With the 2016 European Championships less than a fortnight away, the excitement surrounding it is plenty. Some might be playing their last major competition while some will hope their second or third attempt at it bears fruit. However, one of the things we’re looking forward to the most is watching young players get an opportunity to shine. Here is a list of 30 youngsters from the qualified teams who have immense potential and can affect their nation’s chances significantly.
(Only players of the age of 22 and below have been included)
The Frenchman was bought by Manchester United from Monaco last summer for a staggering fee. For such a young player, the price tag could have had an adverse effect, but Martial showed incredible class and composure every time he stepped on the pitch. When Wayne Rooney was going through his goal drought, he was the player fans could rely on goals for. With Karim Benzema’s recent flirtations with scandals, France will likely be led by Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial. The 20-year-old could have the opportunity to really make a difference for his country as Les Bleus hope to win the Euro on home soil.
When you read Paris Saint Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich on someone’s CV, it is natural to assume the player must possess a certain amount of talent. It couldn’t be truer for Coman. The 19-year-old recently made headlines as he scored the crucial goal for Bayern Munich to knock his parent team Juventus out of the Champions League. He has three caps for the national side and there is no reason the pacey and dynamic player can’t be part of the Euro squad in the coming summer. What tips the bar in his favour is form as well as ability to impact the game in a quick amount of time. He can be the perfect substitute for Deschamps in situations where France need energy and enthusiasm to be influxes in the game.
The Romanian international started his career playing as a winger but he was asked to take up a more defensive role as his career progressed. He began operating as a defensive midfielder but was shifted even further back and now occupies the left-back spot. Steliano plays for Romanian club Dynamo Bucurest and has been an imperative part of the side since making his debut as an 18-year-old. He was rewarded for his versatility and consistency by coach Anghel Iordănescu in November last year and has 4 international caps since. While he is arguably still raw, his experience at his club will definitely give him the edge as he hopes to be a crucial part of Iordănescu’s plans for the coming tournament.
The 22-year-old Albanian operates as a right back for Empoli and the national team. A modern day full back, he enjoys the attacking side of things but significantly, he is good at tracking back and isn’t caught out of position defensively just because of his propensity to move forward and try to link up the game with the attackers. His game intelligence and vision have been considered as his strong points as Hysaj can spot a good pass. A prerequisite for a full-back is good crossing abilities and the 22-year-old doesn’t disappoint here. He can even play on the left side of the defence. Hysaj made his Albanian debut at the age of 18, becoming the third youngest player to do so. He has slowly made himself an important player for Gianni De Biasi and in the recent warm-up tie against Qatar, he was given the captain’s armband by the coach which made him the country’s youngest ever captain.
The Cameroon born Swiss has been wowing the football world this season with a string of brilliant performances. Basel have produced some quality players and it won’t be long before he is prised away from the Swiss side. They have already rejected a bid believed to be around a whopping €27m from Wolfsburg last January. In his first full season at Basel, he showed his goalscoring prowess, hitting 10 goals in 26 league games.
At 19 years of age, he has incredible maturity and it isn’t surprising that he was called up to the senior team when he was just 18. He has 7 appearances for the senior side already and is guaranteed to be in the squad for the upcoming Euros. Embolo certainly has the capability to make an impact for the national side and don’t be surprised if you find his name among the goalscorers in the continental competition.
It has become normal for young players to be regarded as the next *insert a legendary name*. For Alli, the comparisons have been with Steven Gerrard, someone he confesses to have admired. The difference here, however, is that the 19-year-old has managed to make a similar, arguably even better, mark on proceedings since he started playing for Pochettino as Gerrard did when he broke out.
Spurs have had their best season in decades and Alli contributed heavily to it. England’s midfield has not had anyone spectacular play for them for a long while now (Jack Wilshere was supposed to change that but the Arsenal midfielder has struggled with injuries and hasn’t been the player the world saw when Arsenal played Barcelona in that match). That could change with Alli this summer. Roy Hodgson must pick the 19-year-old ahead of the players that have managed to make themselves “regular starters” as Alli offers more in almost every department. The only area he fails is experience, but given how often he has been used by Pochettino this season, Hodgson has absolutely no reasons to not pick the former MK Dons player.
Rashford reiterated his Euro 2016 credentials by becoming the youngest scoring debutant in England’s history as he expertly scored a goal just a couple of minutes into the game against Australia. This is becoming a dream year for the youngster who has eight goals for Manchester United this season. Rashford could be a powerful weapon for England in the summer in France and must have left Sturridge with a major concern.
