The next Mata or the next Maccarone? - The perils of starring at the Under-21 Championships

Juan Mata

Whilst some big names such as Chelsea, Juventus and Real Madrid stars thrived after such a tournament others have dropped into footballing obscurity.

The UEFA Under-21 Championship’s kick off soon and for me it is always a competition I look forward to with irritable enthusiasm.

The first such competition I can remember actually watching is the 2002 finals in Switzerland. I would have been just 13-years-old and as a young goalkeeper with forlorn dreams of becoming a star I watched with amazement as a young 19-year-old stopper by the name of Petr Cech wowed us all with his ability.

Such reactions, composure and bravery of the likes only seen rarely saw him steal the show against France in the final as Czech Republic won on penalties.

I remember watching the game on Channel 5 and being impressed with the likes of Steed Malbranque, Sidney Govou and Milan Baros.

That tournament had several star performers and whilst the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Cech and Alexander Frei saw their career trajectory rise and rise afterward others were not so fortunate.

Massimo Maccarone for instance was the top-scorer in that tournament but never quite lived up to his potential. Hugo Viana pulled the strings in the Portugal side that eliminated an England team containing the likes of Gareth Barry, Jermain Defoe and Scott Parker. Both careers stalled in the North East of England and never truly recovered.

It got me thinking of all the competitions I have watched in previous years and with the tournament in Israel about to kick off; how the careers of those even as impressive as the best on this stage may never get better than this.

In 2004 for instance Benjamin Auer was the frightening front-man for Germany and Cesare Bovo was the commanding presence at the centre of Italy’s rock-solid defence. However you are far more likely to remember their partners in crime Lukas Podolski and Andrea Barzagli; while the likes of Alexsander Hleb, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Daniele De Rossi will also be more familiar.

In 2006 it was Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who stole the show as Holland reigned supreme. Their opponents star man Artem Milevskiy of Ukraine has never lived up to his mercurial billing.

2007 was Holland’s year again; but what of their two star players?

Maceo Rigters scored the goals while Royston Drenthe provided them. The pair now appear washed up already with Rigters a free agent after previous club Gold Coast United of Australia dissolved and Drenthe recently being relegated to Russia’s second tier with Alania Vladikavkaz.

Meanwhile players such as Jan Vertonghen, Giorgio Chiellini and Branislav Ivanovic have thrived.

This trend is the same in most of the recent championships. Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira starred for Germany in 2009 but the tournaments best player Marcus Berg of Sweden has struggled to find the net ever since.

In 2011 Spain stole the show and Juan Mata, David de Gea and Javi Martinez have never looked back. Marcel Gecov, Admir Mehmedi and Ondrej Celustka, who all joined them in the Team of the Tournament, have failed to find similar success for now.

So while this brilliant tournament can unearth a few gems and highlight the talents of those we already know have vast amounts of promise; it can also be a red herring toward careers of great success that never truly arise.

Which players are which from 2013?

Only time will tell; but even if one scores an abundance of goals in match-winning performances the names Rigters, Auer and Maccarone should remind them that super-stardom is not inevitable.

Who do you think will be the stars of the tournament?

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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