Who to Watch at Euro 2016

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Big football tournaments offer previously unheralded stars a fantastic opportunity to put themselves in the shop window courtesy of a few eye-catching displays.

There have numerous examples in the past, and as recently as the World Cup of 2014 the likes of James Rodriguez, Serge Aurier and Keylor Navas have secured contracts at two of the biggest clubs on the planet – Real Madrid and PSG – after impressing in Brazil. Xherdan Shaqiri even managed to catch the eye of Stoke City’s scouts, such is the magnitude of the competition.

It doesn’t always pan out for the best though, and such luminaries as Toto Schillachi and Oleg Salenko flopped miserably in the wake of their own World Cup exploits. The jury is still out on another breakout star, Divock Origi, at Liverpool.

Regardless, here are five who may just land themselves lucrative moves to Europe’s big fish should they impress at Euro 16.

Artem Dzyuba
At 27 he may be a bit long in the tooth to be a ‘breakout star’, but the European Championships will offer Artem Dzyuba a fantastic opportunity to strut his stuff on the big stage.

Eight goals in qualifying for Russia – albeit in a weak Group G featuring such luminaries as Moldova and Liechtenstein – is impressive; that’s a goal every 73 minutes played. It’s amazing that Dzyuba, who has played domestically in the Russian Premier League all of his career, hasn’t attracted more attention from the more renowned European outfits, as a return of 68 goals in 158 appearances for the likes of Zenit, Spartak Moscow and Rostov is outstanding.

The powerful striker netted six times in Zenit’s Champions League campaign – that’s the same as Lionel Messi has and one more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, by the way – and he will have a chance to cement his name in the minds, if not the hearts, of the British public in the summer when his Russia side take on England and Wales in Group B of Euro ’16.

Arkadiusz Milik
Six goals, six assists – a fine return from this young Polish forward in Euro ’16 qualifying; in fact, nobody created more goalscoring opportunities during the qualification campaign than this 22-year-old. Robert Lewandowski was the greediest recipient of Milik’s probing, with five of his goals created by his fellow forward.

Milik plies his trade domestically at Ajax – that celebrated producer of leading European talent, and so don’t be surprised if he catches the eye this summer and dominates the transfer gossip columns.

The lanky frontman has already bludgeoned 18 goals in just 24 starts in the Eredivisie this term, and after joining the Dutch side for a shade over £2 million last summer it is likely that he could attract bids of ten times that amount should he excel as predicted.

Granit Xhaka
The modern game dictates that for many sides a midfield metronome or two is vital in helping to recycle possession and provide a platform from which to build meaningful attacks.

That makes pass completion statistics of interest, and from the Euro ’16 qualification campaign we note that a number of the usual suspects performed admirably for this metric: the likes of Toni Kroos, Sergio Busquets and Wesley Sneijder were towards the summit for this statistic.

In amongst such celebrated company is a Swiss starlet who has yet to really make waves to any wider extent: Granit Xhaka.

Despite a first name that suggests he is more in the mould of a midfield hardman, Xhaka’s penchant for possession saw his 606 attempted passes reach their destination on 92% of occasions. Frankly, that is world class.

Unsurprisingly, the 23-year-old has been linked in the press with notable admirers such as Barcelona and Arsenal, but for now the Borussia M’gladbach maestro must concentrate on his present employer’s assault on the Bundesliga top four.

Grzegorz Krychowiak
He’s a player that has already caught the eye of numerous pundits and Scrabble enthusiasts across the continent, but Euro ’16 will surely provide the platform that Grzegorz Krychowiak needs to advertise his wares to the wider world.

He’s not an eye-catching player by nature, but he does do the simple things well: an often overlooked trait in the modern game. He can pass (89% of 532 passes completed successfully in qualifying), tackle (2.8 successful tackles per game in the Champions League for Sevilla this term), block (1.2 key blocks and 5.00 key interceptions made per match on average in La Liga) and head (winning 4.2 of 5.2 aerial duels per match on average), making him one of the most outstanding defensive midfielders in European football this season.

With Poland’s Euro ’16 group looking agreeable, we could be seeing plenty of Grzegorz Krychowiak this summer….so remember the name (if you can).

Dele Alli
Unless you’ve been living on a space shuttle orbiting the earth for the past six months, you have probably heard a little about the exploits of Dele Alli this season. Despite having only recently turned 20, he has laid waste to the midfield battleground this term with a series of mature displays for Spurs and latterly England.

We’ve been here before of course – you don’t need to be The Rainman to remember the youthful exploits of messrs Gascoigne, Owen, Rooney and co – but there is a feeling that Alli possesses both the physical and mental fortitude to enjoy a long and successful career at the top of the game.

Should he perform well in England’s pursuit of glory/respectability at Euro ’16, you can expect Spurs’ resolve to be tested with a number of big money offers for the former MK Dons (young) man.