6-Surprise-Callups-to-Euro-2016-Who-Could-Shine

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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Breakout-Stars-Euro-2016-Blog

Has it really been four years since we watched Spain, basking in the glory of a majestic Xavi Hernandez, romp their way to European Championship glory?

Alas, in the intervening time Europe has lost Xavi and Spain’s stock has plummeted. The finals in France will, this year, be ruled by the next generation of stars; whether any of them go on to define the tournament as the Catalonian maestro did remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, though: there will be superstars unearthed at this tournament. We have taken a stab at predicting the kids who might just do it on the biggest stage this summer.

Federico Bernadeschi (Italy)

Federico Bernadeschi is very quickly becoming respected as one of Italy’s premium young talents. Though national coach Antonio Conte has seemed somewhat reluctant to flood the Azzurri with too many young players at once during his waning reign, Italy are beginning to realise that they have a wealth of talent at their disposal, with Bernadeschi’s name climbing rapidly towards the top of that list.

The Fiorentina forward is a creator at heart, which could stand him in good stead when competing for a place in Italy’s starting eleven this summer. Though the Azzurri’s current talent pool is seemingly limitless and they possess a huge number of gifted strikers capable of putting the ball in the back of the net – Lorenzo Insigne, Graziano Pelle, Simone Zaza, Stephan El Sharaawy and Eder could all be competing for a starting berth in France – they do lack a creative force capable of carving out chances in the first place.

That’s where Bernadeschi could make his mark. The 21-year-old displays remarkable ball retention and a consistent and deadly eye for a killer pass every week in Serie A, meaning he could play the role of provider alongside any of Italy’s talented goal-scorers.

Though his involvement in Italy’s friendly drubbing by Germany – during which Conte experimented with a young front three – might have hurt his chances of initially starting in the tournament proper, Bernadeschi will no doubt be knocking on the next Chelsea manager’s door if the Azzurri find themselves struggling to break down defences as the competition progresses.

Victor Lindelof (Sweden)

Unlike many of the players on this list, Victor Lindelof is almost guaranteed to start in the tournament. The 21-year-old has recently burst onto the scene to cement himself as one of Sweden’s first-choice defenders, and it would be a surprise not to see him feature heavily in their campaign.

Lindelof’s rise to national side regular has been facilitated by his recent run in Benfica’s first team. The Portuguese side are one of Europe’s form teams right now, and the Swedish centre-half has been resplendent at the heart of their defence.

Accustomed to playing as a defensive midfielder as well as at the back, Lindelof’s ball-playing abilities are are the heart of what makes him so attractive as a centre-half. He’s also strong, great in the air and very quick, meaning his passing ability doesn’t overshadow his grasp of the basics of defending. He also possesses excellent technique, making him a real threat from set-pieces; so if Sweden don’t hit Zlatan’s head with the first ball, they have an able alternative to aim for.

Though Lindelof has only very recently made his debut for Sweden, if he finishes the season with Benfica as strongly as his current performances suggest, we could be seeing a lot of him in France.

Viktor Kovalenko (Ukraine)

Kovalenko rose to fame last year after claiming the Golden Boot at the U-20 World Cup; surprising for an attacking midfielder whose usual contribution comes in the creation of goals, rather than in the scoring of them.

That’s not to say the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder is a stranger in front of goal. In the mould of Belgium’s uber-talented Kevin De Bruyne, Kovalenko’s ability to finish off moves as well as start them means he’s rocketing into Ukrainian first-team plans and is highly likely to feature at the tournament.

Kovalenko is a master of the chipped through-ball, and has the rare ability to seemingly spot runs before they’re even made; a trait made famous by Spain’s David Silva. If he’s given a chance to prove his worth in France, then potential link-ups with compatriots Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka could make Ukraine a real force going forward.

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.

twitter: @tomocurr

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Mourinho-Scouting-Ukraine

On October 22 the German sports portal transfermarkt.de reported that Eden Hazard could be on his way from Chelsea FC to Real Madrid next summer. The French paper L’Equipe meanwhile reported that Hazard has told several teammates that he no longer feels comfortable in London, and that he doesn’t feel that his development would benefit from staying in the Premier League.

Hazard’s current market value is €70 million, and a potential transfer could lead to the sort of blockbuster deal that has become so commonplace when Real Madrid are involved.

Hence, while a Hazard transfer would certainly satisfy the cravings of Real Madrid fans—who have become accustomed to their team signing the biggest names in world football—Chelsea will have to find a replacement for what would be a huge lose in their creativity department.

Last week, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho was invited by Shakhtar Donetsk’s CEO Sergei Palkin to visit Ukraine’s qualification match against Spain. This led to speculations that Mourinho was scouting the match for potential winter transfer signings. The Ukrainian football news twitter account @FutbolUkraine suggested that Mourinho could be taking a look at signing Yaroslav Rakitskiy as Mourinho had failed to sign John Stones from Everton in the summer, and John Terry is increasingly showing signs of slowing down.

Another possibility is that Mourinho was scouting a possible replacement for Hazard. The recent rumours of Hazard’s imminent departure make it probable that Mourinho was looking at offensive players rather than defenders, especially given the fact that Chelsea will make another attempt at Stones before looking for alternatives.

The fact that Shakhtar Donetsk hosted Mourinho suggests that Hazard’s replacement could be found at the club. One player who comes to mind is Shakhtar’s Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira, who is currently on pace to break the Ukrainian Premier League goal scoring record—currently held by Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Teixeira, however, did not participate in the match that Mourinho attended. So, while Teixeira is certainly on Mourinho’s radar, it can be expected that Chelsea’s manager was scouting a player on the pitch, and that he used Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s close connection to Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov to visit the match.

