Five to watch
With England kicking off their Under-21 European Championship on Wednesday against Italy, Daniel Storey looks at five players that can be expected to shine in Israel over the next weeks
By Daniel Storey - @DanielStorey85
Last Updated: 05/06/13 8:20am
Marco Verratti (Paris St Germain, Italy)
It is difficult to believe that Marco Verratti only turned 20 six months ago. He has made over 100 league appearances, has played in two different countries (moving to Paris for £10.5million), won two domestic titles, scored for the Italian national side against the Dutch in February and made nine Champions League appearances last season, impressing against Barcelona. Until now, Verratti has perhaps been something of a hipster's dream, but things are about to get mainstream.
A vital part of PSG's season of domestic success, Verratti has typically operated in a deep-lying playmaker role that have inevitably drawn comparisons with Andrea Pirlo. His sharp rise is exemplified by the fact that he has as many under-21 caps as senior international appearances, but this summer Verratti will be expected to control the midfield, allowing the likes of Alessandro Florenzi, Riccardo Saponara and Lorenzo Insigne to roam forward.
As is only right, let us give Zlatan the final word: "The fella who has most surprised me since the start of the season is Marco [Verratti]. I would even say that he's better than people think and by signing him, PSG have made a great investment. He possesses immense talent."
Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid, Spain)
When Real Madrid sold Daniel Caravajal to Bayer Leverkusen at the end of last season, they cleverly included a buy-back clause such was the defender's obvious potential. 11 months later, and that clause had already been exercised, with Real effectively paying €1.5million for the privilege of watching him mature in the Bundesliga.
He was arguably the highest performing right-back in Europe's top five leagues last season, an astronomical rise for a 21-year-old with only two caps at that level and yet to make a first team appearance in Madrid.
As Leverkusen Sports Director Rudi Voller stated: "Real Madrid noticed the outstanding performances by Dani this season, and it was only a matter of time before they exercised their buy-back option." It would appear that Real may choose to use Sergio Ramos exclusively in the centre next season, with Caravajal on the right. A good Euros in a fine team would surely cement that probability?
Emre Can (Bayern Munich, Germany)
Emre Can was one of the stars of Germany's squad at the under-17 World Cup just last summer, and his inclusion by Rainer Adrion at an age group years above his qualification is a testament to Can's potential - the player only turned 19 in January. After that tournament, German coach Steffen Freund described Can as "the most complete player" he had seen in his career at such an age.
A holding midfielder of German-Turkish origin, there have been initial comparisons with Nuri Sahin, but Can is additionally able to operate as a central defender. Having made four league appearances for Bayern towards the end of their all-eclipsing season (including scoring the winner against Freiburg), it will be interesting to see if the step up to tournament football is as easy - Can is yet to win an Under-21 cap. If anyone can, you suspect that Emre Can.
Kevin Strootman (PSV, Netherlands)
If Marco Verratti was the young, deep lying playmaker that got away from Manchester United, then you feel that the same mistake may not be made with Kevin Strootman. Part of a Dutch squad packed with experience, Strootman stands out. Already possessing 18 full international appearances (double the total of England's entire squad), he will create a formidable midfield alongside Everton target Leroy Fer, club team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum and Kelvin Leerdam.
Already lined up to be PSV captain should he decide to stay, Strootman is a manager's dream. He is physical, strong and at 6'1" has a substantial aerial presence. His passing ability is probably his greatest weapon but Strootman has also developed a defensive stability, learning by playing alongside Mark Van Bommel during his farewell season.
The Dutch have a challenging task to progress from a group that includes both Spain and Germany, but it would be no surprise if Strootman further enhanced his reputation, and increased his price tag.
Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow, Russia)
The selection of Dzagoev is quite the fillip for Nikolai Pisarev, Russia's coach, highlighted by the fact that the winger has 27 full international caps, but is yet to make an appearance for the Under-21s, such was his quick rise to the top.
A dribbling attacking midfielder, few players are as accomplished with ball at feet or as developed at such a young age anywhere in Europe. The only question that remains is the player's temperament, after two red cards this season and a club ban during the last campaign for swearing at his manager. Put those aside, and he will go far.
It does seem strange that the joint top scorer at Euro 2012 could be taking part in Israel, especially given that Dzagoev won Russia's Young Player of the Year award a full five years ago, but it also odd to realise that Dzagoev is still 20. Reportedly still wanted by a host of clubs this summer (with Roma possibly in the driving seat), it will be interesting to see if the CSKA Moscow star really commits to the tournament. If so, the only shame is that his side are likely to exit at the first stage considering the difficulty of the group.
Honourable mentions must go to over half of Spain's squad, any of whom could have been selected. David De Gea, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Inigo Martinez, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales, Isco, Alvaro Morata, Iker Muniain, Rodrigo and Cristian Tello. It is a truly breath-taking collection of young talent.