90min's Our 21: Napoli and North Macedonia's Eljif Elmas

Max Parsons

Thanks to wins over Kosovo and Georgia in the Euro 2020 play-offs last year, North Macedonia will take part in their first ever major tournament this summer.

Igor Angelovski's squad is by no means a star-studded one but their reliable old guard - consisting of the likes of Goran Pandev, Ezgjan Alioski and Ferhan Hasani - will be complimented by an exciting younger generation, spearheaded by Napoli's Eljif Elmas.

At just 21, Elmas has already been capped 26 times and has scored seven for his nation, proving to be more and more indispensable as time passes. So, ahead of what promises to be a thrilling journey for the Euro 2020 underdogs' poster boy, here's what you should know about the young star.

How he's performed this season

With the likes of Fabian Ruiz, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Piotr Zielinski as his competition, it hasn't been the simplest of tasks for Elmas to establish himself in Napoli's starting XI since his arrival in 2019. Indeed, of his 33 Serie A appearances this campaign, only three have been as a starter, making it near impossible for the 21-year to gather any real momentum.

However, Elmas has still managed two goals and an assist from the 713 minutes he's been given this term, and his work on the international stage has been impressive.

Since September 2020, Elmas has started eight of his country's last12 games (having been injured or ill for the other four), assisting three and scoring three, including an 85th winner against Germany earlier this year to seal a famous win - yeah, not bad.

His preferred position

It's not easy to tell what Elmas' favoured role is - it didn't seem like Gennaro Gattuso knew last season either. The now-former Napoli manager deployed the 21-year-old in central midfield, as a number 10 and as a left winger in practically equal measure over the course of the 2020/21 campaign.

However, he is arguably most effective when playing centrally and running box to box - from which he managed his goal contributions for Napoli this term. His tenacity, physicality, technical prowess and reading of the game make him the ideal number eight, while his creative edge gives him the ability to impact proceedings in the final third when necessary - as he does for North Macedonia.

Who does he play like?

Elmas is most effective for Napoli when he lies fairly deep and is able to impose himself in central areas of the pitch. Using his solid frame, spatial awareness and tenacity he can pick off passes and drive his side upfield with impressive grace, dribbling and distribution - bringing comparisons to players such as Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele.

Harry Kane Spurs GIF by BT Sport - Find & Share on GIPHY

On international duty, however, the almost talismanic figure at the point of Angelovski's midfield, and he adopts a role not too dissimilar from the one Georginio Wijnaldum plays in for the Netherlands.

What have people said about him?

Georgia v North Macedonia Training and Press Conferences: UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Finals
Igor Angelovski, the North Macedonia head coach / Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images

"Elmas is a good guy and a very strong player. He has physique, technical skills, he is fast ball to foot, but above all he is fast with the mind and has a very strong character. He was born to become a great player and will become one of the best...The boy has the characteristics to work on himself and become stronger and stronger."

Igor Angelovski

FIFA 21 rating and potential

Elmas GIF by nss sports - Find & Share on GIPHY

You can find Elmas at a modest 73 base ratings on FIFA 21, although that can grow to a potential of 83 given the right training programme.

He is a fairly high earner at Napoli with a weekly wage of around €40k, although with a €12.5m release clause in his contract he would be an intelligent investment a year or two into a save.

Football Manager rating

You won't see a 'wonderkid' tag on Elmas, but with his capability to play all over midfield and vast room for progression, he is certainly one to look at closely.

Plus, he's very much not injury prone - always a positive.

What boots will he wear at Euro 2020?

Elmas has donned the Nike Mercurial Superfly VIII Elite (and, breathe) throughout the campaign so will likely adopt a Euro 2020 variation of those for the big tournament.

How involved will he be in Euro 2020?

Expect him to play every game.

Even at just 21, Elmas has been a crucial starter for North Macedonia for about three years. His seven strikes and five assists in 26 caps already makes him an experienced - and one of the most important - members of Angelovski's squad.

Besides, after his heroic winner against Germany in March, how can he not start?