With the latest instalment of the European Under-21 Championship just around the corner, it’s worth looking back at how previous stand-out performers have progressed.
In the Czech Republic four years ago, Sweden ran out tournament winners at the 2015 Under-21 Euros, beating Portugal on penalties in the final.
Only eight teams qualified for the tournament proper back then (12 will compete this year). The two finalists were joined by the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Germany, Italy and Serbia.
The team of the tournament was made up of five nations and some very familiar names, some of whom have gone on to greater things while others have seen their development stall.
We’ve have a look at every player from the XI and determined whether or not they’ve kicked on since 2015 – four years is more than enough time, right?
Goalkeeper: José Sá
Current club: Olympiacos
Career path: Maritimo, Porto, Olympiacos
Senior caps: 0
José Sá, then of Maritimo, was undoubtedly the standout goalkeeper at the 2015 tournament. He kept clean sheets in all but one – a 1-1 group stage draw with Sweden – of Portugal’s five matches. In the final, Sá saved a penalty in the shootout but could do nothing as his side fell to a 4-2 defeat on spot-kicks.
His impressive performances at youth level and for Maritimo earned him a move to Porto, where he played second fiddle to Iker Casillas in his first season. In 2017/18 he enjoyed a brief spell as first-choice goalkeeper, but Porto’s 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at home in the Champions League saw Casilas re-instated.
The 26-year-old subsequently joined Olympiacos on loan, signing for the Greek club permanently this summer. However, he has been unable to make an appearance for Portugal’s senior side despite receiving his first call-up in 2017.
Right-back: Victor Lindelof
Current club: Manchester United
Career path: Vasteras SK, Benfica, Man Utd
Senior caps: 29
A stroke of luck helped Victor Lindelof make an unexpected impact four years ago. The defender received a late call-up as a result of Emil Krafth’s back injury having initially missed out on a place in the tournament squad. Two weeks later, Lindelof stepped up to score the winning penalty in the final.
Already highly-rated after moving to Benfica from Swedish side Vasteras as a teenager, Lindelof may have developed into the player he is today even if he hadn’t shone in the Czech Republic. His displays at right-back certainly sped up that process, eventually seeing him move to Manchester United in the summer of 2017.
Despite some patchy form for United, Lindelof – now a centre-back – has been a regular for Sweden’s senior team since 2016 and there are still those who believe he will develop into a top-class centre-back at Old Trafford. His performances have improved under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Centre-back: Filip Helander
Current club: Bologna
Career path: Malmo, Verona, Bologna
Senior caps: 7
Ironically, Lindelof is now a Sweden regular while Filip Helander – the player whose inclusion at centre-back pushed Lindelof onto the right in 2015 – has struggled to make an impact for the senior team, making just eight appearances for his country since in 2017.
Helander actually received his first senior call-up in October 2015, just months after winning the 2015 Under-21 Euros and joining Italian side Hellas Verona. A year later, he moved to Bologna and in the summer of 2018 he was named in Sweden’s 2018 World Cup squad.
The 26-year-old is a useful player in his own right but hasn’t developed to the level others in the team of the tournament have.
Centre-back: Jannik Vestergaard
Current club: Southampton
Career path: Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Monchengladbach, Southampton
Senior caps: 17
Jannik Vestergaard has been playing for Denmark’s senior team since 2013, but in 2015 he was called up for the Under-21 Euros as a 22-year-old, giving the team some much-needed experience. The centre-back was on the scoresheet in Demark’s opening game defeat to the Czech Republic.
The Danes went on to lose 4-1 to eventual champions Sweden in the semi-finals. Regardless, Vestergaard did enough to earn a place in the team of the tournament. He has made 16 appearances for the senior side but ha struggled to displace the likes of Simon Kjaer and Andreas Christensen.
That said, Vestergaard had a mostly impressive debut season for Southampton this term following his move from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Left-back: Raphael Guerreiro
Current club: Borussia Dortmund
Career path: Caen, Lorient, Dortmund
Senior caps: 32
A year after his Team of the Tournament place at the 2015 Under-21 Euros, left-back Raphael Guerreiro was nominated for Player of the Tournament at Euro 2016 for Portugal’s senior team. Indeed, he has kicked on since impressing in the Czech Republic.
The 25-year-old’s ability to play in defence or further forward has made him an important member of the squad for both Dortmund and Portugal, for whom he has 32 caps to date. He also has an eye for goal, scoring 15 times for Dortmund over the last three seasons.
Guerreiro isn’t ranked among the best defenders in Europe, but the promise he was showing four years ago has grown into a decent amount of ability.
