Top three young players at Euro 2020
622 players were called up to represent the 24 national teams who participated in UEFA Euro 2020.
Some shone. Some underwhelmed. Some didn’t feature at all.
But, above all else, three players aged 21 or under shone brightest during the European Championships.
3: Mikkel Damsgaard – Denmark
He joined Danish club FC Nordsjælland aged 13, making his senior debut at 17, before signing for Sampdoria last summer for €6.7 million.
He then only made his competitive debut for Denmark in a World Cup Qualifier in March, scoring a brace in an 8-0 victory over Moldova in Herning.
At this tournament though, he’s shone since first appearing in Denmark’s second game of the tournament against Belgium.
Damsgaard scored the opening goal, a superb dipping shot, as the Red-and-Whites beat Russia 4-1 in their final group game to sneak through to the knockout stages.
His side would go on to reach the semi-finals, in which Damsgaard would again open the scoring with an outstanding dipping free-kick.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 7, 2021
Denmark eventually lost that semi 2-1 to England after extra time but left the tournament with their heads held high, particularly in the wake of the horrific events surrounding Christan Eriksen’s cardiac arrest.
Across the whole tournament, Damsgaard scored twice from nine shots which, in total, had an xG value of just 0.9, highlighting how outstanding his two strikes were.
His non-penalty expected goals and assists per 90 was 0.34 which is really high especially considering the fact that Denmark spent long periods of games defending.
Sampdoria, who finished ninth in Serie A last season, might not be his home for too much longer.
2: Bukayo Saka – England
This is despite the fact the teenager won the Arsenal Player of the Season Award in, admittedly, the club’s worst campaign since 1995.
Even though Saka made it into the squad, he wasn’t going to play right?
Well, in the first warm-up friendly against Austria, Saka scored his first goal for his country in a 1-0 win.
He then didn’t get off the bench against Croatia and wasn’t even in the matchday squad against Scotland.
In spite of this, Saka was given a surprise start against Czech Republic and impressed so much that he kept his place on the right-wing for the huge round of 16 tie against Germany.
A small knock kept him out of the Ukraine tie but Saka was straight back in against Denmark, against whom he shone again.
In his 69 minutes on the field, he ran Joakim Mæhle ragged and provided the all-important assist for the equaliser which went down as a Simon Kjær own goal.
Saka was then left on the bench again for the final before coming on and playing for 50 minutes, including extra time.
Of course, it’ll go down in the history books that he missed the decisive penalty in the final, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
But what mustn’t be overlooked is just how impressive it is that this 19-year-old, playing for an at time hopeless Arsenal, became somewhat undroppable for England.
He’s operated on the right-wing strutting his stuff while players with much bigger reputations, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden are on the bench watching.
Hopefully, for his sake, in future tournaments, Saka can help right the wrongs of the Euro 2020 Final as a key member of a title-winning England side.
1: Pedri – Spain
Just last summer, as a 17 year old, Pedri left his home-town club Las Palmas, of the Segunda División, to join FC Barcelona for around €5 million.
He made 52 appearances in his first season with the Catalan giants, scoring four goals and providing six assists, winning the Copa del Rey.
Again, despite only being 17/18 years old, he was phenomenal for Barça and, aside from Lionel Messi of course, was probably their player of the season in a generally underwhelming campaign.
Despite this, he’s only really come to the public’s wider attention during this tournament.
Pedri started all six of Spain’s matches at the Euros, racking up 629 minutes, and was the creative hub of their midfield.
In the semi-final against Italy, he completed 65 of 67 passes and ended the 90 minute period with a pass completion rate of 100%.
🇪🇸 Another flawless performance from Pedri at the semi-finals 👏
— UEFA EURO 2024 (@EURO2024) July 8, 2021
In total, he completed 429 of 467 passes: 91.9%.
He’s unlikely to be a flashy, scores 20+ goals a season midfielder, but Pedri is the archetypal keep the ball moving Spanish player, perhaps even the heir to Andrés Iniesta’s throne.
Given his age, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Pedri could be conducting Spain’s midfield for the next two decades; who knows where UEFA will choose to stage Euro 2040.
But, Pedri’s summer seemingly isn’t over yet.
He has been named in Luis de la Fuente’s squad for the Olympic games alongside other Euro 2020 squad members Unai Simón, Pau Torres, Eric García, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal.
Assuming the squad aren’t completely knackered, Spain will be amongst the favourites at that competition which kicks off on 22 July.
But, for now, before the Real Federación Española de Fútbol tire him out completely, Pedri’s skill and confidence on the ball should be enjoyed by all.
This article was edited by Ben Gray.