Every sport has its major events.
Loyal followers of golf and tennis will notice a considerable spike in interest amongst the media and general public when the majors and Grand Slams take place. Both the All-Ireland football and hurling finals are consistently in the higher echelons of television ratings each year in this country. The same people who think the Guinness PRO14 is still called the Celtic League will tell you exactly how Ireland will do every February come the start of the Six Nations.
Think of a sport and it most likely has its moment in the spotlight at least every 2-4 years. The Tour De France, the Olympic Games, the Super Bowl and so much more garner the attention of outsiders due to the sheer magnitude of the event.
A similar tournament is just around the corner for football with EURO 2020 kicking off on Friday night. Some will pick a team to support; others will add an edge to the month by simply putting a bet on their favourites. And of course, despite the questionable rationality behind why it happens, as a country we will all simultaneously rejoice and find unparalleled humour in England’s inevitable failure and the nationwide inquest that comes with it across the Irish Sea.
However, this tournament will be one to remember for all the wrong reasons upon its conclusion. The fact that it is called EURO 2020 as the summer of 2021 moves into full swing probably informs you that something is already a bit off. From poor quality teams to a lack of a host nation, we delve into why this will be the worst major tournament in the history of football.
1. Lack of supporters
Yes, it was great to see supporters back in small numbers towards the end of the club season. There’s no denying that they added an extra edge that has been vacant from games since football returned last summer. The sport seemed to be continuing for purely financial reasons and just so happened to provide much-needed entertainment for fans across the world. Their return has made watching games far more palatable.
However, stadiums will remain far from full capacity throughout the course of the next month. Ultimately, irrespective of the conditions that this tournament will be played under, we as onlookers will subconsciously or otherwise compare it to major tournaments of the past. A large reason why these tournaments are so special is the gathering of supporters from far and wide as they seek to give their team any possible small advantage through the atmosphere they create. Whether it was a sea of green for Ireland (something that will be sadly missed at this tournament), the orange of Holland or any other colour, these tournaments last long in the memory due to the vibrancy that surrounded it. The 2010 World Cup was spoiled due to the torturous drone of the vuvuzela. On the other hand, the next World Cup in Brazil was a marvellous spectacle worthy of the phrase used so often at these tournaments – “A Festival of Football”.
Only Budapest will have a full crowd in attendance. The games that will take place in Hungary will almost certainly be the most watchable for a neutral. There’s a good chance that people would watch Austria vs North Macedonia in front of a full house in Bucharest. But with the National Arena at less than 50% capacity, does anyone truly have the willpower to watch low quality football accompanied by either prolonged spells of silence or the awful invention that is fake crowd noise?
In years to come, the lack of supporters will haunt the legacy of this tournament. The pandemic will not be taken into account. We will simply judge it against other major tournaments of years gone by. When you are forced to watch two teams that you don’t care about drowned by the sound of stony silence, you’ll most likely be longing for the return of the vuvuzelas.
2. Quality of the teams
Why are there twenty-four teams at the Euros? The answer of course has nothing to do with football and is solely intended for financial purposes. However, it has certainly diluted the quality of teams in the competition and the question must be asked – do some of these teams deserve to be at a competition that was originally created to bring the best that Europe has to offer together for a competition that nothing other than the World Cup could equal or better across international and club football?
When there were only eight teams in the tournament it was the best of the best going up against each other. The increase to sixteen teams was inevitable as more countries needed to have the chance to make a major tournament. Even at that, sixteen was a stretch in terms of the quality of opposition putting it up to the best the continent has to offer. The last Euros that had sixteen teams was EURO 2012. Ireland was utterly embarrassed in all three of their group games. The gap between the best and worst team had widened considerably due to the doubling of the teams but it remained competitive. The increase to twenty-four has been nonsensical. By the end of the group stages, only 33% of the competition will be eliminated. Four third-place teams will advance from the group.
