The Under-21 European Championship is about to kick off, with a host of the continent’s finest young talent primed for competition in Romania and Georgia.
England will be looking to win the trophy for the first time since 1984, but a host of stacked countries will be looking to throw a spanner in the works – including holders Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
We’ve pulled together an insane XI of talented players that are primed to take the tournament by storm.
GK: Giorgi Mamardashvili (Georgia)
Georgia are enjoying an international upswing – spearheaded by Napoli sensation Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – and the co-hosts will be represented by Valencia goalkeeper Mamardashvili this month.
The keeper has been put up for sale by his La Liga employers and there’s reported interest from Manchester United and Tottenham. It’ll be intriguing to see how he performs.
RB: Arnau Martinez (Spain)
Martinez has looked incredibly impressive in the last year for Girona – tidy on the ball, adept at getting it forward, secure defensively and tough to beat one-on-one.
He has even chipped in with a few goals and assists for good measure. Considering Spain’s current right-back is the 85-year-old Jesus Navas, a good tournament could catapult Martinez into contention for the senior side.
CB: Taylor Harwood-Bellis (England)
Harwood-Bellis has blossomed into a fine centre-back over the last two years and that should come as no surprise considering his mentor.
The youngster has spent the last two seasons under the tutelage of Vincent Kompany, following him from Anderlecht to Burnley on loan from Manchester City on both occasions.
After a slightly shaky start to his time in Belgium, he has matured into a commanding centre-half, impressive both off and especially on the ball for the Championship winners last term. One to watch.
CB: Levi Colwill (England)
Colwill is widely considered to be the future of England’s defence.
His Premier League performances this season have reportedly seen Brighton bid £40m for the defender, who is the latest product from the Chelsea academy.
But the Blues have made it clear they have no intention to sell Colwill and see him as part of their squad next season under Mauricio Pochettino.
Colwill’s progression is not limited to club level; he was asked to train with the senior side before June’s internationals with Malta and North Macedonia.
LB: Destiny Udogie (France)
One of Antonio Conte’s trolley-dash signings last summer, Udogie has spent the 2022-23 season back at Udinese while Spurs have toiled.
“I have to thank the club so much for having invested and believed in me during these two seasons,” he said after his final match for the Serie A club.
“All I want to say is thank you. I knew my qualities, I just wanted to express them and Udinese gave me this great chance. I am ready for the future and for the Premier League.”
Tottenham fans will be watching his performances at the finals intently.
CM: Sandro Tonali (Italy)
A veteran (for this level) at 23, this will be the last U21 Euros graced by Tonali.
The midfielder was part of the Milan side that reached the Champions League semi-finals and his performances have attracted the attention of clubs from across Europe, including some in the Premier League – including Newcastle United.
Having played almost 300 career matches, Italy will look to Tonali to get them out of a tough group that includes France, Switzerland and Norway.
CM: Morgan Gibbs-White (England)
If he can replicate this, England will be laughing…
Morgan Gibbs-White on repeat.pic.twitter.com/NNoV816kqq
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) May 9, 2023
CM: Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands)
You’ve definitely heard of Gravenberch’s potential, his performances for Ajax in 2021-22 were incredible, but his participation in the U21 Euros is an indication of his limited game-time at Bayern Munich this season.
The midfielder will be hoping to use the competition to convince Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel of his merits. Liverpool are said to be monitoring his situation.
RW: Pedro Neto (Portugal)
A very capable Premier League performer, Neto’s promising career at Wolves has been derailed by injuries.
The forward missed close to a year’s worth of football with a knee injury, and not too long after making his return in 2022, he suffered another injury that derailed his World Cup dreams.
The U21 Euros are the perfect stage for Neto to remind everybody of his ability and strengthen his senior international credentials.
ST: Youssoufa Moukoko (Germany)
Moukoko was the youngest player at the 2022 World Cup – and that’s not the only record the youthful striker holds.
He also holds the record for being the youngest player to appear in the Champions League and Bundesliga at just 16. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s still only 18.
And Erling Haaland says the Cameroon-born forward is already better than him when they were the same age. Yikes.
LW: Mykhailo Mudryk (Ukraine)
By far the most expensive player at the finals, Mudryk is attempting to regain his mojo following an underwhelming first six months at Chelsea.
The forward has shown glimpses of his undoubted talent, but the chaos at Stamford Bridge wasn’t conducive to bringing out the best in somebody that’s made less than 100 senior appearances.
Pochettino will be watching on with interest.