Germany’s Emre Can is just one of many players already making waves in domestic football.
The UEFA U21 European Championships kick off in the coming days, and there will be a plethora of talent on show.
Portugal, Germany and England look to have the most eye-catching crops of players, with many of their youngsters already on the roster of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. But the level of potential is high across the board, and all eight competitors are there on merit.
In many ways these tournaments can be even more exciting than their senior counterparts – with less pressure to succeed (getting knocked out of the U21 equivalent doesn’t hurt as bad as letting your nation down in a senior tournament) young players go out with the sole intention of catching the eye.
It breeds exciting, offensive football as Europe’s brightest stars will compete for attention on the international stage. While many of these players are either involved in, or on the fringes of, first-team senior football, the chance to showcase their talent will still be taken hungrily.
The tournaments themselves are often written off as meaningless, and at the end of the day the results may very well be. But while the score lines and winners of these tournaments may be less than prophetic, the potential to watch future stars be unearthed right before your eyes is at a consistently high level.
Joe Hart, Mesut Özil, Marco Verratti, Memphis Depay, Thiago Alcantara, Christian Eriksen, Nemanja Matić – just to name a few – are current world-renowned stars who, within the last six years, have all made appearances at the U21 European Championships.
All of these, among many others, came into this tournament with nothing but potential to their name. They left with sky-rocketing reputations and Europe’s elite clubs looking at securing their signatures.
Spain’s U21 side took home the trophy in 2013 – many players are now senior internationals.
It makes for an exciting spectacle, with players giving everything they have to stand out.
Make no mistake – the level of talent in the U21 age bracket can be wildly unpredictable. Some of the brightest prospects will peter out, unfulfilled potential forever lost for reasons unknown. However, the mere chance that some of these players could be special makes it more than worth the watch.
Luis Figo, Zinédine Zidane and Fabio Cannavaro; three players with common ground – all have featured at this very tournament, and all have a Ballon d’Or and the title of the world’s best player to their name.
There could be another in this current crop of players who will go on the emulate these legends – the fun is in trying to find them.