If you’re good enough, you’re old enough – a cliché that feels as though it has been around as long as association football itself. But regardless of how tired a refrain it can sometimes sound, the adage holds true because it is rooted in the essence of the game.

One of the most uplifting spectacles of the game we love is when a young player is given an opportunity, and grasps it with both hands.

The international stage has long been home to such stories; from a 17-year-old Pelé who stole the show at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, through to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in Euro 2004 – when the eyes of the world are watching, the fearlessness of youth comes to the fore.

And in France this month, the UEFA European Championship could be host to another, if not several more, of these fairytale rises, particularly as there is a handful of youthful prospects who are considered surprise inclusions in their nation’s squad.

Marcus Rashford (England)

England’s Marcus Rashford is one such case. The 18-year-old Manchester United striker has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom. Having only made his professional debut in February, England manager Roy Hodgson had previously stated that he would not be considering the inexperienced youngster.

But Rashford just kept doing what he does: influencing high-stakes games with crucial goals and masterful performances. And after a virtuoso display in May’s FA Cup final, Hodgson could no longer deny Rashford, and pencilled the teenager into his provisional Euros squad. A debut international goal in a friendly against Australia effectively assured the United man of his place in the final selection.

Emre Mor (Turkey)

Although born in Denmark and having played in the Danish under-19 side, 18-year-old winger Emre Mor has elected to represent Turkey at full international level.

Mor made his professional debut in November 2015 and, despite playing on 13 times at senior level last season, has recently been snapped up by Borussia Dortmund. So impressive has the tricky wideman been in his fledgling carer that he was included in Turkey’s Euro 2016 squad, and has already featured in two preparatory friendlies.

Though unlikely to start due to Turkey’s abundance of quality attacking midfielders, Mor has shown his readiness to contribute at the highest level, and will not be overawed if given the chance to show what he can do.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ukraine)

Oleksandr Zinchenko made his Ukraine debut against reigning European Champions Spain in October 2015, and in his second international appearance, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder became his country’s youngest ever goal-scorer, breaking the record previously held by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko.

The Ufa player is thought to be a target for Manchester City, as new boss Pep Guardiola overhauls his squad. But City will want to move quick to tie up a deal because Zinchenko’s star could be about to rise in France, and his price tag will follow suit.

Mariusz Stępiński (Poland)

Having represented Poland at every youth level – including playing a key role in his country’s run to the under-17 European Championship semi-final in 2012 – Mariusz Stępiński’s senior career did not take off as expected. The six-foot tall striker scored five goals in his two seasons at Widzew Łódź and, after being signed by Nurenburg and loaned out, only two in 25 appearances for Wisła Kraków.

But last season, after joining Ruch Chorzów, Stępiński came to life, scoring 15 goals and registering two assists in 36 appearances.

At Euro 2016, the 21-year-old will be deputy to Poland’s first-choice strikers Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik, and will be champing at the bit to show that he can translate his new-found club form into goals at international level.

Ante Ćorić (Croatia)

Many people were surprised to see that Barcelona’s teenage prodigy Alen Halilović was omitted from Croatia’s final squad for the Euros, especially following his impressive season on loan at Sporting Gijón in La Liga. But national team coach Ante Čačić opted to select a different 19-year-old in one of his attacking midfield berths.

Ante Ćorić was the man chosen, and not without good reason. The Dinamo Zagreb midfielder played 41 times last season, scoring five goals and assisting a further three. Despite his tender years, Ćorić has experience of playing at the highest level in the Champions League, so there will be no questions of his temperament at the Euros.

West Ham United are thought to be weighing up a £10 million offer for Ćorić, who, if given the chance to play alongside Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakiti in the Croatia midfield, will hope to prove himself deserving of such a price tag.

Milan Škriniar (Slovakia)

Sampdoria defender Milan Škriniar made his Slovakia debut against Georgia on 27 May this year,. Then, just three days later, Ján Kozák named the 21-year-old in his 23-man Euro 2016 squad.

Škriniar, a physically imposing centre-back, joined Sampdoria from Slovan Bratislava in January, and has only made three appearances for the Italian club. But with 77 appearances for Žilina in the Slovakian league already under his belt, as well as 14 under-21 caps, Kozák trusts Škriniar to add solidarity to his side’s back-line.

The expanded 24-team format of Euro 2016 has enabled nations who wouldn’t normally stand a chance of qualifying, to have their shot at tournament football.

And just as there will be lesser-established teams ruffling the feathers of their higher-level counterparts, there will also be a cast of young players, many of whom are far from household names, ready to snatch their chance at stardom.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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Occasionally a players comes along in Europe whose talent is paradoxically matched by their worldwide under-appreciation. A player who mesmerizes opposition fans and leaves them wondering what would be possible if he played for their team. These players are rare; they’re the stars we know all about but often overlook when picking our favourite players from around the globe.

One such player is Barcelona’s new boy Arda Turan – a man who looks like he’d be more suited to a Spartan battlefield than the Camp Nou. The Turkish international had been a revelation for Atlético Madrid since moving from Galatasaray for the bargain fee of £10 million and is widely regarded as one of La Liga’s most influential, gifted and effective players.

