Ronaldo, Rooney, Maldini & the teenage Euro sensations Oxlade-Chamberlain hopes to emulate

With the action in Poland and Ukraine set to get under way in just over three weeks, looks back at the impact made by precociously talented teens in tournaments gone by
By Mark Doyle

Football rarely produces anything other than wildly contrasting emotions, on and off the field. So it came to pass that on the same day that Rio Ferdinand admitted himself "gutted" after being left out of England's squad for Euro 2012, an ebullient Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was talking giddily about "a dream come true" following his inclusion in Roy Hodgson's panel for Poland and Ukraine.

While an admirably restrained Ferdinand is currently trying to come to terms with a controversial omission which effectively ends his England career, Oxlade-Chamberlain is entertaining heady thoughts of representing his country in what is now the toughest tournament in international football.

The Arsenal winger, of course, is still uncapped, meaning it will be a brave call to hand him his debut at Euro 2012, but then, Hodgson clearly would not have selected him if he did not think that the Portsmouth-born youngster belongs at this level.

And just in case England's new boss needs any convincing of the old adage that if you're good enough, you're old enough, has profiled four teenagers who made their mark in previous European Championships.


The opening game of Euro ’84 is best remembered for France full-back Manuel Amoros’ ridiculous headbutt on Jesper Olsen and the horrific leg break suffered by Denmark striker Allan Simonsen. However, the match in Paris also marked Michael Laudrup’s first appearance at a major international tournament.

The attacking midfielder was just three days shy of his 20th birthday when he lined out against the tournament's hosts. He failed to make an impact on proceedings at the Parc des Princes, but Laudrup produced a typically extravagant assist in his next outing, against Yugoslavia, and continued to shine during his country’s run to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by Spain on penalties.

Over the course of the next decade, the Dane would go on to establish himself as one of the most ingenious and technically gifted footballers the game has ever seen, but the great shame will forever be that he played no part in Denmark’s stunning success at Euro ’92 because of a dispute with then coach Richard Moller Nielsen. Still, his legacy lives on; that Andres Iniesta considers Laudrup the finest player of all time is testament to that fact.


Laudrup’s Denmark had been on the receiving end of a Michel masterclass in their 3-2 defeat by Spain in the opening round of fixtures at Euro ’88. However, the latter would not get a look-in in his country’s next group game, against Italy. The reason? A certain Paolo Maldini. The left-back was just 19 at the time but he was already a regular in Arrigo Sacchi’s legendary AC Milan side and underlined his status as the best young defender in the world by marking Real Madrid winger Michel out of the game in Frankfurt.

Despite Maldini’s continued excellence, which would earn him a place in Uefa’s Team of the Tournament, Italy eventually bowed out in the semi-finals, losing 2-0 to the Soviet Union. It was some birthday present for the defender, who turned 20 on the day. However, international heartbreak was something that Maldini would grow accustomed to during his illustrious career, with the Azzurri losing out to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup final before being beaten by David Trezeguet's Golden Goal at Euro 2000.


Cristiano Ronaldo has also had his fair share of disappointment in the international arena and one imagines that for all his subsequent success at club level, he remains haunted by his country’s failure to win Euro 2004 on home soil. Not that Ronaldo was to blame, of course.

Fresh from a scintillating debut season with Manchester United, capped by the opening goal in his club’s FA Cup final win over Millwall, the twinkle-toed winger returned home bringing with him even more belief than usual. Ronaldo was left on the bench for his country’s first two fixtures – despite having scored a late goal in the opening-day defeat by Greece – but he was handed a start in the must-win meeting with Spain and helped his country claim a 1-0 triumph which secured them a place in the knockout stages.

Ronaldo went on to play an integral role in Portugal’s progression to the final, converting his penalty in the quarter-final shoot-out success over England before scoring the opener in the semi-final win over Netherlands. However, the 19-year-old missed a gilt-edged opportunity to equalise as his country suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by Greece in the tournament decider. Ever since, he has been dogged by accusations that he cannot replicate his club form at international level.


Of course, England fans will tell you that their side would have won Euro 2004 had Wayne Rooney not suffered a tournament-ending injury in the first half of their quarter-final clash with Portugal.

In fairness, up until that point, the 18-year-old striker had been the undoubted star of the show. The irrepressible Rooney won the penalty with which David Beckham should have secured victory in England’s opener against France – they ultimately succumbed to an injury-time double from Zinedine Zidane – before becoming the youngest scorer in European Championship history with the first of his two goals in the 3-0 win over Switzerland, though he would lose the record to Johan Vonlanthen four days later.

Rooney netted twice more in the 4-2 victory over Croatia before disaster struck against the Portuguese in the knockout stages, the Manchester United striker breaking his fifth metatarsal after a seemingly innocuous collision with Jorge Andrade.

Having been sent off against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, Rooney will be desperately hoping that England manage to avoid the Portuguese in Poland and Ukraine this summer as both he and erstwhile United team-mate Ronaldo go in search of the European Championship winners' medals which eluded both Laudrup and Maldini.

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