The next stars: 10 breakout players to watch at Euro 2016
Euro 2016 in France will supply the summer's biggest stage in world football, and it's an opportunity for some players on the rise to showcase their talents and capitalize. Scouting has come a long way since the days when clubs would discover a new talent for the first time at a World Cup or a major tournament such as the Euros, so there will be no unknown players in action over the next few weeks. But for these young players, the next month represents a chance to make a major impact and vault themselves to the top of summer shopping lists around the continent.
Here are the players, some of whom have already made a splash on the club level, to look out for over the next four weeks:
Kingsley Coman (France, winger)
O.K., so playing for Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich and starring in a Champions League round-of-16 win over Juventus hardly puts you under the radar. But Coman is a rookie at the international level, with only three appearances to his name before he was named in Didier Deschamps’s squad.
His presence alongside another 19-year-old, Anthony Martial, has been compared to that of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet at the 1998 World Cup; neither started in that tournament but both took penalties in the quarterfinal win over Italy. Coman has been slated as replacement for Franck Ribery for club and country, and the talented youngster, who has already been on the books of Juventus and PSG, could come up big for France on home soil.
He set up Blaise Matuidi with a beautiful run and cross in last week’s friendly win over Cameroon.
Breel Embolo (Switzerland, forward)
The 19-year-old was born in Cameroon but represents where he plays for perennial champion FC Basel. Wolfsburg bid €27 million for the powerful center forward in the January transfer window–it was turned down–and suitors linked to him this summer have included Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Tottenham, though latest reports suggest newly promoted Bundesliga side Red Bull Leipzig will sign him for closer to €20 million plus bonuses.
“He plays with a vivacity, power and cleverness that uplift those around him and enable him to thrive in a variety of positions,” wrote The Guardian of Embolo when he was only 17. He is not a guaranteed starter in the Switzerland lineup, but with Josip Drmic out injured and Haris Seferovic not consistent, Embolo may get his chance in a front three flanked by Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Julian Draxler (Germany, midfield)
Still only 22, Draxler has been called the future star of Germany for many years now. He has shown his ability in the Champions League, taking apart Real Madrid while at Schalke and destroying Manchester United last season with Wolfsburg. Juventus balked at singing him a year ago because of concerns over an old knee injury; with Germany players dropping like flies, Draxler could have a chance to impress in France.
He has the talent; the question is whether he will get the opportunity.
Arkadiusz Milik (Poland, forward)
Robert Lewandowski doesn’t do it all on his own for Poland, you know. Milik scored against Germany and Scotland in Euro 2016 qualifying and has adjusted to his role as a second striker well. Prolific for Ajax in the last two seasons (he scored 24 goals in 42 games this season), that Milik has settled quickly into international football is down to coach Adam Nawalka, who was his coach at Gornik Zabrze in 2011. The pair gets on well, and Milik is a willing learner, keen to improve.
He has decent teachers at Ajax, where the assistant coach is Dennis Bergkamp. Outgoing first-team coach Frank de Boer has compared him to previous Ajax stars Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Luis Suarez.
“Our team needs both strikers playing together and in the near future, they can form one of the deadliest attacks in Europe,” said Poland’s technical director Tomasz Iwan.
A decent summer, and Milik could be on the move in July.
Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal, left back)
Guerreiro was born in France and spent his whole career playing in France, but was called up to Portugal’s Under-21s in 2013 after scouts realized he qualified through his Portuguese mother. Guerreiro soon made his mark, and helped the team reach the final of the Under-21 European Championship last summer. By then, he was a regular left back at Lorient, where he built a reputation for scoring and assisting from that position. In only his second senior Portugal appearance, he scored a late winner against Argentina.
Now 22, Guerreiro has been linked to Liverpool, but it appears that Borussia Dortmund might be ahead in the race to sign him. With Fabio Coentrao injured and ruled out of Euro 2016, this is Guerreiro’s chance to cement his place; the curling free kick he scored in last week’s friendly against Norway suggests he may even get the odd set piece to take. If Ronaldo lets him, we’ll know he’s the real deal.
Arnor Traustason (Iceland, winger)
One of the stars of IFC Norkopping’s unlikely title win in Sweden, with seven goals and 1- assists, 22-year-old left-winger Traustason is only a recent call-up by Lars Lagerback and Heimur Helgasson. A graduate of Iceland’s Under-17 and Under-19 sides, the pacey winger has been linked with a summer switch to Serie A side Palermo.
He is likely to start Euro 2016 on the bench but could be an interesting impact sub for a side that could cause a shock in Group F.
Vladimir Darida (Czech Republic, midfield)
The midfielder is central to coach Pavel Vrba’s plans, and he's one of the few players who is not based in the domestic league. He was part of Vrba’s title-winning Viktoria Plzen side that twice reached the Champions League group stage. The diminutive tackler was linked to Real Madrid earlier this season but claimed he was happy where he was. Back then, his Hertha Berlin team was in the Champions League positions; it dropped away at the end of the season, and a step up seems likely for the 25-year-old sooner rather than later.
Victor Lindelof (Sweden, center back)
Sweden used to be well-known for producing solid and reliable center backs–think of Olof Mellberg, Patrik Andersson and Johan Mjallby–but the "Zlatanization" of the team has produced more narcssistic wingers who don’t like passing the ball. Lindelof is a throwback to the past. He played for Sweden’s Under-21 European Championship-winning side last summer and had a breakout season with Portuguese champion Benfica.
Around $600,000 in payments from Benfica have helped his former club, third-division Vasteras, come out of debt for the first time in 10 years, and the Swedish minnow can expect a further 20% of any fee should Benfica choose to sell.
Adam Nagy (Hungary, midfield)
Hungary coach Bernd Storck has not been afraid to throw in youngsters during his reign, and his selection of Laszlo Kleinheisler, who scored on debut in the qualifying playoff win over Norway, was inspired. He also threw in Nagy, 20, to replace the suspended Zoltan Gera, and the youngster has kept his place ever since. A two-footed player who honed his skills playing futsal, Nagy ended his first full season with Ferencvaros as a league champion, and looks set to follow ex-Ferencvaros star Mo Besic (Everton) to a bigger league.
Aleksandr Golovin (Russia, forward)
The main beneficiary of CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky replacing Fabio Capello mid-qualifying campaign, 20-year-old Golovin started the season as an impact sub for CSKA but graduated to a key starting position. He also made his first two international appearances for Russia, and scored in both, in wins over Belarus and Lithuania. Twelve months after starring for Russia Under-19s in its run to the European Championship final, Golovin is a contender to start for Russia but is more likely to be used a dangerous weapon from the bench.