Despite its critics, the UEFA Nations League could well offer some magic moments from wonderkids who are out to prove themselves for their country.
Somewhat of a World Cup hangover will no doubt cloud this first international break but this new and complicated competition stretches for the next three months – and it is possible that some players who even feature in Russia could ignite their national careers.
The likes of Marco Asensio, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappé have already become household names during their formative years but there are some new kids on the block that are ready to make a statement.
Let’s take a look at ten young stars who could shine during the group stages.
Kai Havertz – Germany (A1)
As the Bundesliga’s hot home-grown prospect, the Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder racked up 4 goals and 9 assists in 35 games last season and has forced his way into his national set-up. Always willing to blood the youth, Joachim Löw may well give him a chance in the group stage.
Frenkie de Jong – Netherlands (A1)
Labelled the “next Johan Cruyff” due to his touch, vision and ability to find space not only has Ajax fans buzzing, but his country too. Expected to become a staple in the Dutch squad for the next decade, his talent could really shine through in central midfield here.
Leander Dendoncker – Belgium (A2)
Subject to a late transfer to Wolverampton Wanderers in the summer, the former RSC Anderlecht has numerous trophies to his name already and is now part of an exciting Premier League club’s adventure. Able to operate in both holding midfield as a pivot or a ball-playing centre back, he could slot into Roberto Martínez’s team well.
Manuel Akanji – Switzerland (A2)
Despite signing as almost a project player, the pacey centre back has become a rock for Borussia Dortmund and broken into his national set-up. Playing every minute of the four games that the Swiss featured in at the World Cup, and only making 7 other caps, he is definitely ready to prove himself as one of the planet’s brightest young defenders.
Federico Chiesa – Italy (A3)
A sharp left-winger with a powerful shot, the son of former Azzurri attacker Enrico Chiesa is a key player for Fiorentina at club level and earned a national call-up from new manager Roberto Mancini (who is calling for Serie A managers to trust youth) ahead of the tournament. In a time where the side needs a fresh start, he could become a mainstay if he takes his chance out wide.
Krzysztof Piątek – Poland (A3)
He may be third choice in the striker pecking order under new boss Jerzy Brzęczek, as skipper Robert Lewandowski and fellow Italian top-flight man Arkadiuz Milik stand in his way, but 3 goals in his first 2 competitive games for Genoa says it all. Being just 23 years-old and looking like a mature striker, he helps make the Serie A influx into the Polish national team is no coincidence.
Rodri – Spain (A4)
Returning to Atlético Madrid – his first and hometown club – for $25m this summer, the tall “future Sergio Busquets” could break into a new-look Luis Enrique side if he performs like he did for Villareal last season. Able to battle away whilst retaining possession, he certainly has the quality to make a name for himself against tough opposition in this one.
Milan Škriniar – Slovakia (B1)
Playing excellently at centre back for (you guessed it) Inter ‘Milan’ as a stalwart last year, the next big Slovakian thing is tipped for the top. Competiting a winnable group, he could really take his game to next level in the coming months.
Cengiz Ünder – Turkey (B2)
Forcing himself into the Roma first team this season, the 21 year-old can cut in his on his preferred left foot and unleash venomous quality. Able to play across the entire front line, his national team may have found their new star in this mercurial youngster.
Kieran Tierney – Scotland (C1)
Bossing things from left back for Celtic over the past few years, the dynamism that the young Scot offers is a joy to watch. Although he may be forced to operate at right back for this competition, he can help drive his struggling nation to a decent finish in their favourable group.
Who else should have made this list? Let us know.