Now that the Euros have passed and we await both the Olympics and the start of the Premier League season next month, we’re deep into pre-season preparations for every side across the country, let alone the continent. But while just 30 years ago that meant a tour of Norway as well as trips to face Bermuda, Weymouth and the Somerset Trojans for Manchester United, it is now defined by globetrotting field trips to the rapidly growing markets of China, America and Japan, packing out stadiums full of half-and-half scarf wearing ‘number 1’ fans. This isn’t just the case for Man United anymore; every other Premier League and Championship now feels obliged to have a tour onto foreign soil just to satisfy the money-spinners in the boardrooms who really dictate the success of their clubs. Sponsors love it; they can get their brand out to millions across the globe, an untapped market of new fans who will lap anything up as long as it is connected to their clubs’ image. In our immediately-connected modern world though, these pre-season excursions are vital for club finances, as teams now rely on paying customers to keep bankrolling their potential success, and the best way to encourage them to spend is parade the new kits, players and merchandise. It may be immoral, but if you ask any fans in the stands, they would agree with the basic principle of worldwide pre-season tours. But does it have to be this way? Has pre-season lost its heart; small, local clubs facing up against richer, more powerful neighbours and so on? And might this trend of expansion keep going for decades?
You may call me a stubborn purist, but my perfect impression of pre-season would be some low-key, slightly iffy in quality, local friendlies between the teams near the top and those not quite so fortunate. My local team, Lewes FC, for example, were lucky enough to have consecutive two pre-seasons (2014 and 2015) kicked off with home matches against the best team in the whole of the south east, Brighton & Hove Albion, although it was admittedly their second-string side both times. We didn’t care that some of the big names were missing, or that the first time around we lost 5-0 (the second was 0-0 somehow), we were just glad to have such a great spectacle between two neighbouring towns (or city if you include Brighton with Hove), and fans of both sides had great days.
The Brighton fans were glad for the change of scenery from one of the best new stadiums in the world, the horribly named Amex (in honour of American Express) stadium, to possibly the most picturesque, antique grounds in the whole of the UK, the Dripping Pan. With cold local beers on the terrace, a pristine, sun-kissed pitch, traditional flint stone walls enclosing the ground and quirky beach huts in the far corner of the ground, they probably couldn’t have found a more different home of football to the architecturally stunning, modern, cutting-edge Amex, less than 5 miles away. I’m sure all Lewes and Brighton fans who were there for those friendlies were looking forward to a repeat this summer, but after patiently awaiting the announcement all of June, I was disheartened to find that Brighton had rejected the invite in order to go and train in Tenerife (your heart bleeds for them, the torture they were put through) for the first week of pre-season.
How could Brighton have abandoned us like that after just two summers? Well, it’s simple really, once you get to their level (the top six of the Championship), you will look for big sources of income wherever they manifest themselves, and this friendly wasn’t worth anything financially to them. You’d like to think they had some heart, and would at least think about the invitation, but they had their eyes set on bigger fish, and we were simply a tiddler in their search for a blue whale to face up against in the months of June and July. Well, I’m sure the Brighton players enjoyed their holiday in Tenerife, but I think their fans may have preferred a chance to see them in action against a fellow East Sussex side. For me, Brighton’s actions demonstrate that Football League, or EFL now as those in the top insist on rebranding and Americanising it, clubs no longer prioritise fitness over cash. They want to present the image of absolute professionalism, an unrealistic dream, to supporters and future players, and we are all falling for it. They want to remove the heart of football, and in my view that is the ultimate, selfish, evil of the modern day English game.
There’s no doubt that, in correlation to the rest of today’s society, the gap between the rich and the poor, in this case the ‘EFL’ and non-league, is getting wider and wider every day. While the well-off can go off on jollies across the world to far-flung, cash-throwing nations with millions of prospective fans all queueing up just to get a glimpse of their ‘heroes’, and sponsors can make their bonus profits in the process, those not in the money are left at home to contemplate their uncertain financial futures. It’s not really fair, but it is the result of the not-quite-so-perfect capitalist world we live in and openly accept unless the misfortune comes to our doors and we are the ones who are culled.
