For some of Europe’s up and coming names, 2020 could be a year to remember.
The unique experience of an Olympic Football Tournament glistens in July, with a trip to Tokyo 2020 awaiting the likes of France, Germany, Romania and Spain. Players who turn 23 this year will be eligible – outside of the three older players per squad allowed.
We take a look at five stars of the future who have received plenty of plaudits since guiding their nations through the UEFA Under-21 European Championships last year – and could even be among the senior stars appearing at UEFA EURO 2020.
Club: Real Sociedad / Position: Left winger / Age: 22
Fans of Spanish football will be familiar with the exploits of this young wide-man. Already captaining Real Sociedad, the much-admired winger looks certain to have a massive future ahead of him.
With agility and finesse being his dominant strengths, rather than pace, Oyarzabal has been causing havoc for La Liga backlines as he comes in off either flank. When he finds himself in front of goal, his finishing has been exceptional. With Oyarzabal having now enjoyed his first starts for Spain’s seniors, La Roja have a new brand of dynamic winger to call upon.
Club: RB Leipzig / Position: Central defender / Age: 21
Physically imposing, pacey and impressive on the ball, Upamecano looks to have all the attributes needed in a top-class modern centre-half. Despite his tender age, this is already the former Red Bull Salzburg man’s third season as a first-choice pick in the German Bundesliga.
Exceptional reading of the game, a cool head and the ability to search out raking long passes Virgil van Dijk would be proud of, has seen his name being linked to many big European sides. While France's senior side present plenty of competition, Upamecano seems a talent bright enough to challenge for a place.
Club: Schalke / Position: Central midfielder / Age: 22
Having been in and out of the side last season, Serdar has turned himself into a key vertebra in the Schalke spine under new coach David Wagner. Given a new lease of life now they “are not afraid to make mistakes” with the former Huddersfield Town manager and Borussia Dortmund coach in charge, the young midfielder is fundamental in transitional phases.
Among both the leading tacklers and dribblers in the Bundesliga so far, he has been driving Die Königsblauen forward and getting among the goals, too, with six to his name so far this season. Thanks to a few injuries, he got his chance to make his senior debut in October and could be a figure that becomes a more permanent fixture soon.
Club: Genoa (on loan from Inter Milan) / Position: Goalkeeper / Age: 22
One of Romania’s heroes from the Under-21 campaign that sent them to their first Olympic Games in over half a century, Radu has been battling it out in Italy’s Serie A for the last 18 months. His performances last year did not go unnoticed back home, with him being named the ‘Nicolae Dobrin Romanian Player of the Year’ in December.
A goalkeeper with many an impressive save in his locker, he may well slip down the pecking order at Genoa as they fight relegation. But Inter – and a host of potential suitors – see plenty to rave about in the young stopper. He will be key if Romania plan to threaten the podium in Japan.
Club: Lyon / Position: Midfielder / Age: 21
Composure, vision, a turn of pace, an eye for goal and quick feet - there's good reason why Aouar’s name has been one murmured among fans as being among the next big things. There’s also little surprise he has been linked with some of the biggest teams in the game, such is his confidence and incision in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League.
Having already pulled on the captain’s armband for Lyon, you can see where idol Zinedine Zidane’s game comes into the central midfielder’s play. His flowing movement, driving runs through the middle and ability to conjure chances and space out of nowhere - while also being able to operate wide on the left - make him a tantalising prospect.