It's only taken a couple days for the "Kill the 24 Team Euro" takes to become obnoxious. Though I could link a dozen different examples, here is one that is representative from Chris Jones over at ESPN FC.
None of the complaints Jones makes in the post are at all new, of course. We heard the same thing after Greece won the Euros in 2004, after Paraguay nearly upset Spain in 2010, and after Chelsea's Champions League victory in 201— (BODY STARTS CONVULSING, FALLS OUT OF CHAIR, STARTS THRASHING AROUND ON FLOOR)
(20 minutes later...)
OK. I'm back. We'll continue this argument without referencing the Voldemort of Champions League winners.
There are two separate strands to why this critique of the 2016 Euros is actually really annoying.
First, arguably the two best stories of the competition, the unlikely successes of Iceland and Wales, are directly attributable to the 24-team format. If this is a 16-team competition, Wales and Iceland probably miss out entirely and then we miss out on the sheer fun of seeing these two nations enjoy such unprecedented success. When you have a bigger field, it's easier to have stories like this. And given that having those sorts of cinderella stories are one of the things that make sport so fun, I think building some structural features into international soccer to make them slightly more likely is a net-win, even if it does water down the competition a little. (Those complaining that this was a uniquely bad competition should probably just spend more time watching international soccer. International soccer is almost never good if we judge it by the standards of club soccer. There's never more than 3-4 matches where you say one team was outstanding and the enduring image of the competition is always a couple moments that hinge mostly on individual skill. That's just how international soccer works.))
Second, the broader point at issue here is that many are once again bringing up the old line that treats "attacking" football as being in some way morally superior to "defensive" football without ever really defining their terms with any precision. This, of course, is a dead-end way of analyzing the game. If I wanted to—and, hell, why not? I want to—I can very easily argue that Portugal's triumph in the Euros is great for the game because it is testament to the power of the collective to overcome the individual star power of teams who reinforce the Me-First approach to soccer by indulging individualistic star players who care more about their own accolades than working within a team. If we're going to play Dueling Skip Bayless Takes, you can spin it any way you like.
Portugal and Italy managed to punch well above their weight by developing a tactical approach that maximized their strengths and countered the strengths of their opponent. Italy's tactics were so successful that defending World Cup champions Germany adopted an entirely new system when they met the Italians in the quarterfinals. None of this is any different than what Atletico Madrid have been doing for years. Sure, sometimes the sort of defensive approach that both Italy and Portugal embraced can lead to boring football. But any style can be boring (cue Manchester United fans nodding grimly).
That point aside, what both Italy and Portugal did was figure out how to make the most of the squads they had. That's a commendable thing that sets their managers apart from most of the others in this competition. It's deserving of praise, not condemnation. Indeed, the ability to recognize what one has in a team and then to form a coherent tactical approach that makes those specific players better is one of the most difficult things to do as a manager.
I knew we had a good one in Pochettino after his first ever North London Derby when he took a misfiring Spurs team to the Emirates to face a very hot Arsenal squad and came away with a 1-1 draw that could easily have been a win were it not for an Erik Lamela miskick on an attempted clearance. But on that day Poche didn't have Tottenham playing a high line, pressing the ball all the way to the keeper, and dominating possession. Spurs had 31% possession. They were outshot six to 16. Poche had the team sit deep, play a relatively flat and narrow 4-4-2, and break quickly on the counter. And so, despite losing on shots and possession, it was a close game on expected goals and if you remove the Chamberlain chance that led to a goal (and only happened because of the Lamela miskick), it would look even closer:
xG map for NLD. Arsenal attack much improved in second half, Spurs finally executed the press to counter. pic.twitter.com/XSOBy02aNp— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) September 27, 2014
Pochettino managed on his first attempt to squeeze a very respectable draw out of a team that had over the previous two seasons regularly been trounced by their top six rivals. Conte and Santos's only crime was figuring out a way to get the best result possible with the players at their disposal. Why are we complaining about that?
So please, spare me the Portugal-is-bad-for-the-game takes. Portugal had a good-but-not-great squad with one obvious star and a bunch of supplemental parts, not all of which complemented that star particularly well. Santos found a way to transform that team into European champions. That's something to celebrate, not condemn.
On to the links:
Tottenham players racked up 3,544 minutes of match-time in this year's Euros, 900 minutes more than Arsenal and a thousand more than Manchester City, their closest English rivals. It's a good thing we don't have a manager who requires tons of running and whose teams have a record of collapsing down the stretch:
Evan Davis's take on Portugal for SBN Soccer is spot-on.
Brendan Rodgers' last foray into the Champions League included a trip to the Bernabeu with Liverpool. Tonight he begins his work at Scottish champions Celtic with a play-off round trip to Gibraltar to face Lincoln Red Imps.
Felix Magath is now managing in China and his club, Shandong Luneng, have brought in Papiss Cisse and Graziano Pelle to bolster their attack.
Related: Trivia Question: Of the ten most expensive signings in Chinese league history, five have played in England. Can you name them all? (Answer at bottom of post)
Pelle will also be on pretty insane wages, reportedly:
Graziano Pellé is now the Italian player with the highest wages of all time around 16 millon euros per year. Amazing.— Eddie Benedetti (@EddieBenedetti) July 11, 2016
A Portuguese boy consoled a despondent France fan after Sunday's European final:
There were only 298 TVs in Iceland tuned to things other than their second round clash with England.
Trivia Answer: Ramires (£25m), Gervinho (£15.3m), Graziano Pelle (£12m), Paulinho (£11.9m), and Demba Ba (£11m). Cisse's fee to join Shandong was reported to be only €2.5m while other big names to come from England, like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, came on free transfers.