For example, in the last week, I went to two pre-season matches at my two hometown clubs, Ringmer FC and Lewes FC. Instead of taking place over 1000 miles away from home, without up to 80,000 screaming fans and bereft of the hundreds of thousands of pounds up for grabs as prize money, these were proper pre-season matches. I kid you not, at the first match, Ringmer vs Littlehampton FC (which Littlehampton won 3-1), there were no assistant referees free for the match, so first a substitute from either side, and then on one wing a rather portly middle-aged man from the crowd, complete with the typical British summer look of shorts and flip-flops, had to step in. Now that is what you call bringing football back to the fans. The game also included a shocking Paul Robinson-esque air kick clearance by Ringmer’s goalkeeper just when they were looking likely to level the game up at 2-2, allowing the gleeful Littlehampton striker to tap in, rounding off his side’s 3-1 win. There was some similarly rusty defending down at Lewes FC (wouldn’t you agree, Joe?) when they faced up against Crawley Town, an actual, real life League 2 side, on Tuesday night, also going down 3-1 to their higher-level West Sussex opponents in some worrying unison to Ringmer. Just two minutes into the game, and a questionable back pass by the Lewes number 2 (a trialist) was seized upon by the incredibly named Bobson Bawling of Crawley, who had apparently never scored a goal in competitive matches for his side before, but bagged a brace in this match thanks to the dodgy positioning and marking of the Lewes players. Even Crawley got in on the trend of terribly misjudged back passes in the second half, their left back handing Dan Perry, the lone striker for Lewes, an easy opportunity to tap in past a pro goalkeeper in Mitchell Beeney (on loan from Chelsea no less). After this, it really seemed Lewes would grab a very respectable 2-2 against a Crawley side including eight first-teamers, as they were all over the League 2 opposition in midfield, but once again they were made victims of chasing the game, a third punt towards his own goalkeeper, this time from Jordan Badger, resulting in Crawley easing in a third goal.
I suppose the point I am making here is that this is what I want to see in pre-season, this was proper, unorganised, ridiculous football that just had the interest of fitness and spectator enjoyment at heart. Those spectators, by the way, amounted to about 60 I’d say at Ringmer, and 353 (the official number) at Lewes. This was pre-season complete with whispers of “who’s that new number nine, he looks decent” and “cor, that midfielder is carrying a bit of weight this year, isn’t he?” from the stands. For me, that is what football is all about, the sheer joy of going to your village club’s ground, having a chat for two hours and watching your side no matter if they are losing, winning or drawing. That is the spirit of football; after all, it’s only a game!
While I’m not saying this kind of atmosphere doesn’t ever appear at the pre-season venues of EFL sides, you have to admit they want to do everything on a strictly professional status all the time, just to attract the power people in football, as in any sport, these days; the sponsors. While the players and management might enjoy their trips overseas to play a few 90 minute matches, for the Chief Executives, Commercial Directors, Chief Financial Officers and Directors of Marketing these tours are just a set of dates, names and locations from which they can make a lot of money. And for me, that is not what football, nor any other sport (which at their very foundation were only ways to exercise), is about. But, unfortunately, we cannot change the directions of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and co., they have set football off on an irreversible path in which you only win, not just trophies, but also fans, prosperity and promotions, if you have money. That is why we have to protect non-league, semi-professional and amateur football from the evils at the top of the game, who have already sunk their claws and sewn their seeds into the Championship, and soon enough will invade Leagues 1 and 2. If you actually want to see football exempt of the jargon, spin and politics of the Premier League and EFL, you could do much worse than stick to the English non-league game, and clubs like FC United of Manchester, Enfield Town and yes, even Lewes.
