Love or loathe international football, there’s no doubt that its biggest tournaments serve up an excellent opportunity for the stars of tomorrow to put on a showcase of their skills today.
Euro 2020 has proven to be no exception, and already a quintet of youthful talents have made their presence felt for their respective nations.
Matthijs de Ligt completed 100% of his passes in the first half vs. #AUT:
◎ 28 passes attempted
◉ 28 passes completed
He also made more tackles than any other player (2). pic.twitter.com/SJxeTrJXBA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 17, 2021
So here’s a quick look at the top five under 24 who have shown at the Euros so far.
Matthijs de Ligt
It’s perhaps a bit harsh to describe Matthijs de Ligt as an ‘emerging’ talent.
He has been the heir apparent to Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of the Juventus defence since he made his big-money move to Turin back in 2019. But Euro 2020 feels like the first time that the 21-year-old has truly stepped into the shoes of a world-class central defender, and the Netherlands – already blessed with a galaxy of attacking stars – have benefitted.
Meanwhile, Juventus – despite a derisory showing in 2020/21 – have been installed as the bookmakers’ favourites to regain the Serie A trophy this season, with the betting sites listed at Bonusfinder offering odds as short as even money on such an eventuality.
If they are to live up to those expectations, they will need de Ligt to continue his ascendance.
Despite his tender years, Alexander Isak is something of a throwback to strikers of yesteryear.
Tall and strong, the 21-year-old is capable of coming in short to receive the ball but seems to prefer the more traditional aspects of forward play – working the channels, running in behind and making a general nuisance of himself.
Crowned the La Liga Young Player of the Year in 2021, Isak has come of age on the major stage for Sweden.
When a seemingly elite player contracted to a mid-table club team excels in a major international tournament, you can rest assured that the vultures will be circling.
Depending on which football media you consume, you may have already read/heard that Manuel Locatelli is poised to join Juventus as part of Max Allegri’s Turin revolution – at the time of writing, that deal was yet to be confirmed.
There will be plenty of competition for the 23-year-old’s signature, you suspect, given just how excellent he has been at Euro 2020 for Italy. Netting twice against Switzerland, Locatelli also trousered the Man of the Match award and looked top drawer with his passing, movement and general joie de vivre on the pitch.
Sassuolo are going to find it very difficult to hang onto their prized asset this summer.
Pressure? What pressure!
At 20-years-old, Mikkel Damsgaard has faced an almighty challenge already in his young career – replacing the stricken Christian Eriksen in the Denmark starting eleven.
Happily, Eriksen is making a good recovery and you suspect he will be watching on with pride as the young man who has filled his shoes performs so fearlessly.
Mikkel Damsgaard is the first ever player born in the 21st century to score at the EUROs 👶
— Goal (@goal) June 21, 2021
Damsgaard netted the opener against Russia and has been a quality, energetic presence for the Danes – will Sampdoria be able to cling on to their young asset with Barcelona rumoured to be circling?
There’s no doubt about it – Manchester United fans are yet to see the best from Daniel James.
The Welsh winger has the kind of pace that terrorises defenders, and yet he was only handed eleven Premier League starts by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2020/21.
His loss is Wales’ gain as James, fresh and firing, has been a pivotal figure in their run to the knockout stage. He has dovetailed perfectly with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in a front three capable of giving anybody a run for their money.
He, like the other four players on this list, can use Euro 2020 as a springboard for new successes in the future.