Monday, July 02, 2012

Euro 2012: it's over! Say it ain't so ... by gimleteye

The European football championship ended yesterday with Spain asserting an unprecedented dominance through a style of play that changed the way the game is played among its neighbors on the continent. I am already shaking with withdrawal symptoms.

For the past month, I've been absorbed by dramas as the continent's national teams, comprised of the best professional atheletes who may or may not play in their own nation's top leagues, compete. We don't have anything comparable, in US professional sports.

Our championships are parochial affairs by highly paid stars. The European championships are -- like the World Cup -- a re-assembly operation forming national squads from players who may be standouts in the top leagues in Britain, France, Italy or Spain (not to mention the more obscure leagues in Eastern Europe.)

Spain is a phenomenon.
The national team is largely comprised of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two top teams in the first division which are also head and shoulders above the rest in the top Spanish league. Their players have competed against each other and with each other so many times that they have practically incorporated the style of play that so dominates the game today: one-touch passes at a ferocious tempo from the middle of the field to the finish at the goal.

Teams that rely on pure physicality are helpless against Spain's skill, touch and conditioning. The competition I followed devotedly has changed my view of the Premier League in Great Britain. England played so far below the level of the top European teams that it makes one wonder about claims that it is the best league in the world. Of course it is only the best through the assembly of top players from Africa and Europe.

And what of football in the United States? Or soccer, if you want it spelled that way. The US team has made remarkable strides in skill level. The US still relies too much on brute strength in the back, on defense, and lacks the group inventiveness at the front. On a very good night of "friendly" play, the US can compete with the top national teams in the world. I believe the US is roughly comparable now with England. But when the pressure is on -- as it will be in the World Cup in 2014 -- the outcomes are different. 

The training academy development of young professional football players is only just starting to be implemented in the US. In Brazil, the children do it themselves on the streets and beaches and wherever they can. It used to be that way in Great Britain. In Spain and Germany and the Netherlands, it is done through formal education combined with the selection of athletes at a very early age. 

The European championship is not the final word in professional football, of course. Brazil and the rest are wrapped up in their separate season and obsessions.

In yesterday's final, Italy played Spain tightly for only half an hour before crumbling under the pressure. And now it is over. The stars play their season starting in August, with exhibition games pitting top European teams against each other in the United States: a kind of paid holiday that helps raise the status of the game, here.

Now I will have to wait until late August to discover the outcome of more mysteries: can Mario Balotelli become a superstar?


Anonymous said...

soccer sucks. period.

b.a.c. said...

It was an amazing Euros. Spain redifining the #9 position was truly a master stroke.

All the pundits here in Europe are eating crow. Boring footy? what a bunch of idiots.

The premier league starts in August, looking forward to seeing another amazing season. Glory, Glory Man United!

Gimleteye said...

Agree on Spain. After watching how ineffective Wayne Rooney was, I'm not sure I'll ever watch Man U the same way. It seemed like Rooney was as disconnected from his midfield as Balotelli: neither England nor Italy play with the technical ability for penetrating the defense like Spain does. When you watch Iniesta it seems like there is nothing much to it, but somehow the midfield create magic with the forwards for Spain and no other team can do it.