This season’s Champions League and Europa League has its usual cast of superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery but I wanted to feature a few names that I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about as the January transfer window approaches.
1) Miralem Pjanic — midfielder — Olympique Lyonnais
The “new Juninho” (pictured above) has actually lived up to the moniker thus far. He has become a fulcrum for the French side, pulling the strings in midfield and scoring from free kicks. He was even handed Juninho’s old No8 shirt for this season. Many clubs will be inquiring about him come January but they must keep in mind that the talented youngster rejected interest from Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid to move to Lyon from Metz in 2008.
2) Gergely Rudolf — striker — Debreceni VSC
The 24-year-old is in the final year of his contract and was a bright spot in a losing effort against Lyon. Rudolf made a second-half appearance after recovering from a knee injury and forced Lyon’s keeper into making several good stops. Rudolf has blossomed at Debreceni after spending 5 seasons with AS Nancy’s B team. He has recorded a good strike rate since returning to his native land and could be a target for many clubs this January.
3) Patrick ‘Paddy’ McCourt — winger — Celtic FC
McCourt has yet to appear in the Europa League for Celtic but one feels its just a matter of time before he’s given a chance to shine. McCourt has shown flashes of what Jinky Johnstone used to thrill Celtic supporters with week-in and week-out — terrific weaving runs past defenders. The former Derry City player has been outstanding at times and even managed to get Falkirk supporters to give him a standing ovation for this sublime goal. He scored an even better one against St Mirren.
4) Bryan Ruiz — striker — FC Twente
Fans of the US national team will recognize this name as he scored two cracking goals against them in the most recent World Cup qualifier. Costa Rica is currently on the outside looking in but still have a shot to qualify if they can beat Uruguay in a playoff. Ruiz’s skill and creativity will be vital if they are to have any hope. For his club, FC Twente, he has gotten off to a flying start with five goals in nine appearances. The 23-year-old was signed from KAA Gent for a reported club record fee of €5m during the summer transfer window.
5) Eliaquim Mangala — centre back — Standard Liege
I realize that this article has predominantly focused on midfielders and strikers but I would be remiss if I did not give this young man a mention. The French youngster with Congolese roots has a strong work rate and can be used as a holding midfielder or centre back. He has some technical skill as well. He scored just two minutes into his Champions League debut match against Arsenal FC with a clinical finish.