Sunday, June 15, 2008

Euro 2008 Could Help Regenerate the European Game

I was thinking of continuing my Guardian Reports from the Alternative Universe with 100% more EnglandTM, but the success of Euro 2008 in recent days has taken all the fun away. Based on what we've seen in the past week, why bother even cheekily mourning England's absence?

England has had enough reminding why they weren't good enough for this tournament. Take your pick: the Clockwork Oranje dusting off the Rinus Michels era playbook against those two tiny footballing nations, France and Italy; Turkey's majestic fightback today against the complacent Czechs, a thrilling return from the dead that, in this author's opinion, started with Tuncay hastily running off the pitch to help give the linesman a fresh offside flag; David Villa's one-man wrecking show for Spain; Germany's implosion at the hands of the plucky Croats; Buffon on Mutu, Robben on Coupet, it goes on and on.

The agonizing moaning from pundits who usually howl at the sight of these 'boring' internationals have gone silent. Perhaps they realize that, had only the Grand Slam affair that was Chelsea v. Manchester United or Liverpool v. Arsenal yielded even one tenth of the excitement of Holland v. France, or Romania v. Italy for that matter, Sky Sports would have seen Richard Keys' head explode all over the screen.

True, some onlookers have snippily pointed out that the reason for all this excitement might simply be bad defending, but you tell me what sort of tightly-formed backline would have stopped David Villa's last minute goal against Sweden? Or Arjen Robben's tight-angled strike to put Holland 3-1 up on France? Are we so jaded that we've forgotten about the now-heretical notion of 'attacking football'?

Among the proponents of the club-over-country crowd, those very words conjure up images of a weeping Kevin Keegan circa 1996. It is a concept synonymous with naivety, the sort of football beloved of country-bumpkins and eighties' style hooligans and rightly scoffed-at by the elite of the game, namely, the Prince of Boredom himself, Jose Mourinho.

Not so for the international coaches it seems: I have yet to see one game outside of the Romania-Italy debacle that did not see both teams attack with bravado, and yes, that includes games featuring Austria and Switzerland. Look at the Czech Republic today: they gave up the goods when they stopped pushing forward. Italy and France have been punished in this tournament because they have not been adventurous enough in front of goal. It's like football is waking up, walking around, making some coffee, contemplating taking a walk around the block and buying a bagel.

Perhaps it's too early to be this excited at the prospect of a return to goals goals goals football in Europe. The World Cup in 2006 teased us with exciting group stages matches even as it lulled us back to sleep when the football started to count. But I have a feeling that the remaining teams will realize that a well-organized defense will not be good enough to hoist the trophy on June 29th. And much like the numbing effect Greece's victory in 2004 had on the European footballing ideology, this year's tournament could have a ripple effect on the club football played during the rest of the year. Attacking football may be gearing up for a return after Euro 2008's reunion tour.

We often look at goal-fests cynically, dutifully following the 'Long-Ball' philosophy that describes goals as accidents, freaks challenging the perfect equilibrium of Nil-Nil. Attacking football just seems so damn simple, almost too good to be true. Had Johan Cruiff overheard your protests, he would calm you down and explain: "Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing."


Deluxe said...

This was a beatifully crafted article, and I sincerely hope it will become true. Cheers.

fredorrarci said...

I second Deluxe's comment - this is the best post/article I've read about the tournament so far. You've almost made me optimistic about the rest of this tournament now, damn you...

It annoys me greatly that the Anglocentric media invariably reaches for the Keegan comparison whenever a team consistently shows positive intent. The corollary of the "attcaking play is naive" attitude is the application of the word 'pragmatic' as a eupehemism for 'negative'; a defensive approach is described admiringly, an attacking approach pejoratively.