With the knockout stages fast approaching, Euro 2020 has already seen several young players enhance their reputations with eye-catching displays for their respective teams. When it comes to a major tournament, you could argue that the style of football doesn't matter. No one remembers the details of an ugly win with a scruffy goal - results matter more than anything, making it even harder for young players to nail down regular starting spots.
That said, some of the biggest sides across the continent have had young players play starring roles for them, with someone like Mason Mount coming on the back of an outstanding season with Chelsea. Similarly, other players have cemented their status as key players for club and country and continue to belie their age.
All of the players I've mentioned have a competitive edge and the determination to overcome disappointment. You might be tripped up every now and again, but you have to keep bouncing back and that's the sign of a budding superstar.
I've picked five players who could announce themselves as superstars at Euro 2020, but the list could've so easily had names like Jeremy Doku and Kalvin Phillips, who've both made massive impressions so far. However, after careful consideration, they didn't quite make the cut, but there's enough time left at Euro 2020 for them to make their presence felt.
On that note, here are five players who've really caught my eye so far.
#5 Denzel Dumfries | Netherlands, PSV Eindhoven
Denzel Dumfries is the type of guy you don’t like playing against because he’s got boundless energy, pace and running power. He’s a tormentor and a danger that keeps popping up when you least expect it, as we’ve seen at Euro 2020 so far with his two goals against Ukraine and Austria. Much like Patrick van Aanholt on the other flank for the Netherlands, Dumfries is a risk-taker.
I’ve always said this about Van Aanholt over the years and the same applies to the PSV man. He gets caught out at times, but he makes daring runs up and down the flank and is absolutely devastating to come up against. Other than his desire and drive, what I've liked most about Dumfries at Euro 2020 is the timings of his forward bursts. It’s very well measured and he wears people down with his energy.
His fitness and athleticism combined with his work rate make him almost unstoppable, I feel exhausted just by watching him at home! He’s scored twice already, but he’s getting into some excellent positions with the timing of his daring runs and could’ve well had three or four goals to his name at Euro 2020.
People want to watch entertaining football and this guy gives you just that - he entertains and brings you to the edge of your seat. It’ll be interesting to see if he stays at PSV beyond this summer because he strikes me as someone with Premier League potential. Teams from other leagues would’ve taken notice as well, so he’s unlikely to be short of suitors.
It wasn’t long ago that the Netherlands were in a bit of a crisis. Ronald Koeman arrived, steadied the ship and sort of got them back on track, but you have to admit that Frank de Boer has also done a decent job so far. Most Dutch coaches over the years have preferred to play a 4-3-3 by adopting the principles of total football, but De Boer has stuck to his guns and resorted to playing five at the back at Euro 2020 despite being criticized.
You’ve got to admire him for that and his decision has been rewarded by a Netherlands side that has looked good at Euro 2020 so far, with Dumfries playing an important role for them in the group stages.
#4 Nicolo Barella | Italy, Inter Milan
I became a fan of Nicolo Barella while watching Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League last season. I worked on a couple of their group stage games and he was a player who really stood out to me. He’s probably gone under the radar so far, because other Italian players like Manuel Locatelli have grabbed the attention.
Barella didn’t provide an assist in Italy’s Euro 2020 opener against Turkey, but he was involved in all three goals they scored on the night by providing the pass that led to the assist, indicating the role he plays for his side. He’s understated for what he’s delivering now for club and country and it goes without saying that he’s learned lessons of the game under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan. He used to be a bit more instinctive and was seen drifting around the pitch in the past, but now he has a discipline about his game and knows exactly where to be and what role to play for his team, be it for club or country. He’s matured really well under Conte, who has been a good influence on his career.
The fact that he’s being relied upon by Roberto Mancini at Euro 2020 also speaks volumes about how much he’s developed as a player. He doesn’t jump at you when you watch Italy play, but he gets the job done in a quieter, less noticeable fashion.
If he continues playing like this, everything will elevate. Sometimes, you like something in a player and tend to keep an eye on him - Barella is that player for me. He has the trust of a demanding coach like Conte and someone as experienced as Mancini for the Azzurri, so he’s making massive strides for a 24-year-old at Euro 2020.