I have to resign myself to defeat. Not a personal defeat you understand. This is far more primitive than that. More tribal. Over the last four weeks of rollercoaster rides, I’ve used my Facebook feed as a journal to document my match day concerns, predictions and general comments on Euro 2016. My rarely seen bravado is often found in all its brazen arrogance on this feed. My confidence oozes forth until the crash comes – and yes this year it did come – a double implosion. One was a ‘caught with your pants down’ realization that football may never again reign over the Queen‘s closest domain, at least not at an international level. The other exit was more respectable, and due to low expectation, almost taken as a victory in defeat. Supporting two teams at a major football event such as this is not so good for the old fingernails.
What I do notice when something like the Euros is on, is a new level of stereotyping – and not just within the broader media. Friends via social media suggest Italians are all cheats. Some other proclaim that Italy are also so defensive and anti-football. They don’t recognize the art of a Bonucci or a Chiellini. These defenders even have Renaissance names for crying out loud. Of course, all English fans are beered up hooligans, and so this goes on. But the casual stereotyping doesn’t just affect me. Control is slightly lost and people choose their sides. In a country like Finland this means the approach tends to be from a neutral perspective. But still, temperatures rise.
They don’t recognize the art of a Bonucci or a Chiellini. These defenders even have Renaissance names for crying out loud.
The Italian coach Antonio Conte was the star of this competition. Animated to extremes, you’d want some of what he’s on. Often more interesting than the football on display (Italy vs Sweden?), Conte supplied the box office off camera too, with a series of interviews that showed his way with words could only be described as poetic and philosophical. Compare this to earnest Roy Hodgson, a laymen on the highest salary, trying to convince us that his lieutenant Wayne Rooney is the new Andrea Pirlo (surely Pirlo has never been more insulted). Hodgson’s ordinary, resigned demeanor offers enough reason why a team of talented players, let alone a nation, could never entertain the notion of England winning the bloody competition.
But since Conte (and Italy) left the competition, it all fell a bit flat for me (of course, I’m biased). The Icelandic defeat by France just confirmed it. Yes, Wales kept me dreaming of the underdog for a bit longer. On a managerial level, Didier Deschamps anyone? The everyman Chris Coleman? Or how about Joachim Löw and his amazing scratch and sniff testicles? Conte is in a class of his own in the personality stakes. With his perma-tanned sidekick, brother Gianluca, you could easily imagine these two fronting an Italian Bon Jovi tribute act. There was something of the spandex variety going on.
I’ve watched a lot of the games – perhaps 80%. That’s a lot of football. What differentiates the experience is how my own mind and body behave when watching say England and Italy, compared to anyone else. When ‘my’ teams are playing, I become tense, unavailable, rude, a coil ready to unleash a stream of expletive bile into this known universe. There is confidence of course, but that threat of the ultimate disappointment, that crushing inevitability of knowing this unreasonable feeling, this taking part and being a part of, could end any moment – it’s actually impossible to put into words.
When ‘my’ teams are playing, I become tense, unavailable, rude, a coil ready to unleash a stream of expletive bile into this known universe.
The England team were half of the Tottenham team this year (the club team I’ve supported all my life), so I had extra interest in how England got on. Eric Dier became my new god. After his no-nonsense season with Spurs, a man-crush ensued. Falling ill against Iceland was his only serious blot on a very blotchy English landscape. Harry Kane was a disaster. As were all England’s strikers if we’re honest. Kane got the brunt of the striker hate, once England got eliminated. Hodgson couldn’t accommodate a system that could release the considerable goal threat Kane, Daniel Sturridge and James Vardy posses. Raheem Sterling, along with Jack Wilshere (and to a lesser degree Jordan Henderson) should have stayed in England, so out of form and unfit these players proved to be. Hodgson stuck by his talisman Wayne Rooney, who often looked off the pace. The English media fawned at Rooney’s early midfield exploits, but he was average at best, as were England. Hodgson displayed much loyalty at this tournament, it was misplaced and cost him his job. The new, incoming England coach has the bones of a good squad. Some tactics of any form should bring better form and signs of progress.
