Ronaldo, Bale and Ibrahimovich will undoubtedly headline the Euro 2016 tournament, but you’d do well to keep an eye on these young guns too.
Born to an Olympic medal-winning gymnast mother and a professional footballer, odds on Leroy Sane being a sportsman were always pretty short. However, very few would have anticipated the kind of impact he has already had. All of 20, Sane has already played close to 50 matches for his club, Schalke, as well as representing Germany internationally. Sane has caught the attention of the big clubs in Europe with his ability on the ball, and his intelligence off it. In a German midfield brimming with world-class talent, expect Sane to more than hold his own.
What were you doing at 19? I’ll tell you what I was — I was struggling to keep my place on the left wing of my locality’s football side. Well, then there’s Kingsley Coman. The Frenchman, at 19, has already won the French, Italian and German leagues and will look to add the European Championship to that list this month. Blessed with searing pace and eye-catching dribbling skills, Coman has played against, and got the better of, some of the biggest defenders in Europe. He’s definitely one of the next big things in world football.
‘Martial Flaw’ screamed The Sun’s headline the day after Manchester United bought a rarely heard-of 19-year-old French striker, Anthony Martial, in a deal potentially worth £58 million. Ten months on, Martial is well on his wayto repaying that investment. One of the very few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy season for United, Martial finished with 11 goals, including one in the FA Cup final, and a brilliant one on his debut against the old enemy, Liverpool. In the absence of Karim Benzema, France will look to Martial for goals at the Euros, and if his track record so far is any yardstick, he’ll deliver.
In a Spain squad struggling to hit the highs of the World Cup and back-to-back European Championships, Alvaro Morata’s role as the main striker, playing ahead of (still) one of the most talented midfields in Europe will be key. Having proven himself as one of the best young strikers around, with two Serie A titles with Juventus, this will Morata’s first major tournament with the senior Spain side, and one he will have to bring his A-game to for his country to do a three-peat.
You know someone’s a special talent when the notoriously parsimonious Arsene Wenger decides to pay market value. The Arsenal manager has reportedly spent £35 million to sign the 23-year-old hard-tackling Swiss midfielder of Albanian origin. Xhaka is key to Switzerland’s hopes of qualifying from a group that will include a duel with his brother Taulant, who represents Albania.
He’s 18, has played all of 24 matches for his club Benfica, and has just been snapped up by Bayern Munich in a move worth €45 million. Widely regarded as the best talent to come out of Portugal since Cristiano Ronaldo, Sanches is a central midfielder who likes to get on the ball and drive his team forward. Born to parents from Cape Verde, his transfer fee to Munich is almost half his native country’s total GDP. Remember the name.
In March of this year, German champions Bayern Munich were in the midst of a terrible injury crisis, with their first-choice centre back pairing on the sidelines. Manager Pep Guardiola decided to stick hardly-heard-of youngster Joshua Kimmich in the heart of defence in the biggest game in Germany — against Borussia Dortmund. What followed was a masterclass from the 21-year-old German. Kimmich finished the game with 123 touches and a 94.7 per cent pass completion, shutting out one of the most fearsome attacking trios in Europe. After the game, his manager said, “I told Kimmich he’s perhaps one of the best centre-backs in the world.” Named in the prelim squad for the Euros, if Kimmich does make it to France, expect a few more football luminaries to praise him.
Nothing can be more certain than death, taxes and the England football team being hyped as potential champions of any tournament they’re playing in. Little wonder then, that the hype train has been set in mwotion about Roy’s boys winning a tournament they’ve never won before. In Tottenham Hotspurs’ Dele Alli, though, England have a player who could be a true superstar. With a stellar debut Premier League season behind him, where he was voted the Young Player of the Year, Alli will hope he can continue that form for his country.