In what was an underwhelming tournament for Switzerland, Bastien Toma shone brightest.
Back at the under-21 European Championship for the first time in a decade, the Schweizer Nati bowed out in the group stage after humiliating back-to-back losses to Croatia and Portugal. Yet despite their early exit, it was not all doom and gloom for Mauro Lustrinelli’s youngsters.
For one, they secured a famous win over England in their Group D opener, even if it proved to be the unfortunate peak. Jordan Lotomba and Alexandre Jankewitz performed admirably, showing why they play such crucial roles in this Swiss setup.
But it was the Nati’s number eight who stood out from the rest.
Toma was Switzerland’s best player by far, dictating the tempo and controlling the game every time he played. He is the perfect all-round midfielder, intercepting the ball and breaking up attacks, while starting his own and making late runs into the box.
The 21-year-old was already one to watch going into the tournament, but he emerged from it as the Nati’s standout starlet in a disappointing campaign.
With Switzerland out of the under-21 EUROs, attention now turns to the premier version of the tournament: EURO 2020.
The Nati face Wales, Italy and Turkey this summer, hoping to continue their strong form this year with three wins from three. With World Cup qualification put on the back-stop, and Switzerland’s next competitive fixture coming in the Group A opener against Wales, Vladimir Petković’s squad selection process starts now.
It begs the question, does Toma deserve a spot in Switzerland’s EURO 2020 squad?
There is no denying Toma’s talent at such a tender age, having earned 17 caps for the under-21s ahead of his 22nd birthday in June. He is enjoying a decent season with Genk too, making 16 appearances for the Belgian side since leaving FC Sion last year.
Put simply, if he is good enough, he is old enough.
If there is any player from Lustrinelli’s squad who deserves to be in contention for Petković, it has to be Toma. He was Switzerland’s best player by far, and is at the age where he can begin his integration into the senior setup. With the under-21s not returning to Slovenia for the knockout stages, the slot is open for Toma to be called up.
In a 23-man squad, there is room for Toma. Even if he does not warrant a starting spot for every game, the experience of being in and around the national team at a major tournament would be invaluable for the midfielder. If Petković can afford to make space, why would Toma not be considered?
At the very least, he should make the longlist for the warmup friendlies in May and June, where Switzerland will face the United States and Liechtenstein. Even if Petković has already decided to leave Toma at home, awarding him the chance to prove himself in a non-competitive surrounding would be hugely beneficial.
However, the Toma dilemma does not come without stern competition.
Switzerland are stacked with central midfielders, from captain Granit Xhaka to rising star Denis Zakaria. It is not a position that the Nati will struggle to fill, making it an even harder ask for Toma. Can he realistically find his way in?
In Petković’s current tactics, there is space for two central midfielders in the heart of the pitch. Xhaka is a given as captain, along with the battle between Zakaria and Atalanta star Remo Freuler to partner up with the skipper. Toma will not be starting unless there are extreme unforeseen circumstances – though that comes as no shock to Nati fans.
Even without the aforementioned trio, Toma still has a way to go in the pecking order. Edimilson Fernandes could easily give way, but then there are Djibril Sow, Michel Aebischer and Pajtim Kasami to consider.
With all of them considered, Toma only comes in at eighth in Switzerland’s midfield ranking, and at the very best, fourth or fifth. Perhaps it is too soon for the 21-year-old, and with all the competitors for the limited midfield spots, it may be too grand of an ask.
Toma deserves to be in contention for the Switzerland squad, but it is too soon and too constrained for the Genk midfielder to make the final 23. He will get the chance one way or another, and whether that will be this year or next, it will be a momentous feat for the youngster.
Whatever happens, Toma is a Nati star for the future, in line to anchor the Swiss midfield for years to come. The first steps have been taken, but his opportunity to shine on the biggest stage will come with time.
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