England expect to all but secure Euro 2012 qualification this evening by brushing Wales aside with the ease in which they took apart the Bulgarians last week. The planning for Ukraine and Poland will probably begin next month as Capello’s men board their plane out of Montenegro – assuming they have been successful. So, England in a major tournament. Always cause for excitement yes? Well that’s what I used to think. South Africa 2010 however, has a lot to answer for.
From both an English and a neutral point-of-view, the last World Cup was for the most part a disappointment. Actually from an English perspective, we had an absolute shitter. Apologies for the language but if you’re failing to score past Algeria then profanities are required.
So I have compiled a collection of ingredients. A group of dynamics that I feel are required for Euro 2012 or any future tournament to be successful in the eyes of the fans. I can remember about nine major tournaments but I feel I have seen enough archival footage to know what is required to get the pulses racing – both for England supporters and for the neutral.
What have been England’s best results since Sir Alf’s men lifted the World Cup in ’66? Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 when they reached the semi-finals. The common denominator in these near misses? A great tournament song. ‘World In Motion’ and ‘Three Lions’ are still belted out by the England faithful down the pub and rightfully so, they are fantastic tunes. And 2010? The FA banned an official song so that the team could be “fully focused on the football.” They didn’t seem too “focused” when Thomas Müller banged in Germany’s fourth in Bloemfontein.
A good tournament song excites the fans. It unites England’s followers when they sing it together in the pub or the stands. Remember the effect ‘Three Lions’ had in 1996. It should be fun! Think John Barnes spitting rhymes with New Order. Even watching Ant’n’Dec running around in 2002 dressed as SGE and Tord Grip was more than entertaining. Although unlikely I pray The FA would bring back a tournament song for next summer – one that involves the players. It’s an easy-to-follow formula, you need a good English group performing a song written by a comedian. Perhaps with a player rapping at some point. I foresee Arctic Monkeys performing a Noel Fielding-penned hit whilst Andy Carroll freestyles lyrics in the background. Perhaps I’ll start a petition.
The standout player:
Ronaldo ’02. Zidane ’98. Baggio ’94. Maradona ’86. Cruyff ’74. See what I mean? Not all of these were awarded the FIFA Golden Ball for being voted the tournament's best player. They didn’t need to be. These players aren’t loved for their efficiency or resilience. They’re loved because they excite, because they are artists. They make the beautiful game beautiful. When September comes and kids return to school these are the players they pretend to be, I myself was a Baggio/Romario. All of these players mentioned could carry their teams at times and they all made the final. When you look back and think of tournaments you remember the best matches and the players that you made you say “WOW”.
Whilst Spain as a collective were something to be marvelled at, 2010 never really had this kind of player. Nor did Euro 2008 or World Cup 2006. Can Euro 2012 produce a standout superstar? I sure hope so. It’d be nice to tell the grandkids that I once saw Joe Bloggs round 8 players and chip the keeper with his ear in the final of the Euro Championships. Worryingly though I can’t think of the player that will do this next summer. C. Ronaldo and Ribery would have to be frontrunners. May have to start waiting for Messi in 2014.
Nothing to complain about:
As a nation we like a good moan, we’re quite talented at finding things to complain about. We don’t need to be handed gift-wrapped grievances to wax lyrical about. Enter SA 2010 with its dodgy ball and the vuvuzela. Vuvuzela being Afrikaans for ‘Pain-In-The-Arse’. Whilst this last statement isn’t strictly true, players and fans alike agreed that the dreaded horns had a significantly detrimental effect on the atmosphere at last year’s tournament. Whether there was a goal scored, a sending off or actually nothing going on at all, the same annoying monotone drone reigned supreme.
What was wrong with the ball? It was perfectly spherical and immensely technologically advanced. So why could most people not play with it then?! Players struggled to pass/shoot with it and ‘keepers didn’t know what the hell was going on. Why fix something that isn’t broken? You get the best players in the world together for a few weeks every 2 years. Just give them something that is kinda round and bounces. Don’t ruin it. I hope it’s just football doing the talking in 2012.
The underdog and the upset:
Seeing a footballing giant crumble at the hands of relative minnows is always somewhat enjoyable. Reigning champions France being humbled by ‘The ‘Wardrobe’ Papa Diop in Seoul, Italy falling to hosts South Korea later in the same tournament. We enjoy seeing the underdogs progress, particularly if they are from Africa for some reason. Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana have all had the neutral support over the years as they reached the last 8.
Whilst we appreciate an Italy or a France going out in the first round there is a fine line to be considered though. The draw of a major tournament is to see the best teams competing against each other – not to see a group of underdogs fighting for the trophy. At Euro 2004 Spain, Italy and Germany all exited in the group stage, in 2002 the same fate fell for France, Portugal and Argentina. The 2004 tournament was won by Greece and in 2002 South Korea and Turkey made the semis. Whilst people appreciated Greece’s achievement it wasn’t exactly enjoyable to watch. We want to see great football and like it or not that generally comes from the best teams. So whilst a successful tournament run from an underdog would of course be welcomed next year, let’s see the best players and teams flourish.
The moment of English glory:
I think we should have a reality check. England first played in a major tournament 61 years ago. In that time we have reached one final so we need to grab hold of whatever bit of fantastic elation that is sent our way. Can you think of one of these moments in 2010? I sure as hell can’t. Remember Rooney tearing Croatia apart in ’04? Beating Argentina and Germany at the start of the millennium? Michael Owen announcing his talent in unbelievable fashion at France ‘98? In my lifetime these are the moments that I cherish of the national team. The moments that endear the Three Lions to myself. As England fans we are usually optimistic, at least at the start of a tournament. The bitter truth is though we haven’t come close to a trophy in a long time now. When these moments of glory happen we need to embrace them, they makes us feel like our country can beat the best the world has to offer.
I don’t expect England to be lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in July 2012. To be brutally and depressingly honest I don’t expect England to even be in contention. When (hopefully if) we go out I will, like all others, be somewhat drunk and somewhat inconsolable. When I reflect though I would be happy enough just to know that England were knocked out gracefully. Perhaps after Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick against Ze Germans in the previous round. I did say I was optimistic.
That’s my super-tournament recipe. It is not an exhaustive list and I would welcome any suggestions. If Poland and Ukraine could follow my recipe we may have some spectacle next year. If Euro 2012 does not meet expectations though, we can still be exceptionally happy. Knowing there will be no vuvuzelas in attendance will always keep me happy.