By Chris Wright
Woo! Young guns having some fun, crazy ladies keep ’em on… *ahem*. Here’s our list of the top ten tyros we’ll be watching with great interest over the course of the European Championships this summer. Starting, as is custom, with number one…
1. Kevin Strootman, Holland: Coming in off the back of an impressive season with PSV, Strootman is primed for a good showing in Poland and Ukraine but, as the Dutch midfield is rather clogged up with more experienced options, he may be left providing ‘competition’ at best – which is a damn shame. Holland coach Bert Van Marwijk has already lauded Strootman’s passing abilities and he’s not wrong; the 22-year old has a fine range. Couple that with a tall, sturdy physique, exceptional ball rentention and incredible vision and you’ve got yourself a humdinger of a midfield casserole.
2. Christian Eriksen, Denmark: Hardly a secret anymore, the Danish waif – rejected by Chelsea in 2008 for being ‘too weak’ – has since blossomed into a coveted commodity in European footballing circles with Ajax. Sprightly, skillful and creative, the 20-year old attacking midfielder from Middelfart (stop sniggering at the back) comes with the Dennis Bergkamp seal of approval – which makes him okay by us. Will no doubt be mentioned in passing with most of the continent’s elite should he put in an eye-catching shift or two in Poland and Ukraine.
3. Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Greece: Having gone from strength to strength since making his Olympiakos debut aged just 15, Schalke’s lantern-jawed centre-half is coming into the tournament off the back of a rock solid season in the Bundesliga – forming a dynamic defensive pairing with the more adventurous Joel Matip which sees 20-year old Papadopoulos providing the unwavering muscle with definite shades of Vidic.
The statuesque Greek centre-half has come a long way in his short career; becoming the youngest player to ever play in the Greek league (15 years, 283 days) and making the UEFA European U19 Championship team of the tournament aged just 16 before making the move to the Bundesliga.
4. Marvin Martin, France: With the increasingly patchy Yoann Gourcuff deemed to be not worth the gamble by coach Laurent Blanc this summer, France’s central play-making duties may well be handed to 24-year old Sochaux midfield hub Martin – a man who has been attracting swathes of Premier League attention for a good while now due to his ability to just keep things ticking along nicely before threading that pass.
While we’re here; He may be positively middle-aged in footballing terms, but 26-year old French right-back Mathieu Debuchy is also pretty much nailed on to have his profile boosted at the Euros too – especially as first-choice Bacary Sagna is crocked for the duration.
5. Marco Reus, Germany: The Germans have an enviable flock of young, flitting attacking midfielders at their disposal, with Mario Goetze and Andre Schurrle (not to mention Mesut Ozil!) also in contention for a place on this list. However, we’ve plumped for 23-year old Reus simply because he’s the most aggressively direct of the three. There’s a good chance he won’t get a game given his competition, but Reus is fleet of foot, has a smooth technique and certainly ‘likes to have a go’ – definitely worth keeping an eye on should he be handed a few minutes to impress here and there.
6. Andriy Yarmolenko, Ukraine: One thing is almost guaranteed; at some point before England play Ukraine, the camera will settle on 22-year old Yarmolenko warming up and the old ‘young man who carries the hopes of a nation’ spiel will probably be trotted out, what with Ukraine being the co-hosts and all.
Andriy Shevchenko has formally recommended him to AC Milan this summer, which is a fairly good mark of his talent all things considered. Skillful, versatile (can play on the left or through the middle) and a dab hand in front of goal – he’s pretty much the gilded prince of Ukrainian football as things stand along with highly-prized ambidextrous full-back Yaroslav Rakitskiy, who you may also want to keep ’em peeled for.
7. Ilkay Gundogan, Germany: Slightly deeper in Germany’s midfield will hopefully sit 21-year old Ilkay Gundogan – who, we have to say, we are huge admirers of here at Pies given our penchant for the classy, understated midfield patroller. A far more expressive, adventurous and tidy player than Sami Khedira, but without the high-profile employers. Again, the Dortmund spoiler isn’t overly likely to get a chance this summer as he probably isn’t quite ready for a starting berth in a major tournament, but we sincerely hope Jogi Loew gives him a run-out or two.
8. Alan Dzagoev, Russia: It’d be remiss not to mention Dzagoev as he represents Russia’s brightest beacon as far as their next generation is concerned. Still only 21 despite having been around for yonks now, Dzagoev is usually deployed as an advanced attacking midfielder-cum-No.10 (he’s better off when he drifts in from the flanks) and was Russia’s top-scorer in qualifying. Clever, intricate and adept from set-pieces. He’s a pleasure to watch and is willing to do the graft and put the hard yards in, the only reservations being a slight slump in form over the past several months and a niggling toe injury.
9. Sotiris Ninis, Greece: Not the kind of player you’d immediately associate with the Greek national team, 22-year old Ninis is a spindly, tricksy winger with pace coming out of his you-know-where. After excelling at Panathinaikos (becoming their youngest ever captain at one point), a move to Manchester United was thought to be on the cards once upon a time – but he joined Parma with a strange lack of fanfare or competition for his signature back in March. He’s currently struggling with a shoulder knack (presumably from all the juggling?) but all the signs suggest he’ll be fit for the tournament.
10. Jetro Willems, Holland: Here’s our wildcard entry. A buccaneering beefcake of a left-back from PSV, 18-year old Jetro has the kind of dynamic name that suits his style. He only made his full international debut a few days ago, but with Wilfred Bouma and Erik Pieters nursing injuries, the Dutch left-back spot is up for grabs. We’re guessing a more senior compatriot will deputise (Stijn Schaars is favourite to drop in), but Willems is certainly pushing. He’s also the youngest player to be going to Euro 2012 being, as he is, a few months younger than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He was born in 1994, how depressing is that?
Any young’ns you’re looking forward to seeing in Poland and Ukraine this summer Pies fans? Shoot…