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The young guns of Euro 2024


The lights are rarely brighter in football than at an international tournament. It’s there that players bubbling under the radar become household names, players toiling at smaller clubs earn their dream moves to a heavyweight after a strong showing, and young stars announce their arrivals on the biggest stage. Euro 2024 won’t be any different.

Across the rosters of the 24 teams that are headed to Germany are several young talents looking to herald their coming of age with the eyes of the football world focused firmly on them. Let’s take a look of five of those players you’re about to hear a lot more about in the coming days.

For the sake of this exercise, we will limit this feature to players 21 and under, as well as one per squad.

Benjamin Sesko (RB Leipzig), Slovenia

Benjamin Sesko Slovenia

Benjamin Sesko’s first season at RB Leipzig might have also been his last. The 6-foot-4 striker is one of the most sought-after names in the summer transfer window and it’s unsurprising to see why. Of all of the attacking talent who could move during the window, Sesko’s transfer fee will be a relatively modest one thanks to a release clause of £55 million. Time will be of the essence, though, as the clause expires on June 30. After that point, Leipzig can name their price. Built in the mould of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 21-year-old Sesko has tremendous body control and uses it to his advantage. Capable of scoring with both feet, Sesko also possesses good vision and a preternatural ability to be in the right spot in the area. If there’s an area where he still needs work, it’s in the air. Despite his height, Sesko isn’t at all dominant in aerial duels and could certainly develop into more of a threat on set pieces. Scoring 14 goals in his first season in the Bundesliga, Sesko might have been able to produce even more if he wasn’t competing for playing time with a deep attacking corps that also included Lois Openda, Dani Olmo and Yussuf Poulsen. Internationally, Sesko already has 11 goals in 28 appearances. Should Sesko move as is widely expected, Arsenal is tipped as the most likely destination with London rivals Chelsea also interested.

Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United), England

Kobbie Mainoo England

After Manchester United beat Newcastle for the League Cup in 2023, manager Erik ten Hag could be seen whispering something in the ear of 17-year-old academy product Kobbie Mainoo, who had yet to make his first-team debut. The Dutchman told him his time was coming and he was right. It was another tumultuous season at Old Trafford, but one of the bright spots was the emergence of Mainoo as a fixture in the first-choice XI. Sidelined by an injury incurred in the summer, the now 19-year-old Mainoo’s season didn’t get underway until the fall. It concluded with the winning goal in United’s 2-1 triumph over Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. With United ravaged by injuries and an aging midfield, Mainoo seized his opening to become indispensable. A box-to-box midfielder, what might be the most impressive part of Mainoo’s game is his ability to win the ball back. On a number of occasions this past season, a promising United move forward appeared to have been snuffed out until Mainoo once again regained possession just outside the area. As witnessed with his goal against City and his last-gasp winner at Wolves, Mainoo is confident with the ball at his feet and moving forward to unleash a shot of his own. With stalwart Jordan Henderson left off of the roster, Mainoo, who received his first two England caps in the spring, has a real chance to make his mark in the Three Lions midfield alongside Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice.

Xavi Simons (Paris Saint-Germain), Netherlands

Xavi Simons Netherlands

Xavi Simons’ future is a matter for after the Euro. Until then, the 21-year-old product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy is focused on helping the Netherlands get out of a tough Group F. A native of Amsterdam, Simons left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 and made his senior debut in 2020. After two years and only nine appearances at PSG, Simons was sold to PSV in 2022 and immediately made an impact, scoring an Eredivisie-leading 19 goals. It was enough for PSG to immediately exercise their buyback clause and bring Simons back into the fold. But like he had experienced during his first stint at Parc des Princes, Simons once again found no playing time available and was loaned out to RB Leipzig. Like he did in Eindhoven, Simons showed PSG what he was capable of in the Bundesliga. Helping lead Leipzig to a fourth-place finish, Simons produced 11 assists, the second-most in the league, to go along with eight goals. Speedy as hell and unpredictable in his movement, Simons is a nightmare matchup for full-backs. Seemingly able to watch the game unfold in slow motion, Simons has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, confounding defenders and taking advantage of any daylight they offer. With Bayern Munich interested in his services and Barca entertaining the idea of a return, the focus on Simons in Germany will be an intense one.

Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen), Germany

Florian Wirtz Germany

There was no bigger story in club football this past season in Europe than that of Bayer Leverkusen. Xabi Alonso led the side to an undefeated season in Germany, claiming both the DFB-Pokal and their first Bundesliga title in their 119-year history, ending Bayern Munich’s unprecedented run of dominance. The only blemish on their record was their defeat in the Europa League Final to Atalanta. Key to their fortunes was the best young midfielder in Germany in Florian Wirtz. The 21-year-old Koln product has already drawn admirers from a number of big clubs across the continent, but he’s not going anywhere. Both Wirtz and Leverkusen have made it clear that he will not be sold this summer and, like manager Alonso, will return to help the team try to retain their crown. A member of Germany’s UEFA Under-21 Championship-winning team in 2021, Wirtz received his first cap in 2020, but missed out on the 2022 World Cup with a torn ACL. The Euro provides the first opportunity to see Wirtz compete against the world’s best and he’s unlikely to disappoint. Capable of operating as a traditional No. 10 or on the wing, Wirtz loves working in traffic and drawing backlines towards him in the middle. In doing so, he frees up space to exploit in behind them, leaving a through ball the only thing needed to unlock a defence, something that so many teams in the Bundesliga learned this past season. A skilled passer in the final third, Julian Nagelsmann will hope that Wirtz can develop quick chemistry with the likes of Kai Havertz and Niclas Fullkrug to add some teeth to the Germany attack.

Lamine Yamal (Barcelona), Spain

Lamine Yamal Spain

A lesser team would find themselves in a world of hurt when confronted with the financial situation at Barcelona, but Barca is a special case. With their hands tied over the past several seasons due to La Liga fair play regulations, the team has become increasingly reliant on cheap academy talent. Luckily, there are few places in the world that more consistently produce quality than La Masia. Over the past few years, the likes of Pedri, Gavi and Fermin Lopez have become integral first-team players. This past season, 16-year-old winger Lamine Yamal joined that group. Yamal made his first senior appearance at the end of the 2022-2023 season, becoming the youngest Barca player in over 100 years at 15. By the beginning of this past season, Yamal was firmly ensconced in the first team and made an instant impact, injecting the kind of pace on the wing that had been missing since Ousmane Dembélé departed for Paris Saint-Germain. Becoming La Liga's youngest ever goal scorer in October, Yamal would go on to finish his season with five goals and five assists in 37 league appearances. Internationally, Yamal was capped for the first time in the fall of 2023 and would become Spain's youngest ever goal scorer with a marker against Georgia on Sept. 8. Blessed with tremendous ball control and fancy footwork, Yamal is a handful to take on one-on-one as a defender, capable of turning on a dime and blowing past the poor soul trying to mark him. A gifted passer with the ability to pick out the right ball in the final third, Yamal has no trouble finishing things on his own, possessing a fine shot. At his young age, Yamal is far from a finished product and there were times this past season that Xavi grew frustrated with his inability to track back. There were also times where Yamal tried to turn moves forward into solo missions and watching them get snuffed out instead of distributing the ball. With Luis de la Fuente preferring a 4-3-3, Yamal will have his chance to shine in Germany, likely as part of a front three with Dani Olmo and Alvarao Morata,