England might already be on the way home, but there’s plenty of players worth keeping an eye on at this summer’s Euro Under 21. We start off our feature with a list of defenders, likely to become household names in European football.
Luca Caldirola (Inter Milan and Italy) – Having represented his country at all youth levels, the Italian was always considered likely to have a bright future. A commanding figure at 6ft 2, Italy U21′s captain has been described as a younger Alessandro Nesta due to his excellent sense of position and tackling abilities.
The 21-year-old, who is co-owned by Inter and Cesena and has spent the last two seasons on loan at second division Brescia, was an ever present figure throughout Italy’s qualifying campaign.
Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord and Holland) – Tall yet extremely comfortable in possession, the last 12 months have seen de Vrij rising through the ranks at the Rotterdam club. Having already made his full debut with the national team, the 21-year-old was given the captain’s armband at Feyenoord for a couple games during the season and he’s likely to attract a lot of interest in Israel this month.
Everton have been linked with the £4.4m Dutchman, but expect many European clubs to challenge David Moyes’ former club in the race for the 21-year-old.
Tony Jantschke (Borussia Monchengladbach and Germany) – Playing at right-back in Germany must be a demoralising effort, for in Philip Lahm Joachim Low’s team possess arguably the best right-back in the world. However, the Bayern Munich captain could soon be playing mentor to Tony Jantschke.
The Borussia Monchengladbach right-back, the third ever youngest scorer in the club’s history, made his senior debut four and half years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Comfortable on either side of the defence (although he’s normally deployed on the right flank) as well as a defensive midfielder, Jantschke’s £4m price tag is likely to have many a club knocking on Monchengladbach’s door over the summer.
Martín Montoya (Barcelona and Spain) – Despite having his chances at club level limited by the presence of Dani Alves, Montoya has become a cornerstone of Spain U21, with which he won the tournament two years ago. The 22-year-old is a the prototype of the modern full-back, comfortable going forward as well as defending, much like his Brazilian team-mate.
Having only played 23 games for Barcelona this season, Montoya could soon be tempted to leave the Camp Nou, even though the £8.8m price tag the Catalans have slapped on him might scare a few teams off.
Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow and Russia) – The son of an Olympic medalist, Schennikov has done his sport-mad family proud so far, by establishing himself as one of the most promising young defenders in Europe.
The CSKA Moscow left-back made his club debut five years ago and has seen his stock rising considerably over the last couple of years, so much so that he was one of the 50 nominees in the 2011 Golden Boy awards.
Having won his first league title this season, Schennikov could grab the attention of many in a Russia side that could be the tournament’s dark horse.
Marc Bartra (Barcelona and Spain) – Another product of that seemingly endless conveyor belt of talents that is Barcelona’s academy, Bartra is a pilar of Spain U21. The centre-back played eight games and scored twice during the qualifying phase, but has seen limited opportunities to stake his claim for a starting spot at club level.
When the opportunity did arise, against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, Bartra resembled a rabbit caught in the headlights but many consider the £4.4m-rated centre-back as Carlos Puyol’s natural heir.
Daley Blind (Ajax and Holland) – Once simply known as Danny Blind’s son, the Ajax left-back has made a name for himself over the last couple of seasons. Comfortable with the ball at his feet just as his dad was, Blind has established himself as a regular under Frank de Boer’s tutelage and went on to be named Ajax’s Player of the Year this season, as the Amsterdam club lift his third consecutive title.
Blind, who won his first full cap for Holland earlier this season, will be determined to impress in the tournament after not playing a single minute two years ago.