With no senior tournament for Europe this summer, it is the chance for the next generation to shine. Here are eleven youngsters hoping to catch the eye at the forth coming 2011 Under 21 European Championships in Denmark.
GK: Frank Fielding (Derby County & England): The obvious choice would have been Atletico Madrid’s David De Gea, but with his transfer to Manchester United all but done and dusted, we should instead focus on home-grown talent. The Senior England Team is currently suffering a goalkeeping crisis. Ben Foster and Paul Robinson have retired from duty, whilst Robert Green and Scott Carson’s continual high profile errors do not instil us with confidence. Therefore a chance has emerged for Frank Fielding to step up. As first choice for Stuart Pearce, the Ram’s stopper has the perfect platform to display his abilities.
RB: Cesar Azpilicueta (Olympic Marseille & Spain): From the moment he burst on the scene as a 17 year old for Osasuna, Azpilicueta, has been hotly tipped for international stardom. He was in the original squad of 30 for Vicente Del Bosque 2010 World Cup squad, but was left out of the final 23 man squad. Later that summer Azpilicueta, joined Olympic Marseille, however, despite a promising start to his French experience, a serious knee injury saw him sidelined for most of the season. Now fit and running again, he has the opportunity in Denmark to remind everyone just why he was so highly rated in the first place.
CB: Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk & Ukraine): How do we sum up a hot prospect? Playing regularly in the Champions League? Fast tracked into their senior side? Already three International goals to your name? Rakitskiy is a yes to all of these. He started career as a left winger before gradually moving back to central defence, where he now commands for both club and country. With Europe’s top centre backs all ageing, Rakitskiy maybe just be the answer, if they can prise him away from Shakhtar Dontesk.
CB: Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers & England): A major proving ground awaits the young Blackburn Rovers centre back. If we are to believe the press, the price above this young man’s head is already up to £15 Million, should he have a spectacular Championships, it is guaranteed to rise. Jones was one of the few players to come out of Rovers terrible season with their head held high. Despite a serious injury Jones has shown us that he has potential in midfield as well as central defence, now we wait to see just how far he can go.
LB: Danny Rose (Tottenham & England): Rose became an instant legend when he fired home an incredible volley against Arsenal in his first start for Tottenham. His career however, failed to follow the same trajectory and first team chances became limited as Gareth Bale lit up the Premier League and Europe. However, an injury ridden back line saw Rose slot in at left back and immediately he looked at home. Strong performances away to Liverpool, Manchester City and at home to Birmingham seem to have reinvigorated the youngster and given him purpose. Stuart Pearce may employ him at left wing during the tournament, but there is no doubting that Rose is an up and coming prospect.
AM: Juan Mata (Valencia & Spain): Spain seems to have a factory somewhere deep in the Pyrenees producing top quality attacking midfielders. Juan Mata is a left footed winger who seems destined to leave Valencia in search of bigger things. Liverpool seem to be favourite to land the winger, however should he perform up to his reputation in Denmark, then perhaps other clubs will be willing to pay the quoted £20 million for his services.
CM: Christian Eriksen (Ajax & Denamark): Looks set to cause a major stir in the transfer market this summer and should he have a stellar tournament, there is no knowing at what price and which club he could end up at. At the age of 16 he signed with Ajax Amsterdam and has progressed wonderfully through their famed youth academy. This year saw Eriksen really emerge into a major part of the team that gave Ajax their first league title in 7 years. Eriksen was named Talent of the Year in the Eredivisie, a title presided over by Ajax legend Johan Cruffy, Eriksen also holds the distinction of being the youngest player brought to the 2010 World Cup Finals and the youngest ever capped Dane.
CM: Gylfi Sigurdsson (1899 Hoffenheim & Iceland): Dead ball specialist and long range shooter extraordinaire, Sigurdsson, is a player well known by Reading fans. A firm favourite at the Madjeski Stadium, there was an outcry when he was sold, including one 13 year old suing the club over a £42 replica shirt. Sigurdsson, had been closely monitored by a host of Premier League clubs, but Reading sold him for a club record fee to the Bundaslega side Hoffenihiem. The Icelandic star has continued to shine and with his trust dead ball skills, remains in the goals. Opposition defences need to be careful in Denmark this summer.
AM: Xherdan Shaqiri (FC Basel & Switzerland): Has been on the radar since his left foot thunderbolt left England stopper Joe Hart swiping at thin air. This left footed wizard, has fast become Switzerland’s great hope and one of the most sought after players in Europe. Shaqiri helped his club team FC Basel claim their second championship in a row, and was one of the star performers as Switzerland’s senior team drew 2-2 with England at Wembley. Shaqiri is at his deadliest when cutting in from the right and shooting with his left in a similar manner to Dutch wizard Arjen Robben.
ST: Bojan Krikic: (Barcelona & Spain): Two years ago he was hailed as the coming force of world football, however things have not gone quite to plan. The rumours linking him to the Premier League for £15-£18 million have disappeared. Bojan may be a squad player for one of the greatest teams in history, but there is no doubting that his career has stalled. With David Villa, Leo Messi, Jeffren Suarez, Pedro Rodriguez all in front of him and the imminent arrival of Giuseppe Rossi, Bojan must perform in Denmark if he is to rebuild his reputation.
ST: Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev & Ukraine): When Andriy Shevchenko says you are a good player, you must be doing something right. That is exactly what he had to say about Yarmolenko. This strong forward, who is equally at home on the flanks or through the middle, has been attracting attention from all over Europe. With his team playing second fiddle domestically to Shakhtar Donetsk, Yarmolenko may well follow in his idols footsteps and head for foreign shores. A strong performance in Denmark would be the perfect way to book a ticket.
The tournament promises to be a blockbuster with Spain, Switzerland and England all looking very strong. I would have made England clear favourites had Jack Wilshire and Andy Carroll made the trip to Denmark, however, once again England is undervaluing the Under 21’s. Recent winners of the tournament include Italy, Spain and Germany, whose senior teams have then gone on and performed well at the major competitions. Before England can seek to win tournaments with the seniors they must start focusing on the Under 21’s.