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Central midfield: William Carvalho
Current club: Real Betis
Career path: Sporting Lisbon, Fatima (loan), Cercle Brugge (loan), Betis
Senior caps: 56
An established international compared to many others at the tournament, William Carvalho had played for Portugal’s senior team at the World Cup in Brazil the summer before he was called up to play for the Under-21s in 2015. It’s of little surprise, then, that he stood out in the Czech Republic.
Sitting in front of Portugal’s young back four, Carvalho put in a string of composed displays and was eventually named Player of the Tournament. Even the fact he missed Portugal’s last penalty in the final’s shootout couldn’t detract from the fact Carvalho was clearly above the standard of the Under-21 age group.
After coming through at Sporting and making 190 appearances for the club, Carvalho finally moved on last summer, signing for Real Betis. He remains a regular international, playing 55 times for Portugal. His early potential might have pointed towards a career with a higher-profile club, but he is an important part of Betis’ team.
Central midfield: Oscar Lewicki
Current club: Malmo
Career path: Bayern Munich, BK Hacken, Malmo
Senior caps: 15
There were high hopes for Oscar Lewicki as a young player after the Swede left his boyhood club Malmo for Bayern Munich as a teenager. He was offered a professional contract by Bayern but decided to return to his homeland after failing to receive assurances of first-team football in the Bundesliga.
He remained a big part of Sweden’s future, controlling the midfield in the 2015 Under-21 Euros and earning his spot in the Team of the Tournament. However, Lewicki has been nothing more than a squad player for the senior team, playing just 15 times since 2014.
Once considered a possible future star for Bayern Munich, Lewicki is now settled back at Malmo enjoying a somewhat quieter career than he could have had.
Right wing: Ivan Cavaleiro
Current club: Wolves
Career path: Benfica, Deportivo (loan), Monaco, Wolves
Senior caps: 2
After scoring a hat-trick on his debut for Portugal’s Under-21s in 2013, Ivan Cavaleiro was a shoo-in for the 2015 tournament squad. The winger found the net in the 5-0 semi-final thrashing of Germany, his only goal in the Czech Republic, but was unable to find a breakthrough in Portugal’s final defeat.
Cavaleiro has played just twice for the senior team. That may be due to the fact his current club, Wolves, were a Championship team until this time last year. And while the Wanderers made a comfortable step-up to the Premier League, Cavaleiro hasn’t made a huge impact in the English top flight.
The 25-year-old scored just three league goals in 2018/19 and may need to leave the Midlands if he is to find a way back into the Portugal picture.
Attacking midfield: Bernardo Silva
Current club: Manchester City
Career path: Benfica, Monaco, Man City
Senior caps: 38
Bernardo Silva is being talked about as a potential candidate for the 2019 Ballon d’Or, and it’s easy to see why. The diminutive attacker has played an instrumental role in Manchester City’s three trophy wins this year, scoring crucial goals and performing at the highest level of his career to date.
Signs of what was to come first emerged four years ago when Silva scored in the semi-finals against Germany. A year later, he was expected to make the step up to senior tournament football only to miss Euro 2016 through injury. But he is now shining for his country and thrived at the recent Uefa Nations League finals.
An undisputed star for Manchester City and Portugal, the fact Silva is still just 24 is an incredibly exciting prospect. He’ll be hoping to fire his nation to more success at Euro 2020 after narrowly missing out on a major trophy four years ago.
Left wing: Nathan Redmond
Current club: Southampton
Career path: Birmingham, Norwich, Southampton
Senior caps: 1
England scored just two goals across their three games at the tournament, and Nathan Redmond grabbed one of them (the other was scored by Jesse Lingard). The Three Lions’ group stage exit was unfortunate considering how Redmond had performed; who knows what impact he could have had in the knock-out stages?
Since then, the winger has switched clubs from Norwich to Southampton and enjoyed his best ever season this term, convincing Gareth Southgate to put him in England’s preliminary Nations League squad. Unfortunately, he was left out of the final 23-man group.
Redmond has only played once for the senior team but there is no ruling out potential future involvement in the side, particularly if he replicates his 2018/19 performances next season.
Striker: Kevin Volland
Current club: Bayer Leverkusen
Career path: 1860 Munich, Hoffenheim, Leverkusen
Senior caps: 10
With two goals and one assists in four appearances, Kevin Volland came second to the Czech Republic’s Jan Kliment in the Golden Boot running, but pipped the host nation’s star player to a place in the Team of the Tournament.
Having captained the side, many Germany fans might have expected Volland to go on to be one of the country’s star strikers. However, despite scoring 14 goals in each of the last two Bundesliga campaigns, Volland hasn’t quite developed into the striker many expected.
He has scored just once in 10 senior appearance for Germany, and that strike came against San Marino. It’s likely Volland will have to start hitting the 20-mark every season if he wants to work his way back into Joachim Löw’s plans.