Euro 2016 was an interesting tournament in terms of storylines, but the football on the pitch was uninspiring at times. As with every world tournament though, there are the few youngsters who improve and put themselves on the world map. This year was no different. There were a number of young players who were immense throughout the Euros. In this piece, we’ll be looking at the 10 best youngsters of Euro 2016.
Left Back // 22 // Portugal // Borussia Dortmund
It’s no wonder why Guerreiro was voted into the UEFA Team of the Tournament, as he was by far the best left-back in Euro 2016. More of an unknown quantity amongst Portuguese fans, he was defensively solid, showing intelligence in bombing forward with a killer of a left foot. Fans were clamouring for Guerreiro to be put on free-kick duty ahead of star man Ronaldo and it’s no wonder why (he hit the crossbar from a free-kick in the final). The Parisian native was a star in last year’s U-21 Euros and he’s been a revelation again a year later. He’s justified the €12million fee Dortmund shelled out for him a few weeks back, a price that could be a bargain soon. It looks like Portugal have their left-back spot sorted for the next decade.
Centre Back // 22 // France // Barcelona
If not for injuries Umtiti wouldn’t have been at the Euros. If not for a suspension to Adil Rami he wouldn’t have played against Iceland. To make your international debut in a knockout game at home is already a scary prospect, but at the age of 22, this fear may be even further heightened. Umtiti struggled a bit versus a physical, aggressive Iceland, but he showed remarkable composure and assurance in possession versus Germany, putting in a superb defensive show, shutting out the mighty Germans. Umtiti is a great prospect and is one of the talented young French centre-backs in world football. He’s left the Euros with a heightened reputation and a big money €25million move to Spanish giants Barcelona. On the basis of his Euros, he’ll be able to make it big there.
Right Back // 21 // Germany // Bayern Munich
The past year has been a whirlwind for the young Joshua Kimmich. Joining the Bavarian giants in the summer of 2015, he’s grown from strength to strength in a quality side. And he’s brought that form to France too – while not a starter in the first two games, Low gave him a go at right-back in the final group stage match v Northern Ireland, replacing the more experienced Howedes. He stayed there till the semifinal, putting in a consistent show. Solid in a strong defense, he also contributed to the attack down the right flank, putting in some dangerous crosses. A versatile player who can play in defensive midfield, right-back and centre-back, he is very comfortable on the ball and it has shown throughout the tournament, capped off by a place in the official Team of the Tournament. A ray of sunshine in a disappointing German side and who knows, Germany may have found their long-term replacement to the great Lahm.
Defensive Midfield // 22 // England // Tottenham Hotspur
Dier has grown leaps and bounds this season, and you couldn’t imagine he was a centre-back on the fringes of Tottenham a year ago. Ignoring his abysmal show versus Iceland (to be fair, everyone played badly barring Rashford), Dier was one of the better performers in an average and out-of-form English midfield in the group stages. He was excellent in the 1-1 draw vs Russia, capped off by a free-kick no one thought he had in his locker. He was also very good creatively v Slovakia, setting up Sturridge twice. Claims that Dier is equal to Busquets are way off the mark but Dier has a great future going ahead.
*It was a toss-up between Dier and Albania’s Elseid Hysaj for a spot. While I’ve gone with the Englishman, I’ll still give a nod to Hysaj, who was very consistent at right-back in an average Albanian side and who has a great future ahead of him.
Midfield // 18 // Portugal // Bayern Munich
A real powerhouse in midfield. He’s been so good, that people have questioned his age (ridiculously). He’s only 18? In 8 months the Portuguese has gone from a first-team debut with Benfica to a move to Bayern potentially worth €80million to the Young Player of the Euros award. Used as a substitute initially, he shot into stardom when he put in a busy and bustling midfield performance vs Croatia in the Round of 16, assisting Quaresma’s late goal and winner. He wasn’t done there, with an even better performance versus Poland, in which he scored his first national goal and broke a stew of age-related records, earning a WhoScored rating of 9.08 for that game. He earned the Man of the Match award in both games. His stamina has been phenomenal and his confidence belies his age. Manchester United will rue missing out on his signature, that’s for sure. A star in the making, and the world is at his feet now.