But Euro 2016 didn’t only involve England’s self-subscribed Brexit. Zlatan said farewell: vulnerable, slow and humbled. Cristiano Ronaldo was strangely stiff (till Hungary) and then finally firing against Wales. Gareth Bale was a giant at times, but then uninvolved. Paul Pogba showed flashes. Thomas Muller was there in bodily form but in reality he was a real life ghost of his former self. Wayne Rooney played in midfield (ahem). Andrés Iniesta, still a class act, found himself surrounded by average, non motivated servants. The galactico football superstar has generally had a bad Euros, exemplified by Ronaldo’s injury in the final. None of these super footballers capturing the imagination like the Iceland team or even the showmanship of Conte. Of course there were exceptions: early tournament it was Dimitri Payet, then Antoine Griezmann came to life and has been the player at this Euros. Griezmann, like a dynamo whose duracell battery spluttered into life mid-tournament, has simply wanted it more than anyone else. France to me have not quite seemed the real deal. Their run to the final has in reality meant the French overturned Albania, Romania, Iceland, Republic Of Ireland, drew with Switzerland and then rather fortuitously beat their first real test – Germany. It was an enthralling semi-final, where the French were outplayed for large parts. But in this new football landscape, the French understood the new rules perfectly despite an overall lack of conviction. On the other hand, any team that can make the ‘looks like he’s treading water’ Olivier Giroud come across as an amazing, speedy goal scorer deserves some respect.
Griezmann, like a dynamo whose duracell battery spluttered into life mid-tournament, has simply wanted it more than anyone else.
The Euros has prescribed a new form of football entertainment that surely reflects the worldwide game at these times. This has been a tournament dominated by teamwork and pragmatic application. Very few goal fests or easy wins were clocked up – instead we viewed many tight and tense affairs, where the overall standard and technique on display has been more than competent. From Albania to Hungary, Poland to Iceland and Wales, these teams all played a very disciplined game. Tactically versed. Play deep, counter attack with genuine speed. Possession was for the ancients. This made most games close. Moments of explosiveness – Ronaldo’s in air backheel, Luka Modric‘s bullet voley, Emanuele Giaccherini‘s amazing first touch against Belgium, Griezmann in general. Then there was England and Russia, two teams without a plan A or B. Slovakia came close to matching their depths. Note to the English media: there are no easy games anymore in international football. The defeat to Iceland was not humiliating. It was just the natural order of things.
Someone left the lights on all night and the moths came to roost. There was a ‘day of the locusts’ type of dread surrounding the final. Ronaldo, felled by Payet rather innocuously, left the field injured after 20 odd minutes. There were tears. If the football didn’t quite ignite, surreal qualities certainly did. France, after a positive opening 10 minutes, stuttered and spluttered. Portugal lost their star, but their formation looked more solid. Ronaldo’s injury left the contest pretty redundant for 90 minutes. But Portugal came alive in extra-time whilst France floundered in a tired heap. Again, Portugal recalled the virtue of patience, whilst Pepe, much to a general annoyance, was excellent here. Eder, the player unable to score for and unwanted by Swansea, struck a glorious winner. The final was a disappointment. But this tournament did much for France after a dark period of national history. In the end, the tears turned to smiles as Ronaldo got one over on his biggest rival by lifting an international trophy.
Highlights were many: Zaza memes lead the way. Ronaldo’s preening self-love and over the top poses, mic throwing, Iceland blasting behaviour was fun. Conte’s expression. Pogba’s confidence and a pretty good standard of no-fuss refereeing – apart from that penalty! Hodgson resigns. That Robson-Kanu goal. Pelle’s hair. The self-obsessed tika-taka fanboys retreating further into their caves. The Icelandic chant ringing round stadiums. The great atmosphere that even translated to jubilance through my laptop headset. The fans, as always.
Gianluigi Buffon‘s tears and Joe Hart‘s tunnel swearing and slow dives. The camera angles for offside decisions – plus the overhead camera shot for a third of the Germany vs Italy match. The reemergence of hooliganism, English and Russian fans running amok in France. There was much comment suggesting England fans were blameless. The taunting of refugee children by some of those English fans will stay with me for a long time. And despite not having those expectations, Italy getting such a tough route to the final despite topping their group: Spain, Germany and it would have been France. FFS, how did that happen? England disappointing again, the promise of youthful exuberance wasted. Harry Kane’s soul was lost at the Euros. And somewhere, with that loss, my own mortality swings into the frame. At fifty years of age, how many of these tournaments do I have in me? Five or six with some luck maybe? It’s too little. That makes me sad.
Team Of the Tournament
Chester Bonucci Chiellini
Bale Ramsey Modric Kante
Subs: Buffon, Walker, Dier, Pepe, Di Rossi, Williams, Pogba, Lukaku, Konchinsky, Iniesta, Renato Sanches
Games of the Tournament: Italy 2-0 Belgium, Czech Republic 2-2 Croatia, Croatia 2-1 Spain, Hungary 3-3 Portugal, Switzerland 1-1 Poland, Italy 2-0 Spain, England 1-2 Iceland, Poland 1-1 Portugal (first half), Wales 2-1 Belgium, Germany 1-1 Italy (penalty shoot out only), Germany 0-2 France.
Goal of the Tournament
Ronaldo back heel vs Hungary
Player of the Tournament: Antoine Griezmann.