From wonderkid to world class, we have picked out six players who could earn a big-money move from this summer's tournament in Italy.
Nicolo Barella | Midfielder | Italy
In 2015, Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport published an article after then-18-year-old Nicolo Barella’s professional debut that referred to him as ‘the Sardinian Steven Gerrard’.
Four years on, Barella has established himself as one of the most exciting talents in Serie A, making 112 first-team appearances for Cagliari and scoring seven goals.
The 22-year-old’s performances last season caught the eye of Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini, who handed him his first senior cap in October.
Barella has since played six times for Italy, scoring twice, and has collected another six caps for the U21 side.
Andrea Pirlo has added himself to his fan club, calling him ‘one of the best in Italy’, while Alessandro Del Piero ‘can’t stop talking about him’ according to Italian football journalist Mina Rzouki.
Barella has been linked with moves to Chelsea, AC Milan and Inter since the turn of the calendar year, and a strong showing in this tournament will surely see that interest increase.
Carlos Soler | Midfielder | Spain
“I see the ball, I see the goalkeeper rushing toward me, and I think: just try me.”
Those are the words of Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler, describing his first goal in the Mestalla against Celta Vigo two years ago in an article on The Players’ Tribune.
That confidence has helped shape the start of the technically gifted Spaniard’s career and was on show in the 2019 Copa del Rey final.
With Valencia leading Barcelona 1-0 in the first half, Soler picked up a through ball on the right and steamed past Jordi Alba to get to the byline.
The 22-year-old swung a ball into the box, which was nodded in by striker Rodrigo. Valencia went on to win 2-1, lifting their first trophy since 2008.
— Ayobami (@AyobamiWorld) May 25, 2019
On the strength of that clip alone, it’s not hard to see why Soler has already attracted interest from Manchester City, Tottenham, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.
Soler was called a ‘complete footballer’ by Valencia fan blog Diario De Mestalla before making his professional debut in 2015 and has lived up to that billing.
He finished this season with four goals and 11 assists in all competitions and will star for the four-time U21 European champions in Italy this summer.
Malang Sarr | Defender | France
Malang Sarr was 18th in the Telegraph’s top 55 best young players in world football two years ago.
He has continued to improve since then and last season made 35 league appearances for a Nice defence that conceded just 35 goals – the equal-second fewest in Ligue 1.
He accrued the fourth-most minutes of any player who started the 2018/19 season as a teenager across Europe’s top five leagues and also captained Nice in the absence of defensive partner Dante.
The 20-year-old can play in the centre or on the left of defence and is comfortable carrying the ball into midfield before picking a pass.
Sarr comes into the U21 Euros with just four caps for Les Bleuets, but should be a key member of the squad this summer.
He has been linked with moves to Chelsea and Arsenal previously in his career and a successful tournament in Italy will see him win even more admirers.
Sandro Tonali | Midfielder | Italy
The long hair. The pinpoint passing. The ‘regista’ tag. The Brescia education. You can see why Italy midfielder Tonali has been branded ‘the next Andrea Pirlo’.
The 19-year-old led Brescia to the Serie B title in 2018/19, with his performances earning him a call-up to the senior squad in November.
Tonali is yet to earn a senior cap but will certainly be key for the young Azzurri as they look to win a sixth European title on home soil.
He is set to be a dominant figure in midfield for Luigi Di Biagio’s side and will form a partnership of serious quality with Cagliari star Nicolo Barella (see above).
Tonali has already been linked to the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, but they will have stiff competition from several Serie A sides, including Juventus and AC Milan.
Houssem Aouar | Midfielder | France
“He is incredible. He’s always very calm with the ball at his feet, with an excellent technical quality.”
Those were the words of Pep Guardiola after an Aouar-inspired Lyon held Manchester City to a 2-2 draw in the Champions League in November.
The 20-year-old midfielder has unsurprisingly been linked with a move to the Etihad, among others, after a breakout season in Ligue 1.
Aouar scored seven goals and supplied 11 assists in all competitions as Lyon finished third and reached the Champions League knockout stages.
Sporting director Juninho has already moved to dispel speculation over a summer exit, saying: “Aouar is an amazing technical player. We must keep him.”
An impressive tournament for France, however, will only serve to increase interest in Lyon’s prized asset, and he could well end up on these shores before the summer is up.
Junior Firpo | Defender | Spain
“He is a player who has shown that he has a lot of potential, quality and the ability of being in the right place at the right time.”
This, from Real Betis teammate Marc Bartra, is an extremely modest assessment of a player who has already been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Firpo was one of La Liga’s outstanding young players during the 2018/19 season, despite having his season shortened by injury.
The 22-year-old first came through as a left-back but regularly deputises in midfield and can also do a job at centre-back if needed.
Firpo has just one cap for Spain U21s, but the versatile wing-back is set to star for La Rojita in Italy this summer.
With so many big clubs already in pursuit, it would not be a surprise to see Firpo playing Premier League football come August.
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