A European Championship is of course primarily about the competition between nations. But also in tournaments like this, new stars are born or old masters experience one last hurray. Who were the outstanding individual players at this EURO?
The top performer: Raheem Sterling
Sterling has a special relationship with his homeland, and it is by no means an easy one. He has been the target of the boulevard for years and is privately followed by photographers around the clock. Quite a few believe that there are also racist motives behind it. When Sterling buys an expensive car, a scandal is constructed, while other soccer stars don’t cough for it. Before the start of the tournament, many Englishmen only wanted to see the winger, who had recently been weakened, on the bench.
But national coach Gareth Southgate relied on Sterling unimpressed. And it was he who got the British offensive going. The 26-year-old has collected four scorer points in six games. When, for example, captain and center forward Harry Kane was still looking for his tactical role and other Englishmen acted very hesitantly on the offensive, Sterling marched on with great self-confidence. The respect for the Manchester City dribbler grew from game to game. Every time he got the ball in the round of 16 against Germany, for example, you could see how the DFB defenders were immediately on the alert. After a rather messed up season for him, Sterling has used the stage of the European Championship in his favor.
The goalgetter: Patrik Schick
Even if it wasn’t enough for the Czechs to reach the semi-finals, some of the players advertised themselves – especially center forward Patrik Schick. The 25-year-old did not have a satisfactory season at Bayer Leverkusen, but he was an absolute top performer in the Nároďák jersey. In the end, there were five goals to book and thus just as many as for Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Portuguese scoring three times from the penalty spot, Schick, however, only once. Only one goal of his team in the entire tournament was not scored by himself.
Schick was not only convincing as a goalscorer, but was also strong at securing balls and recognizing gaps in the opposing defense in the middle third of the field. His appearances were reminiscent of those for RB Leipzig, where Schick was often an omnipresent center forward. For the Czech team, which is often geared towards switching attacks, a target like Schick was worth gold. The fact that he had to leave the pitch against Denmark in the quarter-finals more or less destroyed the Czechs‘ remaining hopes for a possible extension.
The climber: Joakim Mæhle
Even before this EURO, Joakim Mæhle was of course already known to those who know Italian football. At Atalanta he forms the counterpart to the left wing runner Robin Gosens on the right wing. However, Mæhle is a slightly different type of player. He doesn’t just come from his dynamism, but often uses intelligent positional play and excellent timing in his advances to take opposing defenders by surprise.
Im dänischen Team kam der Rechtsfuß auf der linken Seite zum Einsatz und musste deshalb bei Flankenläufen eine Lösung finden, um nicht ständig einzudrehen und Zeit zu verlieren. Deshalb schlug Mæhle einfach einige präzise Außenristflanken, die an Riccardo Quaresma erinnerten. Defensive löste er seine Aufgaben normalerweise unaufgeregt, wobei zur ganzen Wahrheit auch gehört, dass er im Halbfinale gegen England einige Male von Sterling und auch Bukayo Saka düpiert wurde, weil er eindeutige Nachteile im Antritte hatte. Trotzdem ist der 24-Jährige, der noch bis zum Januar bei KRC Genk in der belgischen Liga spielte, mittlerweile in aller Munde – und das eine oder andere Angebot wird bei ihm gewiss bald eintreffen.
Der Vergessene: Sergio Busquets
Diese EURO entwickelte sich auch zu einer Bühne für große Auftritte einiger Altstars. Stellvertretend dafür können neben Sergio Busquets ebenso Luka Modrić, Mats Hummels oder Thomas Vermaelen stehen. Sie alle zeigten noch einmal jenen, die sie schon abgeschrieben haben, dass sie eben nicht schon ins fußballerische Altersheim gehören. Bis auf seinen Elfmeterfehlschuss gegen die Schweiz hat sich Busquets während des Turniers nahezu keine Fehler geleistet.
The always slow Catalan may have lost some of the pace in recent years, but almost no one in world football can read a game as well as he can, defensively and offensively. Busquets gave young and inexperienced teammates like Pedri the necessary security and acted as an extended arm of national coach Luis Enrique. He led the way in the field and, in his own way, was the engine of the Spaniards. It was certainly not his fault that it wasn’t enough to make it to the finals in the end.