International tournaments often seem like a red carpet event for the biggest names in world football, yet often the most intriguing players on the pitch are the up-and-coming stars, the b-listers of the footballing world, if you will.
Euro 2020 introduced us to a wide range of talented young players. Some were familiar by name and statistical output, but this was the first chance for them to prove themselves on such a large stage. Others were relative unknowns, ony entering the public footballing consciousness within the last month.
Many players impressed, but only five made our list of young Euro 2020 stars that could earn a big money move this summer.
Most Impressive Young Talents at Euro 2020
Jeremy Doku (Winger), Belgium
Club: Stade Rennais
Transfermarkt Value: $24.20 million
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Jeremy Doku, a 19-year-old winger for Stade Rennais, was named in the starting XI for Belgium's quarterfinal matchup against Italy. The last 12 months have provided a lot of milestones for the teenager: He made his Belgium debut in September 2020, moved from Anderlecht to join Ligue 1 side Rennes in October, then started Belgium's final Euro 2020 group game against Finland.
But leading Belgium to a first European semifinal in four decades was a different task altogether. Facing the hottest team at the tournament, Doku was arguably the Red Devils' best attacking player. He drew the penalty that led to Belgium's only goal and his eight dribbles completed were the most by any player at Euro 2020.
Jeremy Doku completed 8 dribbles vs #ITA
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 2, 2021
Belgium could not get past Italy, but critics of Roberto Martínez were duly silenced, and Doku's ever-increasing international profile grew a whole lot bigger (despite making just two appearances at the tournament).
He wasn't too bad at the club level either; his 3.7 dribbles per match led Ligue 1, and he finished fourth in the league in fouls drawn per match. His final product is still a work in progress, but with links to Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, Doku's Euro 2020 film will be worth millions soon
— World Soccer Talk (@worldsoccertalk) July 2, 2021
Alexander Isak (ST), Sweden
Club: Real Sociedad
Transfermarkt Value: $44.00 million
Isak may have only registered a pair of assists at Euro 2020, but despite his goal-less performance, Isak was one of the tournament's most dangerous attackers. Sweden's defensive tactics often left Isak all alone up top, yet the Real Sociedad striker still managed to terrorize opposing defenses with his powerful dribbling runs and excellent hold-up play.
This should come as no surprise for anyone that has followed Isak in LaLiga. The AIK Stockholm product had nine goals in his debut season for Real Sociedad last year, and he followed that up with a 17-goal showing in 20/21 — good enough for sixth in the league.
In the opening match of the Euros, Isak nearly single-handedly led Sweden to victory against Spain despite having just 15 percent possession. Then against Slovakia, Isak almost scored an all-time goal following a brilliant solo run:
Alexander Isak had the whole Slovakia team on strings!What a player ⭐ pic.twitter.com/ol1mE1bHUv
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 18, 2021
He was very unlucky not to score before Sweden departed the tournament, but with a proven goal-scoring record and some brilliant on-ball demonstrations over the summer, Isak's links to Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid could become more than rumors in the coming months.
Mikkel Damsgaard (LW), Denmark
Transfermarkt Value: $14.30 million
Damsgaard had already been impressive prior to his free kick against England, but his dipping 30th minute goal in Wednesday's Euro semifinal truly cemented the Sampdoria man as one of the best young players at the tournament.
Mikkel Damsgaard with the venomous dip, like a mighty asteroid plunging down and obliterating the shutout streak of a goalkeeping T-Rex.pic.twitter.com/NSY3n42AGT— The18 (@the18com) July 7, 2021
After not taking part in Denmark's opening group stage defeat against Finland, Damsgaard was instrumental in a pair of four-goal showings that helped the Danes advance — scoring the team's opener against Russia and then assisting on the first goal against Wales. Not bad for a guy that was playing in the Danish Superligaen this time a year ago.
Despite just eight Denmark caps to his name, Damsgaard already has four international goals and three assists, and should he be sold this summer to Leicester, Liverpool or Barcelona, it will be for a lot more than his $14.30 million valuation.
Donyell Malen (ST), Netherlands
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Transfermarkt Value: $33 million
Denzel Dumfries (RB/RM), Netherlands
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Transfermarkt Value: $17.60 million
When opponents faced the Netherlands at the European Championship, there was only going to be one thing on the menu: speed, speed and more speed. It came in a variety of forms: Memphis Depay was the leader of the Dutch pace-setters, as the Lyon attacker recorded two goals and an assist before Holland exited in the Round of 16.
With the veteran Depay drawing much of the attention as the focal point of a young Dutch attack, the two biggest beneficiaries of the Netherlands' direct style of play were striker Donyell Malen and wingback Denzel Dumfries, with the PSV duo very much working in simpatico out on the pitch.
Malen, scorer of 19 Eredivisie goals in 20/21, was actually the provider for the Dutch — leading the team with two assists, while Dumfries, benefiting from playing further forward as a wingback, equaled his season total of two goals.
The Netherlands' second goal against Austria was a perfect example of the effectiveness of their speed and direct play, and Malen and Dumfries were at the center of it.
Depay held up a long ball around midfield and fed through Malen, who easily sprinted past Austria's high defensive line. With only the keeper to beat, Malen unselfishly squared to Dumfries, who had followed in support from the right wing, and the PSV right back easily tapped home the finish.
PSV has long pumped out international-level talent, and this year was no different. Dumfries is eyed by Everton, but a move to Inter Milan — where he would be a perfect replacement for departing wingback Achraf Hakimi — seems the perfect fit. As for Malen, he is linked with Liverpool (as with every other player on this list, it seems) as well as West Ham.