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
Age: 19 Position: striker/winger Club: Rennes
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)
Age: 23 Position: striker Club: Spartak Moscow
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
Age: 22 Position: centre-back Club: Sevilla
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
Age: 18 Position: striker Club: Sparta Prague
Czech Republic’s Adam Hlozek
Hlozek joined Sparta’s academy when he was 12, at the same time as his elder brother Daniel – who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2015 and was forced to retire from professional football a few months later at the age of 18. He recovered, and now plays for his hometown team FC Ivancice
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)
Age: 19 Position: centre-back Club: FC Zurich
Switzerland’s Becir Omeragic
Omeragic was a tennis prodigy and considered a professional career before choosing football instead. His idol is Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for his mentality, but his defensive heroes are France’s Raphael Varane and Spain’s Sergio Ramos
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)
Age: 19 Position: midfielder Club: Ajax
Netherlands midfielder Ryan Gravenberch
Gravenberch’s elder brother Danzell also came through the Ajax academy and has played for 10 clubs including Reading. Ryan became Ajax’s youngest senior player when he made his debut in September 2018 aged 16 years and 130 days – beating Clarence Seedorf’s record by 112 days. He has been linked with Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool but his dad has told him to stay in Amsterdam
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)
Age: 20 Position: midfielder Club: Feyenoord
Turkey’s Orkun Kokcu
Kokcu was born and raised in the Netherlands, but chose to represent Turkey despite playing for the Dutch at under-18 and under-19 level
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
Age: 21 Position: striker Club: Real Sociedad
Sweden’s Alexander Isak
Isak’s lanky frame led to obvious comparisons to Ibrahimovic when he broke through as a teenager but when asked about any similarities in his game to Zlatan last year, he said: “I have my own style. I’d like to be my own player and not be compared too much.”
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.
9. Alex Kral (Czech Republic)
Age: 23 Position: midfielder Club: Spartak Moscow
The Czech Republic’s Alex Kral
West Ham already have two Czech Republic stars in their ranks in Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal so could a third be on the way? Hammers boss David Moyes definitely likes him, telling the Times: “He is good on the ball, looks to protect his defence and appears, like Tomas and Vladimir, to have great mentality and bags of energy.”
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)
Age: 18 Position: left-back Club: Sporting
Portugal’s Nuno Mendes
Mendes, who was called up by Portugal for the first time in March, made 34 appearances in all competitions this season for Sporting and helped them end their 19-year-wait to win the Portuguese title
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
Age: 18 Position: midfielder Club: Bayern Munich
Germany’s Jamal Musiala
Musiala was born in Stuttgart and has a German mother with Polish roots and a Nigerian father. He moved to England when he was seven and was in Chelsea’s academy as a young teenager before joining Bayern in 2019, aged 16
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
Age: 23 Position: striker Club: Stuttgart
Austria’s Sasa Kalajdzic
When asked what his nicknames were, Kalajdzic came up with a long list. He told Bundesliga.com: “I’ve heard comparisons with Zlatan, Peter Crouch and anything from Tall and Lanky to Ibrahimovic-Machine! I’ve also heard ‘the next Mario Gomez’ but I don’t mind, I’m just happy if people are having fun”.
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
Age: 21 Position: midfielder Club: Napoli
North Macedonia’s Eljif Elmas
Elmas scored four times in qualifying for the Euros and already has two in three World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022, including the winner against Germany in Duisburg. Last August, Napoli extended his contract to 2025 – but Wilson says that may not deter his many suitors
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)
Age: 21 Position: striker Club: Brentford
Turkey’s Halil Dervisoglu
Like Kokcu, Dervisoglu was born in the Netherlands but chose to play for Turkey. He played for three teams in the 2020-21 season – Brentford (two games, one goal), FC Twente (loan: nine games, no goals) and Galatasaray (loan: 12 games, three goals)
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
Age: 21 Position: midfielder Club: Hoffenheim
Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner
Baumgartner was dubbed ‘the new Andrej Kramaric’ when he did so well while covering for Hoffenheim’s experienced Croatian forward in the 2019-20 season, but he didn’t agree with the nickname, telling Bundesliga.com: “No, I’m definitely not a new Kramaric, because I’m not as good.”
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’
Age: 19 Position: midfielder Club: Groningen
Slovakia’s Tomas Suslov
Suslov is versatile and has played in seven different positions for Groningen this season. For Slovakia, he is likely to operate on the right wing and cut inside on to his left foot
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)
Age: 20 Position: centre-back Club: RB Salzburg
Poland’s Kamil Piatkowski
Piatkowski’s favourite hobby is boxing. RB Salzburg announced his signing in January with an interview on their website. They introduced him by saying “he may look like a mad dog, but he has the manner of a son-in-law”
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
Age: 19 Position: centre-back/left-back Club: RB Leipzig
Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol
Gvardiol is known as Little Pep because of the similarity between his surname and Pep Guardiola’s
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)
Age: 21 Position: midfielder Club: Pafos
Finland’s Onni Valakari
Valakari celebrates his goal against France – fellow debutant Marcus Foss, of Brentford, scored Finland’s other goal in a 2-0 win
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)
Age: 18 Position: midfielder Club: Barcelona
Barcelona paid Las Palmas an initial €5m for Pedri when he was 17 but the fee could rise to around €35m if he meets various clauses in the deal
Steve Bower: Pedri’s story is an incredible one. Signed by Barcelona in 2019 after just three appearances for Las Palmas, he was thought to have been bought with the bigger – long-term – picture in mind. However the teenager from Tenerife has this season become the second-quickest player to 50 Barcelona appearances, behind only Lionel Messi.
Luis Enrique gave him his international debut in March after Pedri had appeared in more games for Barca than any other player this season and the Spanish coach has hinted he’s far from just making up the numbers in this tournament.
Guillem Balague on the Daily Euros podcast: Pedri 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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