Midfield // 20 // Hungary // Ferencváros
Nagy was one of the breakout stars in this tournament and is a reason for Hungarian fans to be hopeful of future international success after their showing this Euros. There were doubts whether he would be able to translate his club form from a weak league to a more competitive stage, but he squashed any such doubts after a strong showing for the Hungarians. He was remarkably consistent, running the show in midfield in a solid side. He’s emerged with a lot of credit and plaudits from all over. Nagy has naturally generated interest from clubs in the big leagues, notably Marseille and Bologna, but the hope is he can find a club where he can continue to play and develop. A real prospect to look out for in the coming years.
Midfield // 19 // Poland // Cracovia
Kapustka makes it into this team on the basis of his performance versus Northern Ireland. I chose to go with the Pole for his relative obscurity. Not many knew him before the tournament, but his performance received rave reviews from pundits and fans all over. He was phenomenal, showing off his technical ability and his confidence on the ball. He didn’t reach similar heights again as he only came on for 10 minutes vs Germany, while in the Ukraine game he started and was competent throughout. He did pick up a yellow which ruled him out of the Switzerland knockout game. However, it is tough to be overly critical of such a young talent. Kapustka is a major part of Poland’s future and Cracovia will find it tough to keep hold of him this summer.
Left Wing // 18 // Turkey // Borussia Dortmund
Just a few weeks ago, Mor was a Danish youth player impressing at FC Nordsjælland. He’s now a Turkey national who’s just joined Borussia Dortmund. It’s been a rapid ascent, but that’s down to his talent. Turkey fast-tracked him into the national side and they’ll be glad they did. I could have gone with Julian Draxler, who was more impressive this Euros, but Mor was one of the breakout stars. In a dull and woeful Turkish side, Mor was the singular ray of sunshine. He came on as a sub against Croatia and was immediately impactful, making some good runs, using his pace and energy to run at the Croatian defence. It was too late, but it was confusing how he wasn’t given a chance in a 3-0 defeat v Spain. Against Czech Republic though, a star was born. He was brilliant, a threat throughout and displayed his impressive dribbling skills. Mor was the best player for the Turks despite his age and clearly inspired the team. He has a bright future at Dortmund, and if he develops well, the Turks will have a world-beater on their hands.
Centre Forward // 21 // Slovakia // Legia Warsaw
Duda was in the shadow of the more illustrious Marek Hamsik throughout the campaign but let that not distract you from his performances this tournament. He only played 155 minutes in three appearances, but he put in a strong showing in all three. He scored in the loss versus Wales, coming on as a sub and bringing freshness to the attack. The coach decided to shuffle things up for the Russia game and change to a 4-6-0, starting Duda as a centre-forward. He was excellent in that game, working deep to collect balls from midfield, doing the dirty work to support Hamsik. He ran nearly 10km in those 67 minutes of game time, a nod to his energy and stamina in the midfield. He brought flexibility to the attack, playing out of his comfort zone. In the next game versus England, he harried and pressed the English with energy. Duda played as per his manager’s wishes and that is an excellent trait. Warsaw will find it tough to keep him this summer, and Duda can now reflect on an excellent, underrated tournament.
Right Wing // 19 // France // Bayern Munich
After the French recover from the disappointment of losing a home final, they’ll realise their future is actually very bright. They have a host of young talent coming up in most positions, and Kingsley Coman is one of those. Coman has already been at three top clubs (PSG, Juventus and Bayern), and his talent is unquestionable. While he naturally was unable to break into the French attacking trident, he was often the port of call for Didier Deschamps as he looked to shuffle things about at half time or at the hour mark. Coman brought pace and directness to the side and often made France look better than they were before. He was a regular super sub, making the impact he was expected to. Coman has a bright future ahead of him at Bavaria and is destined to be a major part of France’s success going forward.