The 20-year-old has gained the reputation of being one of the biggest talents in Russia after scoring twice in three international appearances. Golovin’s biggest strength is his basic technique and understanding of the game, which is a notch above players of his age.
He has wonderful control over the ball, which is probably down to the fact that he started out playing futsal. He can play in any attacking position but admittedly, the playmaker role is his favourite. The CSKA Moscow player has a great chance of getting plenty of game time in the coming tournament and with Russia hosting the next World Cup finals, this tournament might be a further indication of where he could find himself in another couple of years.
20-year-old George Williams joined Fulham in the summer of 2012 from MK Dons. Much like fellow MK Dons product Dele Alli, the forward has been tipped for great things in the future and the fact that he is part of the national side for the upcoming tournament like his friend and former teammate from Spurs at just 20 years of age, proves that.
Williams is lethal in the final third and is extremely calm in front of goal, chipping in with 13 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign, when he was just 16. Things haven’t sailed too smoothly for the youngster after his move to Fulham, as the club have since gone through a turbulent time. Constant change of mangers has obviously not helped his case. His loan at MK Dons recently was a good move on paper but a cruel ACL injury meant the prospect of playing more didn’t materialize. Nonetheless, Coleman has kept his belief in the player and reinstated him in the national team as soon as he made his return from injury. Its unlikely he will get much game time for Wales in their quest to reach the latter stages of the Euro’s, but he will be a valuable asset to have in the squad, someone who could come in as a substitute and infuse the game with energy.
The Slovakian has been highly rated for some time now. Nicknames like “Ondrej di Maria” and “Dudinho” can give one the idea of exactly what the player has to offer. Duda is an attacking midfielder who can play anywhere in the attack, from the wings to the number 10 role. He has been linked with several Premier Leagues as well as Inter Milan in the recent past. Capped 7 times already by the national team, Duda is slowly becoming an integral part of the Slovakian national set-up and would hope to make an impact in the coming tournament.
The Liverpool player received his first senior call-up in September last year and has since accumulated 5 caps for Germany. Can’s biggest strength is his versatility and the fact that the midfielder has operated as a right-back for Joachim Löw illustrates that. He possesses great energy and intelligence which made him a favourite at the Merseyside club in just a season.
His leadership skills add to his CV and there are calls for Jürgen Klopp to hand over the captaincy to him. All these attributes make his chances for the coming Euros very bright. It is mostly his multi-functionality that will swing the vote in his favour. Expect to see a fair bit of Can in the coming tournament, unless there is a drastic loss of form or an injury between now and the Euros.
The German has found himself in the limelight all season after his exploits against Real Madrid in the Champions League clash at the Bernabeu showed the world just what he is capable of. The 20-year-old has since been linked with moves to Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea, which are just some of the clubs that have shown interest. Sané operates primarily from the right wing but is capable of playing anywhere along the front three (behind the striker). His biggest strength is the fact that he is not greatly reliant on his teammates to have an impact. Watching Sané makes you wonder if you’re watching a 20-year-old, as his playing style oozes confidence.
The fact that Germany have an abundance of attacking potential within the squad means Sane won’t probably get too many minutes in the coming tournament. However, Low might use him as a substitute and he has shown that he doesn’t take too long to make an impact.
The Shakhtar midfielder is supposed to be the next superstar of Ukrainian football. With a brilliant 2015, the player has caught the eye of everyone as he is slowly making his mark in every division. Considering the Ukrainians have qualified to the tournament for the first time, the pressure on the team and star players like Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka to score goals is immense. They can be aided by the immensely talented Kovalenko. Primarily an attacking midfielder, he can play slightly deeper in the midfield as well.
He is technically gifted, has great ability on the ball which along with a fantastic vision makes his game very threatening. The 20-year-old also possesses a good first touch and fantastic distribution of the ball. He brings energy in the game and can be the extra source of creativity for the national side. He was the top scorer at the U-20 World Cup last year which shows you that he brings with him a bag of goals as well. Mykhailo Fomenko recently gave him his first international call-up which makes his prospect of being picked for the upcoming tournament even better if he finishes strongly with Shakhtar.
The teenager has also been included in the 23-man-squad ahead of experienced wingers as he became the youngest player to score for Ukraine against Romania recently, beating the 20-year record of former AC Milan forward Andriy Shevchenko.
Zinchenko began his career at Shakhtar Donetsk’s academy but failed to make a senior appearance for them before moving to FC Ulfa, who escaped the relegation zone by a single point in the Russian Premier League this season. He had been battling a minor injury but managed to make the cut as Mykhaylo Fomenko understands the role of young blood in his side’s aspirations for the tournament.
