The Best Football Writing at Euro 2016

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The Best Football Writing at Euro 2016

Euro 2016 is over. Whatever you thought of the overall quality of the final, or how satisfied you were with who lifted the trophy, this tournament was full of memorable moments. From the clashes between English and Russian fans earlier in the tournament, to the improbable and heroic campaigns from Wales and Iceland, to Gareth Bale’s manbun, the European Championships held our attention and didn’t let go.

At the beginning of the tournament we put together some strong writing that had been published in the run-up to the first kickoff. We’ve been keeping our eyes open for more excellent words throughout the tournament. While we couldn’t include everything, we’ve compiled a selection of the best pieces in one convenient list.

1. ”When you cheer on the Red Devils, you can’t forget that you are cheering for an idea rather than a reality, and that in a way that idea only exists on the football pitch. The Belgium that takes shape on the pitch is actually so far from the nation it purports to represent. The team, at its best, is coherent, bringing together disparate languages and histories, a place where immigrant communities are not just welcome but understood as fundamental to the future of the nation.”

Laurent Dubois, on Euro 2016 as a reflection of sociopolitical divisions in Europe.

2. ”I have to be honest – I thought about not going, or leaving the boys at home. But I could not bring myself to surrender to the forces of pessimism and fear. Football and joy must triumph, and I felt quietly proud to be involved. I was perhaps naive in thinking that the worst excesses of England fans would be tamed.”

— Tom Walker, offering a first-hand account of the violence involving England fans.

3. ”There was a poignancy to its airing in Lyon, for it has been a dreamlike existence for Wales fans in France. With their team absent from major tournaments for 58 years, generations in Wales have grown up to expect failure and look on longingly as others contest World Cups and European Championships”

Dafydd Pritchard, penning the epigraph on Wales’ heroic run.

4. ”Had Tufan not made contact with Turan (or, more fittingly, vice-versa), he likely would have been 1) more aware and 2) far more likely to close down Modric and/or defend the area where the ball eventually lands. Instead, it’s 1-0 to Croatia, and Tufan is left to mourn both the pain in his face and the inevitable chewing out he will receive from Fatih Terim.”

Our own Taylor Rockwell, breaking down Luka Modric’s goal vs Turkey.

5. ”Carrots. Help you see in the dark. Make you realize that your love of the long, aimless ball lumped toward a tiny center forward is nihilism.”

Luke Dempsey, offering a new take on Waiting For Godot updated for England’s Euro 2016 campaign.

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6. ”Painting a pitch is such a surreal idea you wondered if we’d move on to complaining about extra hedgehogs on the pitch as the ball boys ran around dressed in Panini-sticker tabards trying to stop the flamingo corner flags from wandering off. The fact that the Swiss shirts appeared to be made out of rice-paper didn’t help. Mind you, the new format has been accused of being ‘all must have prizes’ so maybe this is just a thematic extension, and the Dodo could be brought in as a tactical analyst for the rest of the tournament (‘the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said). The Lille pitch ended up being replaced just two days before Germany v Slovakia, looking mostly like badly-laid carpet made up of roll-ends and patches.”

Philippa Booth, on her travels through France during the tournament.

7. ”The supporters, and perhaps the FA, seemed lulled into thinking this was not so bad. Words of support were delivered and 10 wins out of 10 in a relatively comfortable Euro 2016 qualifying group covered up the cracks in Hodgson’s ability to manage on the highest stage. England won one game out of four in France, a last-minute 2-1 win over Wales, drew two and lost one. Hodgson simply could not inspire performances out of an England squad that left for France with a measure of excitement surrounding it.”

Phil McNulty, conducting a postmortem of England’s campaign.

8. ”The players are now legends in the eyes of Iceland’s people. They will be remembered in the same way England venerates its World Cup winners from 1966; they have given the currency of our football a huge boost and it will extend beyond sport too, as a wonderful advertisement for a country that is now on the map like never before. Soon I will sit down with my staff and other members of the Icelandic FA to look, with the benefit of distance, at how we achieved what we did at Euro 2016 – what was good and what was not so good.”

Iceland manager Heimir Hallgrímsson, looking back on his side’s extraordinary campaign.

