Euro 2020 is upon us after a 12-month delay and it means there will be plenty of faces at the tournament this summer that wouldn’t have been originally.
24 nations will compete to be crowned champions of Europe while playing across 11 cities on the continent, but many will be relying on young players in their squads to fill a role.
Whether that role be as a starter, competition for a place, an impact sub or just filling numbers and earning experience there are plenty of quality youngsters that will be involved. With the tournament kicking off tomorrow, here are five youngsters to keep a close eye on.
The Barcelona youngster made a very big impression in his first season with the first-team under Ronald Koeman.
Originally coming through as a winger, the 18-year-old moved over into central midfield as the season progressed and made the role his own alongside Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets. A fantastic passer, Pedri is also a great dribbler and breaks the lines well. Defensively his work rate is excellent too and while he faces plenty of competition to get into the side, once he gets his chance I fully expect him take it with both hands.
His transition from Las Palmas to Barcelona was seamless, and I expect his transition to international football will be just as good.
After coming through the Chelsea academy and representing England at youth level, Jamal Musiala made the move to Germany with Bayern Munich and chose to represent the country of his birth at international level.
At just 18-years-old, Musiala established himself as part of Bayern’s first-team squad this season and made 39 appearances, scoring seven times. Playing mostly as a number ten when he did play, his willingness to play on the half-turn and confidence to try things with the ball really set him apart from the rest of the players his age.
His end product is great and he won’t be expected to play much, but if given the chance he is good enough to make an impact against any defence he may come up against.
This might be a bit of a cop out since Foden has been on everyone’s list for a couple of years, but if this tournament took place last year as it was meant to then he wouldn’t have been in the squad.
This season though he had a superb campaign with Manchester City, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year and registering double digits for goals and assists across all competitions. Brilliant passing, a delicate first touch, driving dribbling and versatile with the positions he can play, Foden will be right in Gareth Southgate’s thinking for the England team
He’s probably the one who will play the biggest role for his nation during this tournament and is a superstar in the making.
The only defender on this list comes from the reigning European champions and is another player who has benefited from the tournament being delayed by a year.
Playing as a left-back or left wing-back for Sporting CP this season, the Lisbon side won the league for the first time in 19 years and Mendes was a big part of that. His pace is tremendous and his drive with the ball makes him a constant threat going forward.
He started both warm-up games in the build up tournament and it seems that he is the new first-choice left-back ahead of Raphael Guerreiro, so he has some big shoes to fill.
Holland are well known for producing absolute gems when it comes to young players, but Gravenberch might be the best one in a little while.
The Ajax starlet broke into the first-team this season as they won another Eredivisie title and played a starring role in central midfield. Compared to Paul Pogba because of his tall frame but brilliant technical ability, the 18-year-old has got all the attributes to really dominate a midfield and control a midfield.
Alongside the experience of Gini Wijnaldum and composure of De Jong in midfield, Gravenberch has a great chance of making a real name for himself this summer.
After a year long delay, Euro 2020 is finally upon us with a genuine top level tournament threatening to take place.
After the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the tournament last summer, 24 nations will finally take place across the continent as we seek to crown the champions of Europe for the first time since Portugal lifted the trophy in 2016.
With so many stars packing the tournament with quality at the vast majority of teams, some squads are far more stacked than others. With that said, there are several teams who will believe they have a genuine chance of winning the competition this summer.
All the usual heavyweights are involved this year so lets take a look at the top contenders for the trophy this summer at Euro 2020.
The Dutch squad looked set to develop into something genuinely exciting under Ronald Koeman, reaching the UEFA Nations League final and bringing through yet another generation of exciting youngsters.
Then Koeman left for Barcelona and was replaced by Frank De Boer, arguably the worst manager in football right now still getting jobs at the top level. It didn’t help that Virgil Van Dijk got a horror injury before the tournament started that ruled him out for a year and it’s even less helpful that goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to sit the tournament out.
They’re preparing to play in a 3-5-2 system with Memphis leading the line up front and in form, but they just don’t look well drilled right now. Despite that though, they have got a lot of quality in the side. Youngster Ryan Gravenberch will almost certainly be a breakout star in the tournament, while Matthijs De Ligt will look to improve his reputation as one of the best young defenders in Europe.
Unfortunately for them though, De Boer is such a huge negative factor when it comes to them that this tournament will come too soon for them to see any sort of success. With any such luck, it’ll be De Boer’s first and last tournament as boss.
It’ll be the final tournament of Joachim Löw’s 15-year tenure as Germany boss this summer and he’ll look to go out with a bang.
