The domestic football season may well be finished, but there is plenty to look forward to this summer with the European Under-21 Championships getting underway this weekend.
Denmark hosts the 18th staging of a tournament that seems to get bigger every time. Teams are taking the event much more seriously with a relevant major tournament feeling to things.
It is now seen as excellent preparation for young players as they prepare for senior international tournaments.
It is also a chance for individuals to make a name for themselves, nudging the senior team manager in the process.
All of this while being part of an international squad for a couple of weeks of competitive football. Overall, it is a very worthwhile event in the football calendar.
Looking at the likely teams to win the whole thing, it is being considered as a fairly open contest. Spain are expected to be strong though and start as favourites, followed by England and Czech Republic.
There are some surprise absentees from this year’s competition with Italy, Russia, Holland, Germany and France failing to qualify. This opens the door for outsiders like Belarus, Switzerland and hosts Denmark to progress to the latter stages.
As already mentioned, it is going to be a very interesting tournament with many teams capable of beating each other.
With specific reference to England, Stuart Pearce’s men will be keen to go one better than two years ago when they lost in the final. They have a good chance too with plenty of experience in their squad.
Micah Richards, Jake Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs may well be unavailable, but in Chris Smalling, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, they have players with Premier League pedigree.
Looking at the tournament as a whole, there is some extra incentive for teams to perform well. Of course winning the event is significant, but three of the four semi-finalists will take part in next summer’s Olympic football tournament at London 2012.
England automatically have a team because they are the host nation, so if Pearce’s men make it to the semi-final stage, the remaining three teams will make it to the Olympics.
A third-fourth place play-off will be needed if England don’t make it to the final four, but they are widely expected to do so.
Ovearll, it should be an exciting couple of weeks of football with some of the best young players from Europe going head-to-head.
It all gets underway on Saturday when Belarus take on Iceland. England’s first game is against tournament favourites Spain on Sunday.