Hundreds of elite footballers woke up in France today to prepare for the start of the knockout rounds in Euro 2016, and saw that the world was very different than it was when they went to bed.
The spirit of the tournament— of football as a celebration of European unity and identity— seemed somewhat undermined in the wake of the results of Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union, a vote known as “Brexit”.
Given the substantial and long-lasting effects this will have on everyone who lives and plays in Europe, some footballers had something to say about the news.
Probably the best commentary from a football came from Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. The 31 year old Juventus stalwart, who also holds a degree in economics from the University of Turin, expressed shock over the results and worry over his home country might react.
“I believe that the biggest concern is the domino effect this decision could now provoke. What would be bad would be if other countries start thinking about doing the same, and sadly this could happen. I’ve found myself asking if there were a referendum tomorrow in Italy, how would it go? I’m not so convinced Italy has the strength to refuse to exit, just because when people are unhappy they vote for change, and this has sadly happened in the UK.”
Czech Republic and Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech commented that the UK made what is likely the biggest decision in the history of the country “... based on [a] fake campaign and lies.”
Joey Barton, currently signed with Rangers in Scotland, says he was surprised to hear the result. “Never saw that coming. Thought we’d remain.”
Retired players also weighed in on the Brexit vote. Former Tottenham striker Gary Lineker, now a presenter with BBC’s Match Of The Day, asked simply, “What have we gone and done?”
Former Bayern Munich and Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann's message was simple: be careful what you wish for.
Retired Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, as usual, didn't mince words.
Meanwhile, FA chairman Greg Dyke says it's too early to know how Brexit will affect English football.
“It would be a shame if some of the great European players can't come here, but I don't think that will happen. Whether the total number reduces will depend on the terms of the exit. My personal view has always been that the decline in the number of English players in Premier League first teams — we're down to about 30 percent now — is a shame. If it increases the number of English players, that is to be welcomed. But you don't want to lose the best European players coming here.”
At least one football luminary is celebrating the Brexit result today. Former England and Arsenal defender Sol Campbell supported the Leave campaign and said that leaving the EU would, essentially, Make English Football Great Again.
“The Premier League is in danger of becoming a free-for-all, because along with the star players, we are seeing teams load up with too many mediocre overseas footballers, especially from Europe, crowding out young English and British talent. Because of European rules on freedom of movement, it is virtually impossible for us to get a proper grip on the situation. [...] If we had proper control of who can come in and out of Britain, we could attract the best of the best wherever they come from, while not letting in those who will be less of an asset.”
Of course, not everyone shares Campbell's optimism.