Our European guru educates and enlightens
You can count on the thumb of one hand the number of central defenders who have seriously impressed at Euro 2008. Against Spain, Giorgio Chiellini gave a master class in the art, snuffing out trouble time after time.
The number of holding midfielders who have impressed in this competition is almost as low: Marcos Senna has stood out for Spain and Torsten Frings, when fit, has been reliable for Germany. They have reached the final without having a fully functioning central defender on the pitch in any of their games, an astonishing feat that may explain why Euro 2008 has been so entertaining.
Most of the defences have been iffy most of the time. The best defensive performance – Italy’s against Spain – produced the dullest game although, in Italy, it was savoured by many who think that comparing a football match to a game of chess is actually a compliment.
As Guillem Balague points out in the next issue of Champions (out July 4 folks!), such chaos and frailty at the back wouldn’t be tolerated at Europe’s UEFA Champions League clubs. More’s the pity.
Some Russians do travel well
In a Vienna so hot that just sitting in the open air felt like you had been locked in a sauna, the Russians wilted, reverting to the traditional pre-Hiddink passivity that mystified fans and earned so many of Guus’s predecessors the sack.
The cliché before the tournament was that the Russians don’t travel well. Whoever said that hasn’t seen their fans in action. When I returned to the Hotel Ananas at 1.15am after the game, there was a raucous chorus of Russian voices from the bar.
The scene reminded me of a football conference I attended years ago, where two Russian officials – one of them positively Brezhnevian in age and stature – announced that we didn’t need to worry about them checking out and getting the bus to the airport the next morning because they were going out in 20minutes – this was about 7pm – and, they implied, would go straight to the airport from whichever bar they could persuade to stay open for the duration.
And in the Hotel Ananas in Vienna, at breakfast the next morning, two Russian fans were still debating defeat at a table littered with white wine glasses, discarded cigarette packets and an almost empty bottle of some nasty exotic spirit. By the time I got to the airport at 11.30am, a gaggle of Russian fans were singing their hearts out in the first bar I stumbled across. If only their team had shown such commitment and energy.
The Dutch complex
The abrupt, shocking departure of the brilliant Oranje continues to perplex. I offer this analysis, from a Dutchman in the football business: “When a Dutch player looks at an opponent before kick-off, they think ‘I’m better than you’. And when they look around the pitch, they’ll think all their team-mates are better too. So they feel they don’t have to try too hard.
Against Italy, world champions, and France, runners-up in 2006, they’ll feel they have to play their best. But against Russia? In the Netherlands now, they’ll be saying results don’t matter, we played the best football, we were the champions of the first round…” Did the Dutch superiority complex prevent them from winning what would, for all their technical brilliance and artistry, have been only their second major trophy?
There’s only one Oleg Salenko
Some players, as Michel Platini observed before he became UEFA president, make a career out of one game. And some players make a career out of a tournament. Yet clubs continue to shell out millions for stars who look the business at international championships. Those queuing to spend a fortune on Andrei Arshavin – David Moyes was among those interested before Euro 2008 kicked off – or other stellar performers might end up buying the new Stephane Guiv’arch, Oleg Salenko (five goals in one World Cup game against Cameroon and seven in one season for Rangers) or Tomas Brolin.
Buying strikers after such tournaments is especially perilous: it’s hard now to watch Milan Baros and believe he won the golden boot at Euro 2004. And Davor Suker, golden boot winner at France 98, never really hit top form again. One of the best post-Euro buys, Juventus’s purchase of Zinedine Zidane, came after the player – and the French team – had flopped at Euro 96.
So maybe the shrewdest deal would be Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who didn’t feature at Euro 2008 but, only two years ago, was so good he kept out Van Nistelrooy for Holland. Huntelaar hasn’t progressed as expected, but he’s still scoring, has some obvious weaknesses – aerial prowess and physical strength – that a good coach can work on to improve his game, is technically brilliant and he’s still only 24. But will Ajax coach Marco van Basten, the player Huntelaar is most often likened to, want to let him go?
We all knew Fatih Terim is good – though till Euro 2008 many wondered why Wenger had cited him as one of the best coaches in Europe – but read this panegyric in the Turkish daily Hurriyet and be truly awestruck.
Actually this really is the end…
Biggest disappointment of Euro 2008: that someone had removed the “Vienna waits for you” carpets from Vienna airport. I hope Billy Joel didn’t cause a fuss about copyright.
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