A major international tournament is a huge opportunity for players on the fringes of stardom to announce themselves as the main attraction.
What a delayed Euro 2020 has done is buy some of Europe’s most exciting young players more time.
Renato Sanches was crowned Best Young Player at Euro 2016 and it got him a move to Bayern
Another season under their belts, attention from Europe’s elite is intensifying and they will all be under no illusions that a stand-out tournament can see their value rocket.
Naturally, there will plenty of attention on Spain, Portugal, Italy and England but do not sleep on some of the so-called ‘smaller’ nations to see real talent.
From Eljif Elmas at North Macedonia to a Derby County midfielder looking to shine for Paulo Sousa’s Poland, Sportsmail picks out 10 young players ready to catch the eye…
Nuno Mendes (Portugal)
Age: 18 Club: Sporting Lisbon
The only teenager on this list, Mendes is ready-made for the bright lights and if he does start to get blinded, it’s not bad having Cristiano Ronaldo to call on for advice this summer.
The Sporting Lisbon left back appears to have the trust of Santos in the national team set-up and Mendes will expect to be given ample opportunities this summer.
His £63million release clause will not put off any of Europe’s elite if he separates himself from the rest of the full-backs on show.
Nuno Mendes (left) is just 18 but is playing well beyond his teenage years for club and country
Mendes appears to suit a wing-back role more than full-back but, no bother, he is comfortable in possession, has good speed to his game and is very attack-minded which will help keep Portugal on the front foot.
He needs to work on increasing his assist total – he has just one goal and one assist in 25 league games this season – but all he needs is a purple patch this summer to convince.
Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool are all reported to be interested – the rest is up to him.
Myron Boadu (Holland)
Age: 20 Club: AZ Alkmaar
Were it not for Covid-19 cutting short last season’s Eredivisie, Boadu may well have had a winners’ medal around his neck.
In the end they just missed out but it was not down to the attacker’s contribution.
Boadu finished 2019-20 with 14 goals and eight assists in 24 league games. He added six goals in the Europa League.
Twelve goals and two assists this season in all competitions is a drop off but he still remains right there on the cusp of making Frank de Boer’s Oranje squad this summer.
Myron Boadu is being challenged to be selfish in front of goal if he is to thrive for Holland
Six goals in his last eight league matches shows he is finding form at just the right time and one of the criticisms at Alkmaar is that he is not selfish enough, too often kindly deferring to team-mates.
The key now is his attitude. He was told last summer just how much Europe’s top clubs wanted him – AC Milan are reportedly very keen on him – and he would do well to follow the advice of AZ Alkmaar’s finest.
Alkmaar’s all-time leading scorer Kees Kist told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf in January, when quizzed on Boadu’s drop-off this season: ‘Myron has to show more character, show more guts and poison. There is no fanaticism. He must be much sharper.’
Andreas Skov Olsen (Denmark)
Age: 21 Club: Bologna
When Skov Olsen came off the bench to score a brace against Austria last month, there was suddenly a flurry of Google searches made for the young winger from Hillerød, Denmark.
Those of Serie A are familiar with the 21-year-old from his time with Bologna, working under Sinisa Mihajlovic, but few outside of the Italian football cognoscenti are all that familiar with his game.
Just two goals and two assists in Serie A this season is little to gloat about but he will unquestionably be in attendance for the Euros this summer having made a lasting impression for Denmark.
Andreas Skov Olsen is a dark horse for breakout star of the tournament with Denmark
Three goals in five games has shown his natural adaptation to the international game and now the challenge is: give us more, take the team on your back to ease the burden on players like Christian Eriksen.
It helps that national team boss Kasper Hjulmand worked with him previously and there is a growing sense in Scandinavia that a star could well be born in this tournament.
‘I’ve known him for a long time,’ Hjulmand said after Skov Olsen’s Austria brace. ‘I know what he can do. I have seen him grow and he is going to grow further from here.’
An exciting talent most definitely.
Alexander Isak (Sweden)
Age: 21 Club: Real Sociedad
The Robin to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Batman.
