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Revered matches that were actually rubbish
I read with interest the piece by Sean Ingle regarding the nostalgic hype that continues to surround England’s hosting of the European Championships, even after 20 years have passed. If you are of a certain age, I expect that this tournament, over and above many superior tournaments before or since, hold especially fond memories, that with every passing tournament shines like a beacon of joy amongst England’s other failed attempts to take the footballing world by storm. I still hold Euro ‘96 to be the summit of joy and absolute depth of despair that I have felt in over 25 years of supporting the national side. But that doesn’t mean the football served by El Tel’s boys was worth watching again.
In case you weren’t aware (and considering the amount of coverage Euro ’96 and England’s crestfallen Lions of that tournament have been getting lately, how could you not be?), the BBC, along with its recent Shearer-led interviews with members of the ’96 squad, have decided to show the entire TV broadcast for 2 of England’s games at Euro ‘96; the group game against Scotland and the semi-final against the dreaded Germans. I decided to watch the Scotland game out of a sense of nostalgia and curiosity. What I wasn’t prepared for was how absolutely rubbish England were and how lucky we were to get the win. The Scottish played the better football, had the better of the possession, the better chances and looked threatening, right up to Gascoigne’s still excellent goal. What no one seems to talk about though, was how abject England were. And I don’t mean a little bit poor, I mean absolutely horrible. The level of technical ability by everyone in a white shirt was astonishing to watch. Gazza tried (and failed miserably) to dribble and push forward, same could be said of McManaman. Paul Ince was Paul Ince, doing a lot to break up play, but distributing with all the accuracy and reliability of a plumber’s estimate (Rimmer, Arnold J. 1998). The backline consistently looked to by-pass the midfield and to top it off, the front two looked so far apart for large periods of the game that they might as well have been on opposite sides of the country for all the good the two of them being there made.
The bright spot was the small, yet significant change in style after the break from England. There seems to have been a lot of rose-tinting applied to the contribution made by Jamie Redknapp upon his introduction, and yes, it allowed England to be a little more controlled on the ball. But if you’ve never seen the game, others would have you would believe that he pulled strings, Pirlo-esque and dictated every facet of England’s game in the second half, when in fact, it was just more of the same from the Scotland. Were it not for Seaman’s penalty save and the wonderful claw back on the goal line from Gordon Durie’s header, this game, this tournament even, may have looked a whole lot different.
I’ve never been one for re-watching games because with so many matches on, why would I? But by subjecting myself to this walk through history, it has left me with one question: How many other revered games or tournaments (club and country) from my youth were, in actual fact, utter, utter garbage?
James F, BCFC KRO
Fearing the worst
It seems to me that Roy Hodgson has perfectly positioned himself for another classic England tournament performance. After a thoroughly professional qualification, we’re going into a tournament with some of the most exciting players available to an England manager for a long, long time. He’s selected a squad which has widely been touted as “bold” and “attacking”, with an abundance of striking options and only the one out-and-out defensive midfielder. However, if the Portugal match is anything to go by, we’re still going to play the usual defensive, conservative football – Roy himself even mentioned the importance of defending the wings as part of his justification for playing that way. It’s getting to the point where you can almost predict what’s going to happen:
Game 1 – we’ll start off playing the diamond formation, somehow holding our own for about 15 minutes. We’ll gradually start to come under more pressure, conceding on the break from a rare attack. We’ll come back into it and equalise after half time, looking like we could win it, before conceding a sucker punch second goal soon after – no doubt while not defending the wings. Wales will beat Slovakia.
Game 2 – Despite the rubbish first match, we start with almost exactly the same setup and absolutely batter Wales, whose defence are in inspired form. Their attackers struggle to create anything of note until Gareth Bale, who is having a stinker of a game, produces a moment of brilliance to take the lead. We have numerous calls for penalties and free-kicks turned down and it’s all getting a bit heated, and now Rooney’s got himself sent off for pulling Bale’s daft-haircut-du-jour. We somehow manage to scrape a jammy goal from a poorly defended corner and draw 1-1. Russia beat Slovakia, who are now out.
Game 3 – Russia are be top with 6 points, Wales second on 4, followed by us one 1; we now need to beat Slovakia and are relying on Russia to beat Wales to have any chance of us going through. We finally start to play more attacking football in a more suitable formation and take an early 1-0 lead. Russia take an early lead against Wales and now we’re all wondering why we were worried. Meanwhile, we’re all over Slovakia but still lead by just the one goal – only some woeful finishing stopping us from extending our advantage. It’s ok, though; Russia are 2-0 up. We’re going to do this, we’ve made it. Crap; Wales have pulled one back. What does that mean? We’re still ok, as long as Slovakia don’t sco…penalty?! For what? That was never a foul ref, this is bullsh*t! We concede with Hart just getting a glove to it but not enough to keep it out. We’re back in 3rd and a point isn’t enough. But wait, we’ve got a last minute penalty! Up steps Sturridge – on as a second half substitute – and his tame effort is easily saved by the ‘keeper. Final whistle – game over, we’re out.
Would anyone really be surprised if that happened? Seems to be exactly the kind of performance we usually get.
As the eternal Rooney debate rumbles on (take it from a United fan, his best position is on the injury list or fighting Apocalypse, and it’s much to be hoped that Mourinho finally has the courage to end his United career), it’s worth highlighting how great an impact Welbeck’s injury has had on Hodgson’s squad. His default formation in qualification involved a front three in which Welbeck, playing wide, offered pace, a threat running behind, tactical discipline, and movement. In large part, he did the parts of the #9 role that Rooney’s body and technique can no longer fulfil, and freed Rooney to do what he still can (arrive late in the box and finish).
