Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Euro 2020: 20 young players to watch – including the Spider, Golden Boy, the New Cafu and the King of Dribbles

The world is waiting for the next generation of superstars, so could someone surprise us and emerge this summer?

Not many of the 622 players who could feature at Euro 2020 could be classed as total unknowns, but there will be some unfamiliar faces hoping that this is their breakout tournament in the way the 2018 World Cup was for France’s Kylian Mbappe.

So, who should you look out for this time, apart from Mbappe, young players from the home nations or people we have already seen plenty of in the Premier League?

Here, BBC Sport’s TV and radio commentators, and experts from 5 live’s Daily Euros podcast have picked out 20 young players from around Europe who are worth watching this summer.

1. Jeremy Doku (Belgium) aka The King of Dribbles
Steve Wilson: Belgium have a lot of goalscorers, so for Doku to force his way into the reckoning whilst in his teens is some achievement. Quick and direct, the former Anderlecht striker joined Rennes for more than £20m in October and has found life harder in France. Nevertheless, Roberto Martinez has seen enough to stick with him. Doku scored in his first international start against Iceland last September and registered a goal and two assists against Belarus in March.

Conor McNamara: I love watching this guy play, he is explosive to watch and similar in style to Wolves’ Adama Traore. However a thing that frustrates me about Traore is that he often takes a few touches to get up to full speed. The Wolves winger often takes the ball at a standstill and then tries to accelerate past opponents. What I like about Doku is that invariably his first touch propels him forward. He doesn’t begin from a standing start like Traore often does.

The one thing lacking from his club stats are more goals, but he has hit the ground running with the international team. It will be interesting to see if Martinez plays him from the start in this tournament.

2. Jordan Larsson (Sweden)

Radio 5 live football correspondent John Murray: Son of Henrik, named after Michael, he experienced trophy-winning celebrations on the pitch at Celtic Park in the arms of his father. Has scored 15 goals for Spartak Moscow this season.

3. Jules Kounde (France) aka The New Cafu
Guy Mowbray: One of the hottest properties in Europe right now might not get much game time at the tournament, but that won’t stop huge offers being put to Sevilla this summer. A mature, ‘modern’ centre-back who’s good in the air despite being under 6ft tall, he’s the perfect foil for a more aggressive defensive partner. Think Virgil van Dijk or Ruben Dias alongside him, perhaps.

Manchester City tried to buy him last year but got Dias instead (good move as it turned out!) and they’ll still be watching with interest along with every other major club. His only problem with France – as Aymeric Laporte discovered – is getting to the front of the queue of superb central defenders.

Julian Laurens on the Daily Euros podcast: He is not the tallest for a centre-back but he is still good in the air, and he has this intelligence – for positioning and the awareness of space – plus the pace that helps, and he is very good on the ball.

4. Adam Hlozek (Czech Republic) aka Golden Boy
Vicki Sparks: Billed as the biggest Czech talent since Tomas Rosicky, the teenage forward has had a superb season. Despite missing four-and-a-half months with a foot injury, he finished as the joint-top scorer in the Czech top flight, with 15 goals in just 19 appearances for Sparta Prague – who acted shrewdly in tying him down to a new four-year contract at the end of May, amid rumoured interest from West Ham.

Hlozek made history on his international debut in September, becoming the youngest player in the Czech Republic’s history at the tender age of 18. Injury, though, could undercut his chances on the big stage this summer – he’s been struggling with a minor hip problem, but manager Jaroslav Silhavy is hopeful he will recover in time for the Euros.

Conor McNamara: Hlozek is not just being brought to this tournament to prepare him for the future. He is banging on the door to see game time on the pitch at Euro 2020.

There’s a good reason he is such big news in the Czech Republic. His haul for Sparta this season included a hat-trick in April and four goals in 23 minutes on the last day of the Czech campaign.

Steve Wilson: Players from the Czech Republic haven’t been in such demand since the era of Pavel Nedved, Karol Poborsky, Patrik Berger and Vladimir Smicer. At 17, Hlozek became the youngest ever scorer in the Czech Fortuna Liga and he has added another 27 goals since.

Oh, and he makes goals too – he also got seven assists this season.

5. Becir Omeragic (Switzerland)

Steve Wilson: A right-footed centre-half who made his international debut in October, impressing as he played the full 90 minutes against Croatia. Currently with FC Zurich, but courted by RB Salzburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg.

Omeragic has a Bosnian background and is from a footballing family – his dad and uncle were professionals, his elder brother Nedim is also at Zurich and his cousin Edin is a goalkeeper for Servette. On the minus side he has occasionally been forced to miss games and training because of debilitating migraines.

6. Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands)

Alistair Bruce-Ball: Gravenberch stands out on a football field, partly because of his stature, bestriding the midfield at 6ft 3in tall, but mainly because of his ability which has seen him catapulted into the senior Dutch squad for this tournament after only making his debut for the under-21s in September.

The teenager was used as a substitute in all three World Cup qualifiers in March and came off the bench in the last warm-up game against Georgia to nod home from close range for his first international goal. The comparisons with Paul Pogba are obvious although he has said his style is more similar to Zinedine Zidane’s and describes himself as a “contortionist” on the football field – useful if the Dutch find themselves in a tight spot this summer.

James Horncastle on the Daily Euros podcast: For someone of his height, he is very technically gifted. He can play box-to-box, but also left and right and one of his goals in this season’s Champions League was a laser into the top corner against FC Midtjylland – go and check that out. He is part of the agent Mino Raiola’s stable – and is very much seen as his next Pogba.

