What happened to the stars of Euro 2009?
Two years ago at the UEFA U-21 Championship in Sweden, I made a list of the players to watch out for in the future – those young guns who looked set to make the next step to the big time.
After all, ‘Stars of today, superstars of tomorrow’ was the slogan for UEFA’s summer tournament in Denmark.
These were my hot tips for the future:
Mesut Ozil, Mario Balotelli, Marcus Berg, Andrew Driver and Zoran TosicOzil has obviously scaled the heights since 2009, starring at the Togel Singapore World Cup finals and signing for Real Madrid, while Balotelli is asserting himself for Manchester City and Italy, although his volatility is still an issue and his future for Italy remains in the balance.
The other three haven’t exactly taken off since. Berg, the tournament’s golden shoe winner, joined Hamburg but four strikes in 30 games does not scream goal machine.
English right-winger Andrew Driver wowed me on his debut against Germany but amazingly never won another cap and has switched allegiance to Scotland, where he has lived for years.
Zoran Tosic gave a dribbler’s masterclass in Sweden but could not fill Cristiano Ronaldo’s shoes at Old Trafford and now works at CSKA Moscow. He played half an hour for Serbia at the World Cup finals in South Africa.
As for the others who caught my eye, Serb Gojko Kacar also graduated to the 2010 World Cup, but teammate Nikola Petkovic has fallen away, and at the age of 25 now rests in the elephants’ graveyard of Saudi Arabia having failed to make the grade with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Finland’s Teemu Pukki fell out of favour with Sevilla and is now back home with HJK Helsinki; Belarussian enforcer Sergei Kryvets is a journeyman player with Lech Poznan as is Swede Gustav Svensson, who plays for Bursaspor in Turkey. Fellow Viking Rasmus Elm has gone on to win 15 caps for Sweden and is a success in the Dutch Eredivisie, with 51 appearances for AZ Alkmaar.
Sweden’s deep-lying attacker Ola Toivonen has also been a hit in Holland, with 34 goals in 75 games for PSV since Euro 2009. Italian midfielder Sebastiano Giovinco finally made his debut for the Azzurri this year and now has four caps and a permanent contract with Parma, while Javi Martinez is perhaps the most successful of the starlets of 2009.
Still only 22, the commanding midfielder has clocked up 170 appearances for Athletic Bilbao and played 20 minutes in South Africa for the eventual World Cup winners.
Jack Rodwell has cemented a place in Everton’s midfield but has yet to step up to being an England squad regular.
A mixed bag therefore, which makes me wary of tipping anyone from 2011, except Barcelona & Spain’s Thiago Alcantara.
The rocky road traveled by the starlets of 2009 reminds us that footballers peak at different ages. Some excel aged 14 (Freddy Adu), while others are not discovered until they are almost 22 (Ian Wright) or even 25 (Jay DeMerit).
Some ‘golden generations’ pass through the age rankings, while others disintegrate and uncapped players are brought in instead. Whilst a robust youth soccer system is vital for every country, its value in predicting future national team players remains shaky.