Stars born in Euro 2020
“In a way, my career lasted just three weeks,” Salvatore Schillaci said recently, summing up his life better than anyone ever has perhaps because no one else epitomises being a one-hit-wonder in football quite like “Toto”—the singular star of Italia ’90—does. At that World Cup, a man with all of one prior substitute appearance for his country ended up slotting in six goals and winning the Golden Boot, before promptly returning back to oblivion.
Schillaci would score only one more goal for Italy after that World Cup; and he would end up disappointing both his post-1990 suitors in Juventus and Inter Milan—washing up in Japan’s J-League soon after. But even today, at 56, he claims that people will never let him live down those three weeks. “There have been times when people have just burst into tears when they meet me,” he told FIFA.com.
At every subsequent football major, newer Schillacis have been born. Fabio Grosso, the hero of World Cup 2006 is an example; as is, for that matter, Wales’s Hal Robson-Kanu from Euro 2016. They may not have risen as high or fallen as hard as Schillaci, but for a while greatness was expected of them. Just as it is expected of these eight men—currently on all the big radars; those of football fans and big football clubs. But whatever happens to them in the future, they will always have Euro 2020.
Steven Zuber, Switzerland (Eintracht Frankfurt)
No one in this Euro has as many assists as the super Zuber. Those were the four crosses that goals were scored off but Zuber flung in several more fizzing deliveries into the opposition’s box. It was this relentlessness from the left that was emblematic of Switzerland’s never-say-die attitude and ensured that they could mount comebacks from the dead. Some of the bigger Bundesliga clubs are now said to be aware of the 29-year-old’s existence who couldn’t hold down a starting place at Frankfurt last term.
Also read | Still looking for the first free kick goal in Euro 2020
Joakim Mæhle, Denmark (Atalanta)
It is a pretty rare thing that for a left-back with two goals in the same Euro, Mæhle ended up catapulting to true fame for an assist. In the quarter-final against the Czechs, he whistled down the left flank and with the outside of his right boot supplied an inch-perfect cross to Kasper Dolberg. The 24-year-old’s vision at the back and his penchant to move ahead—both key to Denmark’s incredible turnaround—have made him a primary target for Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel.
Tomáš Vaclík, Czech Republic (Free agent)
Patrik Schick may have stolen all the headlines after his stunner of a goal against Scotland, but it was Vaclík who ensured Czech won that opening group game in the first place, with some equally incredible moves of his own—albeit between the sticks. His swift hands and swifter reflexes in this Euro have made both Napoli and Barcelona show keen interest in lapping the goalie up. All in good time given that Sevilla hadn’t renewed his contract for the upcoming season.
Leonardo Spinazzola, Italy (AS Roma)
Before it ended in tears and a torn Achilles tendon, 28-year-old Spinazzola was arguably the biggest breakout star of this Euro—forcing both Serie A champions Inter Milan and UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea to queue up in the transfer market for this new-age Grosso. Those offers will perhaps be on hold with Spinazzola expected to be on the sidelines for a few months now, but Roma’s new boss Jose Mourinho isn’t complaining with the renewed services of a left-back who loves floating up front at every given opportunity.
Alexander Isak, Sweden (Real Sociedad)
He may not have scored a goal during this Euro, but just the presence of striker Isak has made Sweden a better team; and Real Sociedad too. A country’s search for the next Zlatan Ibrahimovic possibly concluded after the 21-year-old’s Man-of-the-Match performance against Slovakia, which even made Gary Lineker tweet: “Don’t think there’s much doubt that Alexander Isak will attract a lot of attention from clubs across Europe. Exceptional talent.” Manchester City were the first to express that love, but Sociedad were quick to move with a 5-year contract. It was signed.
Denzel Dumfries, Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven)
Two group-stage goals (including a late winner with his head against Ukraine), two Man-of-the-Match awards and countless scything runs up and down the right wing have all proved that Dumfries is a force to reckon with. But those are all just bonuses to the 25-year-old’s defensive skills. Despite Holland’s early exit, Eindhoven boss Roger Schmidt believes that he has seen the last of the right-back who managed to put his growing greatness on display at the right place and time. Schmidt is perhaps right, with Dumfries on Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Everton’s wish-lists so far.
Also read | Once a rebel, Oleksandr Zinchenko leads Ukraine’s historic march
Jeremy Doku, Belgium (Rennes)
Not much was known about the teenage Doku before this Euro, having made just seven appearances for Belgium and his talent hidden in a mid-table Ligue 1 side, Rennes. But Roberto Martinez knew enough to start the 19-year-old winger against Italy in the quarter-final, and now the world has seen enough to know that he is a star in the making. With such ferocity did he drive up the left, completing mesmeric dribbles en route, that either Liverpool or Bayern Munich may end up snapping him up and out of obscurity.
Manuel Locatelli, Italy (Sassuolo)
Had the Euro been held last year, there’s a great chance that Juventus and Arsenal wouldn’t currently be in a bidding war for this midfielder. But success in 2020 with Sassuolo gave him his first international cap in September last year. And a handful of starts later, he was not only representing Italy at a major, but also scoring twice in one group match against Switzerland. Goal-scoring isn’t the 23-year-old’s primary concern though; that would be to dictate the game from the deep like his hero, Andrea Pirlo, once did.
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