As we look back on football’s European Championships, which ended with a surprise win for Portugal after an instantly forgettable final, what will be our abiding memories?
Will we say the extravaganza in France was a football feast or a football famine? Will we say that UEFA’s format change to increase the number of countries at the tournament was a success or failure?
Will we say that the organisation pf the sporting showpiece, amidst political unrest in the host country and the threat of terrorism, was a success or failure?
Sadly, for me, I was proved right in this column just before Euro 2016 kicked-off. I warned that the threat of hooliganism, supposedly reduced in recent years, would rear its ugly head — and it did as Russian thugs took violence inside and outside the grounds to a new level.
Yes, some of England’s fans were a drunken disgrace with loutish behaviour that tarnishes the good name of the vast majority of vocal travelling supporters. But it was the planned violence of the Russian thugs that caused the mayhem, the over-the-top police reaction that only seemed to affect the victims rather than the perpetrators, and the terrible start for the championship.
Thankfully that situation calmed down, but the quality of the football on the pitch didn’t. The expansion of the competition from 16 to 24 teams only seemed to promote mediocrity and bland, defensive-minded football in the group stages.
Was that really what the thousands of fans in the grounds and the millions watching on television wanted to see?
There were 36 group matches rather than the 24 in previous years, but this year there was an average of less than two goals per game in the group stages for the first time ever.
Only eight teams were eliminated after the group stage — five of those, Ukraine, Sweden, Albania, Romania and Turkey, were among those who only qualified for the event because of the decision to expand it.
The underdogs who proved everyone wrong, like Iceland and Northern Ireland, would have been there anyway without the expansion. What UEFA have achieved is to make mediocrity acceptable, where a draw in the group stages was a result that would take teams through to the last 16.
Look at Portugal. Three draws and they progressed, then went further with extra-time and penalty shoot-out wins.
Their first and only victory inside 90 minutes was in the semi-finals against Wales. In the final they needed extra-time again after a depressingly defensive-minded performance.
England were poor, but watching Slovakia and Iceland park the Jose Mourinho bus was not entertaining.
Yes, the so-called better teams should have the creativity to break down the defence-minded opposition, but it isn’t always pretty to watch - and that surely is what a major tournament should be about? A goal-fest full of attacking football is how European Championships and World Cups should be remembered.
The one plus point has been the emergence of success for teams who have a game plan and team spirit — and the fact that the so-called superstars like Ronaldo and Ibramhimovich are not held in such high-esteem anymore by opponents who so often previously stood back in awe and allowed the over-hyped ‘stars’ to dominate through reputationl.
But, despite that and Iceland’s Leicester City-style success, Euro 2016 will not live long in my memory.