Euro 2016: Ones to watch
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Posted by Featured Articles | Published on March 4, 2016
Euro 2016 kicks off at the Stade de France on June 10, 2016. With a strong outbreak in youth talent over the past two years, let’s look at an XI of youth prospects that will be looking to thrive on the European Stage.
I’ve avoided somewhat predictable candidates such as Anthony Martial, Hector Bellerin, Paul Pogba and Ross Barkley for further insight for players with slightly less recognition. Who are you keeping your eye on at Euro 2016? Let me know on Twitter: @Classorla
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma
AC Milan | Italy
Although the 17-year-old has only made 19 senior appearances for The Rossoneri, he has risen to recent fame for his incredible shot-stopping ability for someone so young, sending the experienced Diego Lopez to the number two slot. The 6ft 5 Italian is already being tipped by AC Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic as the “future of Italian football”. For those who played Sunday League Football when they were younger, did you ever come across an opposition player that looked far too old for that age group? In a recent interview in Italian Media, it was expressed Donnarumma was so big for his age that his mother would bring a birth certificate and multiple ID documents along to every game to show opposition teams who thought he was too old for the age group he was playing in. He followed his brother into the Milan academy, but while Gianluigi went on to make his senior debut for AC Milan, older brother Antonio, also a goalkeeper, was sold to Genoa without ever playing in the famous red and black. The Italian giant will be looking to shine at Euro 2016, with the potential to thrive in replacement of his idol, now 38, Gianluigi Buffon.
Right Back: Nelson Semeldo
Benfica SL | Portugal
Nelson Semeldo is a pacey, versatile and physical right back who has enjoyed a breakthrough season having established himself in the first team at the Estadio da Luz. The 22-year-old is a fully established Portugal international, and has been linked to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Juventus in the past 6 months. Nelson started his footballing career at lower-division club Sintrense, starting in their youth ranks and working his way up to become a pro at the age of 17. In 2012 he completed his transfer to Benfica, being sent on a season-long loan right after his purchase to third-division team Fátima and returning to Benfica to play in their B-team, where he amassed 59 appearances over two seasons. Benfica have recently stuck a ridiculous £32.5m price tag on the youngster in which he joins other promising Portuguese talents with outrageous price tags. Portugal have fallen back in recent years & have failed to live up to their once quality of Euro 2004 where they were runners up (losing to Greece), with the recent rise of Portuguese prospects, they very well maybe The Underdogs of 2016.
Centre Back: Aymeric Laporte
Athletic Bilbao | France
Highly rated Aymeric Laporte, along with Raphael Varane is arguably the biggest European defensive prospect in recent years. The 21-year-old has made over 100 appearances for Athletic Bilbao, an impressive stat for a young defender in La Liga. Laporte gained worldwide recognition after an incredible 2013-14 season, making the 13-14 La Liga Team of the Year at the age of 19. Fast, confident and skillful on the ball, he has impressed in the middle and has also been deployed at left-back on occasion. The Bilbao man could be the surprise factor to the French defense, competing with Sakho, Koscielny, Varane, Perrin, Mangala and even Kurt Zouma.
Centre Back: John Stones:
Everton | England
John Stones has established himself as one of the best young centre-backs in Europe over the past year. With Chelsea bidding £40m (rejected) last summer and further links with Manchester City and Barcelona, there’s no denying he’s an extremely talented defender. Recent comparisons as ‘the next John Terry’, the 21-year-old was struggling for form when a hamstring injury ruled him out of his side’s FA Cup fourth-round trip to Carlisle in January – and is gradually making his way back into the Everton XI. England will look to partner Chelsea’s Gary Cahill with either Phil Jagielka or John Stones as the rocks at the back.
Left Back: Jose Gaya
Valencia | Spain
Perhaps the nation most dominant in producing the world’s best full-backs, Spain’s Jose Gaya will look to display his talent ahead of Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Chelsea’s Azpilicueta. Often identified as perhaps the most talented young left back, Gayà gained 23 caps for Spain all youth levels comprised. On 26 May 2015, he was called to the full side for a friendly with Costa Rica and a UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying match against Belarus. Not too dissimilar to another ex-Valencia man in Barcelona’s Jordi Alba, his searing pace makes it easy for the youngster to cover space, he’s committed to the challenge and he has already coped well against some of the finest attacking players in world football.
Centre Midfield: Dele Ali
Tottenham | England
The recent emergence of Spurs’ talent Dele Ali has welcomed a successful run for Spurs under Pochettino, currently sitting in 2nd place. After a spectacular strike vs. France and impressive Premier League performances, Hodgson is likely to be torn with Central Midfield talent in; Wilshere, Barkley, Delph, Henderson and Dier. Jamie Carragher on Ali: ‘You think about his performance and his goal against France. Now I expect him to be in the England squad, I actually think now he’s in the team,’ Carragher. I think Roy [Hodgson] and Gary [Neville] they play three in there. The one who has been playing regularly Ross Barkley, Dele Alli has surpassed Ross.’ Ali seems to thrive under pressure and could be a key player in unlocking the limited success England have had in Euro competitions.
