The UEFA Euro 2020 has seen it all so far – stunning upsets, exhilarating comebacks, and high-octane football for the ages. As is usually the norm with Europe’s biggest stage, a number of players have taken the next step in their careers and have matured into this footballing generation’s torch-bearers.
For players looking to put their skills to the test against traditional continental heavyweights, the Euros provide the ideal stage. The biggest names of the past few decades have honed their crafts in this tournament and have etched their names into the history books with their exploits.
With increased squad sizes and several talented stars in every team, however, it is only natural that a select few players will have to make do with bit-part roles. Selection dilemmas are always problems that the best managers love to have, but they can often be harsh on players who deserve to be out there in the thick of the action.
Take England, for example. Most of Gareth Southgate’s squad has what it takes to step up and do a job at the Euros, but match situations and tactical nuances dictate that players who would otherwise walk into most national teams must now have to spend the length of the competition warming the bench.
The Euros only come around once every four years, so players who find themselves out of the starting elevens usually have their work cut out for them. England, Spain, Denmark and Italy have made it to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 and while their squads are brimming with quality, there have been a few names that have slipped under the radar.
I’ve looked at the four squads that have survived the knock-outs so far and have picked five players who should be given more of a chance at Euro 2020.
#5 Marcus Rashford - England
Marcus Rashford has had to live out an unrelenting 12 months both on and off the pitch. He has championed pertinent social issues in England over the past year and has also had to cope with Manchester United’s grueling schedule. Going into Euro 2020, there has been plenty of talk about his lack of rest and downtime since that Europa League final against Villarreal.
England have been successful without Marcus Rashford so far, and the lack of spotlight on the forward may well have worked wonders for him. At his best, Marcus Rashford is a game-changer, and he has now had the time he’s needed to get back to his best.
Rashford has a certain clarity about him – you can see it in the way he speaks, he’s very different from most other footballers. He hasn’t enjoyed much game time so far but is perfectly aware of the things he can do on the pitch. Now that England are into the Euro 2020 semi-finals, a game against Denmark could suit a well-rested Marcus Rashford.
#4 Federico Chiesa - Italy
In most people’s eyes, the goal of Euro 2020 is probably Patrik Schick’s – those goals only come around once every few years. I’m going to disagree with the general consensus, though, because I prefer Federico Chiesa’s strike against Austria. Everything about that goal was technically flawless, and the maturity that Chiesa displays on the pitch is well beyond his years.
Federico Chiesa’s attitude on the pitch is fantastic. Italy needed someone to step up for them against Austria and Chiesa, one of the youngest players in the squad, was ready to take on the mantle. It doesn’t seem to matter where he is on the pitch – Chiesa always wants the ball at his feet.
If I’m Roberto Mancini on the sidelines watching the game, I’m urging the rest of my troops to give him the ball. Here’s a young player on the biggest stage of his career so far, and he’s gesturing to his teammates that he wants to lead the attack. Chiesa has all the makings of a great player and could potentially be the difference between success and failure for Italy.
We could see much more of Chiesa now that Italy have reached the Euro 2020 semi-finals. Much of the discourse surrounding Euro 2020 has focussed on how nerves affect young players on big occasions, and I’d say if you have 11 players with Federico Chiesa’s attitude on the pitch, you have yourself a great team.