For all his quirks – and his undoubted God-complex – there are few better teachers and strike partners to show you the ropes like the AC Milan star.
However, with Ibrahimovic ruled out of this summer’s Euros, the hopes now rests on the young shoulders of Isak.
Name any top club in Europe and they will be following Isak’s progress. Everyone is – and it’s for good reason.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) serves as a key mentor in unlocking Alexander Isak’s (left) potential
His contract at Sociedad runs until 2024 but an impressive Euros could see them cash in with stock at its highest.
Isak has 14 goals in LaLiga this season, placing him sixth in the league behind Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Gerard Moreno and Youssef En-Nesyri. Only one of those players is not currently involved in the title race – Moreno – and so Isak is in esteemed company.
There remains a rawness that Isak needs to iron out. For one, he could be much more clinical and Ibrahimovic should help as a mentor, even if he doesn’t play. Two, his strengths against savvy defenders has also been questioned on occasion
‘I will put pressure on the other players,’ Ibrahimovic, returning from retirement for this tournament, said last month, ‘so that they push themselves to perform even more.’
Eljif Elmas (North Macedonia)
Age: 21 Club: Napoli
For those that were betting on keeping Elmas under the radar all the way through to Euro 2020 had their cover blown when he left Germany speechless in defeat to his North Macedonia.
Five minutes remaining and the score locked at 1-1 it was Napoli midfielder Elmas who was sharpest and he struck to secure a truly famous result for his nation.
Much is expected of the 21-year-old and if North Macedonia are to continue upsetting the odds, he will need to deliver on each of the expectations.
Eljif Elmas’ winner against Germany recently put the rest of Europe on red alert at his talent
‘I am happy that Elmas is in a great club like Napoli,’ North Macedonia boss Igor Angelovski told reporters last year.
‘I hope that he will develop even more in the national team. I say this because I expect a lot from him, he can be a leader.’
Leeds were reportedly turned away when pushing for Elmas 12 months ago and that figure of around £22m may not scratch the surface now for a player that is a mainstay for Napoli – 41 games in all competitions this season saying as much.
His stock continues to rise and rise and it won’t be long before club executives are scrambling for their chequebook.
Alessandro Bastoni (Italy)
Age: 22 Club: Inter Milan
A title winner with Inter for the first time in his career, Bastoni is making football look far easier than it ought to be but it speaks to the class of the young defender.
His current deal expires in 2023 and the talk in Italy is that Inter are desperate to tie him to an even longer deal amid growing interest from England and Spain.
Rated around the £50m figure, a strong showing at the Euros for Roberto Mancini’s side could cause mayhem in the transfer market with young centre backs in high demand.
Manchester United, for one, are looking for a long-term partner to Harry Maguire.
Alessandro Bastoni can ‘be the next Bonucci or Chiellini’ in the eyes of Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini looks set to go with a back three this summer, a comfortable system for many in Italy’s squad, and Bastoni looks set to be given a regular spot amid competition from Gianluca Mancini.
Still not sure of Bastoni’s ceiling? Listen to Roberto Mancini’s assessment.
‘He is very young, he can improve a lot and become the new (Leonardo) Bonucci or (Giorgio) Chiellini, a great defender,’ the Italy boss said in November last year.
Since then Bastoni is growing and improving while Chiellini and Bonucci toil in a horror season for Juventus. A true changing of the guard will occur this summer.
Dani Olmo (Spain)
Age: 22 Club: RB Leipzig
If Barcelona’s management sit in their offices listening to Katy Perry’s ‘The One That Got Away‘ and think of Dani Olmo, they would not be crazy.
The attacker spent seven years in their La Masia youth academy before making the surprise move to join Dinamo Zagreb aged 16.
Into the first team he went as a teenager and it was sink of swim – and boy, did he swim. He swam so much Barcelona were ready to pay whatever it took to get him back, only to see him wooed by Bayern Munich-bound boss Julian Nagelsmann to join RB Leipzig.
