You’ll have seen him on Sky Sports, heard him on The Football Ramble and read his expert European football insight here, there and everywhere, now ANDY BRASSELL tells the stars you need to keep your eyes on at UEFA EURO 2024.

Five Icons You’ve Heard Of…

We have to come straight out the gate with the man who makes France (at least joint) favourites, Kylian Mbappé. The 25-year-old had a strange final season with Paris Saint-Germain, banished from the first-team squad at the beginning of the season after declining to opt into the final year of his contract and further marginalised since telling the club he was leaving in February. Real Madrid CF’s future centre-forward, remarkably, still scored 51 times over the course of the season and even if he has looked understandably rusty in recent weeks after playing only intermittently, perhaps he’ll have plenty left in the tank for this tournament. 

Despite Harry Kane’s amazing first campaign outside of his home country, we have to look to Mbappé’s future club for England’s main man. In any normal situation the Premier League’s outstanding player Phil Foden would be a shoo-in to be stationed just behind Kane, but nothing about Jude Bellingham is normal. He has had a phenomenal first season at the Bernabéu in a more advanced role in which Gareth Southgate will want to use him. Bellingham has scored only three times in his opening 29 games for England but it does not take a genius to figure that will now change very quickly – probably in the country where he made his name with his performances for Borussia Dortmund. 

Bellingham could have easily had Jamal Musiala next to him in the Three Lions’ midfield, with the pair having appeared for England Under-16s together, but the Bayern Munich midfielder opted for Germany after a Jogi Löw charm offensive and the rest is history. At just 21, he is already vital for Germany with his change of pace, his dribbling, his ability to trim through the lines and his goalscoring. He will be one of the most exciting players to watch this summer. 

“Nothing about Jude Bellingham is normal.”

– Andy Brassell on England’s talisman

Bruno Fernandes always aims to be exciting too – a player who conducts the orchestra with urgency rather than reserve. Like many at Manchester United, he has had his difficulties this season but this current Portugal team is built for him. It is no longer the Cristiano Ronaldo show and it is no longer the case that everything has to run through their number seven. It is Fernandes’ team now and he has the passing to bring their wide men into play as well as make his late runs into the box to score.  

After Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s unbelievable debut season at SSC Napoli in 2022-23 helped them win their first Serie A title since Diego Maradona’s time at the club (the locals don’t call him ‘Kvaradona’ for nothing), the sophomore campaign has been a bit tougher, always playing catch-up after his pre-season was curtailed by injury. Kvaratskhelia has still had his moments and his superstar status in Georgia demands he show out in Germany, with the trademark dribbles and directness that make him such an idol. 

Five Icons You Maybe Haven’t Heard Of…

It’s very possible you’re already well-aware of the work of Florian Wirtz after his instrumental role in Bayer Leverkusen’s amazing league and cup double-winning season. But UEFA EURO 2024 is set to be the time in which he becomes a household name the world over. He is the only player in Xabi Alonso’s team to be given the freedom to “dribble where he sees fit” (as Alonso described to me last year) but that’s because he is always trusted to make the right call. Wirtz opens space to make the last pass and score and is full of confidence – as well as having been rotated judiciously by Alonso, so he should have energy to spare.

If Wirtz hopes to make a dent in next season’s UEFA Champions League, Georgiy Sudakov has already done it. Ukraine’s 21-year-old midfielder put in a series of stunning performances for Shakhtar Donetsk in the season just gone – including a man-of-the-match display as they racked up a famous win over FC Barcelona – and has a rare feel for when to keep the ball and when to send it on its way. If he repeats that with his national team this summer, Shakhtar can consider selling him for a similar price to that for which his best mate Mykhailo Mudryk went. 

Johan Bakayoko is also aiming for the top, having spoken recently about how he intends to aim for the Ballon d’Or in years to come. For now the Belgium winger is coming off a very good season for an all-conquering PSV, scoring 12 times and providing nine assists for their winning Eredivisie campaign. His speed and canny left foot is becoming more and more important for a national team trying to take some of the creative burden off Kevin De Bruyne. The Premier League beckons next for Bakayoko.

“UEFA EURO 2024 is set to be the time in which he becomes a household name the world over.”

Andy Brassell on Florian Wirtz

Georges Mikautadze is another set for a big move this summer. Georgia’s starting centre-forward began the season with Metz, went to Ajax, was loaned back to Metz after limited playing time and almost kept them in Ligue 1 with his goals (13 in 20 starts). A smart finisher with plenty of pace, Mikautadze could make the most of space from Kvaratskhelia drawing all the attention and seal a big move in the process. 

Italy might not have a squad packed with star names as we’ve come to expect, but there are a few who could present themselves to the world this summer. Perhaps Davide Frattesi could be one of them. The 24-year-old midfielder has had to bide his time in his first season at Internazionale, starting only six times in Serie A, but has made some important contributions charging forward to score big goals. Frattesi has already done the same for Italy, hitting a brace at San Siro to decide a vital qualifying win over Ukraine, and should have plenty left in his legs at the end of a long season compared to some of the competition.   

Which exciting new talent should Icons be signing in the future?

Given Spain’s domination of much of European football’s 21st century so far it is remarkable that a 16-year-old is their most fêted player ahead of UEFA EURO 2024. Lamine Yamal has been Spain’s youngest ever player, youngest ever starter and youngest ever scorer, and will likely go on to impress in this tournament. His surgical left-footed delivery and ability to go past players should give La Roja the ability to speed up play, something they have lacked in recent tournaments.

Where Yamal could well start for Spain, Francisco Conceição may have to content himself with a place on the bench for Portugal, but he has everything you could want in an impact player. Back at FC Porto after a disappointing spell at Ajax, Conceição’s mazy left-footed dribbling creates chances and commits defenders. The 21-year-old finished the season in fine form and was excellent in the friendly win over Finland. 

Portugal also have box-to-box power in João Neves, a talent who is attracting the attention of the Premier League’s biggest clubs after his performances for SL Benfica this season. At 19-years-old Neves has an incredible engine, he rarely gives the ball away and could even earn a starting place should Roberto Martínez aim for more balance in a team full to the brim with attacking talent.

Dark Horses

It’s extraordinary that since the full-scale invasion by Russia, Ukraine’s national side have not only carried on but come within a whisker of getting to the 2022 FIFA World Cup before qualifying for this tournament. This tells us about the fortitude of a nation and its footballers, of course. It should also tell us that this is a squad jam-packed with talent. 

As well as Murdyk and Sudakov, they have La Liga’s top scorer in Artem Dovbyk, his Girona teammate Viktor Tsygankov and a great goalkeeper to back it all up in Benfica’s Anatoliy Trubin – or Real Madrid CF’s Andriy Lunin, if coach Sergiy Rebrov prefers. Add to that the fact they’re facing a far-from-insurmountable group comprising Slovakia, Romania and Belgium and a repeat of UEFA EURO 2020’s unexpected quarter-final is on the table.

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