You might have heard this man’s name in the rumour mills in the past few months. The Polish midfielder has been linked heavily with a move to Liverpool.
The 21-year-old plays for Empoli in Serie A and has made a mark for himself in Italy as well as his home in Poland. He is a “nimble” and technically gifted midfielder who can operate anywhere in the heart of the pitch, from the centre to the flanks. He is noted for accurate distribution and has the ability to dictate the play well from the centre of the park. At just 21, he already has 13 appearances for the national team and is sure to be a key in coach Adam Nawałka’s aspirations for the tournament.
Linetty plies his trade for Polish side Lech Poznan, which famously produced Robert Lewandowski, and has found himself closely around Europe. Premier League champions Leicester were interested in him along with Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the past. The 21-year-old has been linked to Luka Modric which illustrates his quality as a central midfielder. He can play as a holding midfielder, centrally as well as further ahead in an attacking playmaker role, which perhaps makes comparisons to Mateo Kovacic more appropriate. With 7 caps for the national side, Linetty will likely also feature considerably for Nawalka’s side in the sumer.
The 20-year-old stylish Manchester United starlet has shown the potential to become a huge favourite at the Old Trafford outfit. He arrived to the club as an attacking midfielder, but has transformed into a defender at the club. Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill however believes that the player is being operated in the wrong position and thinks of him as a defensive midfielder in the future.
The youngster put in a solid performance in the holding role against Wales and showed physical presence along with quality on the ball. He will surely feature in O’Neill’s plans for the upcoming tournament.
Bellerin has had luck riding with him in his short career — it was injury to Mathieu Debuchy that made Arsene Wenger include the pacey right-back in the Arsenal first team and now, its courtesy Dani Carvajal’s knock that he finds himself on the plane to France. However, crediting luck alone would be erroneous.
The 21-year-old full back is incredibly skilled, blessed with Bolt like pace which is his biggest strength. What’s better is that it’s not pace alone that he offers. Like a modern full back, his contribution is in both, the defensive and offensive aspect of the game. His ability to switch gears from defense to offence make him a valuable asset for counter-attacks, something which has been visible in his games for Arsenal this season. He doesn’t forget his primary defensive duties, even though it is quite visible that he enjoys the offensive side of the game far more, illustrated by his knack of cutting in from the flanks and helping the attackers find a goal.
Recently linked with interest from Liverpool, 18-year-old Emre Mor is fast emerging as one of the most promising young players in Europe. His inclusion by coach Fatih Terim didn’t come as a surprise to those who have seen him play in the Danish league for FC Nordsjælland. Born in Denmark but of Turkish descent, the fact that the Danes couldn’t qualify must have made his decision of representing the country of his parents far easier. The winger possesses aggressive dribbling skills and an eye for goal. His skills have earned him comparisons to Lionel Messi with the local media calling him the “Danish Messi” sometime back. While that might be farfetched, Mor does look like a real talent, which could be visible in the coming tournament.
Croatia has been one of the homes of talents in recent years and youth is likely to play an important part in the country’s quest for European glory this summer. Marko Pjaca is one such player who needs to be mentioned here. The 20-year-old can play anywhere in the attack but he prefers to play on the left-wing.
Being right footed, he can do exceptionally well when operating from the left flank. He especially loves to cut inside and attack more centrally. He is known for his acceleration which, coupled with his skills on the ball, makes him a real menace to deal with.
Croatia fans have been calling for a natural winger to be included in the team as using Olic (who recently retired), Perisic or Kovačić out wide don’t really prove to be a big threat. Pjaca, who has been capped 6 times for the national squad, is immensely talented and could well become a hugely influential player for the national side along with fellow youngster Alen Halilovic.
The Croatian centre-back is only 20 but has over 50 appearances at the club level which makes him extremely experienced for his age. While Jedvaj arguably should be starting for Croatia as a centre-back, it is unlikely that coach Ante Čačić would break up the partnership of Vida and Ćorluka, given the two have played together for most of the country’s recent games.
The Bayer Leverkusen player would probably slot in on the bench for most games. He could be the third in the pecking order even ahead of the much more experienced Dejan Lovren (who has been dropped from the 27 man squad ). He has been playing as a right-back for Bayer Leverkusen and has done well in the position. His versatility will boost his chances for the tournament but the area he needs to work on is his temperament. The Croatian is seemingly not very level headed and that can be a major flaw in any player’s overall characteristics. He can be a massive player for Croatia in the future and if Čačić gives him a chance, the future might be as near as this summer.