In his absence, and with Kane undroppable, Rooney is the Gordian Knot Roy hasn’t the balls to cut. Rooney has to play, but can only realistically play as a #9 (where he either keeps out Kane, or forces Hodgson to play a front 2), or as a #10, where he’s never excelled against elite opponents, would unsettle Hodgson’s system, and limit the creative potential of Alli and others.
There is simply no way to accommodate Rooney in England’s starting XI that doesn’t either exclude a younger, fitter player in better form, or force Hodgson to play a different formation. Welbeck’s selfless industry mitigated this to an extent, but in his absence, Rooney simply has no place in an England starting XI.
It won’t happen, but Hodgson should follow the example of del Bosque, Lippi and Low with Raul, Del Piero and Gomez, and prioritise the team over a celebrated striker whose form and style no longer warrant a place in the starting XI.
I’m afraid I can’t share John Nicholson’s enthusiasm about the purity of the Euros. As I look at the schedule, the scent of money seems to be everywhere. I can’t avoid it. It’s all I think about when I heard the words “Euro 2016”.
Why? The expansion of the tournament. Not done to let smaller nations have a go but simply done to make more money for UEFA. So now we have a farcical situation where some 3rd place teams go through, and some don’t. Tournaments need to be fair and right off the bat, this one isn’t.
The second problem is obviously the dip in quality. Yes, it’s great that the home nations are involved (and maybe this is just Scottish bitterness talking) but you can’t argue that the tournament has become bloated. The Euros used to be a tight, short, 16 team tournament. Almost every game had some interest in it and some groups were absolute belters. Just glancing back at Euro 2012, we had Germany, Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark in one group. Now I’m looking at Euro 2016 and the most exciting is probably Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Good, but not great.
The expansion just means fewer fixtures to be excited about. Iceland v Austria, Northern Ireland v Ukraine, Albania v Romania, Russia v Slovakia. Sorry, these just don’t do it for me. I’m sure the football purists will find some joy in them I it just doesn’t get me going. Football these days = money, whether domestic or international. The Euros have suffered as a result. I’m sure I’ll enjoy them, it just wont be the same.
Mike, LFC, Dubai
…According to John, international competition is not only the pinnacle, but the great leveller of the sport we love so much, because financial doping is completely eradicated by the fact you can’t buy a better defender or better striker to complement your team; essentially, you have to make do with what you get given.
But that’s not strictly true is it? By virtue of where you are born (or in our multicultural world, bred), the financial doping begins immediately after your natural talent is noticed. The incentives provided by clubs to entice players and their families to move closer to their location, the state-of-the-art training facilities used to hone the talent (by club and in some cases the FA of that nation), the nutritionists used to make sure they eat and sleep well, the employment of the best coaches and physios around to make sure that the end product is in peak physical condition to play for that club will all play a part in creating the best players for a national side. It isn’t by accident that Germany and Spain are the current World and European champions, while club sides from those 2 nations have won the last four Champions League Finals and 3 Europa League Finals . And generally, where the money is in terms of the clubs and the nation they hail from, also happens to be where the bookmakers place the favourites tag come international tournaments, and with good reason.
I don’t think all is lost though. Upsets are still likely to occur during the tournament (the Euros seem to be the least predictable of all, if the wins for Denmark and Greece are anything to go by), plus there is a palpable buzz that surrounds a summer tournament that club football just does not provide. But, International football still follows a similar pattern set by club football. It just isn’t as pronounced.
James F, BCFC KRO
Cash is king for Koeman
Don’t get me wrong, I love Koeman and he’s done a great job with limited resources at Southampton and he’s certainly one of the nicest men in management. So I don’t begrudge him getting a huge pay day, as let’s be honest, this move is purely and simply about money.
What really gets me though is that this is a huge risk for him and no guarantee of success for Everton. While a good manager, he has yet to prove himself an exceptional one with limited cup runs, tactically naive at time and no track record of spending big transfer budgets effectively. He is effectively David Moyes and we all know what happened to him at United. A good manager with lots of money to work with doesn’t necessarily equate with success.
It’s also easy to forget that Pochettino, despite a few high profile losses of players, left a very solid base for Koeman to build on. This in contrast to an Everton team at risk of losing it’s star players and with an on paper weaker squad that Saints currently have (before everyone leaves as usual…). So my fear is that in what’s looking an incredibly tough league next year. He’ll have a poor first season at Everton having spent big, lose the fans and potentially suffering a serious career setback himself.
In the meantime I hope we focus on a good run in Europe and a solid mid-table finish. So a manager with a superb track record in Europe like Unai Emery would be a huge coup, though a long shot. Frank de Boer would tick the box nicely or let’s give Eddie Howe a 10-year contract, a bit of money and let him continue the fine work he started at Bournemouth. He wouldn’t even have to move house.
It’s going to be David Moyes though isn’t it… and nothing wrong with that either.
Tom, Saints (I’d be happy to be proved wrong about Koeman at Everton)
Remember when the consensus (or narrative, as the mailbox likes to say) was that Vardy’s age meant he was the star player that Leicester were most likely to keep? Now he’s seemingly the first one out the door.
Conclusion: No-one really knows anything. Leicester keep finding a way to make people look foolish, don’t they?
Actually Pete G, Mark Clattenburg called a very similar penalty on Raheem Sterling against Spurs this year.
So, yeah, English refs do call it.
If United sign Zlatan
… it’s some solid evidence that United is run by the fan boys for the fan boys.