Could Wilfried Zaha really be Europe's Golden Boy?

Sports Mole takes a look at the shortlist for the European Golden Boy award and considers who might take the gong.

Shortlists for awards rarely offer much in the way of a surprise. Franck Ribery's excellent season for Bayern Munich recently won him the European Footballer of the Year award ahead of, that's right, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, on this year's final shortlist for the European Golden Boy is a player who spent most of it playing in the Championship - Wilfried Zaha.

With young players around Europe playing top-flight and even Champions League football, Zaha's inclusion seems a strange one. Nevertheless, who are the five players in with a shout of the Tuttosport gong?

1. Wilfried Zaha

The Manchester United player has not featured for the first team in a competitive game - unless the Community Shield counts - yet he still finds himself up for this award. The year 2013 for Zaha was spent at former club Crystal Palace on loan from his new side. He was a huge part of the reason that the Eagles are now in the Premier League, but does that warrant him becoming Europe's best player under the age of 22?

Zaha, from what he has shown so far, is destined to have a big future. He has certainly shown what he can do in big games, with his brace against Brighton Hove Albion putting his side into the Championship playoff final. However, the calibre of the players he is up against will surely see the award go elsewhere.

Wilfried Zaha of Manchester United runs for the ball during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on August 11, 2013© Getty Images

2. Philippe Coutinho

The second Premier League player to make the final five is Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, who surely has a bigger claim than Zaha. The comparisons are fairly easy to draw: Coutinho, too, joined his side Liverpool in the January transfer window, but instead of being sent straight back to Inter Milan on loan he has become a key player in the Reds' midfield.

The 21-year-old Brazilian took no time at all to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League, immediately managing three goals and five assists throughout the remainder of the season. He previously struggled to break into Inter's side, but operating from the left or in-behind, he has already begun to unlock defences up and down the country. He might not be the favourite for the award, but it would not be unjust should he win.

3. Raphael Varane:

Raphael Varane's claim to the European Golden Boy award is a strong one considering that he has managed to break into the first team of one of the continent's top sides, Real Madrid. Although he was introduced slowly by former Real coach Jose Mourinho, he impressed in nearly every appearance and has been recognised as having a level of composure that defies his years.

The highlights of his year have been his goal in the 3-1 win against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, to cap off an outstanding defensive performance and an immense Champions League display against Manchester United. He has been out since April after undergoing knee surgery, but even with the time out he is well in contention.

4. Julian Draxler:

The sign of a star of the future is for a player to slot easily into first-team football, regardless of his age. It is often hard to believe that Schalke 04 winger Julian Draxler is only 19, since he has been a first-team player for his club for more than two years now. However, it was upon the departure of Lewis Holtby and the arrival of Michel Bastos that has seen Draxler really begin to impress.

He has been switched to a more attacking midfield role, in behind usual striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. His goalscoring and direct running are a constant thorn for Bundesliga sides and has even made seven appearances for Germany since 2012. With Champions League, Bundesliga and international experience under his belt, Draxler is surely a leading candidate for the award.

Schalke's Julian Draxler is congratulated by team mates after scoring his team's second goal against PAOK Thessaloniki during their Champions League play-off match on August 27, 2013© AFP

5. Paul Pogba:

Sir Alex Ferguson did not make many mistakes during his career, but letting Paul Pogba go could be one. The 20-year-old Frenchman has, since joining Juventus in 2012, come on leaps and bounds and has become a key player in the Serie A champions' midfield in 2013. Operating as a box-to-box midfielder he has an excellent range of passing and a fierce shot, which has seen him net five times in the league for his new club.

As well as impressing for Juventus, Pogba was one of the standout performers in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup earlier in the summer, captaining France to their first ever title at the U20 level. He is sure to dominate Juventus's midfield for years to come and could well add the European Golden Boy award to his 2013 accolades.

Paul Pogba of FC Juventus celebrates scoring the first goalduring the TIM Supercup match between SS Lazio and FC Juventus at Olimpico Stadium on August 18, 2013© Getty Images

Wilfried Zaha of Manchester United runs for the ball during the FA Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on August 11, 2013
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