There’s always a risk of signing a player off the back of an international tournament. In such a short space of time, players can often up their game sufficiently to thrust themselves into the spotlight and earn high profile transfers, with Karel Poborsky the obvious example. On the back of a fine showing with the Czech Republic at Euro 96, Poborsky secured a move to Manchester United.
David Beckham’s rising profile meant he lasted just 18 months at Old Trafford before securing a move to Liga NOS outfit Benfica and his legend lives on, perhaps, for all the wrong reasons. Yet, tournament football showcases a glimpse of a player’s obvious talent and can provide a welcome reprieve as one seeks to put a difficult season behind them, as Alexis Sanchez is doing so brilliantly at the Copa America.
At the U21 Euros, there are young stars proving their worth and with the improvements in technology, fans and teams are able to watch these players with greater ease than ever before. That said, caution must again be applied. Royston Drenthe impressed for the Netherlands in 2007, so much so that Real Madrid paid Feyenoord €14m for his services. He made 46 league appearances in Spain’s capital before being sold to Alania Vladikavkaz in 2012.
However, there is a Real Madrid star currently shining bright at the competition and one staking a solid claim for regular game time at the Bernabeu in the coming campaign. Dani Ceballos currently boasts a fine WhoScored rating of 8.48 at the U21 Euros, that higher than any other player in Group A and one only Gian-Luca Waldschmidt (8.58) can better at the tournament.
Real Madrid, though, are open to his exit amidst reports on Tuesday that they’d accept offers of around £50m for the 22-year-old. Ceballos made just 13 league starts for Los Blancos last season, and only two following Zinedine Zidane’s return as head coach in March. The Frenchman is overseeing a summer revamp at the Bernabeu, with Ceballos believed to not be part of his plans.
Zidane is looking to add another midfielder to his squad this summer, be it Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen or Donny van de Beek, but Real Madrid boss could do a lot worse than hand Ceballos the opportunity to really stake a claim for a regular starting spot in the capital. Ceballos broke onto the scene with Real Betis with great aplomb and his fine form in Seville saw Real Madrid bring him north for just €18m. Real Betis were shortchanged and then some!
Of course, with Ceballos supposedly on the market, there is no shortage of suitors and so there shouldn’t be if his performances at the U21 Euros is anything to go by. Only Waldschmidt and Marco Richter (both 5) have had a direct hand in more goals than Ceballos (4 - 2 goals, 2 assists) at the tournament, with the Spaniard opening his account with a fine curling finish against Italy.
His performance in Spain’s 5-0 battering of Poland saw him awarded a perfect WhoScored 10 rating, the second player to achieve the feat in a Euro U21 match, as he helped tear their Group A counterparts to shreds. All in all, Ceballos has enjoyed a mightily fine Euros to date having had more shots (14), made more key passes (10) and completed more dribbles (13) than any other player in the group stages of the competition to set up a semi-final meeting with France.
In a Spain system that sees them dominate opponents - they are top for possession (60.2%) at the tournament - Ceballos is top for passes (263) after three games and first for successful final third passes (110), while no player has won possession in the attacking third more times than the Spanish youngster (4). Both on and off the ball, Ceballos is proving a hugely important asset for Luis de la Fuente’s side and if Spain do better their 2017 runners’ up finish, it’s the Real Madrid star who’ll have played a central role.
Yet rather than build on his fine Euro U21 campaign, Real Madrid would rather use the tournament to fuel interest in his signature and increase their asking price in Ceballos rather than tap into his immense potential and have him nail down a regular spot at the Bernabeu. In his sporadic appearances last term, he still returned one successful dribble per 90 and 1.7 key passes per 90. Three goals from 1.6 shots per 90 may be a return to build upon, but Ceballos has proven that if played in a role that suits his ability then he is a destructive attacking force.
A pass success rate of 92.6% was the third best in Spain’s top tier, so his ball retention quality suits a dominate Real Madrid side. That said, Real Madrid are unlikely to divert from their favoured 4-3-3 formation and with Ceballos’ best performances at the U21 Euros coming when starting in the number 10 role in a 4-3-1-2 setup, and it may be part of the reason why Los Blancos are happy to let him to leave this summer.
If that is the case, then Real Madrid will be losing a player more than capable of adapting his game to become the driving force in the Los Blancos midfield and in the process, save themselves a significant fee they’d have to pay to bring in another central midfielder, even if it means avoiding landing a big name player. Conversely, given their summer recruitments already having spent big to land Luka Jovic, Eden Hazard, Eder Militao and Rodrygo, it may be that Real Madrid need to sell to balance the books with Ceballos one of those in the firing line for Florentino Perez.
Either way, Ceballos has been a shining light in Spain’s push for a fifth U21 European Championship and be it with Real Madrid or elsewhere, he’s one who will thrive if the midfield is built around him and given the license to maximise his immense attacking quality as Fuentes has done this summer.