9. ”If you were to enforce that rule as it is written could you really say for sure that Schweinsteiger intended to block the ball with his hands? The view of most people is that he was punished rightly for being caught out of position and had to jump at the ball like a low-rent Superman to get his head anywhere near it. That it hit his hand was probably not intentional but denied Patrice Evra from being rewarded for timing his leap and positioning his body much better than the Germany midfielder did. But that is not written in the rules.”

Gregg Bakowski, on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s handball against France.

10. ”No need to go over old ground, everyone knows what happened, including the largely manufactured controversy where Welsh players were caught celebrating England’s demise. They said they were delighted at becoming the last home nation alive in the tournament and fair play to them. No one from England had the stomach for an argument at that point; it was just a relief to see that players from these islands still knew how to have fun and enjoy themselves after three weeks away from home, especially when they took that spirit and spiky attitude to Lille and stuck it to the Belgians.”

Paul Wilson, breaking down Wales’ performance and speculating on where they go from here.

11. ”Finals are there to be won, not nagged away at or taken by default. Here France sat and waited and came up short. At the end Platini seemed an apt if unwelcome intrusion, his disgrace just another strand in the ragged, inglorious buildup to this tournament. It had been generally assumed a France win would make emotional sense, might provide some kind of catharsis for the struggles of the last eight months.”

Barney Ronay, on France’s failure to seal the deal.

12. ”Spain is home now, even if Griezmann plays for France. When he celebrated the equaliser against Ireland, he ran off shouting in Spanish. Although his finest, and funniest, celebration came when he led his La Real team-mates off the pitch and into the car that stood on the running track behind the goal, leaping in, beaming, beeping and waving as if they had won Family Fortunes, he marked one goal by kissing the Basque flag on his shirt and most often performs the archer gesture in honour of Fernando Torres’s homage of Kiko Narváez, Spaniards both.”

Sid Lowe, on Antoine Griezmann and his critical role for France.

13. ”An urge to prove everyone wrong took the sensitive striker down a cul de sac of too much pressure, of trying too hard. His time as an elite striker seemed over altogether last summer, when he agreed, after much deliberation about the unstable political situation in Turkey, to move to Besiktas in the Turkish Super Lig, where plenty of former greats get paid huge salaries in exchange for toiling at the periphery of European football, off the radar. Last exit Istanbul: refuge of stars with broken dreams and derailed careers.”

Raphael Honigstein, on Mario Gomez’ redemption for Germany.

14. ”The myth of a feminist liberal paradise at the northern tip of the Atlantic Ocean is to an extent based on fact. Iceland routinely tops global gender equality rankings; it has the closest gender pay gap in the world; and gender quotas are routinely used in government committees. However, gender inequality and discrimination still exist.”

Sigridur Jonsdottir, on Iceland’s mens team finally catching up to the women.

15. ”But what is it about Sterling that rankles? As a developing 21-year-old under enormous pressure and scrutiny, he deserves patience from fans and the media. Instead there has been little restraint. His performances against Russia and Wales were certainly below his capabilities, but the criticism that followed was both excessive and unpleasant. “Without his pace, would he be a professional?” asked Joey Barton. If only Barton’s brain were as quick as Sterling’s feet.”

Matt Stanger, on Raheem Sterling.

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16. ”In Lord Justice Taylor’s post-Hillsborough report, he registered his disgust at the mismanagement of the national sport by football club owners and directors who were more interested in “wheeler-dealing in the buying and selling of shares and indeed of whole clubs”, and in “personal financial benefits or social status” than in the good of the game itself. It was an unintended consequence that Taylor’s own recommendations, for stadiums to become all-seater with venal owners given public money to aid the rebuilding, led to more “wheeler dealing” in clubs than ever before.”

David Conn, on the state of English football post-Euro 2016.

17. ”Oh sure they can run around a bit, I suppose that’s an improvement but where’s the vision? The final pass, the daring chance, the pinpoint cross? English players may have learned to keep the ball at their feet, now they need to know what to do with it.”

Our own Richard Whittall, spelling out all the predictable opinions on England’s exit.