It wasn’t always this rosy, however. Joining Galatasaray at the age of 13 in July 2000, the diminutive youngster struggled to cope with the rigours of daily football, not least the speed and strength required for the game. Arda was the shortest player in the ’87 age group and it showed in his early performances. Bigger, more experience players in the league were unaccommodating towards a player who had all the tricks but lacked effectiveness.

His academic record was far from exemplary too. In his early teens he struggled in school and was often found on the wrong end of visits to the school headmaster. It was these disciplinary issues that almost cost the Istanbul-born midfielder his place in the Aslan’s academy.

Change was needed and his religious faith – a factor which he now attributes to his success in Spain – was born.

Fast-forward to 2005 and Gheorghe Hagi, the man many would subsequently believe Arda could emulate in Turkey, was to give a slight 17-year-old his debut against Bursaspor in a Turkish Cup game. Turkish football fans, notably Galatasaray, have always paid particular attention to the next generation of national stars. Turan was talked about in the stands of the Ali Sami Yen stadium for almost a year prior to his debut.

It wasn’t long before the boyhood Gala fan soon broke into the first team. A loan spell at Manisaspor confirmed that he was ready for Turkish Süper Lig. By now, the coaching staff at the Gündüz K?l?ç youth facilities in Florya had worked tirelessly with Arda to improve his balance and turning speed. It is these modern training regimes that are so abundantly evident in his refined game today.

The sharper, quicker Turan established himself as a first team regular in the 2006-07 season, going on to win his first Turkey cap and helping the club qualify for the Champions League.

Prior to the star of the 2009 season, just three years after establishing himself as chief creator, Turan was appointed captain of the side. Now 22, he was also handed the number 10 shirt; previously worn by Gala’s greatest goalscorer, Metin Oktay, and perhaps the clubs most gifted footballer, Hagi – ironically the man who handed Turan his debut.

Injuries were to disrupt the final year of the attacking midfielder’s stay at his hometown club. After registering an impressive 14 assists – many of which were audacious, delicate passes – 2011 saw the playmaker decide that his future lay elsewhere.

Linked with just about every major club in Europe since his debut in Turkey’s top flight, many thought his next destination would be Liverpool. Turan stoked the fires when he remarked:

“I want to play in major leagues and my dream team is Liverpool. As I always mention, Liverpool attracts me because of their tradition. In Europe, I am a Liverpool supporter, so if I go to play in Europe, I would like to play for them.”

The precarious financial trouble at the Anfield club all but ensured any move to the Premier League would have to wait. Fiorentina, Lyon, Ajax and Bayern Munich all came close to signing the Turk before he finally opted for the forthcoming revolution at Atlético Madrid.

He was to become the poster boy for change at the Spanish club and would forge one of the most efficient and underrated partnerships in La Liga with Falcao and later Diego Costa. Barcelona aside, no combination of players made more interchanges than Costa and Turan in Atleti’s title-winning campaign. Costa himself reserved special praise for his former teammate, telling Marca:

“He’s the best player technically to play behind me. He has vision and speed of thought and the skill to make the pass.”

The early troubles of Arda have contributed heavily to the man he is today. Deeply religious and largely professional, his intimate relationship between football and religion has elevated his game to new levels. The 83-time Turkey international claims that Islam has helped him find peace on a football pitch and that it offers him the freedom to play his game without fear:

“When you realise that some things are bigger than football, bigger than even your family, then you know your life is dedicated to that. Football is something I enjoy, but God is love.”

Perhaps this liberated and expressive freedom is what makes Arda so graceful and effortless on the pitch. His ability to glide past defenders gave him the second highest dribble success rate in La Liga two seasons ago, just beaten to the post by Lionel Messi. Nothing to baulk at when Arda himself claims Messi is the world’s best player.

Aside from his technical grace, intelligence is another factor that separates Turan from his peers. He frequently drifts around the pitch, always attempting to provide the best option for his teammates. The speed of turn and sharp accelerations – a homage to his early training rigours – allowed him to initiate attacks at pace and set the likes of Antoine Griezmann, and previously Falcao and Costa into goal.

Diego Simeone is indeed an admirer. It would take an article in itself to cover all the superlatives the Argentine has proclaimed when it comes to Turan – therefore his departure will be a bitter pill to swallow, despite the recent high-profile arrivals at Vicente Calderón.

Some argue that his stats don’t even reflect his true value, and it’s hard not to agree. Turan is often the middle man, linking play before setting a teammate through on goal, or spreading play to allow maximum time and space for those around him. He’s just a player you have to watch weekly to legitimately appreciate. And appreciate you will.

It’s been a long road for the Turkish international, an arduous one too. Arda’s story of discipline and faith is a timely reminder for all young players that obstacles will arise in the game, no matter what your level. The key is finding solutions to overcome them.

Even without the extra strength and agility training that he conducted at Galatasaray, it’s likely Turan would’ve turned pro anyway. He was still a supremely gifted technically and a wonderful exponent of the final pass with his vision and speed of thought. But would he have become captain aged 22? Would he have become the most expensive Turkish footballer ever? Perhaps not.

After his recent move to Barcelona, it appears that one more challenge awaits in Spain before he will inevitably head back to Turkey. A century of national caps are inevitable for a player who can mix it with the very best but remains largely confined to the second band of Europe’s best footballers.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


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