This is not a list of who played the best in the tournament itself (in fact a few of these hardly played at all), though the tournament is a factor of course (I posted my team of the tournament on twitter), but more deciding who of these players from this tournament are at the highest level in their career right now.
Quite simply who is the best?
Ricardo Pereira - Portugal - Winger - FC Porto
The other winger Ivan Cavaleiro stole the spotlight at times but I thought Pereira's game had less weaknesses especially on the ball where his thinking was both quicker and not least more intelligent. Cavaleiro the physically stronger but Pereira more overall talented which is perhaps why he is still at Porto and not at Deportivo like Cavaleiro.
Oscar Lewicki - Sweden - Midfielder - Malmö
Edges out his captain Hiljemark. Both of them worked really hard in midfield and showed ingrain tactical awareness of the conservative Swedish system. Hiljemark has shown some weaknesses with the ball for PSV though so the more promising Lewicki makes the list.
Vaclav Kadlec - Czech Republic - Striker - Frankfurt/Sparta Prague
Hailed as a very promising player yet he didn't make it in the Bundesliga but I spot good sign with Kadlec's above average technique and ambitious ideas within his direct style of play.
Alex Pritchard - England - Winger - Tottenham/Brentford
I think I'm allowed at least one primarely "guess" when it comes to these things and Pritchard qualifies for that. I haven't seen him nearly enough to offer any qualified opinion but reading and seeing stuff here and there plus realizing the hype and expectations surrounding him, rightly or wrongly I've chosen to include him.
Carl Jenkinson - England - Right-back - Arsenal/West Ham
It's very well known what he can do. Strong and athletic enough to consistently get up and down the wing during a game and when he is up he has one of the better right-footed deliveries among right-backs in England.
His big size for a right-back helps defensively but overall you wish he'd have more dimensions in his game which could be the reason that he'll never have a great future at Arsenal. Too simple.
Matthias Ginter - Germany - Defender/Midfielder - Dortmund
He was one of the best players during the previous U21 tournament but despite a place in the German World Cup squad he's flopped ever since and it has come to the point where he has played games for Dortmund II. How is that for a World Cup winner?
A lot of Dortmund's underwhelming season has been blamed on the new strikers unable to replace departing Lewandowski's very complete striker contributions, but overall if even some of their promising players like Ginter, Hofman, Durm and even Jojic though he had some good games, had fulfilled more of their potential that could also really have helped.
With all that said, it's obviously too early to give up on Ginter and he wasn't too bad this tournament which would have been a very bad sign of regression.
Filip Helander - Sweden - - Central Defender - Malmö
There is no way I'm going to ignore his partner's Milosevic severe mistakes, even if he brings determination and leadership to the side. Helander also held up well in the Champions League for a young player.
Tomas Kalas - Czech Republic -- Central Defender - Chelsea/Middlesbrough
Kalas looks like he has become a pretty solid defender at this point though it's doubtful if he'll ever see serious first team action for Chelsea.
John Guidetti - Sweden - Striker - Celtic/?
For all the good things he does as a striker and he did plenty this tournament there are serious doubts whether he can function outside a more traditional striker-duo. That's problematic and more than hints limitations to his overall talent when we're talking highest level of football.
Moritz Leitner - Germany - Midfielder - Dortmund/Stuttgart
Neat midfielder with good football IQ and fine overall technique but he couldn't have been more harmless (a problem at times also in the Bundesliga) this tournament and was quickly replaced by new talent offering more in terms of movement and aggressiveness.
Davide Zappacosta - Italy - Right-back - Atalanta
There is a lot Christian Maggio to his intense and well timed off-ball sprints attacking the opponent half. Often going deep and then with the ball he seems more well-rounded and talented really than Maggio - not quite like say prime Zambrotta (who had way more attacking midfielder to him early on) but there are good similarities I think.
A not untypical question mark when it comes to Italian left and right-backs is whether he is really good enough outside a wing-back role, is he too much of a specialist?
Julian Korb - Germany - Right-back - Mönchengladbach
Solid and proven right-back in the Bundesliga. That's more than a lot of players in contention for this list can lay claim to.
Viktor Fischer - Denmark -Winger/Forward - Ajax
Coming back from injury he hasn't lost his talent as a very dangerous wide forward with high-level of technical tools and a born-bred instinct to be dangerous including where time and space is short, but for a wide-forward more consistent, even relentless, influence and high level of threat, during the game would not be too much to ask for at this point.
Arguably too much of a poacher exclusively deep in the opponent half for a wide player and I'm guessing still doesn't have the all-round game to play as the lone number 9 in a 433 for a very good club.