After finishing as runners-up at Euro 2008 and winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Low’s time in charge comes to an end when he is replaced by Hansi Flick after this tournament. But in front of him, he has selected a stacked squad full of young talent and experienced quality blending together.
After a horror show last time out at World Cup 2018 in Russia, Low will be counting on the quality of the likes of Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels in the spin of his team but with the fresher generation of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane supporting them.
Tactically they look sharp in a 4-2-3-1 or in a three-at-the-back system with wing-backs and they look clinical going forward too with such quality options in attack. They’ve been chucked into the group of death in this tournament, but with the four best third-placed teams able to qualify they will feel they have a great chance of getting through and then beating anyone in a one-off game.
It’s been a while since Italy were deemed a genuine threat at an international tournament but Roberto Mancini has absolutely got them there again.
The former Manchester City boss has developed a squad that is filled with quality in key areas and blessed with physical attributes as well as lots of technical skill. Led by veterans Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in defence, with the youthful Gianluigi Donnarumma behind them and Marco Verratti in front, they are a force to be reckoned with.
They then have the brilliance of Nico Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Manuel Locatelli in midfield too while Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernadeschi can support the attack of Andrea Belotti and/or Ciro Immobile.
They have great depth, a great togetherness and are currently on a 27-match unbeaten run stretching back to 2018. They know how to keep a clean sheet with nine in their last 11 fixtures and with goals all over the pitch as well as an ability to either be defensive or go on the front foot, they’re real dark horses for the competition.
This is Luis Enrique’s second spell in charge of the Spanish national team, but his first tournament after his shock resignation back in 2019 saw him leave the role for six months.
During that spell and this current one though, Enrique has been able to put together a string of highly impressive performances using a variety of players and has even left some big names out. Despite naming only 24 players for a 26-man squad, the likes of Sergio Ramos and Saul Niguez weren’t selected.
Even without them though, Spain look good. Defensively they look well organised and press well, while on the ball they move it quickly and have lots of interchanging movement among their players. One thing they do lack is a lethal striker. Gerard Moreno hit 30 in all competitions for Villarreal this season but he doesn’t really suit Spain’s style of play and it’s Alvaro Morata who tends to start as the striker.
Spain have a chance of becoming the darkest of horses in the tournament, however their lack of a real goalscorer blunted their attack in the friendly against Portugal in the warm-up game. With players testing positive for COVID-19 just days before the tournament starts too, their preparation will be affected and I don’t think they’ll be successful this time although they will be entertaining.
The England squad is arguably at it’s strongest since the golden generation that saw Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham all lining up alongside each other back in the Euro 2004 era.
With bags of attacking talent and some solid defensive options, Gareth Southgate has got a great chance of improving on the World Cup semi-final run that they managed to put together in 2018. Their preparations took a hit when Trent Alexander-Arnold was forced to withdraw with a thigh injury, but Southgate drafted in Brighton’s Ben White to cover in midfield and defence.
Jack Grealish is in the form of his life in attack while Mason Mount and Phil Foden are coming off the back of a Champions League final to end their brilliant seasons in attack, supporting Harry Kane who had the best season of his career all-round.
There is genuine hope and belief that England could turn in a Euro 96-esque performance this summer, getting to the latter stages and causing the big sides real problems. There is expectation on them to perform but with Southgate in charge they may struggle.
He prefers to work towards the strengths of his opponent to nullify, rather than exposing their weaknesses with his great squad and against the top sides that could be the difference in winning and losing.
One of the deepest squads in the tournament, Belgium have got some insane quality amongst their ranks for this tournament.
Thibaut Courtois is among the best goalkeepers in the world, Yannick Carrasco has excelled as a wing-back for Atletico this season winning La Liga, Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans have had fantastic seasons domestically while Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard would get into most teams when fit.
Robert Martinez has developed a great style of play with the ‘Red Devils’ which has seen them capable of dominating possession and counter-attacking in style, while defensively they can be a very solid side too with plenty of experience.
Skill, quality, a lethal goalscorer, fantastic creators in midfield and experienced, quality defenders, Belgium will be disappointed to not be challenging for honours at the very least at Euro 2020.
The current reigning European champions, Portugal are in the middle of a golden generation once again. After winning the tournament in 2016, the Selecao have developed even greater depth in their squad and are genuinely quality against any opposition now.
Cristiano Ronaldo is still leading the line at 36 years old but is coming off the back of a Serie A golden boot campaign, while Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo all enjoyed stellar campaigns with Manchester City.
Bruno Fernandes will be looking to improve his international form after scoring just twice for the national team in 28 appearances, while Joao Felix will be keen to finally perform to the standard everyone knows he can.