This means that Mourinho was most likely in the Ukrainian capital to scout either Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka or Dynamo Kyiv’s attacking winger Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko’s contract was set to expire next summer—the winger was already prepared to leave his boyhood club last summer following a dispute with Dynamo’s ownership over broken promises regarding a potential transfer in the 2015 summer break. Dynamo, however, remained firm, and Yarmolenko remained at the club and has since signed a new five-year contract.

But at the same time, Yarmolenko has also stated that he only signed the new contract to guarantee that Dynamo Kyiv would receive a decent compensation for him, and he is still determined to leave Ukraine next summer. Yarmolenko would be an intriguing possibility indeed for Chelsea, however, he is a very different player than Eden Hazard, and therefore might be more suited as an addition to the playmaker rather than as a replacement.

This shifts the focus to Yevhen Konoplyanka, who seems more creative than Yarmolenko—he relies more on his physical attributes. Konoplyanka made the step to a European top league last summer when he moved from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the La Liga team Sevilla FC. Konoplyanka has made six appearances in La Liga so far—all of them from the bench—and with an average whoscored.com rating of only 6.43 he has yet to prove that he can make a lasting impact at Sevilla. His score in the Champions League, however, has been more impressive—here whoscored.com gave him an average score 7.04—which indicates that it will be only a matter of time before Konoplyanka moves up a step in the domestic competition as well.

One thing is certain: neither player alone would be enough to replace the likes of Eden Hazard, and consequently Mourinho could decide to sign several players to soften the impact that a Hazard departure would have on Chelsea. The trip to Kyiv suggests that Mourinho was there not only to scout both Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, but also to speak to Shakhtar Donetsk about the possibility of signing Alex Teixeira. Given the links of Chelsea’s ownership to the post-Soviet space and especially to Shakhtar Donetsk, such a scenario is very possible.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus

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Metalurh-Zaprizhya

The conflict in the Donbass, and the resulting financial uncertainty in Ukraine continue to have an affect on the nation’s Ukrainian Premier League. On September 8 the Russian language sports page championat.ru reported that Metalurh Zaporizhya might be compelled to cease operations, because of financial problems.

Zaporizhya currently stand in last place in the Ukrainian Premier League, and it now appears that the club has until October to fulfil its financial obligations.  A statement on the club’s homepage this week read: “The [economic] situation has become much more complicated in the face of the deteriorating economic and political crisis in Ukraine, which has created additional challenges in financing, maintaining, and developing the club, and has now become a real threat to the club’s existence.” The statement further reads that “In the light of those circumstance, we [the club] consider it necessary to inform about the impending failure to meet financial obligations after October 1st 2015. We therefore appeal to fans of the football club to step forward, and to assist with financial patronage of PFC Metalurh Zaporizhya.”

Vyacheslav Boguslayev—a people’s deputy in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada, and the owner of JSC Motor Sich—is the owner of the club. But, as the Ukrainian sports page Tribuna.com reported, the Boguslayev family has recently announced that they can no longer carry the burden of financing the club on their own. With the present financial uncertainty in the country, however, it seems unlikely that an oligarch will step forward to buy Metalurh, especially when one considers the club’s recent decline on the playing field.

Metalurh are not the only club that faces bankruptcy; Metalist Kharkiv may also be on the brink of ceasing operations. Currently, Metalist owes outstanding wages to several players including former Ukrainian international Edmar Halovskyi de Lacerda. Edmar has since sued the club, and a UEFA ruling is expected in October. The club does not have the money to pay the outstanding wages, and may be forced into bankruptcy if Edmar wins the case.

Metalist’s financial problems date back to December 2012 when the club was bought by the than relatively unknown businessman Serhiy Kurchenko. Kurchenko was listed at the time as the owner of gas company Gaz Ukrainia and was regarded by some as a somewhat enigmatic figure (and a billionaire at the tender age of 27, no less). Speculation was rife that the club were merely to serve as a front for questionable business activities that involved the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich.

Shortly after the takeover of Metalist Kharkiv, Gas Ukraine became rebranded as VETEK and its new ownership group made flamboyant promises of Champions League football and titles to fans and the municipal authorities who owned part of the stadium. But three years later, the club had neither reached the group stages of the Champions League nor had they won any silverware. Kurchenko’s close relationship with the former Yanukovich regime also meant that he was forced to flee the country after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which had led to the disposal of Viktor Yanukovich and his cronies.

There are persistent rumours that former owner Oleksandr Yaroslavsky could step in, and save the club from financial bankruptcy. As one fan explained “realistically, the club is dead unless Yaroslavsky returns. The fans aren’t even angry anymore, just depressed, and the anti-Kurchenko chants are more of a formality (although still very entertaining). Basically for a city of 2 million people with only 1 club, and a top stadium, to get 5000 turning out is a scandal.”

Metalist are currently eighth, six spots ahead of last placed Metalurh, in the Ukrainian Premier League but in terms of finances they may very well share the same destiny as Zaporizhya—financial termination. This would be a worst-case scenario for the Ukrainian Premier League as organizers are now looking at a storyline in which the league may only be contested by twelve teams come October. Even worse, the continued conflict in the country means that several other clubs are also facing financial problems; Metalurh, and Metalist may just be the first dominoes to fall in a long line of bankruptcies in Ukrainian football.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at Futbolgrad.com.

twitter: @homosovieticus

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