Hakan Çalhanoglu – Turkey
With three years regularly playing in the Bundesliga already, 22-year old Hakan Çalhanoglu could be one of brightest shining starlets in world football after Euro 2016. Despite tender years, the Bayer Leverkusen play-maker will be one of Turkey’s talismen as they look to progress from a strong group featuring champions Spain, Croatia and Czech Republic.
Dimitri Payet’s freekicks are being rightly drooled over, but Çalhanoglu is certainly no slouch on the subject. Already amassing enough set-piece strikes for dozens of lengthy Youtube videos to pay homage to, Hakan’s talents now have the perfect stage to make his mouthful of a surname household. For the perfect example of his talents, see Bundesliga’s goal of the season for 2013/14, as Çalhanoglu’s 45 yard strike made Borussia Dortmund’s goalkeeping stalwart Roman Weidenfeller look like a fool.
Already compared to Juninho Pernambucano and David Beckham for his dead-ball ability, and Mesut Özil for his role as a number ten, the Turk looks to have a bright future ahead of him. Already at Champions League regulars Bayer Leverkusen, Euro 2016 could fast track Çalhanoglu’s way to a top side with serious trophy ambitions (no disrespect to Bayer, but Bayern’s reign will hang over Germany for too long to wait), while revitalising Turkish football in the process.
Eiður Guðjohnsen – Iceland
Many have mentioned Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s age factoring into the Swede’s need for a strong tournament – at 34, he could indeed be playing in the final major international competition of his career. Another veteran of top-level European football however, will definitely be playing in his last (and first) finals: 37-year old Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen.
Two full decades after replacing his father for an historic debut in Tallinn, Estonia, Guðjohnsen has achieved more of what Europe has to offer at club level than most; league titles in the Netherlands, England and Spain; a domestic double with Chelsea in 2004/05; and most notably winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009. Now, enjoying something of a swansong to his career after lacklustre spells at various clubs since turning 30, Eiður is part of an Iceland team stepping into unknown territory.
While the remote islanders’ story is one of a whole nation punching over its weight and reputation, Guðjohnsen’s part in the tale could be something especially special. He represents a lot of respected, top quality players who never got to play in an international tournament because they were unfortunately born to a minnow nation. Though perhaps not to be compared in terms of universal legendary status, Guðjohnsen has the chance players like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Jari Litmanen never got.
Even at his age, the Molde forward could still change a game with his big match experience that is relatively lacking through Iceland’s squad. Imagine if, on June 22nd at the Stade de France, Iceland still have a chance of qualifying out of a beatable Group F when they play Austria. With the scoreline tight and only a quarter of an hour remaining, Guðjohnsen comes off the bench like an old prizefighter ready for one more round, and clinches or creates a late decider to send his country into the knock-out rounds. It could be a fleeting, feel good moment for neutrals to fondly remember, and a snippet sure to keep its place in Euro 2016 highlight reels forever more.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Anthony Stanley