Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Young Guns
5 players set to star at this year's U21 European Championship
The tournament begins on Wednesday with plenty of highly talented youngsters on show.

Pierre Hojbjerg – Denmark

Germany Soccer Bayern Hojnjerg Augsburg Matthias Schrader Hjobjerg is going back to Bayern Munich next season. Matthias Schrader

At 19, Hojbjerg is the youngest player in the Danish squad but he is also undoubtedly one of the most talented and experienced players in their ranks. The Bayern youth product was loaned out to Augsburg in January where he impressed in a central midfield role as the German side sealed an unlikely Europa League qualifying spot.

Comparisons with compatriot Christian Eriksen have been on the go for a while now, and Bayern Munich have stated their intention to bring him back to the club and integrate him into the side next season. Hojbjerg already has six caps to his name for the senior national team and Danish hopes will be largely pinned on his young shoulders.

Luke Garbutt – England

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 - Second Leg - Everton v BSC Young Boys - Goodison Park PA Wire / Press Association Images Everton's Luke Garbutt may be on the move this summer. PA Wire / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Every man and his dog knows most of this English side quite well so we’ll focus on a lesser known youngster who may cause a bit of a stir this summer.

Everton left-back Garbutt will be a first-choice player for Gareth Southgate’s side and it may be a defining tournament for him. At 22, Garbutt would have envisaged a lot more than five appearances in an Everton shirt to date. His contract with the Toffees expires in less than two weeks, and while Everton are keen to retain him, he is keeping his options open.

Loans out to Cheltenham Town and Colchester United have given him a taste of first-team football and he may well see this tournament as a chance to endear himself to Premier League clubs that are said to be interested in him.

It’s the best squad England have brought to the U21 championship for a long time and Garbutt has the chance to be a vital cog in a European conquering team.

Max Meyer – Germany

Germany Soccer Bundesliga Michael Sohn Meyer is the latest product of the Schalke youth academy. Michael Sohn

The Germans are strong favourites to win the championship and Meyer is one of the main reasons they can be considered the most likely winners. Incredibly still only 19, the attacker midfielder will begin his fourth season with Schalke in August.

Julian Draxler’s crown of ‘best youngster at the club’ was emphatically stolen by Meyer once everyone realised the talent he possesses. Meyer was named in the provisional squad for Germany’s World Cup campaign in 2014, yet he is still the youngest member of the U21 squad for these championships.

He is just another in the long line of brilliant attacking threats produced by Germany in recent years and he is showing all the signs of a player who is on his way to stardom. The current U21 midfield includes Emre Can, Maximilian Arnold and Moritz Leitner — no wonder they’re favourites.

Domenico Berardi

Italy Soccer Serie A AP / Press Association Images Berardi scored all four goals in a 4-3 win over Milan last January. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Berardi is probably the most exciting young talent at this summer’s U21 championships.

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The striker had a truly phenomenal season for Sassuolo as he helped elevate the small club up the Serie A table to the heady heights of 12th place by finding the net 15 times. He was on loan from Juventus for the full season but they must surely be tempted to bring him back and give him more regular game time now.

The story of how he came to be a professional footballer is one of beauty too. A chance game of five-a-side while visiting his brother in university led to one of his brother’s friends recommending the 15-year-old to Sassuolo assistant coach Luciano Carlino who invited him for a trial and duly signed him up.

Named Serie B player of the season in his debut campaign, and scoring three hat-tricks on his way to collecting the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award, Berardi’s star is set to rise and rise.

Marcos Lopes – Portugal

Britain Soccer League Cup AP / Press Association Images Lopes has the potential to break into the Manchester City side. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Manchester City’s Portuguese schemer is a little gem of a player. Still only 19, he was superb during his loan spell with Lille last season, appearing 17 times in the league in an attacking midfield role.

Promotion from the youth ranks has proved difficult for City players during the past few years but Lopes has a genuine chance of cracking the mould. Rumours that Samir Nasri could be shipped out of the Etihad would open up a squad place and Manuel Pellegrini may finally promote from within.

Portugal are bringing a strong side to this tournament and Lopes’ combination with the supremely talented Rúben Neves in the Portugal midfield is the most exciting in the tournament.

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