Thiago Alcantara’s hat-trick sealed a second successive European U-21 crown for both himself and his country Tuesday, as Spain beat five-time winners Italy 4-1 in Jerusalem.
The treble took the 22-year-old Barcelona midfielder to within a goal of teammate Alvaro Morata’s tournament-leading tally and capped a performance that will surely see his value rise beyond the £18 million the Catalans have him pegged at. (Metro)
A handful of other young superstars will have increased their stock over the past few weeks in Israel as well, and in the following slideshow we’ll learn a thing or two about four of them, concluding with some more transfer news regarding the highly-rated Thiago.
Let’s get to it.
Already a senior international, Manolo Gabbiadini spent all of last season on loan at Bologna from Juventus and bagged six goals in 30 appearances for the 13th-place Rossoblu.
His most impressive performance at the European U-21 Championship was against Israel when he scored two goals, including a howitzer of a free-kick to give his side a 3-0 lead in Tel Aviv.
A tall forward with a famously heavy shot, Gabbiadini often prefers to have a go from distance rather than attempting a dribble, and his passing game could still use some work as well.
He needed no introduction to anyone who followed the Eredivisie this season and last, but Georginio Wijnaldum used the European U-21 Championship to grow his reputation, scoring against both Germany and Russia as the Netherlands progressed from Group B.
His goal against Germany was especially eye-catching as, after bringing the ball into the attacking third, he suddenly cut inside, drew four opposing players to his run and then delivered an exquisite, left-footed finish Germany goalkeeper Bernd Leno could only brush with his fingers.
If and when Wijnaldum considers leaving PSV, he will undoubtedly have suitors lined up for his signature, and Newcastle are already one of the clubs rumored to be interested in acquiring him. (TribalFootball.com)
Italy’s most electrifying attacker at the European U-21 Championship, Lorenzo Insigne will go back to Napoli anticipating even more of a role at the Serie A runners-up in 2013-14.
The 22-year-old, who has previously been loaned out to Cavese, Foggia and Pescara, spent all of last season at his parent club. He started 16 matches, scored five goals and contributed seven assists. He also completed 82 percent of his passes (WhoScored.com), which is why he was so integral to much of what the Azzurini accomplished in Israel.
Having previously been linked to Manchester United and Juventus, Insigne remarked last month that he intended to remain at Napoli going into next season. (Sky)
He only turned 23 in March, but already Asier Illarramendi is considered to be among the best central midfielders in Spain.
The defensive conscience and metronome for Real Sociedad this past season, he was one of the major reasons the San Sebastian club qualified for the Champions League, and at the European U-21 Championship he attempted more than 82 passes per match, completing 95 percent of them. (WhoScored.com)
With his club side heading into Europe’s most prestigious club competition, it’s safe to say Illarramendi isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, although his performance in Israel will have done nothing to diminish what was already an extremely high valuation coming into the tournament.
There is no shame in playing second fiddle to the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, and that’s exactly the situation Thiago Alcantara finds himself in at Barcelona.
Thiago, 22, started only 15 La Liga matches last season and made just a single appearance in the Champions League. But he generally completed well over 90 percent of the passes he attempted—a rate that only increased during the European U-21 Championship. (WhoScored.com)
Various reports have him agitating for a move away from the Catalan capital in search of first-team football (Metro), and Manchester United are thought to be among the favourites to sign him, although they’d first have to trigger his £18 million release clause.