Delaying the Euros – Who Benefits?
With the European championships being delayed until the summer of 2021, we asked a few of our football writers to highlight a number of footballers, who through injury, poor form or any other reason, could well end up benefitting from the delay.
The coronavirus has been running rampant throughout the world of sport, cancelling all domestic and international competition indefinitely. The virus has been so impactful, that UEFA have made the decision to delay this summer’s European Championships by a whole year, meaning that Euro 2020 won’t be played until 2021.
For most, this is incredibly disappointing. After how memorable the summer of 2018 was due to the World Cup, everyone had been eagerly anticipating the Euros to fill the big football-shaped hole we’d have after the season finished. Now, we’ll be going an extra summer without a major tournament and while it may be soul-crushing for most of us, some players will be secretly thanking UEFA for postponing the tournament. Be it down to injuries or poor form, a few of Europe’s stars wouldn’t have been at the top of their game come June, so the postponement could really shake things up when the tournament finally arrives.
We asked a few of our football writers to highlight some of the players that the delay will benefit most.
Jack Donnelly – Billy Gilmour (Scotland)
It might be a bold statement to suggest a player from a nation that hasn’t even qualified yet, but I truly believe that Scotland have a world-class prospect on their hands. Gilmour was sentenced to duty with the U21 squad in early March, with Scotland fans in disbelief as to why he was included in Scot Gemmill’s squad, when he would fit in perfectly with Steve Clarke’s team, especially with concerns surrounding John McGinn’s fitness.
Gilmour impressed after being promoted to Frank Lampard’s first team squad at Chelsea, with the 18-year-old putting in back-to-back man of the match performances against Liverpool and Everton. The diminutive Scot looked right at home in Chelsea’s midfield trifecta and was the standout player in both matches, keeping the likes of Fabinho and Andre Gomes quiet. With Merseyside in his pocket, Gilmour received buckets of praise from the likes of Roy Keane, Alan Shearer and Harry Redknapp.
Whether or not Gilmour was due to be included in the squad that would face Israel is unknown, but with some more game time in which he can hone his talents even further, Clarke may look to the midfielder as the man to take Scotland to their first tournament since 1998.
Jamie Braidwood – Dean Henderson (England)
Despite comfortably being the standout English goalkeeper in the Premier League this season, there is doubt over whether Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson would have been England’s starting goalkeeper at the Euros. The 23-year-old Manchester United loanee has a higher save percentage and has conceded fewer goals in the Premier League this season than any of his English rivals, such as Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Burnley’s Nick Pope or Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsdale, but he is yet to win an international cap and would not have had enough time to win the starting spot ahead of the Euros.
England manager Gareth Southgate would likely have made the safe choice and stuck with Pickford over the inexperienced Henderson. After all, Pickford has been England’s No. 1 ever since playing a starring role in the country’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, and Southgate would have desperately wanted to avoid a situation like at the 2010 World Cup, where a selection dilemma contributed to Rob Green’s infamous blunder in England’s opening draw against the USA.
But with the tournament now pushed back to 2021, Henderson suddenly has time on his side and will have a number of international opportunities next season to prove his worth to Southgate. The only question would be where Henderson plays his club football during the 2020/21 season. Regular playing time will be vital to his hopes of starting for England, so a loan move back to Sheffield United would be in his best interest, rather than competing with David De Gea for playing time at Old Trafford.
Graeme Sinclair – Leroy Sane (Germany)
It’s easy to forget that Manchester City’s German speedster, Leroy Sane, has missed the entire season after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the 2019 Community Shield against Liverpool. Prior to the injury, it looked as though Sane was on the brink of a blockbuster move to German giants Bayern Munich, but the move fell through after the winger was forced on to the treatment table.
Sane was infamously omitted from Germany’s squad for their ill-fated defence of the World Cup in Russia but had worked his way back in to Joachim Low’s plans. The unfortunate postponement of the 2020 European Championships will benefit Sane in multiple ways.
Most obviously, it will allow Sane to return to full fitness (barring future injuries). It is also still heavily rumoured that Sane will eventually move to Bayern Munich, which will allow Sane the opportunity to showcase his talents in the country he represents at an international level. While Bayern’s squad is full of quality players, Sane should be given more opportunities to stake a regular place in the starting team, something Pep Guardiola rarely seemed to want to give him at Manchester City. Furthermore, Sane is only 24 and about to hit his prime years, so recapturing his form before the tournament could do Germany a world of good as they look to put their Russian disaster behind them.
Struan Garvie – Paul Pogba (France)
The delay of Euro 2020 could come as a pleasant surprise for Paul Pogba. Although the charismatic Frenchman is one of the most talented midfielders in the world, there is no certainty that he would be guaranteed a start for the national team as the current world champions have a plethora of gifted midfielders at their disposal.
Pogba was ever-present in France’s 2018 World Cup winning squad, topping off a string of solid performances with a goal in the final. He then went on to have a very successful 2018/19 season at club level, topping Manchester United’s goals and assists charts.