Fischer can easily still become a star though.
Filip Djuricic - Serbia -- Attacking Midfielder - Benfica/Mainz/Southampton
His eye catching attacking and playmaking talents have really struggled coming through ever since leaving Holland and he has arguably flopped everywhere he's been since. I strongly disagreed with Southampton getting him and giving him minutes over considerable better players at this point, but not unpredictably his talents (but also disturbingly early cramping) did come through against players of this age-group and he showed plenty of flair with his touches and playmaking ideas, whether for himself or for teammates.
For someone similar for inspiration on how to get it done, I think he could look to Javier Pastore.
Yussif Poulsen - - Denmark - Winger/Forward - Red Bull Leipzig
Exciting athletic winger/forward who is pacy, strong both in endurance and combat so to speak + a great aerial leaper.
His technique is up and down. There is pace being maintained ALSO with the ball at his feet which is a good thing but his first touches and I guess anticipation in smaller spaces can improve a lot.
Jannik Vestergaard - Denmark - Central Defender - Werder Bremen
Pretty spectacular young modern centreback who's ranged diagonal passing (with both feet I believe!!!) is a sight to behold and one day could make him ideal for a top club playing ambitious football.
Strong defensive leader with a body that can still grow even stronger I think. He has well advanced defensive instincts in his interventions in and around the box while weaknesses could very well be 1v1 duel play where you want someone this talented to be even better/stronger and I also think there is something off (smoothness??) with his turns when quickly challenged in smaller spaces. Someone this young should be less like John Terry when it comes to those aspects.
Tiago Ilori - Portugal - Central Defender - Liverpool/Bordeaux
I had not seen him play before this tournament but came away very impressed with his many talents.
I almost want to say this is how the young Thiago Silva might have looked like but that's very premature talk and a dangerous comparison to clearly the best defender of the last few years.
But Ilori is nicely composed both in his defending and with his time on the ball.
In his duel play I was surprised how few problems that he generally had (stronger than he looked) and he was intelligent both when being pro-active and more positional defensive. Generally I don't think he really did get those decisions wrong though I'm sure some of the credit should also go to his partner Paulo Oliveira who seemed to be the leader.
Stefano Sturaro - Italy - Midfielder - Juventus
Had an awful tournament but this is a very solid midfield-worker both physically and tactically.
Overall technique and footballing ideas can improve. He would do well to look to someone like Marchisio for inspiration.
Andreas Christensen - Denmark - Defender/Midfielder - Chelsea
When you're this talented and impressive both as a centreback and playing the midfield-anchor you're bound to get a good ranking.
Carlos Mane - Portugal - Forward - Sporting CP
He didn't really fit in tactically in Portugal's system but a very dangerous young forward who I also watched in Europe last season. Mane oozes danger with his speed and skill.
Pione Sisto - Attacking Midfielder/Winger - Denmark - Midtjylland
The most exciting talent to emerge from the Danish league in years and even after a major injury setback big clubs are swarming for his signature.
I don't watch the Danish league normally, so I'm sure there are many more well versed in Sisto than me, but he is obviously very athletic and can be decisive on very few meters which is something you want from an elite talent. Definitely a shotmaker which the best players in the world tend to be so complaining about ability to create your own shot and insisting on taking it, many times during a game, is often misplaced. Unless you're complaining about Andros Townsend that is :) but generally it's what the best players in the world just happen to do.
Anyway, talk has it that Sisto also provide good teamwork and intelligence both on and off ball for a player of his type, so really there are many many things to like when it comes to this player.
Ruben Neves - Portugal - Midfielder - FC Porto
Easily one of the strongest and most solid teenage central midfielders around. I think even physically comparable to Emre Can at this age. Is there upside left when it comes to his power? Then watch out.
Robin Knoche - Germany - - Central Defender - Wolfsburg
He hasn't really impressed lately whenever I've watched Wolfsburg. Sure enough he is strong and reasonable with the ball but also too slow and error-prone at times with his defending.
It's unreasonable and probably not all that logical though if a starting centreback for the second placed team in one of the strongest leagues can't get a solid ranking on a U21 list so here he is.
Jan Kliment - Czech Republic - Striker - Vysocina Jihlava/Stuttgart
A previously unknown who was shockingly the best striker of the tournament.
Maybe this ranking is too generous and he won't be that good, in the real world so to speak, but Kliment looked complete and decisive enough on and off-ball, both in smaller and longer spaces with compact athleticism and sound fundamental technique, that he was quickly signed by Stuttgart.
