With Covid pushing the Euros back, the England, Scotland and Wales squads look a bit different now.
When one door closes, another opens.
That’s how some players in the England, Scotland and Wales squads must be seeing this year’s delayed Euros tournament.
Because while we were all disappointed not to be watching our national teams last summer, some players were handed an extra 12 months to play their way into their managers’ plans.
It turns out a year is a long time in football – because these squads are more different than you might think.
Step forward the likes of Phil Foden, Billy Gilmour and Joe Allen.
Cast your mind back to that bit of 2020 before the pandemic and the lockdowns and the hand sanitiser.
In a New Year’s Day defeat at Southampton, Spurs and England captain Harry Kane was clutching his thigh just after having a goal disallowed.
He was out for a while after that with a torn hamstring – and there were question marks over how fit he’d be for that summer’s Euros.
Even then-manager Jose Mourinho said he was expecting “bad news”.
Two weeks later, and Marcus Rashford pulled up with a stress fracture in his back just 16 minutes after coming on in an FA Cup game for Manchester United.
It turned out to be “more severe” than the club expected and it was “touch and go” if he would play again that season.
Two of England’s main attackers were a doubt for the summer tournament.
But a year on (and both players have actually had other injuries since then) and both look ready for action… bar any last-minute disasters.
Meanwhile, there are a number of young players who would have found it tough to break into manager Gareth Southgate’s plans a year ago.
The “Stockport Iniesta” – Man City’s Phil Foden – had been touted as an England regular for years, but Southgate has been cautious about integrating him into the England setup too quickly.
In fact, it wasn’t until August 2020 that he won his first cap for his country.
He’s had an outstanding title-winning season at Manchester City, where he scored nine league goals and got five assists – and a man-of-the-match performance in the EFL Cup final helped City to the trophy in that competition, too.
It means the 21-year-old has a good chance of being a regular starter this summer – which show just how far he’s come in under a year.
It’s a similar story for 17-year-old Jude Bellingham, who hadn’t even appeared for England under-21s when he signed for German side Borussia Dortmund last July.
The ex-Birmingham midfielder first played for England U21s in August before being called up to the senior squad in November 2020.
An impressive first season in the Bundesliga has been rewarded, and he’ll be celebrating his 18th birthday as part of the England squad at the end of June – providing the team’s still in the competition then.
Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips was playing Championship football last summer and was probably close to an England cap, but it’s unlikely he would have made it then.
He was called up to England’s squad in September before he’d played any Premier League football, but a series of solid performances for club and country has earned him his place in the final 26-man squad.
Other players who hadn’t made their debuts before the tournament was meant to go ahead last year include Conor Coady, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Bukayo Saka and Champions League winner Reece James.
All of them were on the fringes before last season – but they’ve made the squad this time round thanks to another year of playing first-team football at their respective clubs.
The uncapped Sam Johnstone has also made the squad – thanks to solid performances over the season for relegated West Brom, as well as an injury to keeper Nick Pope meaning there’s space in the final 26.
Ben White has found a place in the squad after an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold in a warm-up match against Austria – the same game in which the Brighton defender made his debut for England.
It’s looking like Scotland’s best squad for years – but one player wasn’t even considered an option last summer.
Southampton striker Che Adams was eligible to play for Scotland or England because he has grandparents from both countries – and only opted to go with Scotland less than three months ago.
Now he’s got a good chance of making Steve Clarke’s starting line-up at Hampden Park in the first match against the Czech Republic.
Alongside him could be striker Kevin Nisbet, who two years ago was still playing in the Scottish League One with Raith Rovers.
A move to Dunfermline in the Scottish Championship followed where he scored 18 goals in 25 games – although that probably wouldn’t have been enough to get him into the Scotland team.
But 14 goals in 33 appearances in the Scottish Premiership for Hibs has earned his place and the attacker’s goals – whose first cap was only in March this year – could be valuable this summer.
A goal with his first touch in a pre-tournament friendly with Netherlands hasn’t done his chances any harm either.
At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Craig Gordon probably thought his international career was over by last summer after falling out of favour at Celtic.
But a move to Hearts revitalised his chances – and after more than two years out of the Scotland squad, he was included again in November 2020.
Another player who almost certainly wouldn’t have made it last summer is Billy Gilmour.
He’s yet to play for the first team, but many are expecting big things from the midfielder – who comes into the tournament with a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket after Chelsea’s win.
The 19-year-old will come up against some of his Blues team mates in Group D, including Reece James, Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell.
But he won’t expect it to be easy – Chelsea’s Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic joked that he’ll encourage his team mates to give Gilmour a good kicking. Talk about a baptism of fire.