With the greatest of respect to the likes of Scotland, North Macedonia and Slovakia, they will not add much to this tournament. The games that they will be involved in will not be worthy of a major tournament and despite all of this they may squeeze into the knockout stages with a single victory like Ireland and Northern Ireland did five years ago. When it’s easier to get out of the group than to be eliminated, something is wrong with the tournament.
Roll on North Macedonia vs Netherlands. No prizes for guessing the winner of that game.
This may not be important to some, but for people who include the pre and post-match analysis as an integral component of the event. Unfortunately, the punditry on display over the next month has about as much chance of entertaining you as Hungary have of getting out of the “Group of Death”.
Without name-checking anyone in particular, RTÉ’s line-up is a far cry from the golden era of Dunphy, Brady and Giles. Much like football itself, punditry has evolved and while the audience seek a more nuanced and polished view of the game from former players it is worth nothing without the entertainment factor. The national broadcaster will probably never reach the lofty heights of an era where the analysis was more entertaining than the match itself on several occasions. However, the drop in quality resembles that of our own national team – stark and sadly all too evidential.
The shortage in top-class pundits is not exclusive to this island with the BBC and ITV not going out of their way to provide supporters with the best in class when it comes to analysts. Your best hope of a thorough breakdown of the game along with the entertainment factor is probably ITV with Roy Keane and Gary Neville spearheading their line-up.
Whatever channel you choose to watch the games on, the days of Dunphy throwing a pen or a proper heated debate between pundits with immeasurable chemistry are sadly behind us all. That will be to the detriment of the tournament and will considerably reduce the experience throughout the next month.
4. No host nation
This tournament already lacks an identity, and it hasn’t even started. Eleven different host cities (Saint Petersburg, Baku, Budapest, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Rome, Seville, London and Munich) are far too many. There was a clear identity to tournaments of yesteryear that makes them so memorable. Whether it be 2002 in Japan and South Korea, South Africa in 2010, France in 2016 or any other tournament, it can be an instrument used to showcase different cultures to people across the globe. People are given the chance to see a country for all that it is rather than through outdated stereotypes or what they have been told about it.
Mexico ’86, USA ’94, Brazil 2014 and of course Italia ’90. There is a reason we include the country when we talk about major tournaments. They leave their imprint on us and the tournament allows them to create a new image for themselves worldwide or re-establish what is so special about themselves.
Instead of getting to see the best of Azerbaijan or Hungary, the matches will be scattered. This is not what a tournament like the Euros is about. Thousands of visitors should be flocking on at most two to three countries to indulge in the football and the nation itself. That will not be the case this year and leaves the tournament utterly soulless from the get-go.
5. No truly great team on show
There are some very good teams at EURO 2020. The world champions France and EURO 2016 winners Portugal are two of the leading contenders alongside household names such as Italy, Spain, Germany and Belgium (No, England are not amongst the main contenders despite their constant belief that they are the favourites before every competition. This writer thinks they will be eliminated in the last-16).
While there are some special players on show and certain teams are filled with stars, the tournament lacks a team that ranks amongst the greats of international football. There is not a team that are the absolute clear favourites such as Spain from 2008 – 2012. Every team wanted to beat them, and everyone wanted to watch them. They were feared and celebrated at the same time. There is not a team that is currently on a par with them and thus there is not a team that has the same draw as the all-conquering Spaniards.
That means the tournament is more open but there is a shortage of truly great international sides that leaves fans wanting more. France should win the tournament. However, can we honestly say that they are one of the great international teams?
The lack of a historic Italian, German or Spanish team that have graced these events previously means EURO 2020 will regrettably but also inevitably fall short of tournaments of the past.
Too many factors are going against this tournament to suggest that it will be anything but unspectacular. However, if the various points discussed above don’t break in favour of EURO 2020, it could well be the worst tournament in football history. A suitable ending for the least satisfying season there has been in living memory.