Pavel Kaderabek - Czech Republic - Right-back - Sparta Prague/Hoffenheim
A left or right back who is strong, fast and skilled enough to actually be decisive individually is always very interesting and Kaderabek will get a chance to prove his worth up against converted (and pretty solid) right-back Sebastian Rudy next season at Hoffenheim.
Calum Chambers - England - Defender/Midfielder - Arsenal
This might seem too good a ranking for someone where not a lot has been happening recently but let's have some perspective. He's already had a very good season for Southampton under his belt where he was fully on par with the likes of Clyne and Luke Shaw. All of them raising their values and wages to places where most in contention for this list can only dream of.
Needs to find a position to be really good at.
Milos Jojic - Serbia - - Midfielder - Dortmund
I had not seen him this forward moving before and I think it's a very good sign for him as a central midfielder not just being restricted to more controlling and tactical work. He has very good technique with his touches, passes and ball-striking.
Lorenzo Crisetig - Italy - Midfielder - Inter
Once Italy coach Di Biagio stopped playing all his worst midfielders and replaced them with the good ones, Crisetig played the regista role to such perfection almost that I just have to give him a good ranking.
Great decisions and execution with the ball (showing more than sound technique in the process) and exemplary movement both defensively and as a passing-option whether back or more forward.
I hope that he gets some chances playing with Kondogbia at Inter this season but we'll see.
John Stones - England - Central Defender - Everton
Obviously very talented not dissimilar to a young Cahill with great conviction in duels. There is also strength and pace.
Not bad with the ball either when it comes his touches (not sure about his passing where for Everton Jagielka handles the more ambitious ones) but Stones is more inconsistent with his marking in my opinion than his rapidly growing reputation would otherwise suggest.
Amin Younes - Germany - Winger - Mönchengladbach
His lack of success on club level is strange when you've watched him this tournament.
One of the most decisive attacking players of the tournament with lightning turns and strong accelerations while in full control of what he wanted to do with the ball. Looking at numbers per90 only Bernardo Silva has a case for better dribbling this tournament and if I'm not mistaken Younes was atually capable of impact deliveries with both feet. He could certainly dribble and turn both left and right directions which is a tremendous sign of promise.
Let's hope for a Marko Marin type of breakthrough... And then a much better sequel!
Paulo Oliveira - Portugal - Central Defender - Sporting CP
Encouraging performances as a defensive leader and already seems like a very mature centreback..
He was also good in the Europa League this season and there is little doubt that this already a very solid defender.
Reminds me a little bit of his compatriot Southampton centreback-leader Jose Fonte.
Alessio Romagnoli - Italy - Central Defender - Sampdoria/Roma
One of the best defenders in Serie A last season and even if not quite as talented as Rugani he does have a certain old-school ruggedness to him already. He isn't a bad footballer either and he is left-footed which should be useful for his career prospects. For some reason the club that owns him, Roma has a whole host of left-footed centrebacks though and there is plenty of talk about Romagnoli moving.
Strong man-marker in and around the box, leadership qualities and a competent reactive duel player. Just how good his pro-active defensive game turns out to be will determine just how good he will be for a big club.
Max Arnold - Germany - Attacking Midfielder - Wolfsburg
Arnold has the football IQ, eye and technique for the smaller spaces central in the attacking midfield zone which is always the sign of an interesting player.
You have to be extremely good to succeed as a chief creator for a top club and in the past season Arnold was on and off when it came to offensive impact at Wolfsburg.
I'm also wondering about his general athletic tools where I'm not sure about his exact level.
I'm not saying this is his given future, but I would like to see him play big fish in small pond and see what kind of impact he could have for a smaller Bundesliga club.
Joshua Kimmich - Germany - Midfielder - Red Bull Leipzig/Bayern München
That Bayern invest heavily in such a young player arguably already speak volumes about his talent.
Small but aggressive in his playing style, when he was inserted into the Germany lineup the central midfield received the dynamic number 8 type of midfielder that they had sorely been lacking and Kimmich showed both great touches and perhaps just as important a certain kind of I'm better than you and you will lose Bayern attitude, arrogance if you will.
This is a kid who badly wants to go places in the footballing world.
Sergio Oliveira - Portugal - Midfielder - Pacos Ferreira/FC Porto
Quite possibly the most mature player in the tournament who rarely had any missteps in his fine overall midfield play.
Very good touches and passing. Exemplary teamwork and leadership.
Despite creating very well in this tournament he probably can't be a decisive attacking midfielder but Oliveira is a very sound choice as a good all-round number 8 type of midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation.
