Here's who'll be looking to stand out as some of Euro 2020's best young players, from the new Pirlo to an English Iniesta.
1. Ansu Fati (Spain)
Age 18 Position Forward
Spanish football ruled the 2010s, but that dynasty has crumbled. Out of the rubble, Fati is carrying not just Barcelona’s future hopes, but his country’s, too. Born in Guinea-Bissau and raised in Seville, Fati grew up in the shade of tiki-taka, joining La Masia aged 10, and he went on to break a 95-year record to become Spain’s youngest-ever goalscorer, aged 17 years and 311 days.
He’s a left-sided forward, a stunning technician and electric on the break, capable of bypassing defenders as if they’re training cones. The teenager is already a beacon for two teams in transition, which is why La Roja are especially keen that he can recover from a problematic knee injury in time to make Luis Enrique’s final squad.
2. Phil Foden (England)
Age 20 Position Forward
Foden entered the international stage with a bang in November last year. Making his first England start, he put two goals past Iceland to seal an assured performance that typified his glittering coming-of-age campaign with Manchester City.
‘The Stockport Iniesta’, who will turn 21 just before Euro 2020 begins, has quickly evolved into a chameleonic attacker who drifts through defences like smoke. With goals against Chelsea and Liverpool this season, Foden – an Under-17 world champion and Golden Ball winner back in 2017 – has demonstrated the devastating movement and boundless confidence that, for years, England have sorely lacked. Imagine what the Golden Generation would have done to have such a left-footed schemer in their arsenal.
3. Dejan Kulusevski (Sweden)
Age 21 Position Forward
Silky, statuesque and tearing Serie A apart, Kulusevski is used to hearing he’s the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Blessed with magnetic close control and superb vision, the Juventus star – a winger, unlike Zlatan – is capable of bullying defenders or peeling past them with ease.
Kulusevski is already off the mark for his country, opening his international account with a sweetly-taken strike against Croatia last year. He offers an unpredictability that Swedes haven’t seen since Ibrahimovic was pirouetting at his peak; now the 39-year-old is back in the international fold, they’ll have two thrilling individualists at Euro 2020, albeit one less bombastic than the other.
4. Moise Kean (Italy)
Age 21 Position Forward
When he scored a pounding header in PSG’s Champions League thrashing of Barcelona in February, Kean’s redemptive arc was complete. He has suffered doubters and discrimination in his young career, but the striker – in the French capital on loan from Everton – is back to his brilliant best, making him one of the most dangerous frontmen in Europe.
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino has helped to revive the Italian into a fierce, hard runner who can operate anywhere across an attack, and that versatility is highly valued by Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini. Kean is leggy, powerful and deft with his control, and seeing him fly full of confidence – as only scoring 11 goals in your first 19 league appearances for a club can give you – has been a joy in recent months.
5. Sandro Tonali (Italy)
Age 20 Position Midfielder
So talented is Tonali, the technically gifted midfielder first received a call-up to the senior Italy squad in November 2018. With his Brescia beginnings, floppy hair and penchant for raking passes, it’s easy to see him as this generation’s Andrea Pirlo, but Tonali, who turns 21 at the start of May, has enough in his locker to refute accusations of being a mere tribute act.
A member of AC Milan’s title-challengers this campaign, he gives the Azzurri midfield bite and isn’t afraid to drive forward and affect play. Coronavirus has interrupted his path into the national side, but in a fresh crop of precocious young midfielders – including Gaetano Castrovilli, Manuel Locatelli and Nicolo Zaniolo – the Adam Driver lookalike and Football Manager favourite could be the most exciting of the lot.
6. Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands)
Age 18 Position Midfielder
When Ajax faced Liverpool in the Champions League group stage earlier this season, it was interesting to compare and contrast two combative, pace-setting midfielders in Ryan Gravenberch and Gini Wijnaldum. This summer, they’re likely to be team-mates. Gravenberch is 6ft 3in, defensively resilient and a thoughtful passer, but, incredibly for one so mature, he only turns 19 in mid-May.
The teenager’s international star is rising: having been a regular at under-19 and under-21 level thanks to his positioning and ability to dictate the game wherever he is on the field, many in the Netherlands expect a place for him at Euro 2020 in June. The Dutch are favourites to rule the 2020s with a thrilling set of youngsters bursting through, and Gravenberch is at the forefront of them.
7. Elif Elmas (North Macedonia)
Age 21 Position Midfielder
When North Macedonia famously defeated Germany in March, it was Elmas who netted the late winner. Born in Skopje to a family of Turkish descent, the midfielder was snapped up by Fenerbahce as a 17-year-old, and was even courted by Turkey’s national team. But Elmas made his North Macedonia debut that year – since then, his emergence has coincided with his country’s shock progress to a first ever major tournament. In 2019, he joined Napoli in a deal worth up to €19m, and has already racked up more than 50 Serie A appearances.
8. Dominik Szoboszlai (Hungary)
Age 20 Position Midfielder
Fresh from scoring a last-minute play-off winner against Iceland to take Hungary to the Euro 2020 finals, Dominik Szoboszlai is already a national treasure. The RB Leipzig winger is a weapon of precision, able to pick out passes for forwards like a sniper, but he also has a handy knack of coming in clutch. Szoboszlai has converted two free-kicks for his country, and he is quickly becoming the centrepiece of the Magyars’ revitalised side.
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