7. Orkun Kokcu (Turkey)

9. Alex Kral (Czech Republic)

Steve Wilson: A strong, unfussy but dynamic central midfielder, Kokcu made a scoring debut for Feyenoord aged 17 and was a regular scorer for them in the Uefa Youth League. His contract in Rotterdam was extended to 2025 last summer, but Arsenal, Leeds and Leicester have all been watching closely.

8. Alexander Isak (Sweden) aka The Next Zlatan
Steve Wilson: A scorer of 17 league goals for Real Sociedad in La Liga this season, Isak is making Borussia Dortmund’s decision to let him leave in 2019 look questionable. He became the youngest player to score for Sweden when he netted against Slovakia four years ago and added three more in qualifying for the European Championship and another against Kosovo in a World Cup qualifier in March.

Barcelona are interested, but Sociedad are said to have a €70 million release clause in his contract.

Vicki Sparks: I’ll sneak Alex Kral in, as he’s only just turned 23 – and could be on the verge of a big breakthrough. The Spartak Moscow man and David Luiz lookalike has become a regular for the Czech Republic over the last couple of years, and should partner Tomas Soucek in the heart of midfield.

He’s another player being linked with Soucek’s West Ham – and interestingly, David Moyes has chosen Kral as one of his seven stars to watch at the Euros this summer in a newspaper column for the Times – so he’s certainly an admirer.

10. Nuno Mendes (Portugal)

Guy Mowbray: Almost certainly someone we’ll see on Match of the Day next season, with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea most keen on the Sporting left-back or wing-back. To be a regular in a title-winning team at just 18 says plenty about his abilities and maturity – which allied to the boundless energy of his youth marks him out as a rare prospect.

He has the skills to rival any winger or number 10 going forward but is disciplined defensively too. He’s also sharp on spotting potential moves to start with throws, long or short – an increasingly important part of the game with some clubs now employing specialist throw-in coaches.

11. Jamal Musiala (Germany) aka Bambi and Workaholic
Conor McNamara: Musiala is an attacking midfielder who only turned 18 in February, but is already well known for his exploits for Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

He was eligible for England, and played under-age for the Three Lions up to U21 level, but chose to represent Germany in February. This season he became the youngest player to appear for Bayern in the Bundesliga and also became the club’s youngest goalscorer.

While still 17 he scored his first Champions League goal against Lazio. Making Germany’s squad for this tournament further accelerates his impressive rise.

12. Sasa Kalajdzic (Austria) aka Ibrahimovic-Machine
John Murray: Didn’t show much against England last week but scored 17 goals for Stuttgart this season so must have something about him. Standing at 6ft 7in tall, I was genuinely told that he has ‘a great touch for a big man’.

13. Eljif Elmas (North Macedonia) aka The Spider & The Macedonian Diamond
Steve Wilson: Napoli paid £15m for Elmas when he was just 19 – but he was already a star in Turkey after two seasons at Fenerbahce.

He can play as a false nine or box-to-box midfielder and with two good seasons at Napoli under his belt and more than 200 senior games, the Euros could be his platform for even greater renown.

14. Halil Dervisoglu (Turkey)

John Murray: On loan at Galatasaray from Brentford for the latter part of the season, where he’s been playing with Radamel Falcao. Scored on his international debut in May and has a very decent goals record at under-21 level with eight in 11 appearances.

15. Christoph Baumgartner (Austria) aka The New Kramaric
Steve Wilson: A goalscoring and creative midfielder with more than 70 games and 16 goals under his belt in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim; no wonder his club has just extended his contract to 2025. Baumgartner moved to Germany aged 17 and hasn’t looked back. His first cap came in early 2020 and his first goals, against Romania and Greece, followed soon after.

16. Tomas Suslov (Slovakia) aka ‘The Slovakian David Silva’
John Murray: Became Slovakia’s youngest senior international when he made his debut last year at 18. At Groningen, has been playing in the same team as the now 37-year-old Arjen Robben, and has been likened to him.

17. Kamil Piatkowski (Poland)

Steve Wilson: A right-sided central defender whose performances for Rakow Czestochowa led to his first inclusion in the national team in March for the start of World Cup qualifying. He gave a typically assured performance in helping his club win the Polish Cup final in May, but if he catches your club’s eye in the summer, it is too late – a deal to join RB Salzburg is already done.

18. Josko Gvardiol (Croatia) aka Little Pep
Steve Wilson: Gvardiol is one of the players RB Leipzig hope will replace Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano. A central defender or left-back who was signed from Dinamo Zagreb in September and loaned back to the Croatian champions until the end of the season. He was excellent in Dinamo’s long Europa League run – although missing the games against Spurs with injury. Gvardiol will move to Germany after the Euros and is likely to go straight into the Leipzig side.

19. Onni Valakari (Finland)

Steve Wilson: An attacking left-footed midfielder born in Motherwell when his dad Simo was a player at Fir Park. Onni joined Pafos in Cyprus from Norway’s Tromso in January 2020 and has since scored 18 goals from midfield.

But it was his debut for his country which really caught the imagination – a debut goal in the Stade de France helped to beat the World Champions last November and Valakari has been impressing ever since. He is open to leaving Cyprus this summer.

20. Pedri (Spain)

Guillem Balague on the Daily Euros podcast: He is someone who is absolutely special – he gives fluidity to the side, understands the game. He perhaps has to learn to get into the box more often and scoring maybe but certainly he makes everyone around him better. Plus the big thing about him as well is that he reacts very well to losing the ball and he has one of the best ball-recovery ratios in the Barcelona team.

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