From Simons to Yildiz: 10 young stars ready to shine at Euro 2024

<span>Left to right: Turkey forward <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Kenan Yildiz;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Kenan Yildiz</a>, the Netherlands’ versatile <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Xavi Simons;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Xavi Simons</a>, <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Germany;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Germany</a>’s technical ace Florian Wirtz.</span><span>Composite: Reuters; EPA-EFE; Alamy</span>

Euro 2024 kicks off in four months’ time with Germany taking on Scotland in Munich and throughout the tournament there will be an array of talent on show with many of them at the start of their careers. Here we look at 10 players in four different categories to follow in the lead-up to the tournament.


Jude Bellingham (England, Real Madrid, midfielder, 20) They were ridiculed at the time but Birmingham’s decision to retire Bellingham’s shirt looks perfectly logical in hindsight. What feels illogical is that the England midfielder is still only 20. How is it possible that he has had three good seasons at Borussia Dortmund already, and has now become an instant hero at Real Madrid? The winning mentality and leadership qualities Bellingham has shown in Spain make him a superstar and he has scored 20 goals in all competitions at the time of writing. Will his influence be even greater than that of Harry Kane this summer?

Major players

Florian Wirtz (Germany, Bayer Leverkusen, attacking midfielder, 20) The 20-year-old makes football look very simple indeed. He reads the game better than most and possesses the technical qualities to execute difficult passes – and to do so effortlessly. Wirtz is the brightest star in the Bundesliga and learning from Xabi Alonso helps him improve. He has the most assists of any player in Europe’s top leagues at the time of writing: 15 in all competitions. Now it’s up to Julian Nagelsmann to build the national team around him. Germany went out in the group stage at the 2022 World Cup, but Wirtz missed the tournament with a knee injury. Don’t bet against the hosts when he is running the show.

Xavi Simons (Netherlands, RB Leipzig, attacking midfielder, 20) He grew up at La Masia, and his name is Xavi, but this one was born in Amsterdam. Simons is the perfect player to represent the Dutch-Catalan style, an artist Johan Cruyff would have loved to witness. He breathes Total Football, and it is almost impossible to define his position. Is he a playmaker, a winger, a second striker, a central midfielder? Nobody knows, as Simons runs around the pitch and makes things happen everywhere. Playing for RB Leipzig on loan from Paris Saint-Germain is not very romantic, perhaps, but he is a star purists easily fall in love with nevertheless – even more so when he dons the famous orange shirt. Simons could be key for thhis country in the summer.

Already regular internationals

António Silva (Portugal, Benfica, centre-back, 20) Rúben Dias is my role model,” Silva said upon his promotion to Benfica’s senior squad in the summer of 2022. A few months later, having rapidly cemented his place at Estádio da Luz, the centre-back was delighted to join the Manchester City star in the national team. He was a substitute during the 2022 World Cup, but his time is already here and the pair are set for a mouthwatering partnership at Euro 2024. They have similar qualities, but that is hardly a problem as these include leadership, calmness under pressure, tactical awareness and sheer physical power. Silva is expected to be the next big transfer out of Benfica after the tournament.

Giorgio Scalvini (Italy, Atalanta, centre-back, 20) Giorgio Chiellini was one of the great heroes for Italy as they were crowned European champions in 2021. He has now retired but a new centre-back named Giorgio could star in a blue jersey this summer. Scalvini is different – he is taller, more elegant, and loves to be involved in the buildup play and then to join the attacking moves. That is how he has been flourishing at Atalanta for two seasons, and the Azzurri coach, Luciano Spalletti, admires that kind of defender. Scalvini’s partnership with Internazionale’s Alessandro Bastoni could be exciting to watch in the summer, and Chiellini would be delighted to see him succeed.

Benjamin Sesko (Slovenia, RB Leipzig, forward, 20) Slovenia’s biggest stars this century have been goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic and Jan Oblak. In fact, the average football fan would struggle to name an attacker to come out of the country since the days of Zlatko Zahovic – and he is 53 now. But things are about to change with Sesko, who has the potential to develop into a world-class striker. Extremely strong and powerful, he knows how to position himself in the penalty area and has a killer instinct in front of goal. In short, Sesko is the eastern European answer to Erling Haaland. Norway failed to qualify for Euro 2024 but the Slovenian will be there after scoring five goals in the qualifiers and Sesko’s form for RB Leipzig suggests he feels at home in Germany.

On the brink of stardom

Warren Zaïre-Emery (France, PSG, midfielder, 17) France have a very deep squad and it remains to be seen whether Didier Deschamps will choose to play the Paris Saint-Germain sensation, who turns 18 in March. However Zaïre-Emery is an automatic starter for Luis Enrique in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League – and has already gained invaluable experience. It is fair to say that he is a rather complete midfielder already, not only technically and physically, but especially tactically. Strong in a tackle, tidy in possession and a very efficient passer, he loves to keep things simple – and has a keen eye for goal. Scoring on his international debut was a good sign, albeit against Gibraltar, and the youngster could star for France – but the competition is fierce.

Arthur Vermeeren (Belgium, Atlético Madrid, midfielder, 19) Compared to Andrés Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo in Belgium, Vermeeren is a very special player. His ability to find space and time in midfield is uncanny and his passing abilities make him a possible long-term heir to Kevin De Bruyne. Having burst on to the scene midway through the 2022-23 season, the youngster played a crucial part in Antwerp’s first title since 1957. After starring in the Champions League and scoring against Barcelona, he moved to Atlético Madrid in January. It remains to be seen whether he gets enough playing time under Diego Simeone to earn a starting place at Euro 2024, but Vermeeren is definitely the most exciting performer of the new Belgian generation – and the competition is quite strong.

Lamine Yamal (Spain, Barcelona, winger, 16) The youngest player and scorer in the history of Barcelona and Spain will celebrate his 17th birthday a day before the Euro 2024 final. Could he help the national team to reach that showpiece as a fitting present to himself? Such a script sounded surreal a few months ago, but maybe not any more as Yamal has developed into a leader at club level. His decision-making on the right wing and leadership qualities are stunning for a player of his age, and his energy and self-belief could enable him to fill the void left by the injured Gavi during the tournament.

Kenan Yildiz (Turkey, Juventus, forward, 18) Yildiz was hugely disappointed to miss the European Under-17 Championship in 2022 because of injury but has already become Turkey’s big hope for the senior tournament. The decision to leave Bayern Munich for Juventus’s academy proved a wise one as the versatile attacker suddenly burst on to the scene in Serie A in December, becoming one of the league’s most exciting attackers. Born and raised in Bavaria, Yildiz chose to represent the homeland of his parents, and scored his first senior goal in a 3-2 win over Germany in Berlin in November. That was a friendly but he should be ready to shine in a competitive environment in the country of his birth come the summer.