Aleksandr Golovin (Russia)
Russia are no strangers to showcasing talented youngsters at the European Championships; four years ago, a 21-year-old Alan Dzagoev lit up the big stage with a number of sparkling performances. Europe’s biggest clubs were all notified and subsequently linked with the attacking midfielder but, now 25, Dzagoev still plies his trade in his home country with CSKA Moscow – the club at which young Aleksandr Golovin is writing headlines.
At just 19, comparisons between Golovin and Dzagoev don’t end with just their clubs. They’re both midfielders (though Dzagoev is far more attack-focused) and the former, just as the latter did in 2012, has a fantastic chance to put himself on the transfer lists of the world’s biggest sides by performing in the European Championships.
Though he’s only very recently broken into the senior Russian side Golovin has already scored two goals for his country – one being a wonderful volley against Lithuania that followed a sublime piece of chest control – meaning he has forced himself into contention for a place on the plane to France. Very clearly a supremely talented technician, Golovin might well find himself starting in midfield as Russia look to circumnavigate a tricky group that includes England and Wales.
If he does perform well during the group stages, expect Golovin to receive prolonged media attention in England. However, it would probably be unwise to take any prospective Premier League links seriously at this point; like Dzagoev four years ago, Golovin is likely to remain in Moscow as he continues to develop.
Andrei Ivan (Romania)
It looks like Petr Cech won’t be the only scrum-capped player at this years European Championships; Romania’s flying teenager Andrea Ivan also wears the distinctive headgear, though that’s where the similarities between him and the big Czech goalkeeper end.
Ivan is one of Europe’s hottest properties despite his tender age of 19; the attacker has already been scouted heavily by Barcelona, and figures of up €4million are being discussed. It’s not a particular surprise that Ivan is interesting the Catalonian giants, as the tall forward possesses many qualities that are often discussed in relation to Barcelona and their famous La Masia academy. He’s quick, he’s great with the ball at his feet and he has more tricks up his sleeve than your average street magician – if he does arrive in France, expect fireworks.
Ivan is still very raw, which is reflected in his meagre three caps thus far. His final ball and decision making are questionable at times, and he probably doesn’t score enough goals for a player who’s supposed favourite position is centre-forward.
However, his unpredictable nature might be to his benefit as he looks to secure a place on the plane to France. As a smaller nation and one who find themselves in the host’s group, Romania might look to include an ‘x-factor’ in their squad; that’s something Ivan absolutely possesses, and his participation at the tournament would add a real sense of dynamism to a group that France are expected to breeze through with ease.
Jordan Lukaku (Belgium)
Yeah, you’ve heard that name before.
The brother of Everton’s Romelu Lukaku just might be the answer to Belgium’s recurring and damaging full-back problem; Red Devil’s boss Marc Wilmots has almost exclusively played centre-halves in Lukaku’s position for years, which has meant his side has lacked the explosiveness a true specialist brings to that role for a long time. Though Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are all fine players, they all lack the dynamism, speed and skill that Lukaku offers.
The pressure on Belgium to perform at this tournament is far greater than many might expect – the so-called ‘golden generation’, which features some of Europe’s finest players, has so far underwhelmed – which is why Wilmots may be reluctant to play Romelu’s 21-year-old brother in France. That may well prove to be a mistake.
Though Jordan is a defender, there are shades of Romelu’s game in everything he does: in the way he powers past people, in the bag of tricks he often deploys to beat a man, in the speed at which he crosses the ground. Though Jordan has not yet made the leap to one of Europe’s biggest sides in the way Romelu did, he’s been biding his time, nurturing his talent wisely at Oostende, where he’s guaranteed to start.
This summer may well be the opportunity Jordan Lukaku needs to put himself in the shop window of the Premier League or beyond and, should Marc Wilmots take the plunge and start the flying full-back in place of one of his ageing centre-halves, expect the younger brother to perform.
About the author – Tom Curren
Writer & freelancer. Author & editor of scoutedfootball.com, a website dedicated to comprehensively profiling those whom the mainstream football media might miss.