The idea of pre-season is not one that I disagree with; in fact it’s vital for avoiding injuries, maintaining squad harmony and embedding new players and managers. It’s just the evolution of it, from players in the middle of summer sitting on the beach, cocktail in hand in Tenerife, Mallorca and Alicante 30 years ago to having to train their arses off all day with their teammates and coaching staff in the same resorts in June and July these days seems excessive. Why sides, like Brighton, ‘have’ to do this now mystifies me; as they didn’t even play a single game during the time they spent there. Training for conditions they might face during the upcoming season? With the weather we have here in Britain, I highly doubt it. They fancied a change of scenery from their year-old multi-million pound training ground? I don’t think many would’ve accepted that. The only reason I can stretch my imagination to is that they wanted to satisfy their homesick Spanish contingent with a taste of home for a week. Seriously, who do they think they are? Professional football these days in this country is unbelievable, and not always in a good way.
Well, I think one thing is for sure, had Manchester United been playing City in a pre-season match at home instead of in Beijing, the match wouldn’t have been called off on account of a summer thunderstorm. Oh wait, this is Manchester we’re talking about, the same thing definitely would’ve happened. Honestly, it is farcical that two sides should have to travel 5,023 miles (according to Google) to play a ‘derby’ match, just to make millions from shirt and ticket sales in the process. What has our world come to? People will do anything these days to make a quick buck, and football clubs admire those kinds of people, so that is why our sport is so immoral and corrupt (I think we all know it’s still happening at FIFA HQ) in 2016. Many thought our society would’ve changed for the better in the last 50, 30 or 20 years, but unfortunately in the case of football we can’t honestly say it has, it has only improved for the players, owners and sponsors (who get paid in the millions for, in comparison to police officers, doctors and military officials, pointless work), not for the fans.
But honestly it’s hard to pinpoint the thing that I truly despise about the modern pre-season system. Is it jealousy about other nations hosting the top games, is it distaste at the very concept of Marketing officials working for a sports team, is it the fact that a kaleidoscope of worldwide, probably tax-dodging brands dot themselves around the grounds hosting these sold out games, or is it a combination of all of these reasons and more? Well, I guess it has to be the latter explanation, because I can’t find a single reason that is isn’t linked to all the others. I think one that stands out is the drastic change from a footballing world that I shouldn’t have any connection to, the pre-1990’s or even 80’s, to today, as I can’t stand how those in charge have changed our sport for the temptation of money, now rolling in it when they don’t have to, they could run things in a modest, simple fashion but that isn’t how you appeal to the masses of course. You need glitz, glamour and most of all cash, to drag fans away from other distractions. One sport which has stuck to this motto most blatantly is Formula One, where Bernie Ecclestone, the tax-evading, immoral but somehow lovable dictator of the sport, with a mother-in-law 18 years his junior, has openly greeted the investment of massive global brands to keep the sport relevant. Let’s be honest, driving fast cars around a track for 2 hours or so, these days with only Mercedes ever winning, isn’t that exciting even for the biggest car fans amongst us (Toby), but football is, at least from the perspective of me and hopefully you, always enjoyable. We didn’t have to follow the path of selling out to the likes Barclays, Sky, BT Sport, Chevrolet, Fly Emirates and Arabian royalty, but we (well, the big cheeses in charge of clubs, leagues and federations) did, and now professional football has to live with the consequences.
