5 things worth remembering from Euro 2016
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Euro 2016 was, by most measures, pretty rubbish. The truly exciting games were very much in the minority and the quality of the football played was overall pretty poor. Portugal were in many ways the perfect winners - pretty dull to watch, without much goal scoring flair, but with one obvious star. This was a poor tournament with some great moments shining out. In a forgetful tournament, there were still a few things worth remembering.
Ronaldo isn't a man he's a matinee
Cristiano Ronaldo has been for years one of the most polarising athletes in all of world sport. The ultimate Marmite player, he's both incredible athlete and egomaniac, a world class footballer and world class show off. But this tournament was perhaps his greatest peak, and he didn't even play very good football.
That's because it was a tournament that showed perfectly the true nature of Ronaldo. He isn't an athlete at all; he's a one man touring theatre company. Always focused on the exterior, the show, the brand, these Euros was a six game performance, and the final was the fitting closing act. Injured within 20 minutes his touch line antics still made him the star. This wasn't the tournament when Ronaldo became universally loved, for many he probably became less popular, but his place in history is now clear. World Class player, even better entertainer. He is the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson of football.
The age of the underdog
It started with Leicester winning the Premier League, and was confirmed during the Euros, the little guy is finally getting his way in football. The runs of Iceland to the quarters and Wales to the semis were brilliant and probably the single best thing about the tournament.
For years football has been dominated by big clubs with big budgets and big stars. But for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction, and currently underdogs are coming up trumps. Is this a trend set to continue? We can't say yet, the sample size is so small, this could just be a statistical fluke rather than something having changed inherently in football. But maybe not, maybe the greater redistribution of wealth and the greater profile of the game is causing a seismic shift. The answer is we don't know, but either way we should enjoy this underdog resurgence while it lasts.
Diamonds in the rough
The football wasn't great, but there were some great football moments. Xherdan Shaqiri’s overhead kick against Poland was genuinely amazing. Hal Robson Kanu may not have been so athletic but for sheer drama his Cruyff turn and finish was pretty unbeatable. Add to that a couple of rockets from Nainggolan and Modric and there were some pretty sensational goals at this tournament, even if they were let down by everything that happened in between. Great moments but not great football.
The main negative of these European Championships. The tournament was book-ended by instances of fan violence that saw police turn on spectators in first Marseille, then eventually Paris. The scenes were horrendous, and seemed to take European football back to its darkest days.
The thing is though the root problem never really went away, and this tournament shouldn't be seen as an exceptional case. That's because while football tournament culture continues to centre around huge groups of young men travelling abroad, without any intention to actually go to the games, simply looking to get drunk and act like liars in foreign cities, things I'll always escalate in this way. For all the good things about football at the moment, this is certainly one bad one that needs fixing.
That being said, some of the fans of Euro 2016 provided its absolute highlights. The Welsh in France were brilliant. Starting with their sensational anthem singing and continuing all through to the semi-finals. The Northern Irish fans found a substitute on fire and turned him into one of the stories of the tournament, singing to a few babies on the way. Speaking of singing, watching an Italian national anthem remains one of the best things in sport. And then perhaps the thing that will end up being the clearest legacy of Euro 2016; Iceland fans. Their Viking chant has already been copied at football grounds across the world, and looks set to be the new trend for this season. I was even at a T20 cricket match on Friday night where the crowd gave it a good go at getting their own clap going!
The single greatest thing about international football remains the sheer passion involved, and the good side of the fans at these Euros showed just how inspiring they can be.