Euro 2016: The Review

UEFA_Euro_2016_Logo_svgBack in 2007, I scoffed at Euro 2012 being awarded to Ukraine and Poland. I mean, they didn’t have the infrastructure. And Ukraine at least was full of violent ultras. I kept scoffing right up until kick-off. How wrong I was. It turned out that Euro 2012 was the best Euros I have seen in my life. Who can forget the high-scoring matches (4-1, 3-2, 3-1, 4-0, 3-2, 4-2) including the 4-0 final victory by Spain or Spain being the first nation to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy?

It perfected the format. It felt that the Euros had finally come of age.

So I was disgusted that Euro 2016 would expand to 24 teams. I said it would water down the tournament. Third place teams qualifying for the next round? This is as ridiculous as the bloated farce that the Europa League and the Champions League have become. Sure, there are more “countries” than ever in Europe including latterly the likes of Gibraltar, so an expanded format makes sense on the face of it. But of course it’s all about money, not giving a fair chance to all nations. A 24 team tournament always seemed a step too far.

I was delighted to be proven wrong about 2012; I am disappointed to be proven right by 2016. What a turgid affair these Euros were.

Firstly, the idea that a team finishing third in a group should go onto lift the trophy, when they would have been eliminated in every other instantiation of the competition in history, is not the stuff of fairy stories; it’s straight up ridiculous. No offence to Portugal, but drawing all three of your group matches is not what inspires my dreams. Indeed, of Portugal’s seven matches, they only won one in the 90 minutes — their semi-final against Wales!

Portugal’s win exemplified the tournament as a whole; it was a boring win in a boring, lifeless competition. I could barely stay awake during the final.

UEFA talk about how their new format gave us the gems of Wales and Iceland. And it’s true; Wales and Iceland were pretty much the only good things about the tournament. But in all fairness, Wales and Iceland both came second in their qualifying groups and would have ended up qualifying even if there were only sixteen teams in the finals. Indeed, Northern Ireland, another minnow, topped their qualifying group.

UEFA_Euro_2016_qualifying_map_svg

Who *didn’t* qualify for Euro 2016??

The ridiculousness of the current format is exemplified by this graphic: blues qualified, yellows didn’t.

We might as well just go whole hog, dispense with the qualifying campaign, and divide the 53 teams into groups of four (perhaps with an initial pre-qualifying round for the lowest six ranked nations so as to make it an even 48*, or else add another side for 54). Then run it more-or-less like the Champions League. Perhaps with a second group round.

Sounds stupid, but why not?

They’re already moving away from the host nation format with Euro 2020 which will be hosted across Europe. Why not just carry it on. The whole thing can be a bloated, never-ending, money-making mess exhibition of football at its purest! If UEFA cared about football, there would be sixteen teams in the finals. At a stretch, twenty teams. If we’re really pushing it out, second and third placed teams could play-off (in a 16 or 20 team format) leading to another round before the quarters. But 24 teams? Third place teams going through on draws. No way.

Congratulations to Portugal, but nobody is going to remember this tournament.

*This would also gives us the mini-comp “Champion of the Minnows”, where the likes of San Marino and Gibraltar would duke it out to qualify at all

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

images from Wikipedia

European Football Needs Fixing

europa_league_top

I’m a big football fan. But I just can’t make myself care about the Europa League. I don’t watch any of the matches, apart from the final and maybe the semis — and even then, I’m not that bothered. Case in point: I forgot the final was on yesterday, so missed it.

I just don’t see the point of the tournament.

Back when I was a kid, European football made sense.

  1. All the Champions of the various nations’ leagues would play each other in the European Champions’ Cup.
  2. All the Champions of the various nations’ cups would play each other in the European Cup Winners Cup.
  3. And all the really excellent also-rans would play in the UEFA Cup.

All three competitions had their own niche. The three worked together well conceptually. And all three were exciting in their own ways.

But I don’t just get the point anymore.

Sure, the winner of the Champions League is the best team in Europe — whether or not they won their own nation’s league. But what are the Europa League winners the champions of, exactly? The not-quite-as-good-as-the-also-rans?

More to the point: the Europa League is a bloated pseudo-epic — like all the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. The tournament just goes on forever, pointlessly.

It’s clear that European football needs reforming. But how?

A return to the old days clearly isn’t going to happen (national champions to the European Cup, all the other best teams to the UEFA Cup/Europa League). And what’s more, I wouldn’t want it to — not least ‘cos it would mean Arsenal would never get into the Champions League again! But actually, despite being a bit bloated, and a flagrant misnomer!, I actually rather like the modern Champions League.

I make two simple proposals which I think would fix European football.

1. Change the Europa League to the “Europa Challenge Cup”

It would be a pure knock-out tournament. The model would be the FA cup. So, yeah, the better teams would enter the tourney in later stages (think the 3rd Round entrance of Premier League teams in the FA Cup). But, just like the FA Cup, any team could otherwise be drawn against any other team — there would be no seedings.

Unlike the FA Cup, though, I think a two-leg format might be best, except for the final — and possibly the semis.

AND ABSOLUTELY NO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE REJECTS WOULD BE ALLOWED TO JOIN! (currently, clubs that finish third in the group stage of the Champions’ League enter into the Europa League).

Also, this set up would make conceptual sense: every nation has its league tournament and its league tournament; we would now have a Europe-wide league tourney and a Europe-wide cup one.

2. The European Super League: Merge the Two Tourneys

The more radical option: expand the Champs league further by scrapping the Europa League.

