How Sanches did it in 2016
The first problem with trying to decipher this market is that we’ve only ever had one previous winner because the award has only ever been given out once before.
Back in 2016, an 18-year-old Renato Sanches won it in its inaugural edition after a string of impressive all-action performances in the heart of Portugal’s midfield as they went on to beat France 1-0 in the final.
His most important performance of all came in the quarter-final against Poland, scoring the equaliser and then stepping up to take (and score) a penalty.
Having been at title-winning Lille this season, he’s been picked by Portugal once again but is now 22, so not eligible to win it again.
Phil Foden (7/2) – The one to avoid
This is a really poor price if ever I’ve seen one. And before I go into why Foden in particular is one to avoid, I’m also not sure why of the 16 favourites in this market, seven of them are English players.
Anyone would have thought that England have won the last few under 21 European Championships and Under 20 World Cups given how highly rated the likes of Foden (7/2), Mason Mount (13/2) and Mason Greenwood (not certain to even make the squad) seem to be in the betting.
You would have thought England are just about the only side at the tournament with talented young players.
In years to come Foden could quite easily be the next Iniesta or Arjen Robben, featuring at endless major tournaments and setting them alight with moments of brilliance. But right here right now, he’s a 20 year-old starlet who has been in and out of the City side all season and only has six England caps to his name.
If we assume England play a rather vertical three-man midfield and Harry Kane leads the line, that’s two spots up for grabs either side of the skipper with the following players eyeing them up: Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho, to name but a few.
I think Foden will go and I think he’ll make an impact at some stage but I just can’t see that he’ll start enough games to justify that price.
Matthijs de Ligt (9/1) – The one to consider
At just 21, de Ligt has already packed more into a career than most players do by the time they’re 27 or 28.
At 18 he was captain of Ajax, he then became the youngest Dutch player to score in a Champions League quarter-final and made just short of 80 appearances for the Dutch giants, before moving to Juventus where despite a lack of success for the club, he’s mostly been praised for his performances at the heart of their defence.
So here we have a guy who’s quite a few years ahead of Foden in terms of international progress. More to the point he’s the first name on the teamsheet for a good Dutch side who are a 12/1 chance to go all the way.
Given they’re certainly in one of the easier groups (and you’d think the winner of this award would need to at least make the semis to be in with a chance) and de Ligt should have more than enough matches to impress the judges.
Declan Rice (12/1) – The one to back
If Foden may have to wait for his chance, the same can’t be said of Declan Rice.
This was the season that he really made himself a rock first in the heart of West Ham’s midfield and then for England, before suffering a bad injury then kept him out of action for a month and a half, before recovering well to play the last few matches of the Premier League campaign.
But Gareth Southgate will be delighted that he’s back to full fitness and will have earmarked him for the so-called Number 6 position: winning the ball back, playing endless short passes and just making that middle of the park territory his own.
Like with de Ligt, the key here to his chances are his maturity, courtesy of having played close to 150 times for the Hammers.
Assuming he starts every match and that England go deep in the tournament – odds of 5/1 as second-favourites suggest they will – and Rice will have every chance.