I think I might have got a bit off the point from pre-season, but everything in football, as in life, links together within at most six degrees (if you believe the philosophers), and the style of pre-season these days only feeds the evils of our sport. And yes I will continue to call it our sport, as it really does belong to us, no matter what the Glazers, the ‘Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited’s’, the Fenway Sports Groups or the Mike Ashley’s of this world say, we could get rid of them any day we wanted, we would just have to unite. But the world doesn’t seem to be very good at that sort of thing right now, and I just have to hope that as a footballing community we can stick together and say no to what those at the very top are doing. No more is what we have got to say, no more of what makes this sport so bad when it should be so, so positive for the world. This is sport, this is exercise, this is entertainment, this isn’t a marketplace or an open billboard for your company, and for too long has everyone gone along with things which when you take a good step back and look at seem so wrong. The way clubs run their pre-season cycles these days is just one of many branches of this, on a tree of interlinking and overlapping issues so large it would out scale the Amazon on its own. I am a believer in the power of us all to pull together and regain control of football, and spread it equally amongst everyone involved, and for now I will support people and sides who do actually put this ambition into place. Like John Lennon once put it; you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Well, well, well. After all the build-up to the race for the vacancy at the top of English football, it all ended in a bit of a damp squib, didn’t it? A BBC report detailing all that we needed to know was out two whole days before the FA even had the nerve to announce anything. It’s pretty poor on the FA’s part that they couldn’t withhold such vital information until they could tell everyone themselves, but this isn’t a time to complain about those in charge (it might well be soon though), it’s a time to get excited about England’s future with a new man at the helm. The thing is though, Sam Allardyce doesn’t get anyone very excited. He is as dreary, dreaded and stubborn as they come as managers, and his appeal certainly doesn’t spread all the way across our green and pleasant lands. Allardyce is a man, just as much as a manager, that divides opinion for his approach to the beautiful game, demonstrated by his track record over the course of his 22-year long managerial career. Yes, he may have transformed Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle, West Ham and Sunderland into sides which could hold their own in the mid-table region of the Premier League table on comparatively small budgets, but does he really have what it takes to be England manager? How will we fare under his leadership? And how long will he actually last as the biggest boss in the country?
Well, if you read last week’s blog, you should already be quite aware of my thoughts on Allardyce in the position of England manager. Personally, I had hoped that the FA would take a bit longer in their decision rather than rushing into it after interviewing only two candidates (the other being Steve Bruce, who is just a Championship-standard remodelling of Big Sam), and would also look into the option of a foreign manager, but Martin Glenn and co. have had their say now. Glenn, by the way, hasn’t impressed anyone yet either, as his misguided and far too honest approach to the early days of being the head of the FA has seen him strike the rabbit-in-the-headlights pose on more than one occasion now, especially since he admitted he was ‘not a football expert’. Dear, oh dear, Martin, it may have worked as a businessman to say you don’t know the first thing about what you’re selling, but you won’t fool any football fans in a job such as yours by already making excuses. Do you want your job or not, because I’m sure there are thousands better qualified than you than would love to have the responsibilities you do. Change something Martin, and support Allardyce in improving the fortunes of English football, before it’s too late.
As for Allardyce himself, there’s a lot to be said about a man whose reputation precedes him in every debate. Obviously, we say Big Sam and you immediately think the archetypal wheeler-dealer, the gruff, tough Brummie, the methodical planner who quietly gets on with the task in hand. He has mellowed in his years, but Sam will always be known to the British public for being a bit of a grumpy man, often slagging off opposition counterparts for their previous comments or mind games, and not messing around when he isn’t happy. He can be difficult to deal with, but there is no doubt he has succeeded with almost every challenge that he has faced in his career, never exceeding expectations, but never dropping below them either. Mediocre some might say, but Allardyce is special because he has thick skin, he won’t take the proverbial s**t of the British media or of any players he picks.
Motivation is one of his key components, something he excels particularly at, as he couldn’t have achieved what he has without psyching his players up to play above what were considered to be their levels, instilling confidence into players who might not otherwise find it with another manager. If you want a manager who will plan himself to death too, Allardyce is your man. The Dudley-born boss has a reputation amongst his colleagues and players for his meticulous approach to planning, scouting out opposition and drilling tactics into his group of players so as to gain as much of an advantage over the enemy before they take to the field, as he knows his teams are usually inferior in terms of skill. He demands respect through his experience, achievement and continuous desire. Set-pieces are another vital aspect to his style, normally utilising the notable height of his attackers or centre-backs to put pressure on slighter defenders in the opposition box, then working for hours on the training ground just to find the right man to put the right ball in, making sure the team knows how he wants the game to be played. So no more Harry Kane corners for England.
