Timing is everything in football, and Euro 2020’s postponement by 12 months as a result of the coronavirus will have felt like a damning blow to some players hoping to feature.
One year can feel like a lifetime depending on the stage of one’s career, and the strain of stretching until 2021 after preparing for this summer’s kick-off could be too far for some.
Four of the final 24 participating teams are still to be decided via the play-offs—now expected to take place in June—but the major players are already known.
Many managers may not be deterred in their selection despite the delay, while other players aren’t as certain to be included now that dates have shifted.
1. Fabio Quagliarella
It’s not uncommon for midfielders, defenders or goalkeepers to have a renaissance phase towards the end of their careers, but the rejuvenation Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella has enjoyed in his 30s beggars belief by forward standards.
The 37-year-old converted a career-best 26 goals during the 2018-19 campaign, earning the most recent of his 29 Italy caps as recently as June 2019. His physical traits stood out at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris this season, too:
Understandable though it is that manager Roberto Mancini may want to invest in longer-term prospects, who wouldn’t want to see a 38-year-old Quagliarella showing this generation’s whipper-snappers how it’s done in 2021?
Many a football neutral might be anything other than upset to hear divisive Portugal defender Pepe may no longer be in the international picture come 2021.
The former Real Madrid pantomime villain—now 37—remained a constant for Porto this season until a leg injury at the beginning of the year saw him suffer for club and country.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos may feel insecure enough in his centre-back options to keep 109-cap Pepe around—Jose Fonte also turns 37 this year—though next summer may be unrealistic.
3. Callum Wilson
It’s not exclusively the elder statesmen who are at risk of missing their ticket to Euro 2021, with Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson one of those affected by the loss of momentum more than anything else.
A few consistent seasons on England’s south coast combined with injuries to compatriots Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford meant Wilson was in the frame to travel this summer.
However, Bournemouth’s flirtation with Premier League relegation this term and the possibility of steeper competition next year means his major-tournament chance may have passed, lest he can make the jump to a bigger club and continue his production.
4. Ryan Babel
It was Dick Advocaat who brought Ryan Babel back into the Netherlands squad in 2017 after a six-year absence, and Ronald Koeman has appeared content to play along since.
The Euro 2020 postponement may signal the end (a real one this time) of his international career, however, given the tsunami of young talent breaking through the ranks.
Memphis Depay, Quincy Promes and Steven Berghuis are now experienced stars, but Calvin Stengs, Justin Kluivert, Myron Boadu, Donyell Malen and Mo Ihatteren are each 21 or younger and displaying massive potential.
Babel, 33, has kept his place after returning to Ajax on loan from Galatasaray this season, though Dutch football expert Michael Bell suggested he’s got by purely on reputation:
Koeman has proved loyal to the former Liverpool personality up until now, but it’s hard to envision him taking his place in the Oranje squad if all options are fit.
5. Jakub Blaszczykowski
An esteemed member of the Borussia Dortmund squad that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011-12, there was a sense of momentum building toward Jakub Blaszczykowski’s summer of 2020.
Now back at boyhood club Wisla Krakow—where the 34-year-old’s contract is due to expire in June—there’s a feeling Poland may have better options available in 2021.
Blaszczykowski has earned 108 caps for his country but played only 67 minutes in their last 11 fixtures, and he may be denied his swan song.
6. Santi Cazorla
Of all the football nice guys, Santi Cazorla strikes as though he may be the nicest, making it all the sadder to consider he may have played in his last European Championships.
The former Arsenal man who once missed more than 600 days of football laughed in the face of science upon his return to Villarreal in 2018, playing with the same ambidextrous verve in the past two seasons that first brought him international renown. He even tied his career-best tally of 12 goals before football was suspended this season, despite making only 29 appearances.
The veteran’s Villarreal contract is set to expire in June, but Spanish journalist Guillem Balague has said he intends to keep playing (and possibly add to his 81 caps), via Soccer AM:
Cazorla returned to the Spain fold in June 2019—almost four years after his previous cap—and played in four of their 10 Euro 2020 qualifiers. Here’s hoping Luis Enrique sees fit to recall the playmaker, but there are no guarantees given his injury record and that he turns 36 in December.
7. Steve Mandanda
Steve Mandanda was there for France during Hugo Lloris’ injury absence for the latter end of their qualifying campaign, but that could be the Marseille stopper’s last great contribution to his country.
Mandanda—who turns 35 on Saturday—has a hope in that coach Didier Deschamps seems loyal to certain players irrespective of age—Olivier Giroud can vouch as much—but competition is stiff.
Alphonse Areola, 27, and Mike Maignan, 24, are each younger options as deputy to usual captain Lloris, while AS Monaco’s Benjamin Lecomte and under-21 star Alban Lafont are yet to make their senior France debuts.
Mandanda remains capable of both colossal and calamitous performances when it suits him, and Deschamps may decide to place his faith in others.
8. Vincent Kompany
Euro 2020 always looked an uncertainty for Vincent Kompany after he left Manchester City last summer. At 33, the centre-back’s best days are definitely behind him, but Roberto Martinez kept him in the rotation until injuries began to have a say in August.
That meant the former national team captain only appeared in two of 10 qualifying matches, and worsening form at Anderlecht hasn’t helped his case. If there's any hope of making the grade, it's likely to be more for his renowned leadership than anything else.
Belgium will miss this current generation of central defenders when they do depart, with Vissel Kobe’s Thomas Vermaelen another doubt to make the grade next year.
9. Ashley Williams
A titanic figure during Wales’ run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, Ashley Williams’ career has been on a downward slope since then.
On one hand, there’s a temptation to believe Wales will feel indebted to an 86-times capped veteran, not least because the squad is lacking in experienced figures.
On the other, it’s clear the 35-year-old has lost a yard (or more) of pace and is in his last strides as an international player.
Williams joined Everton from Swansea City after Euro 2016, but he’s since been loaned to Stoke and joined Bristol City, where he started three straight games on the bench before football was suspended.
Ryan Giggs may prefer to consider Ethan Ampadu as a defensive heir, with Regan Poole, 21, and Chris Mepham, 22, also among the young hopefuls at centre-back.
10. Emre Belozoglu
A contender for the oldest outfielder at Euro 2020 if he did take part, 39-year-old Emre Belozoglu is in the running to crack the big ‘4-0’ at an international tournament if he’s around next year.
Having debuted two decades ago, Fenerbahce general Belozoglu was part of the Turkey squad that finished third at the 2002 World Cup, but he was injured early on in their run to the Euro 2008 semi-finals:
Once a flop at Atletico Madrid, Belozoglu—now in his third stint at Fener with a contract due to expire in June—is viewed as a hero in most of Turkey. However, his stamina may be pushed to the limit (and beyond) trying to make the squad for ‘Euro 2021’.