As the summer of football is about to commence, I picked out 11 players that I will be keeping an eye on in Poland and Ukraine in preparation for the new season.
As a football scout’s nightmare, international tournaments usually prove to be more of a hindrance than anything else in terms of finding talent for the domestic season (due to exaggerated valuations, temporary bursts of form and other factors) but here is a team full of players that I will be watching for differing reasons.
On Tuesday, Tom Pattison published his Player Profile XI which focused on 11 players, from 11 teams, whom he is looking forward to watch and this XI is also limited to one player per country, hence the absence of some of the more established names.
Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal and Poland)
As the last line of defence for one of the host nation sides, Szczeny will need to be in fine form if Poland are to progress out of the group stages. One of their most talented players, at just 22 years of age, the Arsenal keeper goes into the match after an indifferent season at club level (and a season in which he has been superseded as the most talented young keeper in the PL). Undoubtedly a talented shot stopper, his season has been blighted by mistakes but I believe that with his larger than life personality, he will rise to the occasion.
John O’Shea (Sunderland and Republic of Ireland)
Leading the Republic of Ireland to their first international tournament in ten years, John O’Shea has endured an injury-ridden first season away from Old Trafford. Integral to the solid, defensive unit that Trappattoni has developed over the last four years, it will be interested to see how the former Manchester United cult-hero performs against Spain, Italy and Croatia. Considering his age (31) and the likelihood of Ireland qualifying for Brazil 2014, this tournament may well prove to be his last on an international stage, after 75 caps and over 350 games for Manchester United.
Pepe (Real Madrid and Portugal)
Despite being unbelievably talented, Pepe is one of those players (Balotelli, Busquets, Tevez etc) that somehow manages to overshadow his ability on the ball with his actions off it. In the El Clasico’s, Mourinho has been known to deploy the temperamental defender as a destroyer in midfield, to varying degrees of success, but in the European Championship he will be playing in his favoured central defensive role alongside the giant, Bruno Alves. Therefore, if these two players can stay on the pitch (never a guarantee) and ensure that Portugal keep some clean sheets, Ronaldo & Co should provide enough firepower to help them progress.
Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao and Spain)
Martinez is one of the many Spanish midfielders that would walk into the England team without breaking a sweat. However, due to the embarrassment of riches that Del Bosque has at his disposal, the Athletic Bilbao captain was called up as a defender and may not even get a game. In Carlos Puyol’s absence, Sergio Ramos is expected to move into the middle, with Arbeloa coming off the bench, even though it will severely reduce their attacking threat. This would be a travesty, robbing football connoisseurs of one of the most promising talents in the world.
Playing at CB in 22 of his 30 La Liga games this season, the 23 year old combines his 6ft 3″ frame with a fine reading of the game, making the 6th most interceptions per game of any player in the league (at 3.1). Touted as a £30 million target for both Manchester clubs after two fine displays against Manchester United, Martinez would provide Spain with a great tactical asset at the back, allowing Del Bosque to drop Alonso for Cazorla if he wished and leading to a more expansive approach. In light of the Spanish manager’s conservatism, this remains unlikely but the Bilbao captain may come in if Pique’s indifferent form at club level continues or if Ramos is needed back out wide.
Jetro Willems (PSV and Netherlands)
I must admit, like many, that I have seen very little of this 18 year old who only made his international debut the other week. Coming in for Erik Pieters, who is also his senior at club level, pundits have been amazed by the technical ability of the previously uncapped full back. Athletically superb but defensively suspect, the young Willems will be targeted as a weak spot by his opponents but if he can rise to challenge, Sir Alex and Co will certainly be interested in tracking his progress more keenly in the future.
Andreas Pirlo (Juventus and Italy)
When the Italian regista was released by AC Milan, many people thought his time was up but how wrong they were. After guiding Juventus to the Serie A title, Pirlo is Italy’s most important player goings into the Euros. Sitting deep behind De Rossi and Marchisio, it will be the deep lying play-makers role to feed Balotelli and Cassano using his exemplary passing range. A joy to watch in action, Pirlo underlined his ability with the best stats in the league for key passes (125), assists (13) and completed passes (2778).
Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur and Croatia)
We all know speculation linking him to a move to Manchester United already is premature but Sir Alex will be keeping an eye on Scholes’ favourite midfielder, Luka Modric. Floating around the centre of the park, Modric is a unique player in the sense that he is one of the only players in the world who could genuinely improve any of the world’s best teams. The third best player in the league according to @WhoScored, Modric topped the Premier League’s passing charts (2215), created the third most chances (96) and had more successful dribbles than Silva, Aguero and Valencia. Up there with Xavi and Scholes as the closest you can get to a passer’s perpetual motion, Modric is key to Croatia’s hopes at the Euros.
Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow and Russia)
At just 21 years of age, the CSKA midfielder is already integral to Russia’s national team after finishing as their leading goalscorer in qualifying with 4 goals in 8 games. However, due to a fractured toe, the youngster goes into Russia’s first match short of match fitness which will only emphasis his fragile frame. Nonetheless, with his wonderful vision and cracking set pieces, he should prove to be a threat in the group stages, as shown when he played the same amount of key passes per game (2.8) as Messi during this season’s Champions League. Nonetheless, if he ever wants to make it in a more physical league, such as the Premier League, then he will have to start getting some cheap whey protein down him to start increasing his muscle mass as he is currently a very diminutive character.
Frank Ribery (Bayern Munich and France)
17 goals and 17 assists in one season from out wide? Not bad. Ribery has been in red hot form in the build up to the opener against England and will be hoping to maintain his frightening partnership with Benzema to fire Blanc’s team to glory. More consistent than his club team mate, Arjen Robben, the 29 year old is at his peak and will be hoping to finally fill the hole that Zinedine Zidane left when he retired in 2006. Although happy in Munich, a bid from Manchester City this summer would surprise nobody, would it?
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal and Germany)
Prolific at international level, it will be very interesting to see exactly what Arsenal have got their hands on. On course to reach 100 caps in the third group game, at just 27 years of age, Lowe is likely to keep him in the Starting XI, despite a poor season in general for Cologne, thanks to his chemistry with fellow favourite, Miraslav Klose.
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United and England)
Hopefully leading the line for England, ahead of Andy Carroll, the born and bred Mancunian will be high on confidence after his delightful goal against Belgium. Strong, athletic and technically gifted, Welbeck will cause France, Sweden and Ukraine problems with his incisive running in behind and is key to the counter-attacking style that Roy Hodgson has implemented in the England team. At 21 years of age, Welbeck is ready to show Europe what he is made of.
So there you have it, as with Tom’s XI, certainly not the best eleven players at the tournament but a collection I certainly hope get plenty of minutes and catches our eyes over the next couple of weeks. If we’re lucky, a few of them may even grace the pitch at Old Trafford next season? (Modric & Martinez, please?)