9 stars who enhanced their reputations at the European U21 Championship
1. Marco Asensio (Spain)
The world was already aware, but Asensio really is a wonderful player and, surrounded by Real Madrid’s blinding galaxy of stars, he could become a truly special one.
His style of play is so smooth and so mesmerising that the real joy is in watching him with the ball at his feet – and what he actually achieves with it almost secondary. The 21-year-old glides around the field, his studs barely touching the grass, and was a pleasure to watch in Poland. The crowds agreed: when Asensio received possession and drove at defenders, the anticipation was palpable.
Inevitably, the Germans targeted him in the final, limiting his involvement and restricting his touches to only the widest areas. It was a shame, because he was the competition’s most watchable player and neutrals were denied that last dance, but his career will bring bigger and better days.
2. Maximilian Arnold (Germany)
Arnold offers more than just a cultured left foot and an eclectic set-piece range. The Germans were expected to reach the final, but to overcome the talent gap they faced when they got there, they had to rely on a midfield performance of near perfection. Arnold, alongside Max Meyer and the deeper-lying Janik Haberer, helped to give it.
The side’s strength was obvious. Germany depended on their midfield to control games, but few believed that such influence could extend to subduing Spain and their ludicrously diverse attack. But it did, and Wolfsburg's Arnold was emblematic of the delicate balance between remaining impenetrable in their own half and offering enough of a threat at the other end for the Spanish to feel unable of commiting too many men forward.
The great German weapon in these championships was their counter-attack. It was swift, but beautifully effective; rather than relying on simple pace, it was testament to the value of moving possession precisely and decisively with educated movement off the ball.
The 23-year-old Arnold wasn’t the competition's outstanding player, but he was integral to everything that the winning side did well.
3. Milan Skriniar (Slovakia)
Not that many will care to remember that night, but Skriniar actually snuck on during the closing stages of England’s dire goalless draw against Slovakia at Euro 2016.
He was impressive this summer and certainly the best pound-for-pound centre-back England’s U21s encountered in Poland. Aidy Boothroyd’s team may have won that game 2-1, but they were locked out of the Slovakian penalty box for most of it and had to rely on a goalkeeping error and a swift counter-attack for their points. Skriniar was culpable for neither goal.
He’s certainly someone to watch. After 18 months at Sampdoria, the 22-year-old is signing for Inter this summer and quietly building a fine reputation in Serie A.