This summer most of Europe’s elite are waiting to make their big moves in the transfer market, with only Manchester United making serious waves, but Chelsea are not ones to let a chance to bring in a top player pass them by, and Jose Mourinho seems to have seen one in John Stones.
The young Everton defender is undoubtedly one of the best players in the Premier League, but he is not the only top young defender out there, with other players emerging and looking like they could anchor a back line for the next decade.
Tough, no nonsense defenders might be seen as a traditionally English thing, but there are plenty of players out there in Europe who could give Vidic and Ferdinand at their prime a run for their money, and here are five of them.
Probably the name everyone thinks of when you talk about the best young players around.
He may have gone off the boil slightly last season under Carlo Ancelotti after a combination of injuries and a loss of form saw him dropped, but the player who broke through into the Real Madrid senior side and displaced Pepe under Jose Mourinho is someone every manager would like in their squad.
Able to play at right back as well, Varane is set apart from his peers courtesy of his blistering pace, something that has saved Real Madrid and France on more than one occasion. His ability to get back and make a last ditch recovery tackle is something that even players ten years older than the Frenchman struggle with, and it is easy to forget Varane is only 22 given how many games he has played and at such a high level.
Both Manchester United and Chelsea are keeping tabs on Varane, but to prise him away from Madrid would take such a fee even the giants of the English game have to think twice. Real wanted Varane so badly they had Zidane call him and convince him to make the switch from Lens, and it is easily one of the better moves Real Madrid have made in the transfer window over the last decade.
Good enough to be called the next John Terry and be someone that Jose Mourinho is considering splashing serious cash on, Stones is something special.
It is easy to overlook the young English defender – ironic really considering the plaudits any creative player who can pass a ball sideways and backwards gets if they qualify to play for the Three Lions, but Stones was one of the best defenders in the Premier League last season and is rightly reaping the plaudits because of it.
Stones is so young in terms of a defender’s career, only being 21, but he has already shown an ability and maturity beyond his years. To keep developing that and have enough game time to reach his potential, staying at Everton might be advisable, but if you’re good enough, you will get played, no matter what club you’re at, and after watching some of the performances Gary Cahill produced for Chelsea last season, there is no reason Stones couldn’t line up next to John Terry for the Blues next season.
Jose Maria Gimenez
Undoubtedly the best young centre half out there this season. What can’t Gimenez do? He has been a rock for both club and country at times, and while the ever present and rather decent Diego Godin has helped guide his career, the Atletico Madrid centre half is world class.
He may not be as versatile as someone like Raphael Varane, but Gimemez is a defender through and through, and when you look at modern centre backs like David Luiz, is a refreshing throwback to the days where the man at the heart of your defence would not think twice before putting in a well timed tackle and booting the ball out of play, and then getting ready to defend from the resulting corner.
It speaks volumes that Atleti manager Diego Simeone didn’t think twice about selling Joao Miranda when Inter Milan came calling because he had Gimenez, who displaced the Brazilian in the side last term after a string of excellent performances. At 20 years of age, Gimenez has it all ahead of him, and only cost a paltry million euros when Atleti signed him back in 2013.
Much like compatriot Godin, Gimenez is partial to scoring a goal when his side needs one most, having done so against Real Madrid when Atleti secured a 2-0 win in the Copa last season, and also for his country to secure their progress through the group stages of the Copa America.
He plays with his heart on his sleeve and with that passion and intensity can come with both red and yellow cards, but that can be tempered with time, and anyone who thinks Gimenez won’t make it at the very top level is mistaken.
To compare Zouma to Chelsea and France legend Marcel Desailly is high praise indeed, but that is how highly rated the young Chelsea defender is. Zouma is a beast of a player, boasting a physical prowess at the tender age of 20 that most players at the peak of their powers struggle to achieve.
Strong in the air, comfortable enough on the ball for Jose Mourinho to deploy him in midfield and someone who can time a tackle to perfection, Zouma is the real deal and is set for greatness. Nicknamed ‘happy’ because of his demeanour off the field, Zouma has broken through to the French international senior side after representing his country at youth levels and has been earmarked as a future captain for both club and country.
Yes, he can make the occasional mistake, but defending is an art learnt over time and a role that requires experience he does not yet have, so if Zouma is this commanding and positionally secure at the very start of his career, the thought of him in ten years is frightening.
Jose Luis Gaya
The 20 year old Valencia left back is seriously hot property at the minute and after watching his career develop, it is easy to see why. The modern breed of full back is expected to do so much more than just defend, and Gaya is one of the rare players that is able to balance both attacking down the flank and helping his winger out and also doing his job and defending.
Look at players like Rafael and Marcelo. Great going forward, but at the back they are a nightmare. Either players are running past them with the ball or they’re miles out of position having wandered up the field on an attacking mission. It is all well and good getting the crosses in and assisting with the goals, but if your full back doesn’t defend, you have big problems and the central defenders are going to be left in trouble.
Gaya does what it says on the tin first and foremost, and while he has penned a new five year deal with Valencia, is still being eyed by top clubs in England and Spain, with the deal thought to be little more than something to let him develop his career for a couple more seasons and then allow Valencia a stronger negotiating tool and bigger payout when he eventually does join one of Europe’s elite.