However, the 2019/20 season has not been so kind to Pogba. Despite an impressive first few games, Pogba unfortunately suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of action until late November. He then returned to action against Newcastle and Watford only to suffer another injury to his ankle in the process, with this one requiring surgery that would side-line him for months.
Injuries aside, Pogba’s future at Manchester United now seems to be in doubt after stating in the summer he may need a new challenge. Pogba’s brothers and agent Mino Raiola have discussed the possibility of a move to Real Madrid to work under one of Pogba’s idols, Zinedine Zidane.
With the possibility of a summer move to Real Madrid, whilst also recovering from a serious ankle injury, the Euro 2020 may have simply come too soon for Pogba. However, the delay now means Pogba can sort out his club situation and also get back to full fitness, allowing him to assure his starting place in France’s midfield.
Taylor Murray – Matthijs de Ligt (Netherlands)
Last summer, there wasn’t a top club in Europe that weren’t vying for de Ligt’s services. The 20-year-old was a stalwart in the backline of the Ajax team who blitzed their way to the Champions League semi-final and captained Erik ten Haag’s side to a league and cup double. Furthermore, he had become a well-established part of the Dutch national team, having received his first call up at the age of 17.
Juventus were the ones to capture the young defender, for a fee of €75 million. Keen to mount a Champions League challenge of their own, and with their current centre backs ageing, de Ligt seemed like the best investment for the Italian giants, as an already established centre back who could stand strong in defence for many years to come.
However, de Ligt hasn’t hit the immediate heights that many expected of him. In his debut for Juventus, he made a number of uncharacteristic errors that saw the Old Lady throw away a three-goal lead against Napoli. Despite eventually grabbing a fourth goal to win the match, the Italian media focussed on the underwhelming de Ligt and ripped him to shreds. With his confidence knocked, more poor performances followed, and fans began to lose faith in their new “wonderkid.”
With the Euros on the horizon, de Ligt’s starting place in the Netherlands team wasn’t guaranteed – with Virgil van Dijk’s place locked down, that leaves one competitive spot at centre back and with Stefan de Vrij outperforming de Ligt in the Serie A, it looked likely that the Inter man would replace his domestic rival in Ronald Koeman’s starting 11.
Now, de Ligt has the chance to start over. He’s that much closer to the player he was at Ajax as the season went on and by the time the Euros arrive next summer, he’ll have had another season in Italy under his belt. If he continues to improve with time, he’ll keep his starting spot yet and could go on to be ine of the greats of this generation.
Cameron Wanstall – Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
Memphis Depay has been reborn at Lyon. After an unimpressive stint at Manchester United, Depay has recovered his early career form in France, netting nine league goals and a further five in this season’s Champions League.
He had been equally effective for a resurgent Netherlands side as they breezed through the qualification process for Euro 2020, scoring six goals across the eight qualifiers. He very nearly tasted success in the inaugural Nations League last June, defeating France, Germany and England before succumbing to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Portugal.
Ronald Koeman has begun to awaken the sleeping giant that is the Dutch national team, with Depay contributing in a massive way. Despite only playing 12 matches since Koeman took over, Depay has scored eight and assisted five, meaning he has been involved in more than one goal per game. Alongside captain Virgil van Dijk, Depay is one of the main reasons that the Netherlands are beginning to recapture the faith of their fans.
However, the good times came to an abrupt stop last December. Lyon succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Rennes after Depay was forced off with an ACL rupture. He was immediately ruled out for the rest of the season and the Euros this summer. He had to watch as Lyon missed out on two domestic cup finals, knowing he would be just as helpless as his country fought in their first Euros since 1988 this summer.
The championship being pushed back to 2021 gives Depay an opportunity to rehab at a safe pace and recapture his exceptional form for club and country. The tournament itself will give him a chance to prove his obvious quality, a chance to finally lose the ‘United flop’ tag and a chance to lift the Henri Dulaunay trophy, exactly ten years after lifting the under-17 European Championship as a promising wonderkid.
Séan McGill – Erling Haaland (Norway)
The rise of Erling Haaland has been dosed in clichés. Meteoric. Unstoppable. Unprecedented. With 40 goals in 33 games in all competitions this season, a rate of 1.2 goals per game, it easy to see why such intense hype surrounds the 19-year-old.
Haaland had been hoping to carry his immense form into the Euros this Summer with Norway, providing they could navigate their way through the playoffs.
With the tournament postponed until next year, it may be normal to worry for a player like Haaland. Will he be able head into the Euros with as much momentum? Will teams be more clued up on how best to stop him?
For many players, the postponement will seriously affect their form and their reputation. For Haaland, it’s a chance to further enhance both.
A criticism aimed at the Norwegian has been his performances in away games against elite defences. Haaland was uncharacteristically quiet at both the Parc de Princes and Anfield earlier in the season, despite scoring in the latter.
Another year of top-level club football will give Haaland the chance to further test himself against high calibre defences, both domestically and on the continent. The more he experiences big game environments, the better he will become.
Although he will have lost his status as somewhat of an unknown commodity, Haaland’s seemingly innate ability to be in the right place at the right time will see him elude defences for years to come.
Should the sides meet in the playoff final, Scotland will have to pull off something special to contain the teenage phenomenon.