Fernando Santos is still in charge which means Portugal are still very hard to beat, but it also means they can be limited in attack against the top opposition which could see them struggle in the latter stages. In the group of death too, that could see them struggle early on and ultimately they’ll likely fall short.
Without a doubt the strongest squad and the favourites to win the tournament, World champions France are back with a vengeance.
Beaten at the Euro 2016 final by Portugal on home turf, France bounced back to win the World Cup in style and have developed one of the greatest pools of players to select their squad from ever. Now with Didier Deschamps still at the helm, they’ll look to make history as just the third team to be World and European champions simultaneously.
With a very similar squad to 2018, the biggest factor is the return of Karim Benzema after five years away from the international scene following legal and political issues. It’s pretty hard to improve the World champions, but Benzema is the calibre of player who can.
His potential link up with Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba make it nigh on impossible to see France not make the final at the very least and anything but winning it would be deemed as a failure among neutrals and French fans.
During my lifetime, when you talk about the greatest goalkeepers to play the game it’s often the same handful of names that crop up in conversation.
Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, Manuel Neuer, Peter Schmeichel and Petr Cech in particular are the guys that tend to be brought up the most, but there are always a couple of names missing. In my eyes, none are more overlooked than the big German shot stopper Oliver Kahn.
A Bayern Munich legend, Kahn ensured his name was written in stone when he won every trophy possible with the Bavarian club but was also successful with his national team.
After starting his career with Karlsruher, Kahn earned himself a move to Bayern in 1994 for a then-record of around €2.5m. He was immediately installed as the starting goalkeeper after some great performances for his previous side, including helping the side to get through to a UEFA Cup semi-final after battering a Valencia side 7-0 during the tournament.
He suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his knee which saw him miss six months of action in the campaign but still managed to make 30 appearances for the club and earned himself a call up to the German national team for his debut.
His first trophy came at the end of his second season, as despite finishing second in the Bundesliga they were able to beat Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup final 5-1 on aggregate with Kahn keeping a clean sheet in the first leg.
His third campaign was mightily successful, as he won his first Bundesliga title with a string of top performances earning him 14 clean sheets and the goalkeeper of the year award. In between the two campaigns Kahn was called up the German national team as part of the squad that won Euro 96, although he made no appearances his mentality was praised by first choice goalkeeper Andreas Köpke for keeping him on his toes throughout.
Fantastic performances and standards continued with Bayern Munich as they won the title again in 98/99, while also reaching the UEFA Champions League final. During that European campaign, Kahn played in all 13 fixtures and conceded ten goals before the final which was famously lost because of two injury time Manchester United goals.
Kahn was famously distraught after the game, laying on the ground in tears surrounded by his defenders, but it was his famed mental strength that helped him to get back up again and continue to succeed in his career. Later that year he was named as the World’s Best Goalkeeper by the IFFHS.
He even managed to redeem himself just two seasons later when Bayern made it to another final, this time against Valencia. In a game decided by penalties during the game and after it, a 1-1 draw led to a shootout where Khan stood victorious by saving three Valencia penalties to win the game for his side.
Remembering his defeat in 99, the iconic image of Khan consoling a distraught Santiago Canizares while his teammates celebrated on the pitch to this day shows the magnitude of the man that the German was.
‘Der Titan’ perfectly summed up his style and persona too, as he won eight Bundesliga titles throughout his career and six DFB-Pokal cups to go with his Champions League title.
His aggressive approach demanded quality and focus at all time and Khan was well known for letting his defenders know his feelings if things didn’t go as they were supposed to. But it was that clamour for perfection that made him the first and only goalkeeper to be crowned UEFA’s Best Goalkeeper for four consecutive years.
His international career as a starter never quite hit the heights of winning a tournament, but he was still absolutely influential in the success Germany did have.
At the 2002 World Cup, Khan was captain and a starter in every game conceding just one goal en route to the final. Coming up against R9’s Brazil, Kahn demanded to play in the final despite having torn ligaments in his finger. His error led to Ronaldo’s opening goal, as he fumbled a Rivaldo shot into the striker’s path as Brazil won the final 2-0.
Despite that, Kahn refused to blame the injury and his performances earned him the honour of being the first and only goalkeeper in history to win the Golden Ball – ahead of Ronaldo. In 2001 and 2002 he finished in third place of the Ballon d’Or too and was named in the FIFA 100 list by Pele back in 2004, such was his standing in the game.
Tremendous reflexes, great power, a great throw to start counter-attacks, unrivalled leadership and mentality and one of the most commanding goalkeepers of all-time. The next time there is a conversation about the best goalkeepers ever, remember Oliver Kahn’s greatness.