James Ward Prowse - England - Attacking Midfielder - Southampton
He wasn't a factor in this tournament but for a couple of years he has been seriously impressive in the Premier League and I thought this year, even if his manager hasn't fully comprehended it and took on silly loans, that he proved himself fully ready as a starting attacking midfielder for a good club side.
He combines fine overall intelligence, team-work with excellent ball-striking abilities basically bending it like Beckham. I like!
Danny Ings- England - Forward - Burnley/Liverpool
Danny Ings fine season for Burnley earned him the big move to Liverpool where the extent of his talent will now be seriously tested.
But he's certainly shown pace, aggression, team-work, fine varied movement, ability to thrive in different places on the pitch and enough overall technique (from his touches to his shooting) to rate as a very good player already.
Emre Can - Germany - Midfielder/Defender - Liverpool
Physically he was once again one of the elite players at a youth tournament. Something that's been the case throughout his rise in those tournaments and fortunately for him even in the physically strongest league of them all Emre Can is still something of a standout.
Is he really a standout midfielder though? His lack of tempo will still make it look kind of unnatural at times, He isn't playing a defensive anchor role either, that down the line could be his very best role even if you'd wish he'd move the ball better, and even without serious missteps or weaknesses when it comes to his technique and decision making for periods something seems to be lacking at least if his team has the most of the possession. His game both off-ball and on-ball could run more smoothly.
I'm definitely not writing him off though and whether as a defender or midfielder the upcoming season for Liverpool, in the right role or surroundings there is still a very fine all-round talented player coming through here.
Danilo Cataldi - Italy - Midfielder - Lazio
Cataldi's emergence this season played a big part in Lazio grabbing that vital third place in Serie A and on the top of my head he seems to be the best Lazio talent to come through for some time. I'm not counting (Barca product) Keita by the way who they will hopefully start playing more really soon with all the extra games this coming season.
Cataldi already offers something of everything and overall plays very mature tactically.
Crucially he is a good, even if not great just yet, ball-distributor and overall his technique is fine.
He's a strong kid as well with the right kind of aggression and a willingness to sacrifice himself for the team.
Saido Berahino - England - Striker - West Bromwich
Lightning quick athlete who's great overall combination of body and ball-control makes him very dangerous which he showed again and again this past season.
Berahino just seems like a natural born striker and if he can improve even further he should continue to be one of England's very best for years to come.
Daniele Rugani - Italy - Central Defender - Empoli/Juventus
Extremely impressive young defender who's marking and positioning whether being well ahead of things or crisis-reacting was flawless in this tournament. Very cool and collected young centreback.
Similar was the case in Serie A for Empoli, and Juventus would have made a bad mistake had they not picked him up for the upcoming season.
Kevin Volland - Germany - Forward - Hoffenheim
Volland by now is already a very proven Bundesliga threat playing key attacking roles for Hoffenheim.
Very good ball striker. He offers expert quick aggressive off-the ball movements in both larger and smaller spaces.
Works hard for the team, will press effectively from the front and he is a nice weapon on counter attacks.
Domenico Berardi - Italy - Forward - Sassuolo
One of the best attackers in Serie A for a couple of years already.
With his fantastic left-foot that seemingly can produce anything plus his developing creativity Berardi is already both quite the individual threat and a genuine playmaker for his teammates.
Max Meyer - Germany - Attacking Midfielder - Schalke 04
Meyer had a disappointing tournament and wasn't always impressive during the Bundesliga season either.
When he was brilliant he was hard to ignore though and showed almost the complete decisive playmaker-package featuring great technical skills and inspired footballing ideas in his game, seriously stirring hopes of a soon to be elite player.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen - Germany - Goalkeeper - Barcelona
I generally exclude goalkeepers from my rankings since they're very much in a category of their own difficult to compare with the outfield players and ter Stegen is indeed the only one in the top 50 here.
He can get even better and inconsistencies will still show up in his goalkeeper-actions. Perhaps especially his shot-stopping whether the issue is less than ideal positioning or his hands letting him down.
It's mostly his work with his feet that is brilliant and why Barcelona were so interested in his services.
All the ter Stegen excellent touches that strengthen Barcelona's possession game and his impressive arsenal of executing different passes is absolutely elite and vital for Barcelona reaching the highest level.
The best example of course being whenever he comfortably beat opponents committing themselves to block/man-mark Barcelona's passing options high up the pitch. Ter Stegen doesn't have to kick it long into the second-ball/duel phase of play that the opponent often wish for but instead can safely and securely execute a soft diagonal longer-pass over the press finding a Barca player open out wide. That kind of stuff is one of the foundations that the attacking and midfield superstars thrive from.
