Lamine Yamal leads Euro 2024's unstoppable youth revolution

Lamine Yamal leads Euro 2024's unstoppable youth revolution

Updated Jun. 16, 2024 4:18 a.m. ET

Lamine Yamal, 16 years old and with the composure of a veteran, and Luka Modrić, 38 and as motivated as a teenager, squared off at Euro 2024 on Saturday, and there was an unmistakable lesson to take from it.

At this tournament, experience is yesterday's news, and precocious, youthful talent is the most dangerous weapon you can have.

Overreaction, based off too small a sample size? We will see, but don't count on it.

Modern soccer rewards speed, impetuosity, fearlessness and surprise, and the impact a fresh face like Spain's Yamal can have was on clear display in Berlin.


Let's say it again, Yamal, who plays his club soccer at Barcelona, is just 16. An age usually associated with social awkwardness, hanging out at the mall, fretting over exam results and trying to figure life out. Not, in most cases, shouldering the creative hopes of your nation's soccer team, for a country where historic success creates huge expectations.

At the Olympiastadion, it didn't matter that Croatia had a true legend of the game in Modric at the heart of its midfield, filled with desire to match or improve upon his team's World Cup silver and bronze medals from the last two global showcases.

Yamal posed problems for which there was no effective answer. His pressurizing runs, controlling the ball as effortlessly as if his feet were hands, his freedom to roam, it was whimsical and carefree, but also devastatingly effective.

"(We have) very young players, Lamine especially," Spain head coach Luis de la Fuente said this week. "He's a kid, but with a talent that only the chosen ones have. It's like he has been touched by the wand of God. 

"Very few have that quality, that incredible ability. They're special footballers. They have that touch that makes them different to the rest."

Yamal won't turn 17 until July 13, a day before the final of this tournament, which could provide a delicious coincidence if Spain are still going by that point.

When the opening whistle blew against Croatia on Saturday, he became the youngest player in the history of the Euros. He nearly became the youngest scorer as well, but did pretty much everything else, highlighted by setting up Dani Carvajal for the third and keeping Croatia's defense in a near-constant panic mode.

Dani Carvajal scores off of a cross from Lamine Yamal

There was another youth-based record earlier in the day. Dominik Szoboszlai, at 23, become the youngest captain in Euros history when he led Hungary in its 2-1 defeat to Switzerland. Soon, Kylian Mbappé, 25, will captain a stacked France team.

Soccer has never been more technical and tactically complicated, but more and more coaches are realizing that unpredictability is a perfect way to break through the most organized of formations.

Jude Bellingham was Bundesliga player of the year at age 19 and La Liga player of the year at 20, following his superb debut season with Real Madrid. Endrick, 17, is already doing special things for Brazil.

And Spain has Yamal, who was less than a year old when Spain began its remarkable run in 2008, beginning aglory run that would encompass the 2010 World Cup and another Euros title in 2012, with an approach built around slick passing and total control.

Things are a little more open now, allowing Yamal the freedom to run at defenders and give us all a treat in being able to watch it.

There is something about a wunderkind that is truly special. England saw it and benefited from it in 2004, when Wayne Rooney burst onto the international scene at 17. Had Rooney not been subbed out early in its quarterfinal against Portugal with an injury, England may have gone on to win that tournament.

On Saturday, neither Yamal or Modric made it to the end, but their departures could not have been more different. Modric was spared the closing minutes of what was a huge disappointment for Croatia, and trudged to the bench.

Yamal almost skipped from the field as he was rested late, to save him for future conquests in a group also featuring Italy and Albania.

Spain looks like in means business, in large part because it has a game changer who, forget about being impossibly young, is impossibly good. 

He's young and he's hungry and youth is having its moment, because, hey, why wait?

Spain's journey to UEFA Euro 2024 & expectations | Euro Today

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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