The fact that so many expect Belgium to win the coming Euros makes the title “dark horse” redundant. Marc Wilmots’ side is expected to at least reach the semi-finals in the coming tournament and will be aided by the youth. With Christian Benteke not hitting too many for Liverpool this season, Liverpool’s Divock Origi and Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi are expected to lend support to Romelu Lukaku, who lest we forget, is 22 himself. Michy has been a bright spot in Marseille’s otherwise depressing season.
After the departure of André-Pierre Gignac last summer, Marseille have got a bulk of their goals through the young Belgian; he has scored 18 goals for the French side this season. In his two appearances for Belgium, the 22-year-old managed to score in both games. The Marseille man could well be Wilmots’ wild card this summer.
The 22-year-old has won over coach Antonio Conte with his work rate as well as versatility. The Fiorentina player can play as a striker, slightly behind in a supporting role or on the right flank. While he has only scored once in Serie A in 24 games this season and provided four assists, his output is much better in the Europa league where he found the net 4 times.
While there are other talented players in Italy in his age group, what sets Bernardeschi apart is his mix of technique and tenacity. He has natural ability but the grit and guile in his game make him an even better player who was once tried to be lured by Sir Alex Ferguson. Recently, the player has attracted interest from Barcelona which gives one every indication of how talented he is. The determination and desire in his play certainly give him a bigger chance than anyone else at impressing in the coming tournament.
Possessing some of the finest talents from Europe’s top five leagues, Belgium come into Euro 2016 with an exceptional squad bolstered by the most promising of young talents in Europe, arguably alongside Croatia. Carrasco signed for Atletico Madrid from Monaco in the summer of 2015 and capped off a good first season under Simeone with a goal against Real Madrid in the grandest of stages, the Champions League final.
Unfortunately, that went in a losing cause but the youngster has done terrifically well in Spain and France. He has 4 caps for the senior Belgium side which could have been more if he didn’t have to battle Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens for a spot on the flanks. Mertens enjoyed good form for Napoli and would be preferred ahead of the less experienced Carrasco but YFK could well feature more if Hazard is unable to find his end-of-season form for the national side.
The Swedish midfielder has been used mostly as a centre-back this season by Benfica and has operated well in the role. He is quick and strong, and has good ability to play out from the back. The fact that he is actually a midfielder helps in this cause as he can be the ball playing centre back a team desires and can help in transitions from defence to attack. His positional sense, which was a bit of a weak spot, has also improved in recent times. He has been hailed as the next great defender of Sweden and rightly so.
He recently received his first call up to the senior side and calls for his inclusion in the senior squad have been loud. His versatility only makes his case stronger and Sweden would benefit from his inclusion.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos has put faith in giving youngster a chance to shine ever since he took over the reigns from Paulo Bento. Santos has called up no fewer than 53 players in little over a year in charge. The midfield is the area where Portugal are spoilt for choice. If coach Santos has to mix things up, he can throw in the very talented box-to-box midfielder who loves to shoot, Renato Sanches in the midfield. His name couldn’t have gone unnoticed by the fans as his services were recently acquired by Bayern Munich for an incredible £28million – a fee that will rise to £60m with add-ons.
Andre Gomes is dubbed to be one of the brightest talents around and could very possibly be Jorge Mendes’ next big money sale. The Valencia playmaker can dazzle with tricks, turns, and infuse the midfield with energy.
He can play anywhere in the midfield, from the more deeper role defending the back four while orchestrating things from the deeper position to further forward in attack. Gomes is quite evidently very versatile and will be one to watch out for as coach Santos looks to strike the right balance between the highly talented set of young starlets and the heavily experienced stars he has at his disposal.
The young defender has been capped by the senior team a couple of times and would not be an unfamiliar face for the Iceland fans. After starting his club career in his home country, the player moved to the Netherlands to play with PSV in 2012.
He has spent the last couple of seasons on loan but signed a three year contract extension with the Dutch giants last year which indicates that they believe the player has great potential. He might not get much game-time in France but is still one to keep an eye as coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson might want to change things at some stage of the tournament.
Schöpf has played at the Bayern youth academy and for Bayern München II some years back, getting 63 matches for the Bavarians second string team, in which he scored a respectable 22 goals. In 2014, he made a move to FC Nürnberg where he spent one and a half seasons before moving to Schalke this January. In 13 games in the league for his new side, 8 of them from the bench, he scored 3 goals and got an assist. The midfielder, capable of playing behind the striker and on the wings, possesses a lot of pace, he is direct and an ideal player on the counter attack with those attributes. He has one goal in three appearances for Marcel Koller’s side and could well add plenty more in France.