Euro 2016 has ended and now I have to return to real life. 51 games over four weeks is an immersive experience. It’ll take a while to adjust to reality. That adjustment however might be aided by some reflection.
Overall I found the tournament disappointing. It lacked greatness. It may be churlish to expect greatness at every tournament, but when a tournament is defined by the success of underdogs and dark horses then it is obvious no one team moved football to a higher level.
I had pinned my hopes on Spain and, to a lesser extent, Germany to define European football for the next four years. Both failed. It appears the era of Spain is over and the era of Germany is gone at the first hurdle.
But tournament football can be enjoyed on more than one level. There may not have been greatness, but there was drama. Lots and lots of drama. The success of Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland will live long in the memory. And in an extraordinary final, someone as unlikeable as Ronaldo won many a begrudging heart by simply not being able to play.
The two teams I’m supposed to support did exactly what was expected of them. Ireland had its moment in the sun by beating a weakened Italy before being dismantled by the first quality team they played. And England lived down to expectations by losing comprehensively to Iceland.
Italy were interesting. I’ve never been a fan of them, as they are at heart a defensive side, but they manage to be negative and cynical with a panache unmatched by any other nation. They earned the right to beat Spain and I would not have been too peeved if they’d won the tournament. That Germany beat them had me convinced that perhaps Germany might be all that they should be. But they were beaten by a French side spectacularly short of the sum of its parts.
I had invested some hope in Belgium but they were woefully below what they should be. And my final hope was Croatia, but like every other team in the tournament, they could not see off Portugal.
Call me a snob but I can’t get behind the expanded format. Yes, it allowed for some novel participants, but tournament football is by its very nature, elitist. It isn’t about mere participation. It is the showpiece of European football and should be about the best of the best, it should be about showing football in its loftiest iteration.
I am probably still getting over the demise of Spain.
I support Liverpool. Even when they are shit, I support them. That’s loyalty. I am not loyal to an international side. I care little about Ireland and England, except perhaps for the pantomime disconnect between England’s perception of itself and the reality of its ability. For the last decade, Spain has been the one international side to take my breath away. I was prepared for Germany to take over that mantle but they are so not worthy.
Perhaps my disappointment is less about Spain and more about a lack of inspiration. Again, there are different levels. Leicester winning the Premiership is inspiring. Portugal, sans Ronaldo, winning Euro 2016 is inspiring. But I want great artistry. I want genius. I want my mouth to hang open, my heart to beat faster and to be transported. I wanted a Xavi, or an Alonso. I want a conductor. This tournament lacked players who could put their foot on the ball, look up, and everyone would immediately know that person was in charge.
Which proves that football, enjoyment and inspiration are all subjective. I know people who find Spain to be sterile, boring and off-putting.
I’m not too downhearted though. These things go in cycles. Strong defences tend to inspire even greater creativity. In four years’ time at least one of Germany, France, Spain or perhaps even Belgium, will have evolved ways to counter this new emphasis on eleven men behind the ball.
Despite my moaning, I can’t wait until the next tournament.