The mould for Romanian No. 10s was set by Gheorghe Hagi and nobody has come close to fitting it since – perhaps until now. Stanciu, who turned 23 in May, is in some ways a late bloomer at the top level. He was born to a farming family and learned his trade in the academy at provincial club Unirea Alba Iulia, for whom he debuted in Romania’s second tier just 18 days after his 15th birthday. By the time he left Unirea, in 2011, he had already come under big clubs’ radars but joined Vaslui for the next two years before arriving at Steaua Bucharest in March 2013.
There seems next to no chance of Stanciu staying in Romania for much longer. He has been superb for Steaua, peaking last season when, having been handed the No. 10 shirt, he scored 12 league goals. Stanciu can play on either flank but is most comfortable when handed a roaming role starting centrally and has breathed new life into Romania’s attack since winning his first cap – which, remarkably, only came in March. Four goals in five games, including pre-tournament strikes against Ukraine and Georgia, have virtually guaranteed him a starting spot but most eyecatching of all is his style – diminutive, almost stocky, all quick feet and close control and a genuine threat from long range. Remind you of anyone?
Oleksandr Zinchenko – Ukraine
Oleksandr Zinchenko in action for Ukraine
Image credit: AFP
If recent reports are anything to go by, Zinchenko may soon become one of Pep Guardiola’s first signings at Manchester City. That is how highly the 19-year-old midfielder, who plays in Russia’s top flight for Ufa, is regarded and he may provide a more immediate illustration of his talents this summer. When Zinchenko ran clear to confidently convert Ukraine’s second goal in the 4-3 win over Romania last month – in only his second appearance for the senior team – he became their youngest goalscorer and hopes are high that he can emulate the impact of the man whose record he broke, Andriy Shevchenko.
That showing against the Romanians secured him a place in the squad for Euro 2016. Zinchenko is technically excellent, has good speed across the ground and has an accurate left foot that poses a threat from set-pieces. His versatility – he can play in advanced positions centrally or on the wings – could be attractive to Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko in France and so could his freshness in a midfield that lacks verve. The Shakhtar Donetsk youth product, who moved to Ufa last year, is reported to have been courted by the Russia national setup and Ukraine moved swiftly to nail his services down when awarding him his first full cap against Spain in October.
Adam Nagy – Hungary
Hungary's Adam Nagy and Croatia's Luka Modric in action
Image credit: Reuters
It is a long time since Hungarian football has had a truly marketable talent but Nagy, a 20-year-old deep-lying midfielder, is already a name on numerous scouts’ lips. Nagy plays for local champions Ferencvaros, who he joined in 2013 after two years with an academy in Spain, and a year ago had barely played a game for his club; he had not played for the national team either but made his debut as an early substitute in the draw with Northern Ireland last September and performed superbly when handed a start in the second leg of the play-off win over Norway.
Nagy has kicked on since then and will probably partner the veteran Zoltan Gera for the tournament outsiders in France. He has an alert, astute football brain and senses danger quickly; he also recycles the ball accurately and that will be important in a campaign that is likely to see Hungary come under a fair amount of pressure. Big clubs are already said to be lurking, with Chelsea and Liverpool reported to be among them, but Nagy – who is contracted to Ferencvaros until 2018 – has stated he will take time before making his first significant career move. "I feel good at Ferencvaros and have nothing planned beyond my current contract to 2018," he said last month. "I won't make a transfer just to make money, certainly not. I'm still young and will wait for my chance away." He should find that it comes quickly enough.
Marko Pjaca – Croatia
Norway's Per Ciljan Skjelbred and Croatia's Marko Pjaca
Image credit: Reuters
Croatia are time-honoured dark horses at this level by now and if the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic click then a last-eight spot is a realistic expectation. There is plenty of European experience throughout the side but the man who could make the difference is the only likely starter who still plays domestically.
Pjaca, 21 last month, should start on the left side of the attack and any repeat of the form he has shown in two years with serial champions Dinamo Zagreb will bode well for Ante Cacic’s side. A rangy six-footer who eats up the ground and has exceptional strength for a young player, he will expose full-backs for speed and pose a threat cutting inside onto his right foot, a ploy that contributed to several of his 11 goals last season. He won his first cap in September 2014 and has become a fixture in the set-up during the last year, scoring his first goal in the admittedly untesting 10-0 win over San Marino. Regular watchers of the Croatian league will attest that Pjaca is comfortably its best player.
Pjaca’s father was a wrestler and his mum a champion judoka. It is strong sporting stock but he is on course to outdo their achievements. Most of Europe’s top clubs have been mentioned in connection with his services over the past year, a Europa League hat-trick against Celtic at the end of 2014 doing much to pique the interest, and Dinamo will be in for a particularly large payday if he makes an impact in France.
Emil Forsberg – Sweden
Emil Forsberg in training with Sweden
Image credit: AFP
Even if you cannot warm to his club, it is hard not to feel a little fuzzy about Forsberg’s talents. Red Bull Leipzig’s rise has courted controversy in Germany and they will make their debut in the Bundesliga next season; left winger Forsberg will be foremost in their planning but not before he has attempted to prove that Sweden have more in their attacking armoury than the wiles of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Forsberg can be backed to succeed. A cool finish in the recent friendly win over Wales, set up brilliantly by Ibrahimovic, served notice of how the pair might dovetail and the 24-year-old is currently in the form of his life. Liverpool have been mentioned as big admirers and he was given a new long-term contract by Leipzig in February as a result, just 13 months after joining from Malmo. He played for hometown club GIF Sundsvall until late 2012 and his progress since then has been rapid. Perhaps his brilliance is no surprise; his grandfather and father both had successful playing stints with GIF with the latter, Leif, scoring 150 goals for them. Emil, who will give Sweden an injection of speed and trickery that the side does not have in abundance, is firmly on course to be better than them both. “If a game is not going to play you know that something can always happen when he has the ball,” says his international team-mate Michael Lustig, and Sweden may well count on that.