JULY 2, 2012
It’s over, and very fine it was, not to say awe-inspiring. I doubt whether Vicente del Bosque quite felt like like Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United annihilated Arsenal 8-2 the start of last season, “You don’t want to score any more,” but neither he or any of us can have guessed how one-sided the final would be. So formidable against Germany, Italy crumpled in the face of—what? if not the best team ever, then one of the three or four best there have ever been.
To compare Spain today with the Hungarians of 60 years ago or the Brazilians of 40 years ago is pointless, although just glancing at old footage is to be reminded how alarmingly fitter and faster even the most ordinary players now are than those legends of yore (the great Brazil midfielder Gérson was said to train on four packs of cigarettes a day, which might explain why he was better at long pin-point passes than at sprinting). Let’s just say that we are very lucky to see these Spaniards, and very lucky to have had Euro 2012.
We feel for the Italians, and it was wretched luck that they had to play most of the second half with ten men, though would they have beaten Spain with fifteen men? Simply by battling their way through to the final, Italy awarded themselves the honour of losing which would have befallen any team facing Spain in the final. And Spain played in way which confounded all the fatuous critics. They don’t have any real striker? Well, who needs one when David Silva can score a goal of the kind he did from “midfield” and Jordi Alba another from “defence”? Like the Dutch “total football” team of the 1970s, Spain are reinventing the game.
Watching them has been a privilege, writing for The Goal has been a pleasure, and I depart with a few last reflections. This may be not just the best but the last good European championship we see, thanks to the lamentable decision to expand the competition from the present, perfect sixteen teams to twenty-four, or God knows how many more, not to mention Michel Platini’s bizarre pronouncement that by 2020 it could be played in “twelve or thirteen” cities across Europe (is he in league with the airlines?). This has nothing to do with a love of soccer and everything to do with that love of money that St Paul tells us is the root of all evil. And I really take issue with my colleague Luke Dempsey when he says “The sheer volume of soccer in any World Cup is what makes it so fantastic—game after game after game, which to a football fan is the best thing imaginable.”
No, the best thing imaginable is competitive games of high quality, not sheer quantity. There’s already far too much football. What used to be called the English “winter game” now precisely fits Byron’s definition of the English winter, “ending in July, to recommence in August”. As an Arsenal supporter from when Jack Kelsey was in goal (and you can look up how long ago that was), I’m slightly dreading the prospect of their first home game of the Premier league as early as August 18. And I shall not be at the Emirates, I shall be a few miles away at Lord’s, watching England play South Africa at a different but equally sublime game.
If cricket is never going to become an all-American sport, could soccer? It’s an old question, so old that it might seem to answer itself in the negative, but I wonder. At five-foot-ten (and 154 pounds), Andrea Pirlo towers over the five-foot-seven Xavi. Neither could so much as walk on the field in a junior high school football team. But then that’s part of the beauty of the beautiful game, while the sheer human wastage of the NFL— imperial America’s answer to the Roman circus—as it leaves behind a line of brain-damaged cripples, may yet threaten its place even in a society which thrives on violence.
And the Men of the Euros? We all cheer the Spanish playmakers and goal-scorers, but literally behind them is Iker Casillas, a great goalkeeper, a great captain, and a great man. Quite apart from his skill and leadership, he possesses intelligence and eloquence. I’ve never liked him more than when Ferguson shrewdly disposed of David Beckham to Real Madrid in 2003, and Casillas greeted his new teammate with the entirely accurate observation that "Beckham is more about marketing than playing".
Behind Cassilas in turn is Vicente del Bosque, who has now coached teams to win the Champions League, the European championship, and the World Cup, and has good claim to be the greatest manager of all time. Citizens of the American Republic may not be aware that he has already been created Marquis del Bosque. In Verdi’s great opera Don Carlos, Carlos draws his sword on King Philip, his father, and is disarmed by his the Marquis Posa. All Juan Carlos, the present king of Spain, has to say to his country’s wonderful manager is what Philip says to Posa: “Marquis, you are Duke! Now to the fiesta!”