It’s not often that we say it, but Bayern Munich might be having a bit of an internal crisis right now.
After crashing out of the UEFA Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals, it emerged over the weekend that manager Hansi Flick has informed the club that he wants to leave in the summer.
After winning everything there is to win in his season-and-a-half in charge of the club, you could maybe understand if he just wanted a new challenge but it seems there is something more to the situation.
Despite beating PSG in Paris their European Cup defence came to an end but they bounced back at the weekend with a 3-2 win over Wolfsburg. What nobody saw coming was in the press conference after the game when Flick confirmed to the press that he wanted to leave the club at the end of the season.
It had been rumoured that Flick was the number one target for the German national team after it was announced that Joachim Löw will leave his role after the completion of the Euro 2020 tournament this summer.
While he has admitted that the national team role is of interest to him, it isn’t the reason he wants to leave the Bundesliga champions.
According to reports in Germany, there is an internal struggle happening in Bavaria. It is well known that the club is run in such a way that the manager of the club is responsible only for the coaching of the football team.
The board and executives run the club off the pitch and former midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic is the man in charge of things like transfers. That is the start of issues.
Flick and Salihamidzic have been at loggerheads of the future of the playing squad, with the Bosnian confirming that Jerome Boateng would not be offered a new contract for the new season regardless of his performances in the run-in.
What made it worse was the fact that he was informed of the decision on the morning of the first-leg against Paris Saint-Germain. Add to that the fact the club have refused to agree a new deal with David Alaba, forcing the Austrian to confirm his exit from the club in advance on a free transfer.
Bayern have since commented on Flick’s announcement only to discount it, stating that they will continue to hold talks with the manager up to and at the end of the season to discuss the future. While it’s highly unlikely that anything will change, this is just Bayern’s way of controlling the narrative.
Reports suggest they have already begun the search for a new manager, with Julian Nagelsmann top of their shortlist. While it will be incredibly difficult to take the highly rated boss away from Leipzig, the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich’s playground and they can pretty much do what they want.
If for some reason that doesn’t happen, they have plenty of options elsewhere. Flick was brought up from their coaching staff, while top names like Max Allegri and Jose Mourinho are also available immediately.
Bayern are a superbly run club, everyone knows that. But now their internal power struggle is going to cost them a supremely talented coach and potentially effect who they bring in to replace him.
Tottenham Hotspur sacked manager Jose Mourinho yesterday after a string of poor results, just six days before the Carabao Cup final at Wembley against Manchester City.
After just 17 months in the job, the Portuguese gaffer parts ways with the north London club making them the first side since he took charge of Porto in 2002 that he leaves without having lifted silverware first.
Former midfielder Ryan Mason will take charge of the team for the rest of the season while the club begin their search for a new manager for next season.
A decision was taken by the club after it emerged that he had lost almost the entire dressing room following the 2-2 draw with Everton.
So what happens now for the man who is still widely considered as one of the best of all-time. He has finished above sixth just once in the Premier League since the 2015/16 season and has won just two trophies – the Europa League and the EFL Cup with Manchester United.
The top clubs will all now be surely wary of bringing him in, knowing that his style is seemingly outdated at the highest level and is no longer a guarantee of trophies that it once was. Despite the fact that some top sides will be looking for new managers this summer, it seems highly unlikely that he will be in the running for any of those roles.
It may be time now, at 58-years-old that Mourinho makes the move into international management. With Euro 2020 set to take place this summer, countries are almost certain to part way with their bosses and that could lead to opportunities.
Mourinho is clearly still good in the cups, getting Spurs to their first domestic cup final since 2008. He has a way of navigating cup games well and international football is all about that, so it would suit well.
Portugal have had Fernando Santos in charge for the best part of seven years now and he has led them to their first international titles with success at Euro 2016 and then the 2019 UEFA Nations League. But there is always a time for change.
If Portugal struggle at Euro 2020, with the World Cup just a year later, they could look to make a chance and bring in a manager with the reputation and stature of Jose Mourinho.
Germany are parting ways with Joachim Löw while Didier Deschamps could look to return to club management after leading France to a Euros final in 2016 then winning the World Cup in 2018.
Big clubs are unlikely to make a move for him any time soon after his most recent performances and his ego is still likely to be far too inflated for him to be willing to take a step down in management to take over at a lesser side.
He’s now in career limbo but it’s through his own fault. He has failed to adapt to modern football and modern players, instead relying on his old school defensive tactics and man management styles. He previously said he had done those things and that was part of the reason he got the Spurs job in the first place, so good luck to anyone listening to his jibberish now.