How Euro 2020 gave us the chance to watch the next ‘best players in the world’

Gianluigi Donnarumma walked forward as though nothing significant had happened. Calm and unmoved, a picture of surety that screamed ‘well, what else did you expect?,’ the goalkeeper completed a few strides on the Wembley pitch before the jubilant chaos found him.

At 22, he stood still as Marcus Rashford stuttered with his spot-kick to entice a dive, putting the forward off as he struck the post.

His next act was to save consecutive penalties from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, winning the shootout against England and a first European Championship for Italy since 1968.

Yet to look just at Donnarumma in the immediate aftermath, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this was the most sizeable moment of his career, which he had completely owned, sealing history in the process.

It would slip your mind too that he is so young, especially in that position, on this magnitude of stage.

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Perhaps Donnarumma’s zen stemmed from the fact that five nights prior to breaking English hearts from 12 yards, he’d thwarted Spain’s Alvaro Morata to guide Italy into the final.

In fact, he has been a victor in every single one of the five shootouts he has been involved in, three of the others coming for club.

Andrea Belotti sprinted over to Donnarumma, jumping on his back, arms wrapped over his shoulders. Giovanni Di Lorenzo was attached to the side of the stopper, with Alessandro Florenzi on the opposite flank of him. Soon, there’d be seven players all on the keeper, who carried them all as he motioned towards the stand housing Italy’s fans.

Eventually, they managed to get the man mountain to the ground, covering him with embraces and tears. Donnarumma allowed himself to be emotional too, a kid who became king, a worthy heir to his idol Gianluigi Buffon.

Selected as the official Player of the Tournament and No1 in the Team of the Tournament, his displays at the Euros didn’t just centre around penalty heroics and is all the more stunning given his difficult departure from boyhood club Milan.

There was the full-length, masterclass of a diving save to deny Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne. He was equal to a point-blank effort from Spain false nine Dani Olmo and there was the double denying of Steven Zuber against Switzerland.

When Italy were getting overwhelmed by Luis Enrique’s men, it was Donnarumma’s speedy distribution that sparked the break for their equaliser.

He had shouldered so much responsibility, performing with such credence which was actually a theme from the young players at the showpiece.

Forget the hot takes and re-takes regarding whether Saka should have been the selection for England’s fifth penalty on Sunday. What does it say that a 19-year-old was brave enough to want it and that his manager had total belief in him?

Saka was one of the brightest lights of the tournament after being Arsenal’s greatest source of hope last season.

That his effort from the spot was saved does not detract from his ballsy showings, which often sparked the offensive intent from England.

You can’t scrub what came before due to the ending, which leads us to perhaps the most eye-widening contribution from a young player at a Euros: Pedri.

Watching him was to be wined and dined in the art of the pass, of silky efficiency, of complete control over space and its manipulation with the ball.

Pedri had won just four senior caps prior to the tournament, but was Spain’s wise, wondrous head in their engine room.

They attempted the most passes in the tournament, possessing the best completion rate and the 18-year-old was their conductor-in-chief.

In the semi-final against Italy – read that stage and opponent again – Pedri completed 65 of the 66 passes he attempted – the anomaly occurring in extra time.

The ball belonged to him.

“What Pedri has done in this tournament, at 18, no one has done,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “Not even Andres Iniesta did that; it’s incredible, unique.”

Fabio Capello called the teen the “revelation of the tournament” and “simply a spectacular footballer,” saying: “I didn’t see a player so young, so strong with personality, without fear in midfield. He is fantastic. Pedri for me is something completely different to the other players in the middle.”

While Spain expected the youngster to star for them, another luminary from the Euros was not due to have many minutes.

Mikkel Damsgaard was fizzing to be included in Denmark’s squad as a back-up playmaker, before becoming its diamond of the showpiece.

He would have wanted the circumstances to be vastly different – Christian Eriksen’s horrific cardiac arrest situation leading to his spot in the XI – but in the most emotionally taxing circumstance, Damsgaard cooly assumed his team’s creative responsibility to do his hero proud.

The 21-year-old claimed the spotlight against Belgium, was crucial to the scorching of Russia and sizzling of Wales and caused all sorts of issues for the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals.

Damsgaard’s free-kick against England in the next round was the only direct one scored at the Euros.

His substitution on 67 minutes changed the flow of that encounter, handing the initiative back to Gareth Southgate’s charges.

Type Damsgaard into Google and there is page after page of transfer news attaching him to Europe’s super clubs, a modern testament to his brilliance at the tournament.

Recruitment teams around the continent spend most of their energy on analysing a younger profile of player with a high ceiling that has the tools to develop into a top-class talent.

Two weeks ago, one sporting director of an elite club revealed there has never been more quality options in this pool, possessing the fearlessness and tenacity that needs to accompany the hard data.

In the past, you’d largely take a punt on a special kid without concrete markers they could morph into something special. Now, there is a greater sample size of minutes, high-pressure situations and tactical templates to judge them off, which most are excelling in.

An incredible Euros offered us and the transfer fixers the opportunity to watch the next best players in the world.

It was an absolute pleasure to do so.

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