There was a time when major international tournaments were the greatest shop-window available to players aspiring for a move to Europe’s top leagues.
Nowadays the scouting tentacles of the continent’s biggest clubs stretch far and wide, there are far less well-kept secrets and the chances of a complete unknown bursting onto the scene are slim-to-nil.
However there is no doubt that tournaments like Euro 2012 still have the power to greatly enhance the reputations of emerging, or even established talents.
Below are eleven players I believe could surprise one or two people this summer, although there are many others that could have been included.
Rui Patricio (24) – (GK)
Portugal, Sporting CP – has just completed an impressive season with Sporting, the club he first joined as a youngster in 2001.
Known for having a determined personality and is now showing the ability to compliment it. Already has 135 Primeira Liga appearances under his belt at the age of 24
Simon Poulsen (27) – (LB)
Denmark, AZ – an Eredivisie ever-present for AZ this season, has developed into a reliable and consistent performer – a modern full-back who has lots of energy and loves to get forward, Poulsen actually started out at AZ as a left-winger but converted to full-back under the management of Lois van Gaal. Available on a free transfer this summer.
Lukasz Piszczek (27) – (RB)
Poland, Borussia Dortmund – one of the co-host’s best talents, having won back-to-back Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund – played as striker earlier in his career and was joint top-scorer at the ’04 U19 European Championship. Fully established as a full-back now and is said to have attracted the interest of Real Madrid scouts.
Yaroslav Rakytskyi (22) – (CB)
Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk – doesn’t turn 23 until August but has already won three Ukraine Premier League titles with Shakhtar Donetsk. Joined the club’s youth system in 2006, promoted to the first team in 2010. Can play in defence or midfield. Strong in the challenge and good on the ball, also has good positional sense.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (20) (CB)
Greece, Schalke – one of Schalke’s most consistent performers this season despite only turning 20 in February – started out with Olympiakos and at 15 he was the youngest player to play in the Greek Super League. Can play both in defence or midfield. First came to prominence internationally when he was named in the UEFA U19 Team of the Tournament in 2007.
Milan Badelj (23) (M)
Croatia, Dinamo Zagreb – graduated from Dinamo Zagreb’s youth academy and has now won four league titles with them – compared by some at the club to Luka Modric, whom he replaced in the first-team in 2008 – superb in both 2009/10 & 2010/11, leading to speculation about a move abroad which never materialised, form dipped a little in 2011/12 but the deep-lying playmaker is still an exciting talent
Vaclav Pilar (23) (M)
Czech Rep, Viktoria Plzen – a key component of an amazing success story at Czech side Viktoria Plzen, who sprung a big surprise by winning their first-ever league title in 2010/11, slight in size but quick, energetic, skillful and full of purpose – eye-catching performances have secured Pilar a move to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg after Euro 2012.
Ludovic Obraniak (27) (M)
Poland, Bordeaux – likely to play in the Number 10 role for the co-hosts this summer after a great second-half to the season in Ligue 1. Signed for Bordeaux for a bargain €1m from Lille in January 2012, giving the midfielder a new lease of life. He was born in France but qualifies to play for Poland through a Polish grandfather.
Andriy Yarmolenko (22) (F)
Ukraine, Dynamo Kyiv – one of the co-hosts brightest talents, he has been with Dynamo since 2006 and has just enjoyed his best league season in front of goal, scoring 12 in 28 games – able to play through the middle or wide on the left, Yarmolenko has also caught the eye with Dynamo in the UEFA Europa League.
Lasse Schone (26) (F)
Denmark, NEC – Eredivisie ever-present for NEC in 2011/12, scoring 12 goals in 36 games, his best ever season in front of goal – form that’s secured a move to Dutch Champions Ajax after Euro 2012. Models his game on Danish legend Michael Laudrup. Scored on his international debut in 2009 but left out of the Danish squad for the 2010 World Cup
Alan Dzagoev (21) (F)
Russia, CSKA Moskva – described by some as ‘the future of Russian football’, he’s one of only two players under-25 in the nation’s Euro 2012 squad – top-scorer during qualification with 4 goals in 8 games, made his international debut aged 18 years and 116 days – recovered from a toe injury just in time to be picked for the tournament