With the Euros under way and with many players not only looking to perform well for their nation, but also catch the eye of a few potential suitors and make a name for themselves, I thought I’d pick out the best players to look out for, with this forth piece in the series looking at the potential key men in Group D.
Name: Mateo Kovacic
Club: Real Madrid
At Dinamo Zagreb he was an attacking midfielder; at Inter he was a deep-lying playmaker and at Real Madrid he has struggled to find his position, but versatility is certainly not lacking in Kovacic. His technical ability is brilliant and he loves a surging run from deep to start off the Croatian attacks. Giovanni Trapattoni described him as “a mixture of Kaka and Clarence Seedorf” and it is certainly true that Kovacic has incredibly talent and maturity for his age, earning the nickname ‘Il Professore’ in Italy aged just 20. He is a true professional and this season at Real Madrid is nowhere near a fair reflection of what he can do. All eyes will be on Modric and Rakitic in the Croatian midfield so Kovacic will have the space to dazzle alongside them.
Name: Vladimir Darida
Club: Hertha Berlin
There won’t be many players who run further than this guy at Euro 2016. He averages 12km per game at Hertha Berlin and their manager, Michael Preetz, describes Darida as “the heart and lungs of our team.” He is the workhorse in this Czech Republic side and will be the player they look to in order to make everything happen. His game lacks goals at international level, given his much deeper role than at Hertha, and as a result he slips under the radar fairly often but he is integral to the side and is a central figure in their build up play. You may not see his name on the score sheet but you will hear his name again and again as he is everywhere on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.
Club: Atlético Madrid
Described by Xavi as the man who “will be the conductor of Spain’s orchestra for the next 10 years”, Koke has become a central figure in a hugely successful Atlético Madrid side and brings the determination and grit from his club experiences onto the international stage. He is typically Spanish in his technical ability, range of passing and vision and registered 14 La Liga assists this season, only beaten in this statistic by Messi and Suarez. He certainly doesn’t shy away from big games and his defensive contributions, combined with an understanding of the importance of his teammates, set him aside from a lot of midfielders who rely on talent alone. Spain have a lot of players who will dazzle but Koke will get the job done just as much as he will entertain.
Name: Hakan Calhanoglu
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
The man who dreamed of becoming Turkey’s Mesut Ozil is the only Turk who has scored against England in the 11 meetings between the two nations. He takes a free kick that would make even Payet look average so you might well see his name on the score sheet or assist chart whenever dead ball situations arise. Calhanoglu can contribute the odd goal but truly he is the playmaker in this Turkey side and his passing is outstanding – he will no doubt form a productive partnership with Burak Yilmaz. He has had an excellent season with Leverkusen and is an exciting player on the ball so it won’t be hard to spot him making the magic happen.