By Jim Hearson
So… the team of players I’d have liked to see wearing 24, 25 or 26 in my last blog didn’t quite come to pass, but at least I called the headliner of the returning Thomas Müller wearing the number he wore on his debut, so that’s something!
That being said, Reece James and Alessandro Florenzi have been given the 24 shirts for England and Italy, respectively, while Dennis Praet will be Belgium’s 26, as called out elsewhere in the previous blog, but I am rather grasping at straws now.
The truth is, the assignation of the larger numbers has generally gone to youngsters – the average age of these players comes in at about 23 years and eight months. It seems that many managers are seeing Euro 2020 as an opportunity to give the next generation some tournament experience ahead of the next World Cup and beyond. Will they emulate Wayne Rooney’s impact at Euro 2004, just be along for the ride like Theo Walcott in South Africa 2006 or somewhere in between? Only time will tell…
The most junior of the players wearing 24-26 is another Englishman – Dortmund’s scintillating prospect Jude Bellingham. Many of us would have liked him to switch to his preferred 22 after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s withdrawal, but he’s kept 26 as Uefa only allow direct player swaps, not numbers.
At the other end of the age scale is Sweden’s 32-year-old defender Marcus Danielson. Like Bellingham though, he’s relatively inexperienced on the international stage, having only won his first cap in October 2019 and accumulated a total of nine ahead of the start of Euro 2020.
As you may expect, the player with a mid-20s number who has the highest number of caps is Germany’s Müller, with a whopping 102. That helps Die Mannschaft to a total of 113 caps between the three ‘extra’ players, almost double the 64 amassed by the next team, which is Scotland. Their caps have a better spread though, with Jack Hendry being the junior partner on six, compared to James Forrest’s 37 and Scott McKenna’s 21.
Collectively, the most inexperienced 24-26ers are the Netherlands and Russia, with just three caps between Teun Koopmeiners, Jurriën Timber and Cody Gakpo, and Roman Yevgenyev, Denis Makarov and Maksim Mukhin. What’s more, Gakpo and Makarov are yet to play for their respective countries at all, while there are a good handful of players who, like Koopmeiners and Yevgenyev, who go into the tournament with just a single appearance for their national teams.
Such is the wealth of untested players heading to Euro 2020, that despite the presence of the likes of Müller, Florenzi (43 caps) and Forrest, the average number of games played by those sporting 24, 25 or 26 this summer is just a tad over seven.
The Euros have seen plenty of iconic moments in their 60 years – and the players’ numbers have been an intrinsic part of that rich tapestry: Stuart Peace’s 3 when he let out that war cry at Euro 96, Marco van Basten’s 12 when he wheeled away following that volley, Oliver Bierhoff and David Trezeguet when they their tore off their 20s in exultation after scoring final winners – will we be holding a higher number in such reverence after this summer’s tournament? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out.