Euro 2016 from Row Z | I dream of a different football

It’s football alright, so shoot it at goal and stop picking your noses

Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrates people’s reaction when meeting him face-to-face
Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrates people’s reaction when meeting him face-to-face

Four years ago, with a raucous fire in my belly that no Rennie binge could douse, this venerable newspaper tasked me with a particular coverage of the Euros: wander into a bar and watch the Maltese watching football. Fun, because the gods conspired for us to see one of two consecutive clashes between Italy and England.

At the end of that other largely unremarkable Euro tournament, Spain drove Italy into the ground with a 4-0 thrashing that still reverberates among the walls of the Italian FA – but that hardly matters as the Italian FA is doing a brilliant job of dismantling itself, with its national team’s football a brand of hi-octane cross-stitch and with very few exciting prospects on the horizon.

But I digress. Four years later, my appetite to walk into bars wearing an unbranded t-shirt has waned. It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching drone footage of a team morph from a 3-5-2 into a 4-1-3-2 like a snail climbing the Petronas tower, or following Gary Lineker’s astute punditry or because parking has become even more impossible everywhere; it’s not even that I’m four years older and my friends aren’t comfortable showing their pot bellies in public. And definitely it’s not a midlife crisis.

It’s just that, despite the enlargement to 24 participating teams and the prospect of rags to riches success stories like Iceland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Albania participating in this event, Euro 2016 and international football are suddenly looking like boring, sanitised and dreary affairs.

Gone are the breathtaking 4-3 wins or the 7-1 aggravated beatings; a rout is limited to the let’s-not-break-into-a-sweat-lads 3-0 (Belgium v Ireland, Spain v Turkey, and the exception of Wales v Russia).

I dream of different football, and it doesn’t have to be muddy punch-ups on the field and terraces between Leeds and Nottingham Forest in the late 70s. It doesn’t have to be the ridiculously short Adidas knickers of the 1980s or the tapestry of Zidane as soundtracked by Mogwai.

1. Less red cards

There are less red cards: I, for one, had no doubt Turkey would take the worst play award home but except for a couple of elbows against Croatia (Vedran Corluka still goes round telling his mates his name is Keith and is gainfully occupied as a Gorenje repairman) nothing of the sort materialised.

2. Tactical overkill

There is a certain amount of tactical overkill that makes the game rather boring. Compare it to the boxes inside boxes around boxes of polystyrene wrapping a small computer monitor. Tiki-Taka and parking the bus have found their common ground.

3. Italy, defence and little else

Let’s name the usual suspects: Antonio Conte’s Italy, a nation associated with the creative genius of Baggio, Pirlo, Totti and many others, are now reduced to a (tactically mean) defensive outfit of four men who share 3 ‘O’ levels between them. The number 10 shirt is donned by a man whose feet can be mistaken for aircraft carriers by North Korean satellites, his finesse that of an obese American tumbling down the steps of Piazza di Spagna. The football itself, if any, is made up of an uncharacteristic reluctance to make offensive use of the ball, where clearing it into touch is always more desirable than the suddenly audacious stringing together of three consecutive passes.

4. Italy, again: can they really win the trophy?

Despite being usually a tad more sympathetic to the Italians, I switched off the TV in disgust after both games against Belgium and Sweden, where, it’s fair to say, anti-football won the day. (I admit I fell asleep during the game against Ireland, and woke up only when Insigne joined the fray, just in time to watch Brady slot it neatly past the flapping Sirigu). But of course, one man’s anti-football is another man’s tactical genius, and their mean defence could see them walk away with the trophy, deity conspiracies permitting.

5. Germany, football’s vorsprung durch teknik

The same would apply to Germany, who seem to have no issue with their production lines, be it their supply in goal, in defence, midfield, attack or in the lofty towers of European Central Bank. But despite their shaky defence, the Germans managed to qualify with three clean sheets while their attack stuttered and faltered worse than an airconditioned Yugo driving up a steep hill in the Urals. It took Joachim Löw two full games of picking his nose and smelling his own testicles, much like a German shepherd on shore leave, to realise that he should field the good old number 9 for some attacking impetus. He must be ruing leaving out Miro Klose, and in fact there he is inspecting his nostrils again.

6. CR7

Then there’s Cristiano, always busier looking at the big screens to see if he’s on camera during the Portuguese anthem, before proceeding to 90 full minutes of teeth-clenching and petty behaviour towards referee and fans alike. No matter how hard I try to respect CR7, especially after yet another season of delivering goods – bagfuls of goals in the Liga – his attitude for the national team reeks of being a Nike parade. Finally, football’s own Kim Kardashian woke up in the second half of what could have been Portugal’s last game against Hungary, scoring a brilliant backheel and a header to keep his team in the Euros – but only just.

7. Oh, Zlatan...

Euro 2016 has also drawn the curtains on the international career of the other superstar. Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks less like the monumental be-all end-all he purports himself to be and more like a very old industrial fridge with a noisy generator. One wonders whether Sweden will fare better or worse now that they will play as a team, not as a team around an individual.

To be continued...

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