Centre Midfield: Renato Sanches
Benfica SL | Portugal
Portuguese teen sensation Renato Sanches has risen to fame after jaw-dropping performances vs. Atletico Madrid and Porto. For someone so inexperienced, Sanches plays with a disconcerting swagger and self-assurance, demanding the ball and driving his team forward from his central midfield position in a manner you would expect of a seasoned veteran. Sanches has boundless energy, and the step up to senior football has proven no obstacle to his impressive stamina levels. Since being seamlessly integrated into Benfica’s starting eleven, Sanches has rarely been substituted early, if at all, like one would expect with a young footballer making his first appearances amongst the big boys. One of my favourite upcoming players, Renato is certainly one to watch at Euro 2016.
Centre Midfield: Alen Halilovic
Barcelona (on loan at Sporting Gijon) | Croatia
Alen Halilovic first grabbed eyeballs after becoming the youngest player to score a goal in Croatian First Football League. He was also the youngest ever to play for Croatia’s national team. Very few players are able to show flair in their performance at such an early age and Halilovic is one of them. Halilovic learned his football at Dinamo Zagreb and put up some brilliant performances for club’s first team that alerted scouts of several top clubs including Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid. He was signed by Barcelona on a 5-year deal for £1.8m and after 29 performances for Barcelona B; The Catalans loaned him to Sporting Gijon. Usually utilized as a playmaker, Alen is able to play in the midfield 3, which may welcome partnerships with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Kovacic. Halilovic is often regarded as one of the brightest talents in world football.
Right Wing: Leroy Sane
Schalke | Germany
19-year-old Leroy Sane has taken the Bundesliga by storm and is one of Europe’s hottest attacking talents. During Schalke’s European clash vs. Real Madrid, Sane played with the utmost confidence after being brought on as a substitute after half an hour. The German Winger scored a cracking goal from distance. In his Champions League debut, in an elimination match at the Santiago Bernabeu, he was arguably the best player on show. Sane has been compared to players such as Neymar, Sterling and Bellerabi and can be utilized effectively anywhere along the front three. Sane in a recent interview with German Press: “It was always football for me. I look forward to every training session and game. There was nothing else for me and I didn’t want anything else.”
Left Wing: Kingsley Coman
Bayern Munich | France
At the age of eight, Kingsley Coman was discovered by Paris Saint-Germain. At the PSG youth academy, he developed further and represented France at the youth level from the U16 onwards. On February 17, 2013, he became the youngest player to play for PSG’s first team when, aged 16, he was brought on for Marco Verratti in a league match against Sochaux. Coman made it to the French U21 as a 17-year-old, once again proving what an outstanding talent he is. PSG decided not to invest in Coman, which welcomed an offer from Serie A giants, Juventus. In August 2015, Bayern Munich signed the winger on a 2-year loan deal. The Frenchman is known for his lightning quick pace, his close control dribbling attributes and his ability beat players one on one. In a recent interview with L’Equipe, Kingsley expressed if he hadn’t of gone into football, he would be representing France at The Olympics for a 100m/200m sprint. He said he can run the 100m sprint under 11 seconds, ‘if he put his mind to it’. It’s rumoured Coman could be a potential candidate to join Guardiola at Manchester City next season so will be looking to display his talent for France.
Striker Inaki Williams
Athletic Bilbao | Spain
“You hear people say ‘A black player at Athletic? We’ve never seen that before.’ I just laugh. My name is Iñaki and I’m Basque.” – Inaki Williams. Most well-tuned football fans around the world are well aware of the uniqueness of Athletic Club, based in Bilbao. Their Cantera policy has reaped rewards throughout the tears, producing the likes of Telmo Zarra to Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente and Ander Herrera in recent years. Inaki suggested in a recent press conference he’s best played at centre-forward, however, he is happy to play out wide for the team, which is what he’s been doing for Bilbao, to accommodate Aduriz at ST. His footwork, in particular, is the real deal. He can swivel, pull off stepovers amongst a variety of skills. His goal against Espanyol was sublime, to put it mildly, as he noticed de Marcos with the ball and hence made a run, remaining onside as the pass was made. Despite the rather poor pass, he managed to flick the ball over the Espanyol defender before swiveling and smashing the volley into the goal. His conversion of a very tough chance to a goal was superb to watch and only added to his ability to create chances out of nothing. Williams has been compared to Daniel Sturridge from his ability to run in behind and his pinpoint finishing. 21-year-old Williams is yet proven on the International Stage but with Diego Costa yet to thrive for Spain and Fernando Torres now 32, Spain would hugely benefit from a quick number 9, taking advantage of their midfield creativity in Fabregas, Silva, Mata, Cazorla, Isco and Iniesta.