Joining Gilmour are the uncapped Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull.
A year ago, defender Patterson hadn’t even played for the under-21 team, and had a single cup appearance for the Rangers first team under his belt.
He’s since made a handful of starts for the Rangers side which ran away with the Scottish Premiership title, as well as Scotland U21s.
On the other side of Glasgow, midfielder Turnbull impressed for Celtic, despite the team’s disappointing season.
But last spring while at previous club Motherwell, he was just coming back from a long-term knee injury.
A series of good performances after the restart earned his move to Celtic in the summer and he grabbed eight goals in 31 league appearances for the Bhoys.
And it’s now earned him a place in Steve Clarke’s 26-man squad.
The big one here is Joe Allen.
The midfield stalwart – so vital to the team’s run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals – was ruled out last season after a ruptured Achilles tendon in March 2020.
“As soon as it (the injury) happened I remember being on the pitch and the first thing I was thinking was ‘that’s the Euros gone’,” he told Elis James’ Feast of Football podcast later on.
“It’s terrible how it’s come about (with the Covid-19 crisis), but I had the boost of the Euros being postponed – to be honest that was a win for pretty much only me.”
He was out for nine and a half months, making his comeback for Stoke on Boxing Day last year.
And he nearly didn’t make it again this summer after an injury setback while on Wales duty in March ruled him out for the rest of the season.
But Stoke boss Michael O’Neill said he’d be ready for the Euros with Wales and he’s made Robert Page’s Wales squad.
David Brooks will also be pleased to have made the squad after spending much of the previous two seasons on the sidelines.
An ankle injury sustained in a July 2019 friendly took much longer to recover from than initially anticipated, and extra surgery kept him out of Bournemouth contention until June 2020.
That would have meant it was touch and go had the Euros taken place that summer.
And despite a couple more shorter spells out with injuries this season in the Championship, the midfielder made 34 league appearances in total, as Bournemouth were knocked out in the playoff semi-finals.
Last summer may have come too soon for some of Wales’s younger squad members too.
Swansea’s Ben Cabango only made his debut for Wales in a Nations League win at Finland in September.
But with 30 league appearances under his belt this season in the Championship, the 21-year-old will be staking his claim at the heart of the Wales defence.
Two other players were also handed their debuts in that Finland game – 20-year-olds Neco Williams and Dylan Levitt, who are both included in Robert Page’s squad this summer.
Williams has made a handful of appearances for Liverpool over the past couple of seasons but has firmly established himself in the Wales setup, while Levitt is yet to make his debut at Manchester United, having spent time on loan at Charlton and Croatian side Istra 1961 this season.
Cardiff’s Rubin Colwill is perhaps the most surprising inclusion – he was only promoted to his club’s under-23 team last summer, before making his first-team debut in February this year.
The uncapped 19-year-old went on to appear six times in the Championship, but caretaker Wales boss Robert Page says he’s been a “breath of fresh air” since he’s come into the squad.
“He blew us all away with how he was and how he conducted himself. He’s a top professional already and a great lad to have around the place,” he said.
Talking of which, caretaker manager Robert Page – who would have been on the sidelines as assistant had the tournament gone ahead last year.
But an assault allegation against manager Ryan Giggs in November meant Page took interim charge of the team.
It was confirmed that Page would be caretaker for this summer’s Euros in April.
It does work two ways, though – as some players who would have probably made it into the squads last summer have missed out this time round.
England’s Tammy Abraham and Danny Ings ended the 2019-20 season as two of the highest-scoring Englishmen in the Premier League.
But Chelsea’s Abraham has struggled for game time under new manager Thomas Tuchel this season, and Ings’ injury-hit year at Southampton means the pair haven’t made Gareth Southgate’s final 26.
Other players who missed out: Eric Dier, James Maddison, Nick Pope, James Ward-Prowse.
Scotland qualified for the Euros after winning on penalties against Serbia in November – but three of the scorers in that shootout haven’t made Steve Clarke’s squad.
Leigh Griffiths misses out, while Oli McBurnie and Kenny McLean are injured.
Other players who missed out: Ryan Jack.
Spare a though for Cardiff City’s Will Vaulks.
The midfielder was due to get married in Italy ahead of last summer’s Euros – but neither the wedding nor the tournament went ahead.
“They are two pretty big things for me, that have been cancelled,” he said at the time. “Promotion would make up for that.”
Unfortunately, Cardiff lost in the Championship playoff semi-finals and Vaulks has only made one substitute appearance for Wales in the last year.
We assume he’s still waiting to get married, too.
Other players who missed out: Tom Lawrence, Hal Robson-Kanu, Ashley Williams.