Euro 2016 - Keeping it simple, Pogba's price tag and why the Euros needs expanding to 32 teams
So that was Euro 2016. Portugal are the champions, Belgium and England flopped again, and Iceland and Wales are the new models on which to build and base success. Ben Lyttleton picks out his talking-points from Euro 2016, including the final that gave the tournament a twist in the tale.
Simplicity and strategy the keys to success
We saw plenty of muddled thinking in France, not least in the final where Didier Deschamps’s pre-match comment that he had not changed his strategy after looking at Portugal’s tactical setup looked unfortunately prescient.
The best performances in the tournament came as a result of smart coaching and well-executed strategy: think of Italy and Wales beating Belgium, and Iceland beating England. On each occasion, it was the best team and not the most talented players which won.
Was it the tournament of the underdog? Not necessarily: the best-coached teams went deep, and that there was a gulf between those who were well-drilled and had a plan (Iceland, Wales, Italy, Portugal) and those that did not (England).
Perhaps France were the exception: they came through most of their matches after game-changing switches by Deschamps. This is double-edged; yes, he was making the right decisions in the end, but he definitely was not at the start. It almost took him to the trophy as well, as sub Andre-Pierre Gignac had a Rob Rensenbrink moment when he hit the post after 92 minutes.
Inches away from success, but the difference between Deschamps and Fernando Santos was reactive and proactive coaching. Even now, after the final, does Deschamps know his best team, one that gets the most out of all its players?
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Is Pogba worth £100m, and does it even matter?
France's Paul Pogba Reuters
If the opinion of Juventus team-mate Paolo Dybala is anything to go by, Pogba will not be leaving Turin anytime soon. Dybala said that he has Pogba’s word on that, but, judging by latest reports, it’s not Pogba that is driving a move but his agent Mino Raiola, who knows how to extract maximum value for his clients.
Marca reported on Sunday that Real Madrid had dropped out of the bidding for the French midfielder. Maybe that was because Manchester United have reportedly already tabled a bid of £100m with Raiola, according to The Sunday Times, lined up for a £20m bonus. A player’s value is only what a club is prepared to pay, and while Pogba is an outstanding midfielder, his performances do not always live up to his own hype.
“I want to become a legend,” he told So Foot before Euro 2016, and he has talked of redefining the midfield position and becoming a mash-up player combining the skills of Zidane, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Messi, Deschamps and Ronaldinho. Who wouldn’t buy into that type of player, even if against Portugal, Pogba was overshadowed by his midfield partners Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko, who was nicknamed Moussain Sissoko after one lung-busting run down the flank.
Matuidi and Sissoko could also be on the move in the summer transfer window; but without the bombast of Raiola behind them, they could represent great value in comparison to their more extrovert team-mate.
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Portugal’s future is looking good
For all the talk of this being Ronaldo’s last chance of a major trophy, this is Portugal’s real golden generation. And guess what? Last summer they took the Under-21 European Championship seriously and only lost the final to Sweden on penalties.
Three of the starters in Sunday’s final against France also played one year ago – Raphael Guerreiro, Joao Mario and William Carvalho, while Renato Sanches, still only 18, was probably pencilled in to play in the 2017 edition. This group may not have the flair of Luis Figo and Rui Costa’s ‘golden generation’ but it has already won more trophies.
Rui Costa and Luis Figo, in Portugal's glory daysImago
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Quantity over quality – the new status of international football
So Portugal drew all three group games, only won once within 90 minutes in seven matches, and led for a grand total of 73 minutes over 720 minutes of game time.
This may lead to complaints that the best team did not win the tournament – that happens more often than you think, as the Champions League proves – but the main memories of Euro 2016 will not be about the quality of football on display. They will focus on the joy of Albania beating Romania and winning its first tournament match; of Iceland and its fans clapping each other on their incredible run to the quarter-finals; of Wales players jumping onto the coaching staff after each of their goals in the win over Belgium.
These were moments that were replayed over and over again back in their home countries; they remind us that international football is not just about the destination, but it’s also about the journey. They were scenes of countries united, national identities restored, celebrations on a huge and joyous scale which in today’s world, is all too rare.
“The players are now legends in the eyes of Iceland’s people,” Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson told The Guardian. “They have given the currency of our football a huge boost and it will extend beyond sport too, as a wonderful advertisement for a country that is now on the map like never before.”
Against the backdrop of England searching for a new coach, this may well lead to a reconsideration of where international football currently stands. If you were Eddie Howe, for example, is coaching England the pinnacle of your career? Eighteen months of qualifiers followed by six weeks of stress every two years? As opposed to testing your abilities against Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Weneger, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp (and plenty more, a few even English) every week in the most-watched league in the world? The international game has lost its cachet, and in so doing, is losing the elite coaches as well.
The upshot is that we will remember Euro 2016 not for any games that will live long in the memory, but for the moments that these smaller countries provided. The perfect excuse, then, for UEFA to extend the 2024 edition to 32 teams.