As journalists, pundits and web-monkeys sit down to write, choose or create a gallery of their Euro 2016 team of the tournament, the vast majority are opting for a front four of Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. No room for a traditional No. 9 but plenty of room for a Galactico who has taken 45 shots in six games and plenty of room for the world’s most expensive player, who – whisper it quietly – struggled to make any real impact in open play.
Ronaldo was brilliantly decisive against Hungary and Wales but our list of ten best players still at Euro 2016 ahead of the semi-finals did not include the Portuguese phenomenon for a reason – by any objective measure he had not had a wonderful tournament and looked a shadow of the devastating machine we watch in white. And then there is Bale, who has created as many chances at Euro 2016 as supposed flops like David Alaba and Mario Gotze while enjoying considerably more time on the pitch. As Nick Miller wrote on Thursday: ‘The difference, in this game at least, was that Bale can do these things, but Ronaldo actually did them.’
And yet you will find few people who will not name Ronaldo and Bale among their stars of the tournament and almost nobody who will even name-check Olivier Groud, about to start a Euro 2016 final with three tournament goals, two tournament assists and one very good chance of being a major tournament winner. As of 2pm on Saturday, there were 18 players more likely – according to the bookies – to be named Player of the Tournament than Giroud, including Axel Witsel and Dele Alli.
This is a player who has scored three goals from four shots on target, had fewer attempts on goal than three of his more vaunted French teammates and yet only has to bow to teammate Antoine Griezmann in a list of Euro 2016 footballers with the most combined goals and assists. By any measure he has been the tournament’s best out-and-out striker – his performance against Iceland was undeniably brilliant – and yet love for him is sorely lacking. The laughter of Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand as he apparently ran through mud with a fridge on his back was both disrespectful and entirely in keeping with our distorted view of his talents.
Like many Premier League footballers, we see Giroud through the prism of his flaws. He is one of the best headers of the ball in European football, but he is slow. He is one of the least selfish strikers in European football, but he is slow. He has a deftness of touch that complements his physique perfectly, but he is slow. Let’s all laugh at the man who was not fortunate enough to be blessed with pace. Shall we also pause for a minute to take the p*** out of Lionel Messi for being a short-arse?
When Alan Pardew said that ‘four or five’ English players could get in this France side, somebody at the Daily Mail should have asked him for names. We would be astonished if – when pushed – the Crystal Palace manager would not have suggested that Harry Kane is superior to Giroud. That would be Kane with his five goals in 16 internationals and Giroud with his 20 in 53, boosted by an astonishing run of ten goals in his last 12 games for France. England do not have a striker in that kind of form, and nor do Germany, or Portugal, or Italy, or Spain. And yet the name of Giroud is never too far away from that of Stephane Guivarc’h, a genuinely inept French striker whose international record of one goal in 17 does not match his status as a World Cup winner.
It is Griezmann who will walk away from this tournament with reputation rightly boosted, but the Atletico Madrid man would not be on the verge of claiming the Golden Boot if it were not for Giroud selflessly acting as the straight man in that double act. Griezmann’s tournament did not really begin until half-time in the Ireland game when Didier Deschamps finally moved him closer to his strike partner. Henry – who had previously said that Arsenal would never win the league with Giroud leading the line – has been gushing in his praise.
“Giroud, with his back to goal, is very good; you saw the goal against Ireland when Giroud flicked on and Griezmann scored. He can’t turn and outpace anyone, Giroud, but in Griezmann he has a guy he can feed. It’s a great partnership. They share the workload of scoring goals,” he said. “I never doubted what he can do but I think he’s better with someone alongside him. He should play with someone because he has all the attributes. I’ve said before, I would have loved to have played with him.”
And that last quote is the most telling. Henry was the man who labelled Bale “passive” after Real Madrid’s Champions League exit to Juventus but openly admits that he would have relished playing alongside Giroud, simply because he enhances a quick, ambitious forward’s game with his hold-up play. It’s just a shame that hold-up play and heading the ball win you very few plaudits. Maybe he should try hitting a wild free-kick from 25 yards instead.