Where is Euro 2024’s Karel Poborsky? The death of the big summer transfer gamble

Steven Chicken
Karel Poborsky looking rueful while playing for Manchester United. His shirt looks dead baggy because it's the 90s
Karel Poborsky shone at Euro 96 for the Czech Republic but was a bit naff for Manchester United

John Jensen. Phillipe Albert. Den Petrescu. Gheorghe Hagi. Cafu. Karel Poborsky. Patrik Berger. Jordi Cruyff. Hidetoshi Nakata. Marcelo Salas. Dejan Stankovic. El-Hadji Diouf. Javier Mascherano. Carlos Tevez. Andrei Arshavin. Asamoah Gyan. Nicolas Otamendi. Mesut Ozil.

A real mixed bag of players there, but all of them bound by having announced themselves or enhanced their reputations significantly enough at major summer tournaments to earn a big move up a level or two in the months that followed.

Euro 2024 has unearthed very few hidden gems

Who’s that going to be from Euro 2024 then? No, seriously, we’re asking. Because it’s hard to look at the crop of players in action in Germany this summer and think that there’s some relative unknown in there ready to be plucked to the big time.

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Part of the issue is that we are just in a more global game now. If a 17-year-old winger in Quito so much as lifts his left foot to fart, he will be dubbed the Ecuadorian Messi amid a flurry of reports linking him with Chelsea, Liverpool, Atalanta and Bayern Munich. Throw in Football Manager, Ultimate Team and TikTok, and if anything there is an impossible surplus of supposedly hidden gems staring us in the face from all different sizes of screen.

To go along with that, the big clubs are much better these days at finding those players early. England’s hot young things – Jude Bellingham, Cole Palmer, Kobbie Mainoo – ply their trade for Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, and two of them have already been purchased in massive-money moves (twice, in Bellingham’s case).

Spain? The three youngest players in their squad – Pedri, Fermin Lopez and Lamine Yamal – all belong to Barcelona already. The country’s star player, Nico Williams, was repeatedly linked with a bevy of big clubs and could surely have had his pick had he not decided to stick with Athletic. Fabian Ruiz has won plaudits beyond expectation, but as a PSG player, he is hardly an unknown.

We could go on. Jamal Musiala: Bayern Munich. Florian Wirtz: invincible Bayer Leverkusen. Arda Guler: Real Madrid. Giorgi Mamardashvili: Valencia. And on it goes.

That means that quite few of the big stars on show play for mid-table clubs or at obscure enough outposts to really surprise. Others who were tipped to shine and had been linked with big summer moves, like Portugal centre-back Antonio Silva, have barely featured or failed to rise to the occasion; if they do get those moves, their performance at the Euros will have nothing to do with it.

Georgian forward Georges Mikautadze, of French second tier side Metz, probably comes closest – and he’s just scored 13 goals in half a season in Ligue 1 for relegated Metz, having returned to them on loan from big-name Ajax.

An agreement had already been reached to make that move permanent before the tournament began, though reports in France have suggested he is likely to be sold on for profit, which might give us at least a little bit of the old-fashioned to hold onto.

As if that list at the top didn’t make clear, part of the fun of those tiny-sample moves for summer tournament players is that a good deal of the time, they turned out to be a bit crap. If that’s the case now – if someone just happens to have been really, really good for two months of an otherwise mediocre career – we tend to know about it quickly. WhoScored, FBRef and Transfermarkt are only a click away for armchair transfer gurus to learn that actually, they may not be the sure thing their summer form might suggest.

It’s hard not to feel like something might have been lost with that. We’re thoroughly in favour of clubs over-excitedly rushing into gambling on someone who might turn out to be brilliant, but could just as easily be absolute cack…shame that seems to be a dying art.

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