Instead of European spots being divvied up between the two competitions, all European qualifying teams go through to the same tournament.

What do you reckon?

featured image from http://romanews.eu/img/1213/logo_competizioni/europa_league_top.jpg

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Football 2114AD Foretold

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The Future Death of Sport?

In the Star Trek universe, baseball and other sports as we know them have died out. No more World Series, no more Super Bowl, no more World Cup. These games still exist, kinda, but are played with all the professionalism or seriousness of rounders or “had“. This may seem like futuristic sci-fi nonsense, but I genuinely believe this will happen. And I’m sad for it.

The Money Men Are Killing Football

I love football. The speed, the strength, the skill, the free-flowing nature of it. It truly is the “beautiful game”. However, the money men are in charge nowadays. Well, they’ve always been in charge, of course, but the ruining of the European Championship — 24 teams in the finals, no host nation — after what was arguably the most exciting Championship ever (2012), the transparent greed and corruption involved in the awarding of the beyond-risible Qatar 2022 World Cup, and now the nonsense that is this new UEFA Nations League, have confirmed it: the money-lenders are no longer merely squatting in the temple of football; they’ve bought the freehold and have erected a fence to keep the plebs out, permanently.

Bloated tournaments to fatten the pockets of bloated men, the fans paying through the nose, and the purity of the game slaughtered, its blood smeared on the smoking altar of our twenty-first century Golden Bull: Avarice. 1863, meet 2014. It’s not just football, of course; the commercialisation of sport proceeds apace in all areas: from franchises in cricket, to ridiculous branding on billboards or team shirts (A few years ago, when branding on football shirts was less common in Spanish football, my brother-in-law asked me, in all seriousness, if my team was “Hertings First For Fixings FC“), the idiotic stadium naming (KP Stadium, Reebok, Emirates, Sports Direct Stadium), or the joke that is a 60 minute game turning into a three hour one because of excessive adverts (American football). The list goes on and on.

The Commercialisation of Sport is a Double-Edged Sword

The funny thing is, the continuing commercialisation in sport is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has raised the level of competition, quality, and yes, beauty of the game, by giving sportsmen the ability to earn a decent living off their game, and this has allowed them to practise and out-compete each other to a high level. But the downsides are obvious and numerous. In the long run, I see the strengths inherent in the commercialisation of sport ultimately bringing its downfall.

Some Predicitons

So, dear Internet, I put my gloomy foretelling into writing for posterity; if I’m right, please pay homage to my grave and pay for Chinese lessons for my great-grand children in honour of their forebear’s prescience.

In the year of our Lord (Sepp Blatter) 2114:

1. The World Cup and European Championships will both run every season, like international analogues respectively of the Champions’ League and the Europa League.

2. A combination of the drive for money and a withering away of the nation state will result in the national teams effectively being replaced by national league teams; anyone who plays in the Premier League that season is eligible to represent England, aka The Starbucks Premier League, in both tournaments.

3. The nation state-based tournament, a descendent of this new UEFA Nations League, will exist, but:

(i) it will have all the dignity, worth, and support of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy;

(ii) Clubs and National League Teams (see point 2) will routinely refuse to make their players available to play in this nations’ cup — or they would refuse, that is, if the players wanted to play in the nations’ cup, which they won’t!;

(iii) the national teams will be watered-down nationality-wise due to the death of the nation state and lax sporting restrictions;

(iv) nobody will care about the International tournaments with nation states taking part as these tournaments will be less sexy and less glitzy than the over-hyped national leagues teams football (see point two).

No, I’m serious

Think I’m crazy or joking? It’s already happening.

The European Championships are already starting to look like the Champions and Europa Leagues: too many games, too many teams, no one host nation.

Foreign players regularly turn out for a national side in other sports (Pietersen in cricket, Tuilagi in Rugby, and so on). It’ll soon become prevalent in football, too: remember a few seasons ago, before the rise of Joe Hart, everyone suggesting Manuel Almunia should play for England based on the five year residency rule? That might have been crazy talk, but the substance of it will be increasingly borne out in the future just as it is in other sports.

Clubs regularly refuse, if only in the guise of mystery illnesses, to let their players attend to international duties. Clubs regularly complain that there are too many international fixtures (bear in mind, the international fixtures haven’t increased in recent years, but club fixtures have dramatically jumped up).

And it’s kind of our fault…

And ask yourself: which would be the more exciting game — England vs. Spain, or Premier League XI vs. La Liga? Wouldn’t “England” have a much better chance if we could “buy” foreign players? After all, you don’t have to be born in a town to play for its club (how many of, e.g., Manchester City’s players were born in England, let alone Manchester??): and the one club that does do this — Athletic Bilbao — seems to be a relic from the pleistocene (albeit it, a much-admired one), a relic which is struggling to keep up.

Would you rather watch, literally, amateurs kick a ball around (if so, go to your nearest park)? Or would you rather watch the finely honed beast that commercialisation has crafted?

Let me introduce to the world the paradox of sporting commercialisation. Let’s call it “Bryan’s Law” (I always wanted a law named after me, and short of committing an atrocious yet ground-breaking crime, this is the best I’m likely to do): the beautiful game is beautiful because its practitioneers can dedicate sufficient hours to make it beautiful — because of commercialisation. But commercialisation is destroying the beauty of sport.

Yay, hearken unto my foretelling, and be downcast.

© 2014 Bryan A J Parry

 

featured image from http://37.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m9busqXNgi1r5hj8co1_400.jpg