18. ”Footballers are no strangers to hair dye, although previous experiments have had mixed success. There have been triumphs. See Freddie Ljunberg’s Arsenal-red hair in the noughties, which led to the ultimate seal of approval from fans: a chant. Less successful were Neymar’s frosted tips at the 2014 World Cup which may or may not – football fans are a superstitious bunch – have contributed to his bad luck and an injury that forced him to withdraw from the competition.”

Lauren Cochrane, on the proliferation of bleached tips at Euro 2016.

19 ”The theme of being unloved, despite most supporters respecting his qualities, has followed Giroud to Arsenal as well as the national team. He is used to it, moulded by it. Giroud is not looking for the spotlight; he has not set a target for the number of goals he hoped to score at Euro 2016. “I don’t have a number, I just know that if I score I help my team and my country,” he told Sandre.”

Matt Stanger, on Olivier Giroud.

20. ”The problem is the 24-year-old, at present, looks like a player still striving for zest in his game. Wilshere effectively stepped in for Wayne Rooney here, the latter having impressed in his deeper brief over the first two group games, and the Arsenal midfielder clearly accepted the responsibility which came with the role. None of the personnel in front of the English backline had more than his 33 caps, making this his opportunity to demonstrate he can lead, inspire and influence. He was forever barking instruction at those around him, pointing and directing affairs as he sought the ball from Eric Dier. His initial energy could not be questioned.”

Dominic Fifield, on Jack Wilshere.

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21. ”Ever the clever gentleman, Neuer has anticipated this move. Thus, as Bonucci tries to read the goalkeeper, the German flinches ever so slightly to his left. Bonucci takes this as a sign that Neuer has once again bit on the fake, and now aims to his left/Neuer’s right.”

Our own Taylor Rockwell, on Manuel Neuer’s performance in the penalty shootout against Italy.

22. ”Look, France is a beautiful team made up of players with beautiful hair who spend a lot of time being beautiful with each other (and probably shaving each others’ heads between games). They’ve had shaky games this tournament, but as a team, they gel a lot than Portugal and it shows.”

Ritika Bhasker, on who had the best hair heading into the final.

23. ”Like previous French teams, this one has many players of immigrant background. The numbers are not as large as they were in 2006, when fully 19 of the 23 men on the roster were of either Caribbean or African (including North African) descent. Six of the players who started against Germany are the children of African immigrants, along with a key substitute, N’Golo Kanté of Leicester City. Another French star , Dimitri Payet, is from Reunion Island, a department of France in the Indian Ocean. And the new national hero Griezmann’s grandfather was a Portuguese football player named Amaro Lopes. Given that the far-right National Front party has long trolled French players of immigrant heritage, a victory for this team would help send a message—as it did when France won the World Cup in 1998—that the nation is only strengthened by its diversity.”

Laurent Dubois, on Paul Pogba and the real strength in the French squad.

24. ”So Cristiano Ronaldo has his trophy, where Messi has an indictment for tax evasion. It’s a shame, really, that Ronaldo exited the match. The first eight minutes, while he still had two legs, were vigorous and dramatic. But without the villain, the plot went slack. And more than that, his injury eliminated the realistic possibility for Portuguese counterattacking. Portugal were always a grim side, but their dense defensive block was meant to be the pedestal for Ronaldo’s statuesque counters. Whatever his faults as a human being, Ronaldo is probably the greatest counterattacking player in the history of the game. Despite his creeping age, he remains that stalemate-breaking threat.”

Franklin Foer, on Portugal’s less-than-inspiring campaign.

25. ”Huge armies of supporters in their colorful regalia were moving ceaselessly from one city to the next: Trains, buses, and subway trains packed with them. Amused and awed locals. Singing, chanting always in the air. Impromptu parties stopping traffic. A ball appearing out of nowhere and the rush to play, tipsy or sober. The ball bouncing away and a local woman, out shopping, kicking it back. The energy of it, the strange, benign madness that adds a bewitching extra ingredient to the matches. The results, the uncoiling of the fixed schedule of the group games and fraughtness of the knock-out matches. One country obsessed with football for a month. No cynicism or apathy; no stadiums half empty at kickoff, but packed with happy people and the streets around filling and then emptying over and over with surging masses. It’s exhausting and it’s the best, sexiest experience ever.”

John Doyle, on Euro 2016 as the end of an era.

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