His contract in Germany runs until 2024 and prising him away given Leipzig are already losing Nagelsmann, star defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate, and there are doubts about the future of Marcel Sabitzer, it would take a sizeable offer to go to the negotiating table for Olmo.
Dani Olmo (right) is in a team capable of winning the Euros and his versatility can shine
Olmo’s versatility is very attractive to Spain boss Luis Enrique and the feeling is that he is competing with Man City’s Ferran Torres for a starting spot this summer.
The benefit someone like Olmo has in comparison to Elmas, Isak or Skov Olsen is that he is in a team capable of winning it all and is surrounded by players who can make him look brilliant.
And as for whether he is targeting Euro 2020 as a way to navigate a move?
‘We will see,’ he said earlier this month. ‘I am happy in Germany, this is my second year. What may happen will be seen. It is clear that I would like to return (to Spain), but we will see.’
Kamil Jozwiak (Poland)
Age: 23 Club: Derby County
Wayne Rooney has been around football long enough to know you can only have a good thing for so long when you’re not at the top level.
Derby County fans will attest too that winger Jozwiak is too good to be toiling it out in England’s second tier for much longer.
Joining on a four-year deal last summer from Lech Poznan, Rooney will be braced for offers and should he stand out above the rest in Sousa’s Poland team, there will be little he can do to keep Jozwiak.
Kamil Jozwiak is generating plenty of positive headlines back in Poland for his performances
Papers in Poland were hailing him as the country’s best player behind Robert Lewandowski and at 23 he still has so much room in his game to improve.
He’s tenacious in the tackle but can prove lax in possession which is something scouts will be feeding back to his suitors.
A group of Spain, Sweden and Slovakia means no freebies and so Jozwiak will need his A-game. Bring it and he can empty his Pride Park locker sharpish.
Manuel Locatelli (Italy)
Age: 23 Club: Sassuolo
Before his Italy debut last year, Roberto Mancini nipped in the bud any concerns that Locatelli would be shown up.
‘Locatelli has been playing in Serie A for many years, so I don’t think he’ll have problems,’ Mancini said.
Fears made no sense given Locatelli is one of Serie A’s most scouted players in the last 12 months after playing a starring role in Sassuolo’s ascent up the league.
It is widely accepted that Locatelli is departing the Mapei Stadium this summer and Sassuolo’s hope will be that he elevates his game to new heights to massage his transfer fee.
There is not an elite club in Europe right now that isn’t monitoring Manuel Locatelli’s progress
His current valuation stands around £35m and that is a snip for a player that continues to shine in Italy.
Arsenal, Man City and Juventus have all repeatedly been mentioned in the conversation surrounding Locatelli’s next move and it speaks to his excellence that in a midfield blessed with Nico Barella, Marco Verratti and Jorginho that Locatelli can catch the eye.
One of Locatelli’s strengths is that he covers so much ground and is very busy defensively. In transition his passing repertoire is a sight to behold with an incisiveness to his game that acts as a springboard following an opposition turnover.
He already has tongues wagging across Europe and Locatelli just needs to avoid a meltdown and his big move will be right around the corner.
Yusuf Yazici (Turkey)
Age: 24 Club: LOSC Lille
The delay to the Euros treated few players kinder than Lille and Turkey winger Yazici.
Yazici had been set to miss the tournament due to his injury but he caught a break and he has rebuilt himself and is playing inspired in 2020-21.
Fourteen goals and five assists for Lille this season has been central to their title ambitions in the post-Victor Osimhen era and there is no reason to doubt Yazici carrying his domestic form into the summer showpiece.
Spearheading Lille’s Ligue 1 title charge, Yusuf Yazici will be central to Turkey’s summer plans
It has been widely documented that Lille’s finances need a significant injection this summer and Yazici, despite having a long career ahead of him at 24, could be one of those sanctioned for a departure.
He can play down either wing but has looked at his best centrally, or playing as a second striker.
Yazici’s close control would translate to a league quicker than the top tier in France and he is another that has reportedly caught Arsenal’s eye.
Lille need to sell, Yazici is likely keen to go. A big showing at the Euros means everyone wins.