Euro 2008 is just one week away and as an Englishman I am feeling a mixture of excitement, anger and jealousy. I am excited because the tournament promises to be a showcase for the very best that football has to offer, I am angry because England won’t be there and I am jealous because I will be missing the emotional roller coaster that goes with watching your team in a major summer competition.
Despite the BBC in England running a campaign telling us all that we need to pick a country to support, I don’t really see how that is possible. I can pick a team and cheer when they score and boo when they concede, but the raw emotion that is the very essence of supporting your team won’t be there.
In many ways, I am looking forward to the tournament more than I have done for a long while. Normally, by this stage, I have fallen for the media hype in England and convinced myself that we are undoubtedly the best team in the tournament and that our time has come. I have found my England flags from the back of the wardrobe and started playing ‘footballs coming home’ on the stereo for the first time in at least two years.
I would have convinced myself that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together in the midfield and that they are the most talented pairing in Europe. I would have been sure that David Beckham had one great tournament left in him and that Wayne Rooney was ready to confirm his status as one of the best in the world.
Of course, in reality, I would have got upset during the group stages as we played in the most dire games of the whole tournament and struggled through with a couple of 0-0s and a fluky 1-0 win via a deflected Beckham free-kick. The quarter-final would have seen a ‘brave, battling performance’ from the boys before the inevitable sending off and eventual defeat on penalties.
The silly thing is that I would have loved it. Despite the boring, depressing inevitability of the whole thing, I would have absolutely loved it and I’m so upset that whilst the rest of Europe will be going through the emotions of hope, joy, despair, relief, depression and excitement, I’ll only be watching the tournament with interested calmness.
The only other country in Europe that consistently fails to live up to the hype surrounding their national team is, of course, Spain. There is no doubt that Spain have some great players and on the whole they are far more entertaining to watch than my own country. Sadly for the Spanish it is even longer since they won anything than it is for England! Since the 1964 European Championships the national side has always flattered to deceive. The young age group teams have done exceptionally well and there has been an Olympic victory in there somewhere, but in the big ones, Spain, like England, have fallen short for well over forty years.
Although the Italians may disagree with what I am about to say I believe that there are major similarities between Spain and England. They are the countries with the most watched leagues around the world and the Premier League and La Liga have fought with each other for many years for the title of ‘best league in the world’.
In European club football the English and Spanish teams are always there or thereabouts. The success of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid confirms that the English and Spanish are the best in Europe. Or does it? The results and performances of the national sides suggest differently.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba, Alexander Hleb, Emmanuel Adebayor, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Ruud Van Nistleroy and Robinho. I’m guessing that you’ve all spotted the connection between these players. All superstars, all playing for the best teams in England and Spain, but not one of them can play for either country.
The simple fact is that neither England nor Spain actually do ‘under achieve’ at major tournaments. They both do about as well as they should do with the players at their disposal. We are both lulled into a false sense of brilliance by the quality of our league football without realizing that most of that brilliance is created and delivered by players from far and wide around the world.
How many England players would be first choice for the other top nations in Europe? Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard and Rooney? Maybe, I’m not so sure.
How many Spain players would be first choice for others? Torres, Fabrigas, Xavi, Casillas? Possibly.
England and Spain are both two fine footballing nations but we have to accept the fact that we haven’t won anything worthwhile between us for forty-two and forty-four years respectively. I don’t really expect that to change during the coming few weeks.
So, I can’t support a team because I’m English and we are deservedly not there. I can’t feel emotionally attached to any of the other sides but just so that I can suffer the expectation, hope and ultimately disappointment and a feeling of ‘what might have been’, I will keep a special eye on Spain.
It should be a great tournament and despite only being an interested onlooker, I can’t wait. Come on Spain, you can do it!
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