The 2024 European Championship starts in four months with Germany against Scotland in Munich. Throughout the tournament there will be a range of talent on display, many of whom are at the start of their careers. Here we look at 10 players in four different categories that we will be following in the run-up to the tournament.
Jude Bellingham (England, Real Madrid, midfielder, 20) They were ridiculed at the time, but Birmingham’s decision to stop wearing Bellingham’s shirt makes perfect sense in retrospect. What feels illogical is that the English midfielder is only twenty. How is it possible that he has already had three good seasons at Borussia Dortmund, and has now immediately become a hero at Real Madrid? The winning mentality and leadership qualities Bellingham has shown in Spain have made him a superstar and at the time of writing he has scored 20 goals in all competitions. Will his influence this summer be even greater than that of Harry Kane?
Florian Wirtz (Germany, Bayer Leverkusen, attacking midfielder, 20) The twenty-year-old makes football look very simple indeed. He reads the game better than most and has the technical qualities to execute difficult passes – effortlessly. Wirtz is the brightest star in the Bundesliga and learning from Xabi Alonso will make him better. At the time of writing, he has the most assists of any player in Europe’s top leagues: 15 in all competitions. Now it is up to Julian Nagelsmann to build the national team around him. Germany bowed out in the group stages of the 2022 World Cup, but Wirtz missed the tournament with a knee injury. Don’t bet against the hosts if he’s running the show.
Xavi Simons (Netherlands, RB Leipzig, attacking midfielder, 20) He grew up in La Masia, and his name is Xavi, but he was born in Amsterdam. Simons is the perfect player to represent the Dutch-Catalan style, an artist that Johan Cruyff would have loved to see. He breathes Total Football and it is almost impossible to determine his position. Is he a playmaker, a winger, a second striker, a central midfielder? No one knows, because Simons runs across the field and makes things happen everywhere. Playing for RB Leipzig, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, may not be very romantic, but he is still a star that purists can easily fall in love with – especially when he wears the famous orange shirt. Simons could be key for his country in the summer.
Already permanent internationals
António Silva (Portugal, Benfica, centre-back, 20) “Rúben Dias is my role model,” said Silva upon his promotion to the Benfica squad in the summer of 2022. A few months later, after quickly cementing his place at Estádio da Luz, the centre-back was delighted to join Manchester City to connect. star in the national team. He was a substitute at the 2022 World Cup, but his time has already come and the pair are set for a mouthwatering partnership at Euro 2024. They have similar qualities, but that’s hardly a problem as leadership, calmness under pressure, tactical skills and consciousness and pure physical strength. Silva is expected to be the next big transfer from Benfica after the tournament.
Giorgio Scalvini (Italy, Atalanta, centre-back, 20) Giorgio Chiellini was one of the great heroes for Italy when the country was crowned European champions in 2021. He is now retired, but a new central defender named Giorgio could star in the blue jersey this summer. Scalvini is different: he is bigger, more elegant and likes to be involved in the build-up play and then join in the attacking moves. He has been flourishing at Atalanta for two seasons Azzurri coach Luciano Spalletti admires those types of defenders. Scalvini’s partnership with Internazionale’s Alessandro Bastoni could be exciting to watch in the summer, and Chiellini would be happy if he succeeds.
Benjamin Sesko (Slovenia, RB Leipzig, forward, 20) Slovenia’s biggest stars this century were goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic and Jan Oblak. In fact, the average football fan would struggle to name a striker to come out of the country since the days of Zlatko Zahovic – and he’s now 53. But things are about to change with Sesko, who has the potential to develop into a world-class striker. Extremely strong and powerful, he knows how to position himself in the penalty area and has a killer instinct in front of goal. In short, Sesko is Eastern Europe’s answer to Erling Haaland. Norway failed to qualify for Euro 2024 but the Slovenian will be there after scoring five goals in the qualifiers and Sesko’s form for RB Leipzig suggests he is feeling at home in Germany.
On the brink of stardom
Warren Zaire-Emery (France, PSG, midfielder, 17) France have a very deep squad and it remains to be seen whether Didier Deschamps will opt to play against the Paris Saint-Germain sensation, who turns 18 in March. However, Zaire-Emery is an automatic starter for Luis Enrique in Ligue 1 and the Champions League – and has already gained valuable experience. It is fair to say that he is already a pretty complete midfielder, not only technically and physically, but especially tactically. Strong in a tackle, neat in possession and a very efficient passer. He likes to keep things simple – and has a keen eye for the goal. Scoring on his international debut was a good sign, albeit against Gibraltar, and the youngster could shine for France – but the competition is fierce.
Arthur Vermeeren (Belgium, Atlético Madrid, midfielder, 19) Compared to Andrés Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo in Belgium, Vermeeren is a very special player. His ability to find space and time in midfield is uncanny and his passing skills make him a possible long-term heir to Kevin De Bruyne. After bursting onto the scene midway through the 2022-2023 season, the youngster played a crucial role in Antwerp’s first title since 1957. After starring in the Champions League and scoring against Barcelona, he moved to Atlético Madrid in January . It remains to be seen whether he will get enough playing time under Diego Simeone to earn a starting spot at the 2024 European Championship, but Vermeeren is definitely the most exciting player of the new Belgian generation – and the competition is quite strong.
Lamine Yamal (Spain, Barcelona, winger, 16) The youngest player and goalscorer in the history of Barcelona and Spain celebrates his 17th birthday a day before the Euro 2024 final. Could he help the national team achieve that showpiece as a fitting gift for himself? Such a script sounded surreal a few months ago, but perhaps not anymore now that Yamal has developed into a leader at club level. His decision-making on the right wing and leadership qualities are astonishing for a player of his age, and his energy and confidence could allow him to fill the void left by the injured Gavi during the tournament.
Kenan Yildiz (Turkey, Juventus, forward, 18) Yildiz was hugely disappointed when he had to miss the 2022 European Under-17 Championship due to injury, but is already Turkey’s big hope for the senior tournament. The decision to leave Bayern Munich for Juventus’ academy proved to be a wise one as the versatile striker suddenly burst onto the scene in Serie A in December and became one of the league’s most exciting strikers. Born and raised in Bavaria, Yildiz chose to represent his parents’ homeland and scored his first senior goal in a 3-2 win over Germany in Berlin in November. That was a friendly match, but he should be ready to shine in a competitive environment in his native country next summer.