Euro 2020: 5 surprise contenders for the Player of the Tournament award

England v Belgium - UEFA Nations League
England v Belgium - UEFA Nations League
Paul Merson

After a long delay due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, Euro 2020 is finally set to kick off later today. The 16th edition of the competition features some of the most exciting players in the world, with Portugal entering the tournament as defending champions after their heroics in 2016.

Tournament football is tough to predict and the nature of the competition favors impact players who can decide games with a moment of brilliance.

Who will win the Player of the Tournament award at Euro 2020? The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne and Kylian Mbappe are obvious names, so I’ve gone off-field a little bit with my picks. Almost anyone in Europe can pick the usual suspects to win the award at Euro 2020, but I want people to look at these picks and think to themselves, “where’s that come from"?

That said, here are five surprise picks for the Player of the Tournament award at Euro 2020.

#5 Pedri | Spain, Barcelona

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander
FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Santander

Pedri is someone who has burst onto the scene recently and he’s a very, very good player. He’s played pretty much every game for Barcelona and also made his debut for Spain earlier in the 2020-21 season. He is really efficient with the ball at his feet and created more chances than Luka Modric last season, which is quite an achievement for a young player.

At this time of the year, the weather is going to be really hot. Spain will look to control the ball and wear teams down with their passing ability in midfield. If that’s the case, Pedri could be a vital cog in a side that is blessed with a handful of technically gifted midfielders. He’s really efficient on the ball and could emerge as one of the superstars of the tournament at Euro 2020.

Spain are amongst the biggest teams in the competition, but no one’s really talking about them. It’s not like the years that have gone by, but they aren’t here just to make up the numbers.

#4 Xherdan Shaqiri | Switzerland, Liverpool

Switzerland v Lithuania - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier
Switzerland v Lithuania - FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Qualifier

I’m a massive fan of Xherdan Shaqiri. He barely played for Liverpool in what was a tough season for the Reds, so he’ll be fresh and raring to go for Switzerland at Euro 2020. Shaqiri will see a lot of the ball and is also a fantastic set-piece taker, so I expect him to play a pivotal role for his country.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side could be dark horses at the tournament and people will be shocked by how good they are. I remember watching a pulsating 3-3 draw between Germany and Switzerland in 2020 and the Germans were absolutely outplayed on the night.

I’d be really surprised if Shaqiri and Switzerland don’t have a decent tournament. They dispatched Lichtenstein 7-0 in their latest international friendly and will be quietly confident heading into Euro 2020.

Also Read: Jim Beglin's Strongest possible starting XI for England | UEFA Euro 2020

#3 Mason Mount | England, Chelsea

Mason Mount will have a key role to play for England at Euro 2020
Mason Mount will have a key role to play for England at Euro 2020

People speak about Phil Foden and Jack Grealish being important players for England at Euro 2020, but I’m going with Mason Mount. He’s full of energy and a proper player who is coming on the back of an extraordinary season for Chelsea. In major tournaments like Euro 2020, defenders tend to double up on attackers who could cause their teams problems.

The likes of Foden and Grealish could well be double-teamed, opening up space for Mount to wreak havoc from a deeper midfield position. I remember in my playing career when John Barnes was often slated for his England performances, but the truth is that he was doubled up by opposition defenders and always had two players on him.

Mount is one of Gareth Southgate’s favorite players and is likely to start every game for England. Usually, you aren’t going to get doubled up while playing as a deeper midfielder, so he could play a big role for the Three Lions at Euro 2020.

#2 Bruno Fernandes | Portugal, Manchester United

Bruno Fernandes could be Portugal's star man at Euro 2020
Bruno Fernandes could be Portugal's star man at Euro 2020

When you play for Portugal, it goes without saying that everything has to go through Cristiano Ronaldo. Bruno Fernandes, though, plays like he does for Manchester United and doesn’t feel the need to always give the ball to the Portugal captain.

I mentioned earlier about attacking players being doubled up, but Portugal are likely to bypass this due to their star-studded front four of Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva and Fernandes. With many of their match-winners in attack, Fernandes is the one I’m tipping to emerge as Portugal’s Player of the Tournament.

He plays positive football and won’t hide or play it safe when things are going against him. Both Fernandes and Cancelo were absolutely unbelievable in the friendly against Israel and could play starring roles for Portugal at Euro 2020.

#1 Memphis Depay | Netherlands, Lyon

Netherlands v Northern Ireland - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier
Netherlands v Northern Ireland - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier

I love Memphis Depay’s story. It didn’t work out for him at Manchester United, but he’s gone to Lyon and produced consistently at the highest level. He’s blossomed as a footballer and proved exactly how good he is after a tumultuous spell in England. Memphis is full of confidence and is coming on the back of an impressive season - he’s absolutely flying!

He wasn’t at his best against Scotland last week, but he scored two goals to salvage a 2-2 draw for Holland ahead of Euro 2020. He’s the main man for Frank de Boer and things will go through him, so I expect him to have a fantastic tournament. He has matured as a player and will look to take on more responsibility in the games ahead as Holland prepare for their first major tournament since the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

So, these are my five picks ahead of Euro 2020. It would’ve been a bit lazy just to name five of the best players in Europe, so I arrived at this after giving it a lot of thought. Belgium’s Youri Tielemans and Italy’s Federico Chiesa are names I considered, but they narrowly missed out on the top five.

Barring Memphis Depay, none of the other players are the star attractions for their respective sides at Euro 2020, so they aren’t going to be part of team talks ahead of important games. They are tidy players nonetheless and I expect all of them to light up Euro 2020 with their brilliance.

Also read: Fabrizio Romano's Transfer Roundup: Update on Manchester United's pursuit of Jadon Sancho, Chelsea's plans for Hakimi and more

Edited by Ashwin


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