William Carvalho - Portugal - Central Midfielder - Sporting CP
Rumors were that the already 2014 much hyped Carvalho had had a poor season in Portugal. That maybe he had even regressed.
In this particular tournament there were certainly no signs of that and Carvalho in crucial areas of his game was better than ever.
He was already known as an incredible physical talent who coupled with a mature tactical defensive understanding already was a very effective defensive anchor being the deepest midfielder in 433.
This tournament he also moved the ball better and more varied (not just keeping it ultra simple) than I had seen him do before. Still, not A LOT of forward passing but his longer diagonal passes were quite effective. He even made a few runs WITH the ball which I thought I would never see.
It would be a stretch to call him a deep-lying playmaker at this point but certainly his more advanced level of distribution technically and tactically this tournament was a good sign even if not a given to translate at a higher level where his advantages and amount of time and space won will be less clear-cut.
Watching Carvalho I sometimes marvel at how he always seems to be in the right spots defensively, like you sometimes do with good defensive midfielders, but with Carvalho it generally seems more effortlessly and believe it or not sometimes it doesn't seem like he has to even run very much.
It's striking then and perhaps a great sign that the statistics throughout the tournament had him down as the player running the most kilometers. That's not groundbreaking or anything when it comes to a central midfielder but I think it could be more telling when you consider just how effortless Carvalho made those hard facts look.
Pierre Emil Højberg - Denmark - Midfielder - Bayern München
Very gifted, maybe even uniquely gifted player.
The best thing about him right now is the combination of his body-power and his excellent first touches where his repertoire seems limitless speaking volumes about both his technique and his football brain's ability to come up with great solutions in many situations and spaces. Højbjerg was one of the most fouled players this tournament and the reason is that exact combination of attributes being difficult to control for opponents. Not only can he do a lot with the ball but with his tools he can really protect it.
Højbjerg also has great in-game drive, let's say ambitious football IQ, and natural leadership qualities beyond his age
He can still get even better and needs to find a solution to recovering better whenever playing many games and staying in top shape week after week.
Johannes Geis - Germany - Central Midfielder - Mainz/Schalke 04
I just think this type of midfielder is seriously valuable. Perhaps especially for top teams.
Johannes Geis has fantastic passing-range and is a proven midfield distributor at this point. He's shown ability to thrive both when Mainz played more of a high-tempo non-possession transition game and when they started to play slower build with more team-possession.
Throw in his leadership qualities, team-work and ability to press in midfield and you have a potential key player for top teams.
Bernardo Silva - Portugal - Attacking Midfielder/Winger - Monaco
Silva was undoubtedly player of the tournament and a class above the competition with his attacking play.
We had already seen at Monaco just how flashy a weapon he could be and not surprisingly that came even stronger into play this tournament averaging a tournament best 5.4 dribbles per game and being one of the most fouled players.
This tournament he went far beyond say individual-winger level of threat and showed skill, quickness and intelligence everywhere in attacking midfield. Even, on top of the decisiveness when fulfilling some false-9 duty, comfortably threading into more Deco, Moutinho territory/elements with very good attacking teamwork lifting his surroundings with constructive touches and passes in smaller spaces while at the same time expertly keeping in charge of rhythm and tempo. Apart from good technique and real football intelligence that kind of stuff also requires great off-ball movement and he duly delivered there also.
I think there are strong indications that, if conservative inclined coach is willing, that Bernardo Silva is ready for even more of a key player attacking role at Monaco adding new dimensions to their attacking.
Harry Kane - England - Striker - Tottenham
Kane put all his considerable talents together last over the last year completing into a formidable striker.
Overall a great athlete who is strong, fast, relatively flexible for his size and durable.
Tactically the game just slowed down for him all of the sudden and it looks like to me that Kane reads the game fundamentally well and makes great decisions both on and off-ball. He even has an eye for real openings with his passing and his link-up play isn't reduced to just keeping it simple. He will if that's what required though, again indicating his sound reading of the game.
Great work rate capable of many high intensity sprints as well as battling centrebacks in physical duels.
Perhaps most impressive is how his overall technique has reached a high level. Crucially there is real two-footed ability here both when it comes high-caliber touches and shooting.
Even if immediately living up his breakthrough goal-total would realistically (continue to) involve some serious run-good (he scored quite a few goals from difficult positions), the Hurricane is too strong not to be real and Harry Kane is very much here to stay.