Initial thoughts were that this was a bit of a redundant mission – we’re pretty well stocked in the central midfield area. For Di Matteo’s two preferred deep lying positions we have Lampard, Mikel, Romeu, Meireles, Essien and, hopefully, the returning Josh McEachran. (I say hopefully as we’re sitting on an English cultured playmaker in the Pirlo mould who has the potential to dictate games for club and country – but that’s another story). For the attacking midfield position or the number ten spot we can expect to see likes of Mata, Malouda and new signing Hazard competing to be a central creator. The other problem is that most of the stand out players in central midfield are either established superstars of the game, that all the roubles in Roman’s piggy bank couldn’t buy, (Ronaldo, Iniesta, Xavi, Schweinsteiger) or the wrong side of thirty to be considered a sensible big money purchase (Pirlo, Gerrard). Undeterred I’ve soldiered on anyway and have conjured up a few outsider candidates in the tournament who could make a positive impact on our midfield, do let us know your choices from the Euros.
Petr Jiráček, Czech Republic
You might have mistaken this fella for a long lost hairy biker but don’t let first appearances fool you. Cech’s Czech mate has a superb engine, he’s roared up and down the pitch tirelessly and his never-say-die, box-to-box approach would suit the premiership like a tight pair of leathers. The coolly taken goal against Poland took his side to the knockout stages and he became the Czech’s outfield talisman in the absence of the injured Tomas Rosicky. A good tournament then has seen him bag two crucial goals and become a national hero in the process but whether that’s enough for the big clubs to take a punt on him is very unlikely.
Jakub Błaszczykowski, Poland
Already no stranger to a big club the Polish captain has two consecutive Bundesliga title medals to his name, with Borussia Dortmund, and ten international goals. The last of these was a peach that rattled into the Russian top corner from outside of the area and earned Poland their second point of the tournament. Their first, and the opening goal of Euro 2012, were in no small part down to his electrifying wing play and superb assist. A fantastic work ethic, sharp pace and tight dribbling skills certainly caught the eye which was all the more bewildering when he disappeared for big chunks of the game and went practically AWOL in the final group A clash against the Czechs.
Alan Dzagoev, Russia
The Russians may have got complacent in the last group game but when they were on song they looked world beaters, few more than this bright, attacking midfielder. Dzagoev scored three wonderfully taken goals, showed intelligent movement, a good eye for a pass and had an uncanny knack of arriving late into the box with precision timing. All of which was not unlike a certain Chelsea legend who will be looking to wind down his game time over the coming seasons. Still only 22 Dzagoev arguably has the potential to make a big impact in world football but given how his personal performances fizzled out the minute Russia got into trouble leaves us with more doubts than answers about far he’ll go.
Star Pick: Luka Modric, Croatia
The on-off transfer saga of last summer grew to be a tiresome slog that ended up benefiting none of the parties involved. The Croatia captain’s transfer requests were roundly ignored, alongside the eye-watering bids from Chelsea, and, with some apparent justification, as Modric’s silky displays pushed a tiring Spurs to finish fourth. As all of those efforts have got him Thursday night on Channel Five to look forward to, without ‘Arry backing his corner, it might be a summer to take stock and review his career path. This was certainly a tournament where Modric posted an impressive CV and job application for all those watching. We already know about his vision, control, invention and eye for a crafty pass. What we didn’t know is that he can cut it with the very best midfielders on the planet as, time and again, he cut holes through Spain and Italy’s rearguard. That he made an averaging side like Croatia purr with the very best of them, and be the standout team that failed to make the quarter finals, is a testament to what a classy player he is.