngster with plenty of club-level experience, Veretout came into the tournament off the back of helping his boyhood club Nantes to promotion back to the top flight. The midfielder formed a key partnership with Pogba and Kondogbia without perhaps getting the headlines the other two received, and his cool penalty in the shootout in the final helped France to victory.

After two more seasons with Nantes where he took on the captaincy and became arguably their most important player, Veretout brought his fight and tenaciousness to the Premier League as he moved to Aston Villa. In a struggling side, he performed well in parts but never really looked settled. It perhaps came as little surprise that following Villa’s relegation, Veretout saw an opportunity to move on as he joined Saint-Etienne on loan. With more regular, stable football, Veretout has perhaps found a club to get his career back on track.

Forwards

Florian Thauvin

Then – Bastia

Now – Marseille

thauvin-florian_180x240Thauvin had just completed his breakout season with Bastia; a season which had seen him agree a deal to join Lille in the summer but remain with Bastia until then. The exciting young forward scored three goals in the tournament as he formed an attacking trio alongside Jean-Christophe Baheback and Yaya Sanogo. His double in the semi-finals was his stand-out moment.

Thauvin has perhaps had the most hectic of careers since that triumph. Immediately after the tournament he went to Lille only to go on strike to try and force a move to Marseille – without even playing a game for the club. Thauvin was initially met with resistance before Lille finally relented and allowed the player to join the south coast giants. Thauvin’s time with Marseille was up and down and he eventually found himself on the move again, this time to Newcastle United. He found the going tough on Tyneside as well as he eventually found himself on the bench. Only a season after moving, he re-joined Marseille, initially on loan before the deal turned permanent. This season has seen Thauvin finally hit the heights many expected since his days with Bastia. As Marseille’s best player, Thauvin was recently rewarded with his first senior call-up by Deschamps.

Jean-Christophe Bahebeck

Then – Paris Saint Germain

Now – Paris Saint Germain (on loan at Pescara)

Back in 2013, Bahebeck was seen as a player of some potential. Whilst a Paris Saint Germain player, he’d just completed a season on loan with Troyes where he’d been one of their stand-out players in a season which culminated in relegation. As part of Mankowski’s attacking trio, Bahebeck tended to play on the right where his pace could be utilised at its best with two goals proving a decent return.

Sadly for Bahebeck his career has faltered since 2013. He spent the following season back out on loan, this time with Valenciennes where he failed to hit regular top form. That was followed by a season back with his parent club where played a handful of games and actually looked dangerous at times. It unfortunately didn’t prove to be the breakthrough he needed as whilst he was sent on loan again, the time to Saint-Etienne. Despite playing for a side who were in need of attacking talent, Bahebeck couldn’t hold down a regular place. This season has seen the player sent on fourth loan spell in five seasons as he joined Serie A side Pescara. A lack of stability may be one of the reasons for Bahebeck’s struggles. It’s no coincidence the player has come out to state he would like to stay in Italy with Pescara. After all this time, he deserves a real team to call home.

Yaya Sanogo

Then – Auxerre

Now – Arsenal

At Auxerre, Sanogo was labelled as a player who could go far and with four goals leading the line for the Under-20 side, he was France’s top-scorer in the tournament. His tall frame but deceptive movement and pace attracted interest from around France but it was Arsenal who secured his services midway through the tournament.

With Arsenal fans desperate for a big name signing, Sanogo was sadly always going to prove somewhat underwhelming for them with the player constantly fighting something of a losing battle. After only being given the most fleeting of opportunities to shine, it seemed inevitable Sanogo needed a fresh start elsewhere. That arrived in the shape of a six-month loan spell with Crystal Palace followed by a season-long loan with Ajax, neither of which, sadly, worked out for the player. He spent six months on loan with Charlton Athletic at the start of 2016 and despite netting a hat-trick, that proved to be only a minor positive in a long run of bad luck. That has continued this season as he has yet to make an appearance for Arsenal. For a player who showed so much promise not that long ago, here’s hoping that good luck comes his way soon.

U20 World Cup 2017

The 2017 Under-20 World Cup gets underway on 20 May 2017 in South Korea where the French have been drawn in a group alongside Honduras, New Zealand and Vietnam. The group of players will include many who won the 2016 Under-19 European Championships.

With a very strong Under-20 squad announced for a Four Nations tournament at the end of March, this age group may have to do it without their generation’s brightest talent with one Kylian Mbappe already involved in the senior side.

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