Portugal’s Cristiano Rolando (right) and João Félix (left) with France’s Kylian Mbappe (FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

EURO 2020: Soccer’s Most Valuable Stars Fight for the Continental Crown

From Mpabbe to Kane to Ronaldo, Europe’s marquee names are on display — and could strike it rich with big performances.

After a year of delay due to COVID-19, soccer’s single most prestigious international tournament outside the World Cup is back with 24 teams and a new format that won’t see just one or two host countries. Instead, EURO 2020 (yes, still officially 2020!) will be a truly continental event, with matches played in London, Rome, Munich, Amsterdam, Saint Petersburg, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Budapest, Bucharest, Seville, and Baku.

The initial stage of the competition consists of six groups of four teams each, with the top two teams and four best third-place teams advancing to the knockout rounds. Before the action kicks off Friday at 3 p.m. ET when Italy takes on Turkey, let’s take a look at what the top storylines for this long-awaited journey.

World Cup Winner France is the Favorite

After winning the most recent World Cup in 2018, France is well-positioned to repeat. Currently pegged at +470 at FanDuel, they’re easily the tournament’s betting favorites.

And aside from the insane depth Didier Deschamps’ 26-man squad has at its disposal, the single biggest reason les Bleus are expected to win is Kylian Mbappe.

By a wide margin, the 22-year-old forward is the most valuable soccer player in the world according to Transfermarkt, checking in at €160 million ($176 million). Mbappe dominated the world’s biggest stage in 2018, becoming the youngest World Cup goal-scorer in French history in the group stage and becoming the second teen in tournament history after none other than Pele to score in the Cup final, a 4-2 thumping of Croatia.

Following his triumph in Russia, Mbappe’s €180 million transfer from Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain was finalized. He’s now scored an insane 111 goals in 127 appearances in all competitions with the club, including 78 tallies in 80 Ligue 1 matches. PSG managed runs to the Champions League final in 2020 and the semifinals this year with Mbappe leading the charge.

But beyond just the young superstar, the French squad is magnifique. Their embarrassment of riches includes:

  • Longtime Tottenham Hotspur captain Hugo Lloris (€9 million estimated value on Transfermarkt) in goal.
  • A defense anchored by Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane (€70 million), Mbappe’s PSG teammate Presnel Kimpembe (€40 million), and the Bayern Munich combo of Lucas Hernandez (€45 million) and Benjamin Pavard (€35 million).
  • World Cup mainstay N’Golo Kante (€55 million) of Chelsea, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba (€60 million), and Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot (€30 million) bossing the midfield.
  • The Barcelona pair of Antoine Griezmann (€60 million) and Ousmane Dembele (€50 million) up front with Mbappe, plus Atletico Madrid star Thomas Lemar (€25 million), and Bayern phenom Kingsley Coman (€65 million). And don’t forget about 33-year-old Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (€25 million), who’s back with the team after a six-year absence.

If France wins this year’s Euros, they would have a really strong chance at winning’s next year’s World Cup in Qatar as well. That achievement — two straight World Cup trophies bookending a Euro title — would even eclipse the run of the legendary Spanish national team of the previous decade that sandwiched Euro wins in 2008 and 2012 around a World Cup championship in 2010 in South Africa.

But France’s road to the EURO 2020 crown won’t be easy, which is why they’re not the top betting favorite to win their own group despite being the overall favorites.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Last Dance?

At 36 years old, this is almost certainly Cristiano Ronaldo’s final Europea Championship for Portugal, the competition’s defending champs.

The all-time great forward’s immense importance at EURO 2020 is about the only thing we know for certain about his present and future status. His scoring output is still excellent, of course, with 29 Serie A goals and four Champions League tallies in 39 total games for Juventus this season. But Juve had its most disappointing campaign in a decade, finishing an unheard-of fourth in Serie A behind winners Inter Milan, ending the Bianconeri’s run of eight straight domestic titles.

They were additionally bounced by Porto in the Champions League’s round of 16, putting CR7’s status on the squad next season in question.

An incredibly cryptic IG from late May only added to the uncertainty.

World powers like PSG and Ronaldo’s former clubs Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Sporting CP could have interest in bringing him in via transfer, with Juventus already reportedly targeting Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus as his potential replacement.

Ronaldo is still an incredibly valuable player for someone of his age and mileage, with Transfermarkt estimating him at €49.5 million. He’s also still the No. 3 highest-paid athlete on the planet, making $70 million on the field and $50 million off it with endorsement deals from companies including Nike, Unilever, Altice, and Therabody. He also has a staggering social media following, with 296 million followers on Instagram, 148.5 million Facebook page likes, and 92.2 million followers on Twitter, making him the single most popular athlete on the planet by any number of measures.

Portugal has some immensely talented young players who are now more valuable than the great Ronaldo, however, including Man United superstar Bruno Fernandes (€99 million), 21-year-old Atletico Madrid wunderkind forward Joao Felix (€88 million), 24-year-old Man City center back Ruben Dias (€82.5 million), and Dias’ teammate, midfielder Bernardo Silva (€77 million).

Though Portgual’s future has every chance to be bright without Ronaldo, the stage is set for one last magical run with the team — though as of this writing, their +900 odds at FanDuel are just seventh-best in the field.

All Eyes on Harry Kane

He won the Golden Boot as the World Cup’s leading goal-scorer as England finally fulfilled its immense potential in a semifinal run in 2018. He won the Premier League Golden Boot this past season, becoming the third player in league history to win the award three times.

Now, with his future at Tottenham Hotspur in question, all eyes will be on striker Harry Kane to continue his all-world scoring output at EURO 2020 and potentially drive his massive market value even higher.

England has a young, star-studded roster and the second-best FanDuel odds (+500) to win the tournament, and Kane is its 27-year-old captain. At +600, he has the joint-best odds (with Belgium and Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku) to win the Golden Boot again. But after Kane publicly asked Spurs for a move away from the team — the ne he;s rights his entire career, his performance at Euros could cause him to fetch a record transfer if he’s moved this summer.

At €132 million, Kane is Transfermarkt’s third-most valuable player in the world, behind Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland. With a dominant performance over the next month, could a move away from Spurs approach Neymar’s record €222 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 or Mbappe’s 2018 move to PSG?

We won’t have to wait long to find out.

The Group of Death

What happens when three of the six betting favorites to win EURO 2020 are in the same group? Absolute chaos.

With France, Portugal, and Germany all in Group F, it’s possible one of those teams don’t reach the round of 16. While we discussed France and Portugal’s star power, Germany, the 2014 World Cup winners, are no slouch, either.

In fact, at +125, die Mannschaft actually have the best FanDuel odds to win the Group of Death.

After stunningly unable to advance past the group stage in 2018, the Germans feature a Bayern Munich-heavy lineup focused on redemption. FCB stars Joshua Kimmich ( €90 million estimated market value), Leon Goretzka (€70 million), Serge Gnabry (€70 million), Leroy Sane (€60 million), Jamal Musiala (€38 million), and Niklas Rule (€35 million) are joined by attackers Kai Havertz (€70 million) and Timo Werner (€65 million) from Champions League winners Chelsea. Midfield veterans Toni Kroos of Real Madrid (€40 million) and Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City (€40 million) round out Joachim Löw’s fearsome group.

While fans of each Group F country are likely to sweat out these next couple of weeks as their beloved teams labor to advance to the knockout rounds, even neutral observers have every reason to be thrilled to get so many highly-anticipated fixtures in store. EURO 2020 may have been delayed a year, but the excitement — and the stakes — has only grown larger in the interim.