The upcoming European Championship is set to be a showcase of the best and most talented players the continent has to offer. And it’s not just established stars fans will be looking forward to seeing in action, but also some of the best and brightest of the next generation.
Who could forget an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney starring for England in 2004? The excitement of seeing a teenager come of age on one world football’s grandest stages is something all supporters can appreciate.
UEFA only first awarded a 'Golden Boy' award the last edition of the Euros in 2016, which was won by Renato Sanches as he played a key role in Portugal lifting the trophy in France.
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This year sees a number of potential candidates for that prize, who will be looking to establish themselves on the international scene and perhaps write their names in football folklore.
Here are some of the top stars 21 and under to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:

Nuno Mendes (18) - Portugal

The young full-back has earned rave reviews since busting onto the scene with Sporting last year.
Possessing electric pace and no shortage of skill, Mendes has already been rumoured for a move to the Premier League with the two Manchester clubs said to be ready to do battle for his signature.
Having played a key role in his side’s momentous title success this last season, Mendes will hope to make his mark at the tournament for the holders.

Nuno Mendes avec le Portugal, 2021

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Jude Bellingham (17) - England

Much was made of Birmingham City’s decision to ‘retire’ Bellingham’s number 22 shirt when he left the club in 2020 to join Borussia Dortmund at just 17 years old.
However, despite his tender years, the England midfielder has been able to justify such an honour as he was able to slot seamlessly right into the Bundesliga side’s midfield.
Featuring 46 times in his debut season, Bellingham helped the club to a third place finish, a German Cup win and a Champions League quarter-final - winning the league's Newcomer of the Season award.
The versatile box-to-box midfielder plays with a maturity beyond his years and while there is a ‘rawness’ about him, he has both the time and the talent to become a mainstay of the Three Lions for years to come.

Jamal Musiala (18) - Germany

Involved in something of a tug-of-war between England and Germany due to his parentage, the player actually represented both at youth level before making the decision to play for Germany’s senior side.
Like Bellingham, Musiala has been playing in the Bundesliga, but appearances for Bayern Munich have mostly come off the bench this past season.

Jamal Musiala - FC Bayern München

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Despite this, the player has done more than enough to showcase his talent when called upon.
Fleet-footed and possessing fantastic close control, the youngster also has a deadly eye for goal, finding the net seven times in all competitions from his attacking midfield position.

Alexander Isak (21) - Sweden

Given their reputation for identifying youth talent, it was perhaps a surprise when Dortmund allowed the Swedish hitman to join Real Sociedad in 2019.
A tenacious forward, with fine turn of pace, Isak is just as adept at dropping deep to pick up the ball as he is in the six-yard box.

Isak will look to step into Ibrahimovic's shoes

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Comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic have been unavoidable but Isak is undeniably forging his own path in the footballing world having scored an impressive 33 goals in two seasons for the Basque club.
With Ibrahimovic’s injury ruling him out of the tournament, Isak with have more of an opportunity to show what he is all about and, all being well, we may even soon be asking, 'Zlatan who?'

Eljif Elmas (21) - North Macedonia

The Napoli player recently burst onto the wider public consciousness in the spring when he fired in a shock winner for his country in their 2-1 triumph over Germany.
The confident attacking midfielder had been linked with both Manchester City and Inter ahead of his 2019 move from Fenerbahce to Naples, where he is mostly used as an impact substitute as his development continues.

Elif Elmas

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Including that famous goal against Germany, Elmas has found the back of the net three times in North Macedonia’s last four matches, seemingly peaking just in time for the start of the competition.
The Balkan nation may well be among the outsiders in the tournament, but if they are to spring a surprise in their group, it’s highly likely Elmas will be at the heart of it.

Ryan Gravenberch (19) - Netherlands

The Ajax teenager is the latest in a long line of talented Dutch midfielders with all the tools to eventually stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best.
Nurtured at the famous Ajax academy from childhood, the club saw enough in Gravenberch to grant him his senior debut at just 16 in 2018, making him the youngest player Ajax had ever fielded in the Eredivisie.
At an imposing 6’3” with a rangy physique, Gravenberch is already one of the star players in the Dutch league and well worthy of his call up to the senior squad for the tournament.
More than anything, a decent showing at the Euros is likely to attract the attention of Premier League clubs in particular with Liverpool and Chelsea already both having been previously linked with the player.

Ryan Gravenberch has a bright future ahead of him

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Adam Hlozek (18) - Czech Republic

In the absence of Norway and Erling Haaland from the tournament this summer, another tall, powerful, clinical centre-forward will be hoping to make his mark.
In fact, when compared to Haaland by a fan on Twitter, Hlozek’s club Sparta Prague playfully instead made the point of suggesting that the former ought to the one flattered by the comparison.
Despite missing three months of the Czech Fortuna Liga with a broken foot, Hlozek still finished up as the league’s joint-top marksman with a stunning 15 goals from just 19 appearances – including an incredible four-goal haul in just over half an hour of the final game of the season against Zbrojovka Brno.
Having been similarly prolific at youth level for his country, Hlozek could be one to watch for the Czech team in England’s group.
Speaking exclusively to Eurosport, former Czech star Tomas Rocisky sang Hlozek's praises:
“He can have an impact on the game and create chances and I’m hopeful he will have influence with the national team because he is prepared for it and he can do it.
To be top scorer in Czech League is not easy, he has a very bright future.

Abdulkadir Omur (21) - Turkey

To earn the nickname ‘the Turkish Messi’ is some honour and Omur will be aiming to go some way to living up to that moniker when the tournament begins.
A devastating dribbler with explosive acceleration and a lethal left foot, Omur has been lighting up the Turkish Super Lig for Trabzonspor since coming through the club’s youth system.
Two major injuries in two years have perhaps blighted his progress but the talent is there and fitness permitting Omur could be the gem for the potential dark horses to make a push for the latter rounds.

Omur has been called the Turkish Messi

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Jeremy Doku (19) - Belgium

Many have suggested this tournament could be the last chance for Belgium to make good on all the promise among their talented squad but as far as the next generation is concerned, there are few players more exciting than Jeremy Doku.
The forward, who can operate on either the left or right side, is powerful and direct and looks fearless with the ball at his feet when driving towards goal.
The Stade Rennais star may not be thrown in to start matches by Roberto Martinez but against tiring defences late on, Doku will be more than a useful asset to stretch opponents.

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27/09/2022 AT 07:16