Euro 2024: A look at five precocious stars who can make a difference

Yamal, Zaire-Emery have already inspired awe in top flight club football in their teens

From left: Lamine Yamal, Kenan Yildiz, Warren Zaire-Emery
From left: Lamine Yamal, Kenan Yildiz, Warren Zaire-Emery

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Come Friday night (15 June IST), hosts and three-time winners Germany will meet Scotland to set the ball rolling for Euro 2024, the biggest showpiece in football after the FIFA World Cup. This time, it has come back after a three-year cycle, with Euro 2020 actually taking place a year later in 2021, in which Italy had the final laugh via a tie-breaker against England.

The next one month will see the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Jude Bellingham, senior pros Kevin De Bruyne or Bruno Fernandez vying for honours, while someone like a Cristiano Ronaldo will be appearing for his sixth Euro. However, there is a next generation of wannabe stars on the horizon — still in their teens or barely out of it — who have made a mark in club football and are now eyeing the Euro as their big stage.

We tried to cherry-pick five young stars one needs to watch out for:

Lamine Yamal (Spain)

Lamine Yamal, who has caught the fancy of Leo Messi, no less, won’t turn 17 until a day before the Euro 2024 final on 14 July. However, the prodigious talent who made his first outing in a Barcelona shirt at 15, is expected to provide the X factor to the Spanish attack in the company of his club mate Pau Cubarsi, another precocious talent at 17.

In 50 appearances for this La Masia product (the youth academy of Barca) across all competitions, Yamal, who plays off the right wing, has notched up seven goals and 10 assists. It will be interesting to see how often Spain manager Luis de la Fuentes uses him in the month-long tournament, though he has a high opinion of the prodigy.  

“If he ends up playing in the European Championship, it will be because he is prepared and because he has that special talent of a chosen one,” Fuentes said last month. The manager has lived up to his word by naming both Yamal and Cubarsi in a youthful squad as Spain try to add a record fourth crown to their shelves.

Antonio Silva
Antonio Silva

Warren Zaire-Emery (France)

It’s not often that Didier Deschamps, the laconic France coach who has won the World Cup both as captain and manager, waxes eloquent about any player.

This is what he has to say about Warren Zaire-Emery, a homegrown Paris Saint-Germain midfielder who turned 18 in March: “He stays focused on the pitch. He’s a natural. When you become an international, it’s another milestone. There are prospects. The demands are higher. Warren, for example, gets a lot of media exposure. When I select someone, it’s because I’m convinced they have the potential to stay with us.”

Emery has had two full international caps and over 70 senior club appearances to his name as he turned out to be one of PSG’s standout performers as they won the French double — something which earned him a UNFP Young Player of the Year award and a new contract until 2029.

However, game time will be the question here because the France midfield oozes quality and experience, but Zaire-Emery is a real talent, and having been given permission to delay his school exams until September, he hopes Deschamps gives him a chance to show what he can do on the big stage.

Antonio Silva (Portugal)

The upcoming Euro is being looked upon as Ronaldo’s last chance to add a second crown to the one he held aloft in 2016, but the presence of the likes of Antonio Silva has given Portugal the reputation of a squad with talent aplenty. The 20-year-old centre back has already been to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, as the youngest player ever to represent his country at the marquee event.

A composed old-school defender who is very difficult to get past and with great quality on the ball, Silva has been a rock in the Benfica defence, conceding just 28 goals in 34 league games this season.

Arthur Vermeeren
Arthur Vermeeren

Manager Roberto Martinez is well-stocked for defensive options and Silva will compete with Sporting’s Goncalo Inacio to partner Ruben Dias at Euro.

Arthur Vermeeren, Belgium

The Belgian powerhouse, now 19, must have shown enough potential to impress Diego Simeone, the long-serving, hard taskmaster of a manager at Atletico Madrid.

Playing time has been hard to come by for Vermeeren since his January switch from Royal Antwerp to Atletico Madrid, but the Belgian teenager has acknowledged that he was told at the time of signing that his introduction would be gradual. As Simeone the Argentine himself put it: “He needs time, patience. We know he’s a good player and we know we’re going to need him.”

So too will Belgium, who have already given him three senior caps. Though he has just three minutes of competitive experience for his country, Vermeeren has the ability to shine if given the chance, with his defensive work rate supplemented by an impressive ability to make things happen in the final third.

Kenan Yildiz, Turkey

The Germany-born former Bayern Munich youngster is now a breakthrough star for Juventus and Turkey, and there are high hopes that the 19-year-old can help his country get through a competitive group and into the knockout phase for the first time since they reached the semi-finals at Euro 2008.

A 6 foot 2 inch playmaker with two good feet and an eye both for through balls and long shots, Yildiz has been gradually eased into international prominence by national team boss Vincenzo Montella, scoring his first goal for Turkey in a friendly victory over Germany in November.

“He has great potential. From now on, he will have to get used to a different career and understand how to manage success. The expectations will be different now,” Montella has said.

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