By Josh Powell | European Under-21 Championship
It doesn’t feel like it was too long ago when Ebeneezer Goode was getting played in the dirty underground nightclubs, Sharon Stone was turning heads in Basic Instinct and Alan Shearer was about to move to Blackburn. Incredibly it was 1992 and if that doesn’t make you feel old it won’t help to know that plenty of these lads weren’t even born then.
Tonight is the start of the European Under-21 Championship in Israel and a chance for countries to lay down a marker ahead of future World Cups. In England’s case it is a chance to build false hope and increase the media furore around young talented footballers, exposing them to such pressure that they eventually buckle in a penalty shootout against the Germans in four years time.
This tournament is a great chance for players to advertise themselves to Premier League chairman who have a cheque book beside them and are itching to start throwing around some ludicrous figures.
To help them out those Premier League billionaires, here are five lads to keep your eye on this week.
1. Luca Caldirola – Italy
The Azzurrini captain and power-house of a centre-back is confident the Italians can have another good run in an International tournament. Caldirola was part of an Italian back four that conceded just eight goals in eight games on their way to topping Qualification Group 7. His aerial ability, technique and pace immediately make him a more capable player than Premier League stalwarts Per Mertesacker, John O’Shea and Titus Bramble.
2. Georginio Wijnaldum – Netherlands
Vanilla Ice had only just released ‘Ice Ice Baby’ when Wijnaldum was born, but the Dutch midfielder has already bagged 34 goals and 14 assists in 83 games for PSV Eindhoven since joining in 2011. He plays in the ‘Number 10’ role just behind the striker and has eight goals in 21 appearances for the Dutch Under-21 side. Liverpool had a sniff around this lad in December 2012 and another good tournament here could help fuel a move to the Premier League in the summer.
3. Rodrigo – Spain
The 22-year-old is Brazilian-born but plays for Spain after moving there as a kid. Growing up in two of the most successful countries in football probably went some way to explaining his 11 goals in nine qualifying matches for this tournament. He was the top goalscorer in qualifying, knocking the ball into the back of the net on average once every 60 minutes he was on the pitch. Rodrigo plays for Benfica and started in the Europa League Final defeat to Chelsea earlier this year. In 2010 he made 17 appearances for Bolton on loan, but even training under Owen Coyle couldn’t destroy this lad’s talent.
4. Craig Dawson – England
Believe it or not Craig Dawson is an Englishman who doesn’t bottle it and forget how to use his legs when asked to take a penalty. The West Brom defender has made 13 appearances for the Under-21s scoring five goals. Nobody in the Three Lions squad has more goals than him at this level which is great news for Dawson, but probably quite worrying for England fans when you consider the top goalscorer is a defender who has just spent a season on loan at Bolton. A side not known for their attacking flair. Dawson is a threat from set pieces and knows how to find top bins from 12 yards, something English players haven’t been able to do for more than two decades.
5. Peniel Mlapa – Germany
Mlapa is six-foot-six so expect plenty of football pundits on the TV who don’t have a clue who he is saying ‘doesn’t he have great feet for a big man’. Well yes he does, but in a slightly more enlightening analysis he is a huge threat for Germany, Qualifying Group 1’s top scorer, and a striker who averaged a goal every 83 minutes during the campaign. The €3 million man has struggled to nail down regular football at Borussia Monchengladbach but it would be no surprise to see him in the goals during this tournament.