Ronaldo was one of those gems nearly two decades ago. Now retired, he spoke to FIFA.com and named four players — Neymar, Pato, Ganso and Leandro Damiao — who are destined to walk in his footsteps.
“There’s been a generational overhaul in the national squad, which definitely isn’t playing its best football yet,” Ronaldo said.
“They’re three very young and very talented Brazilians who are shining for their clubs. I think Neymar is the most gifted and, at just 19 years of age, he’s already got incredible ability. He scores loads of goals and has won Brazil over. The international experience he had against Barcelona [in Santos' 4-0 final defeat at the FIFA Club World Cup 2011] wasn’t a good one, but I’m sure it’ll have taught him a lot.
“Pato, for his part, has already proven his talent in Europe, while Ganso is also very good –- he just needs better luck with injuries.”
Neymar and Pato have been on the global scene for a couple of years, and fans are used to hearing their names. But it’s easy to forget that Neymar, 19, and AC Milan star Pato, 22, are a few years away from their peak years.
When healthy, Pato is a key player at the defending Italian champion. Pele, who knows a thing or two about the game, is of the (biased) opinion that Neymar is better than reigning FIFA Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi.
Ganso is Neymar’s partner-in-crime at Santos. The 22-year-old playmaker already has Brazilian Serie A and Copa Libertadores titles to his name. Scouts from Europe’s top clubs are closely monitoring his recovery from injury and progress in the Brazilian top flight.
The fourth player on Ronaldo’s list, Damiao, is another 22-year-old who scores at an impressive rate. His play for Brazilian club Internacional has drawn the attention of scouts from Liverpool FC, among other teams. He could head to Europe in a £20 million ($31.3 million) transfer as soon as this summer.
Ronaldo sees a bit of himself in Damiao. Both have a combination of speed, strength and technique that strikes fear into the hearts of defenders.
“Leandro Damiao, from Internacional de Porto Alegre,” was Ronaldo’s answer when asked which young player was most like him. “He’s tall, strong, a very good goalscorer, a threat in the air and skillful with both feet. He’ll play a big part in 2014.”
Ronaldo and the rest of Brazil are placing a lot of faith in these young players. As hosts of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil is near the top of the list of favorites to win the tournament. Regardless of how it fares in two years’ time, Brazil will be at or near the top of the world’s game for a long time thanks to these gems and the ones that will come later.