The U21 Euros start today, with England taking on Sweden in the opener and Poland vs. Slovakia following a few hours after that. It’s just international football, and it’s youth international football at that, but given England’s recent successes at these younger age groups (including the U20 World Cup title just the other day) and the general Silly Season (and Extra Silly Season) nonsense swirling around Chelsea these days, we could certainly use a minor distraction.
So, as you choose to watch this competition over in Poland the next two weeks, here are a few players to keep an eye on. I’ve not included any of the Chelsea trio who will no doubt be playing a starring role for England — you should be watching Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Tammy Abraham regardless.
As always, these lists are subjective, and mine will certainly have a Chelsea tint to it, so feel free to suggest you favorites in the comments. Games will be shown mostly online, on ESPN3 in the USA and Sky Go in the UK (though England’s matches will also be broadcast on Sky Sports 1) — UEFA will also stream them on YouTube, though I’m not sure about the geographical restrictions (assuming they won’t be available if your country has a TV rights-holder.)
JOHN SWIFT (21, England)
One year ago, Swifty was part of the victorious Chelsea crew at the Toulon Tournament. Before that, he was part of many a great success with the Chelsea youths. Wondering how he’s gotten on since leaving Chelsea last July and signing on with Reading? (Excellently, no doubt.) Watch this space!
BARTOSZ KAPUSTKA (20, Poland)
Kapustka was a breakout star at Euro 2016 for the Poland senior team, announcing himself at the tender age 19 with a tremendous performance against Northern Ireland. He leveraged that into a £7.5m to the defending Premier League champions where he managed to have a worse season than the rest of his teammates. At one point, then Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri even flat out admitted that he had no idea if and when the kid might be ready for Premier League football. A chance to rediscover his career then, for the man with the leafy last name.
LÁSZLÓ BÉNES (19, Slovakia)
The heir apparent to Marek Hamšík, though, in his own words, he styles his game more after Andrea Pirlo and Juan Mata, Bénes is already capped at senior level and is making Bundesliga appearances with Borussia Mönchengladbach. The added bonus for me personally is that he’s from my hometown and I want him to succeed beyond most reason.
ISSAK SSEWANKAMBO & AMIN AFFANE (21 and 23, Sweden)
Cheating a bit here with two players listed as one, both former Chelsea trainees, both playing back in Scandinavia these days, at Molde FK and AIK, respectively. Both should play at least a bit part in Sweden’s attempt to defend their title from two years ago.
BRUMA (22, Portugal)
Heavily linked with Chelsea four years ago as a teenager, Bruma recently joined everyone’s favorite corporate team, RB Leipzig for over €10m after scoring 11 goals for Galatasaray last season. He’s starting to live up to his promise and should be a key player for a talented, as usual, Portugal side.
ANDRIJA ŽIVKOVIĆ (20, Serbia)
You may remember the name from Serbia’s unlikely U20 World Cup triumph two years ago, though the tiny winger has not managed to find consistent success just yet in the professional game. He did make 10 starts for Benfica whom he joined last summer and now will look to build on that.
IÑAKI WILLIAMS (23, Spain)
One of the oldest players at the tournament but one of the more exciting players on an otherwise most excellent Spain side. He didn’t quite replicate last season’s form at Athletic Bilbao this season, so the rumor mill has been quieter so far than last summer, but somebody somewhere will eventually pay something close to his €50m release clause.
PATRIK SCHICK (21, Czech Republic)
It’s been a while seen we’ve been able to get excited about a Czech player, but after scoring 11 goals in Serie A for Sampdoria and Juventus about to drop €30m on him, Schick could very much be the real deal.
SERGE GNABRY (21, Germany)
If you’re like me and raised at least one eyebrow sky high upon hearing the news that Bayern signed the former Arsenal-reject last week, then you’ll be watching him above all the other highly talented Germans ready to win the trophy.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI & DOMENICO BERARDI (23 and 22 Italy)
Italy also boast oodles of talent, but the two B’s could still make massive impact. Bernardeschi is already a proven Serie A star and is likely to generate a massive transfer fee for Fiorentina some point soon. Berardi is the less heralded one and plays for lowly Sassuolo instead, but his name will be a feature in not only this summer’s rumor mill but many a subsequent one.