The Under-21 European Championships is perhaps the most underrated and under-appreciated tournament in world football.
The future stars of our beautiful game step onto the field, where they take centre stage – the protagonists and heroes of an entire nation, cheering on the next generation of wonderkids.
Some of the participants have already made their name on the senior stage for either club or country, and others are waiting for their moment to burst into the public eye.
But who are the stars to keep a close eye on in this 2021 edition of the Euros, ahead of the fast-approaching group stages, which kick off on March 24?
90min runs through some of the players you need to mark down as ‘one to watch.’
If you even semi-followed the summer transfer window, then you’ll have heard of Houssem Aouar. The Frenchman is already an established Ligue 1 superstar, and is destined to be a household name around Europe for the next decade.
Enjoy him tearing it up at Under-21 level.
Everyone who’s played FIFA or Football Manager knows how good virtual Myron Boadu is, but how many of us have watched him play in real life? This is the perfect time to do so.
If there are two clubs that know top talent when they smell it, it’s Ajax and RB Leipzig. Brian Bobbey started in the Netherlands and is moving to Germany in the summer, and we are all dying to see what the fuss is about in the European group stages.
Pace, power, technique and finesse, this boy is insanely good.
It can only be a sign of encouragement if you’re being linked with a switch to Real Madrid, and that’s the story for 18-year-old midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.
Another magician off of the French production line.
Brahim Diaz is a superstar waiting to be unlocked, and the attacking midfielder’s CV of Manchester City, Madrid and Milan only confirms his status as a wonderkid in wait.
Igor Diveev is a brick wall at the back for CSKA Moscow, and at only 20 years of age, he’s already commanding and leading with authority. One to admire – and to fear.
Radu Dragusin is highly rated in Italy, having made his Juventus league debut in December 2020. There’s a lot of competition ahead of him, but he’s now got the chance to show his skills to the watching eyes of the world.
Despite Crystal Palace supporters enduring an incredibly nervy season, combined with possessing the most boring squad in history, they have been blessed with one shining light. Eberechi Eze is a street footballer, and one of the most skilful in the business.
Put your feet up and enjoy.
Vejle striker Wahid Faghir is a 17-year-old star in the making – and he knows it. His talent (combined with his exuding confidence) has led the Dane to be compared with self-proclaimed God/Lion Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It’s a huge compliment – in terms of football ability, that’s for sure.
The last couple of times Man Utd signed a player from Sporting Lisbon, it’s worked out pretty well for them. They’re believed to be interested in Pedro Goncalves, so let’s just hand him the title of future Ballon d’Or winner now, shall we?
England boast a real gem in Mason Greenwood. The Three Lions are stacked in the attacking options department at the moment, but they may need to make space for this Manchester United star in the next couple of years.
He won’t be denied.
He may not have been as prolific this season, but Jonathan Ikone is extremely coveted in Ligue 1. He’s been linked with moves away from Lille in the past, and those rumours aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.
The biggest compliment you can pay Curtis Jones this season, is that he has slotted into what was the best team in England with genuine ease. He’s a baller in the Liverpool midfield, and a joyful player to watch in full flow.
Justin Kluivert’s career stagnated somewhat at AS Roma, but he is still considered one of the top young prospects in Europe. Now at RB Leipzig, he is showing that he has the makings to follow in his father’s huge footsteps.
Ibrahima Konate is another top, top French defender, and if he were any other nationality, he’d probably be in the senior squad by now. Patience is a virtue, though.
At 23 years of age, Teun Koopmeiners is one of the grandads of this tournament, but it’s that experience which makes him so dangerous. He’s an excellent box-to-box midfielder, and he’ll be in the shop window for Europe’s elite over the coming weeks.
It is simply frightening that France are able to field an £70m-rated centre-back in their Under-21 side, but that’s the strength in depth they possess. Jules Kounde is a Sevilla star, but he may not be there much longer…
He may only be 22, but Diogo Leite is making waves in Portuguese football. Learning alongside one of football’s best ever centre-backs, Pepe, the youngster is receiving the greatest possible education to become an elite defender.
Lovro Majer has been on Europe’s radar for some time now, and his stock is only going to rise with an impressive showing at Euro 2021. He’s already got three goals in five league games for Dinamo Zagreb this season, all from midfield.
Oscar Mingueza has been thrust into the spotlight at a Barcelona side in turmoil this year, but he has come out of this hellish spell with plenty of respect and admirers.
That top-flight experience will do him the world of good at the heart of Spain’s defence.
This kid is already making a name for himself as one of the most exciting strikers in world football. Youssoufa Moukoko has broken into the Borussia Dortmund first team, scoring three goals in his brief cameos.
Ready to make the platform his own.
Is there a more difficult job in football than filling in for the departed Erling Haaland? Noah Okafor has been tasked with that role, but he’s proving to be another wonderkid on the RB Salzburg conveyer belt.
Andrea Pinamonti rose through the ranks of international football with Italy, scoring a cheeky panenka penalty in the Under-20 World Cup. He also reached the Under-19’s Euro 2018 final, and will hope to go one better and lift the trophy with the Under-21s this year.
Riqui Puig has transformed from boy to footballing prodigy in Barcelona’s La Masia academy, and his first-team displays have given us enough evidence to believe he can take this Euro 2021 by storm with Spain.
Italy is full stocked up with a number of exciting attacking options, but keep one eye on Giacomo Raspadori, a young forward learning his trade at Sassuolo, under one of the most progressive and adventurous coaches in football, Roberto De Zerbi.
Nicolo Rovella has impressed Serie A viewers with his tenacious and stylish midfield performances for Genoa this season, and they were also enough to convince Juventus to splash €18m on the 19-year-old.
What’s all the hype? You’ll find out soon enough.
Goodness, don’t all these brilliantly talented French midfielders just make you sick? Boubakary Soumare is killing it for Lille this season, so it’s no surprise they’re top of the league.
Standing six feet and two inches tall, he’s a colossus in the midfield.
Sandro Tonali has long been monikered ‘the new Pirlo’, but his first year at big boys Milan has been underwhelming, to say the least. Still, he’ll be the top cat in the alley in this tournament, so expect his personality to shine through.
Barcelona starlet Trincao is the man many at Camp Nou hope will take over from Lionel Messi when the Blaugrana legend eventually leaves or retires.
No pressure then.
The comparisons between Gonzalo Villar and a certain Andres Iniesta are in full flow in the Italian capital. Roma know they’ve got a diamond in their hands, and it’s time he gracefully strutted his stuff on the international stage.
A very exciting and classy midfielder.