Monday 29th May sees the start of the prestigious Toulon youth tournament. Over the years, the annual tournament has seen an incredible array of talent play on its pitches, including the likes of Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Henry, Dani Alves, Cafu, Mascherano, Lampard, Koeman, Riquelme, Beckham and Pires. The format has traditionally been 10 teams, however this has been boosted to 12 teams for the first time in its history.
Group A is composed of Angola, Cuba, England and Japan
Group B is composed of Bahrain, France, Ivory Coast and Wales
Group C is composed of Brazil, Czech Republic, Indonesia and Scotland
This year, Toulon sees a somewhat weaker tournament than recent years, with a whole host of youth tournaments going on over the summer (including the U20 World Cup, the U21 Euros, the U19 Euros, as well as various international friendlies) so many countries that are involved in more than one of the above tournaments haved named experimental or very inexperienced squads.
So who are the ones to watch this year? Who may end up joining the list of legends I listed above?
Dayot Upamecano – France: The 18-year-old centre-back has long been admired by the powers of world football. After coming through the academy at French club Valenciennes aged 16, he was soon subject to intense transfer speculation with Manchester United and Barcelona apparently interested in his services. It was controversial club Red Bull Salzburg who landed the then 16-year-old for a fee reported being above €2m. He immediately joined feeder team FC Liefering, where he made a number of first team appearances during the 15/16 season and impressed so much that he was promoted to the Red Bull Salzburg squad for the 16/17 season. Again, he impressed the Red Bull heads and earned himself a move to RB Leipzig in January 2017, this time for a bigger fee of €10m. He hasn’t been wasted since his move, making eight Bundesliga starts.
Upamecanos biggest strength is literally his strength. He’s incredibly strong for his age, as well as being relatively quick. It’s rare to have a centre-back that shows such composure in the tackle at such a young age and is very highly rated within the French setup, playing for every international age group from the U16s upwards. I’d be very surprised if he isn’t called up for the French U21 team soon. I can’t see many players that will trouble Upamecano at Toulon and I’m expecting a very solid tournament from the youngster.
Oliver Burke – Scotland: What a year the young Scotsman has had! The now 20-year-old winger had his breakout season in 15/16 at Nottingham Forest where he’d been since he was 12. He made six starts and made a further 12 appearances from the bench, scoring two goals. It was the beginning of 16/17 however, that really kick started Burke’s career. He came flying out the blocks, starting most of the opening games of the season, netting four goals in five games. That piqued the interest of German club RB Leipzig who snapped him up for a fee believed to be around €13m, he’s since gone on to make 25 appearances (five starts) in the Bundesliga, scoring one goal. Burke is the very epitome of a defender’s worst nightmare, he’s strong, quick and talented on the ball with great control and technique. His decision making still leaves a lot to be desired, but he should have a fantastic tournament if Scotland allow him to play to his strengths.
Michal Sadílek – Czech Republic: Sadílek definitely isn’t as well known as the other two players I’ve picked, but he certainly has the potential to light up the tournament with his wand of a left foot. Sadilek was plucked aged just 15 from FC Slovacko in his native Czech Republic to join PSV, where he’s just spent the season with their Jong team in the 2nd division. Despite only making two appearances from the bench this season, he’s still only 17 and definitely has time on his side. Sadilek is an all round versatile central midfielder with a playstyle that I’d liken to Marco Verratti, he loves to bomb forward and has a wide range of passing. On top of that, he’s a fantastic set-piece taker and will likely take all of the Czech corners and free kicks and poses a serious threat with his free-kicks around the box. A dark horse but one to keep an eye on.