I thought it would be silly to talk about the likes of Isco, Thiago and Insigne as they have had their arses licked plenty by the commentators and casual onlookers of the tournament, not to say of course that they haven’t deserved it, and also just because the extent of their ability, the Spanish duo in particular, are clear for all to see. Marco Verratti (Italy & PSG) and Iñigo Martinez (Spain & Real Sociedad) are also quality players who have received more attention than most, and despite being a massive fan of both of these young players, they also will not make a prominent appearance in order to provide something new and exciting. Another heads up is not to expect any England players, but surely thats not surprising? None of them covered themselves in glory, so I would rather focus on the players who did when given the international platform to do so.
Luuk de Jong
The first player I’m looking at is a dutch forward I’ve really enjoyed watching. Luuk de Jong has shown great ability with regards to holding the ball up, but also poise and grace when in possession, although his slight lack of pace could be the only downfall. But, due to his completeness as a footballer, his combination of physical presence and impressive technical ability, I believe de Jong is the perfect striker for the favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, ubiquitous in modern day football. Furthermore, his great all round play and similarities with the current dutch number 9s van Persie and Huntelaar mean that there is no doubt he will soon have a prominent role to play for the Dutch national team and may even find himself at a more prestigious club than Borussia Monchengladbach by the end of the summer, especially if any of the many scouts surveying the tournament shared my sincere admiration for his talent.
John has shown glimpses that he may well develop into a very effective modern day winger due to his speedy, direct approach coupled with some occasional delicate touches, evident in his nonchalant chipped finish against Russia in the group stages. Again the flavour of the modern game is etched into his style of play, as he operates as an inverted winger, a right footer deployed on the left hand side, yet unlike Italy’s Insigne, John has the ability to use his other foot to an equally impressive standard and with this surprising strength on his weaker foot, John becomes, despite his age, a dynamic and unpredictable threat, something that has ensured his inclusion in this most recent article. One of two Benfica players making an appearance mentioned and after watching these players to a greater extent, it is no wonder they reached the Europa League final and almost succeeded in toppling Portuguese giants FC Porto in their domestic league, however due to this greater exposure of their players, whether they can retain the services of the likes of John will be an interesting feature of this summer’s transfer window.
Due to Germany’s early exit, some people may not have considered them to have an impressive team, or in fact felt they had seen enough of any of their players to commit to any judgements, however after watching Rudy for only this short amount of time, I am willing to say he has a very bright future ahead of him. He is very much in a Torsten Frings mould, a player marvelled at by the footballing world in the 2006 World Cup, but the similarities go further than the hair style as both are considered the strongest as deep lying playmakers, and Rudy’s performances in these championships were characterised by the attributes to synonymous with this role. Rudy showed an intelligence beyond his years in terms of his reading of the game as well as playing the right pass at the right time, a very underrated ability, and one that makes a massive difference in these age restricted tournaments and also merged a robust tackling style with an impeccable ball striking ability. Rudy’s controlling of the tempo was perpetual, due to his ability to regain possession as well as keeping it with his metronomic passing.
With all the focus on the Germany’s young gems in attack: Gotze, Reus, Kroos and company; Rudy’s undoubted talent may continue to go unnoticed, yet due to the success Frings had in the German national team, I have no doubt Sebastian Rudy will enjoy the same fame as his fellow young Germans in the years to come.
Despite having one of the best first touches in the tournament, Florenzi may not have caught everyone’s eye due to the prominence of Insigne and the unnecessary focus on Borini because of his affiliation with Liverpool. Florenzi has shown glimpses of pure class, an exquisite cross field pass on the volley against Israel first caught my attention and then his effort in the final against Spain exemplifying his deftness as well as impressive composure and technique embodied all of his top qualities in one moment. I recommend finding the highlights of the final to watch it yourself and marvel as he takes down a long pass perfectly, flicks it over an incoming Spanish defender’s head before unleashing a fierce strike at goal, which is well saved by the ever improving David de Gea. Florenzi plays for AS Roma and is surrounded by two of the best Italian players in Francisco Totti and Daniele de Rossi, and with their influence already evident through his fiery attitude and determination to help his teammates, I am sure that he will become a key player for the Serie A side or any other potential suitor.
Now people may disagree with this choice due to the fact that not only did Morata score more than Spain’s number 9 coming on from the bench, but Rodrigo himself only managed to score one goal in the entire tournament. However, watching Rodrigo play I believe he has the potential to be an excellent striker for Spain and was again very keen to watch him play at every possible moment. Rodrigo’s off the ball movement is perhaps his best attribute, always finding gaps in the channel between full back and centre half, giving himself time and space, but also pulling around the opposition and thus giving even more of it for his teammates to exploit. Yet, his leggy running style also grants him deceptive pace, being able to cover ground in lighting quick fashion, with seemingly little effort. However, this style of play that I have commended may in fact been the main reason he did not score many goals due to Spain’s tactical preferences and their inherent fixation on possession and relying on the attacking threat of their midfielders rather than their forwards. However, this paradox does not lessen Rodirgo’s claim to become Spain’s main centre forward in the future, especially if he manages to develop a poacher’s instinct, of which Morata displayed, as his overall game is far superior and provides multiple attacking threats.
Also, despite my dislike for Tottenham and obvious will for them to fail, I think with the pursuit of Damiao seeming to have reached a dead end, Rodrigo would be an excellent signing to solve their striking problems and although many would not have batted an eyelid during his loan spell at Bolton a few years back, if Rodrigo were to grace the Premier League once again, I bet a few more heads would be turned.
Last but certainly not least is probably one of my favourite players of the tournament, the holding midfielder Illarramendi. He absolutely oozes composure and is very much in the classic Spanish holding midfielder mould, even perhaps an amalgamation of all three current stars in that position. He possess the passing range of Xabi Alonso, the consistency and intelligence that I must reluctantly admit Busquets shows on occasion, and finally the relentless engine and tenacity that encapsulates all that is good about Bayern’s Javi Martinez. Illarramendi provides the platform for attack and stability without the ball, he has shown the intelligence, much like Rudy, to offload the ball to the right player at the right time whilst also showing an excellent first touch and, as mentioned in the first sentence, a composure beyond his years. No matter how tight the space, difficult the situation or how many players hassle him in possession, not only will he find a way out, but he also has the ability to capitalise on the space created from drawing in so many opposition players. I immediately declared my appreciation for this player to my brother, forcing him to watch Spain’s next games with me, pointing out his many talents at every possible opportunity, and with news surfacing that Arsenal may well and truly be interested in his services, my excitement levels about this particular player are reminiscent of a child on Christmas morning. Illarramendi’s signature would be a coup as not only would he be the natural successor to Mikel Arteta, this complete holding midfielder from the north of Spain already has the capabilities to cement a first team place in the majority of teams across Europe and no doubt will do in the Spanish national team.
All in all…
I think this European U21 Championship has left the footballing world purring with only a glimpse of the immense talents lining up to take hold of European football. Also when considering I have omitted the very best talents from this tournament, I don’t think I am wrong in saying that these have not only been the best U21 Championships of recent years, but have seen the birth of many future world class talents, in which I am extremely eager to see develop. Some may be too young or need more time to develop before making an appearance in next year’s World Cup, but the 2016 European Championship is shaping up to be a sensational display of footballing ability, with some performances from some familiar faces.