The Euro 2020 finals are here, and the buzz has well and truly taken over the continent. Fixtures come thick and fast and some of the best players in the world are going head-to-head in a battle to win the ultimate trophy. There’s still plenty of debate and no clear favourite for who will be crowned champion of the event, but fans and punters alike will take note of the impressive Italy who were the first team to qualify for the knockout phase after two successive 3-0 wins.
Some of the best in the world have plied their trade in the English football league at some point and in this article, we’ll rate the best players at Euro 2020 to have graced the lower leagues in England.
The rise of Gareth Bale from a left back with potential into the world’s most expensive player is nothing short of meteoric. The Wales captain may well be at the top of the sport now, but it wasn’t always that way.
In 2007, Bale made the switch from relegation fighting Southampton in the Championship over to Tottenham Hotspur.
There was a time when Bale was considered a flop at Spurs, when in his preferred left back role it took over two whole years before he was on a winning side. The Spurs management stuck by the young prodigy though and played him in advanced positions until he found his true calling as a winger.
With 40 Championship appearances to his name, Bale has gone on to win the Champions League four times, La Liga twice, Premier League Player of the Season and he’s even been named in UEFA’s Team of the Year twice. Bale lead minnows Wales to the Euro 2016 semi-finals before elimination by eventual winners Portugal. Bale has continued his superb form and is hopeful of going one better at Euro 2020.
Wales maestro Aaron Ramsey has played in the Championship on 27 occasions across two spells with his boyhood club Cardiff, and a loan spell with Nottingham Forest in 2010-11. Ramsey’s potential was swiftly spotted after impressive performances for Cardiff and Arsenal beat a host of clubs to acquire the signature of the young playmaker in 2008.
Ramsey spent a decade at Arsenal, racking up three FA Cup wins during his time with the North London outfit. In 2019, Ramsey decided to take on a new challenge and opted to sign with Juventus. They say you get what you pay for and the Bianconeri clearly thought highly of the talented midfielder, giving him the most lucrative contract of his career, earning a reported £400,000 per week, eclipsing the record of highest earning British player.
In his first two season with Juventus, Ramsey has shown his class and tenacity as a box-to-box midfielder, winning Serie A and the prestigious Coppa Italia. Ramsey is a key figure in the Wales side alongside Gareth Bale and the two regularly link up to devastating effect.
A prolific scorer in the Championship, Teemu Pukki will be hoping to replicate his form on the international stage with Finland.
Pukki won the revered EFL Championship Golden Boot in 2018–19 as he secured Norwich the Championship title with a runaway five-point margin over rivals Sheffield United. Pukki scored 29 goals in just 43 appearances during that campaign and showed that he was able to perform at a higher level by racking up 11 strikes in his debut season in the Premier League.
Pukki has developed as a player and in 2020-21 managed 26 goals as he helped the Canaries to win the Championship title again, this time by an even more impressive six clear points.
Pukki has made an impressive 93 international caps for Finland and whilst he only has 30 goals for his country, 15 of them have come in the last three years. A late bloomer, Pukki will hope to put his form and leadership qualities to good use and bag three more goals to make him the country’s all-time top goal scorer and overtake idol Jari Litmanen.
John Stones has become the heartbeat of Gareth Southgate’s England side and also developed into a key member of Pep Guardiola’s title winning Manchester City. The 27-year-old cultured centre back began his career in his hometown with Barnsley and after two seasons with The Tykes, he was snapped up by Everton.
Stones quickly became a fan favourite as a ball playing defender, regularly bringing it out from the back and beginning attacks. In 2016 Everton were unable to keep hold of their young talent when a £50 million bid from the Citizens came in and made Stones the second most expensive defender of all-time.
Still yet to reach his prime years as a defender, Stones has come a long way from the promising but inconsistent Barnsley youngster and is set to lead England’s backline for the next major tournament.
It’s clear now that Harry Kane is a generational talent who would comfortably lead the line at any club in world football, but it hasn’t always been that way. The three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner spent the 2011-12 campaign on loan at Championship side Millwall. Seven goals in 22 appearances for The Dockers was enough for Tottenham to take notice of the development of their young scorer, and just a couple of years later he was indispensable for Spurs.
Kane has gone on to win numerous accolades including five appearances in the Premier League Team of the Year, the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot and most recently the 2020-21 Premier League Playmaker of the Season.
Kane is captain of his club and country, and he’s evolved from a poacher into a world class scoring machine. There’s little doubt that his experience in the lower leagues has helped him to become the class act he is today in terms of both playing and leadership.