But I wouldn’t say that this contributes to the style of England. We are not a hoof-ball nation, we don’t appreciate ugly play, but admittedly some of us can put up with it more than others (Man United fans?) just to keep challenging for trophies. Our national side does not have patient fans though, quite the opposite in fact. We don’t suffer fools gladly here; we will be on Allardyce’s case as soon as he slips up. But we are also willing to support him for now. He has until 4th September (or the 1st, when there is a friendly scheduled against as yet undecided opponents), when his first squad of 23 fly over to Slovakia to kick off the European World Cup Qualifying phase building up to Russia (gulp) 2018. He’ll at least have time to get his feet under the desk, get his tactics sorted and suits ironed until he has to face the music in just over a month.
One of the biggest fears about Allardyce and England is that he is an old-fashioned manager in a changing footballing world, someone not able to keep up with the demands of an era in football in 2016 where radical approaches usually prevail. He may be found out and compromised tactically on the biggest stage, as he is a fairly easy manager to read, and also because he hasn’t ever managed at anywhere near this level before. His brand of Northern, down-to-earth honesty in this business could prove to be an advantage or the root of his downfall, we’ll just have to wait and see. And is he just too normal (in terms of footballing over-Englishness) to achieve anything on the international stage? Or will his one-off, stubborn, impervious attitude towards the media and the opposition set him apart so much that he can really make a difference? Well, you have to hope that the latter would be right, but personally I can’t help feeling his methods hark back to the England side in the days of leather balls, tight shorts and crooked teeth (if you’d forgive the Austin Powers stereotype), when players respected managers more, gave more for their causes and got paid far, far less. Maybe that would be good for us, you never know, it is what won us our only major international trophy after all! Fernando Santos did win the Euros with Portugal this summer with a counter-attacking, highly organised style, making the most of his defensive ranks and allowing the likes of Ronaldo more freedom up front, despite being an unfancied side, so why can’t Allardyce replicate him? Well, maybe because we don’t have Ronaldo, but we can but dream.
That brings me nicely on to my next concern about Allardyce; what would his style actually be when push came to shove in September? And which set of individuals would make it into his new side? Well, we know that he has wanted the top job in English football for years now, and he has finally found the opening in 2016, so he should have a pretty good idea of how he wants to play. If you wanted something so badly, it would have to be on your mind how you would control things, how you would fix all the issues you can clearly see, so once that chance comes around to transform dreams into reality, you have to make sure you don’t mess up. Allardyce will put everything into place as soon as possible to put that safety net in place so he doesn’t mess up his one chance. New coaches may come in, as the roles of assistant manager and first team coach are currently unoccupied, with Paul Bracewell, Sunderland’s assistant manager (and former England international) possibly stepping in as Allardyce’s right hand man once again. I doubt Gary Neville will return to the fold considering the disastrous year he’s had, as for his own sake I reckon he should silently skulk back to bickering with Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports (and earning millions in the process). We need a coach who is actually focused on the success of the nation, someone who has past knowledge of what representing England is all about, maybe a Teddy Sheringham or even an Alan Shearer, someone also to counteract Allardyce’s defensive nature. What the England side needs is a pool of knowledge from which we can learn from mistakes made in the past, rather than repeat them like we inevitably seem to every two years, under every single manager.
But who would fit into the new-look side? Well, we can’t let go of our experience heads yet. Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, James Milner and the likes of Theo Walcott, Leighton Baines and Michael Carrick on the outside of the squad can’t be written off, as like a wise man once said, you’ll never win anything with kids. Big Sam knows this too. He has never been the type to radically go straight from the old guard to the academy as soon as he steps into the job, nor the type to discard players who didn’t always perform in the last regime. We can expect Hart, Cahill and Rooney to feature heavily under the new boss, and Rooney to also keep his responsibility as captain, which so far he has done a good job with, until he retires from the international game. Formations probably won’t be vastly mixed up, with a range between 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, maybe even 4-5-1 during qualifying, mainly traditional formations from a purist man. 4-2-3-1 may be a bit of a diversion from the norm for Allardyce, but I would like to think he’d be open to some variation to his style, as when you look at the players we have, 4-2-3-1 has to be the path we follow, as we are blessed with top wingers and solid holding midfielders. But if it wasn’t something that Big Sam didn’t have his heart in, you’d be sure that he would drop it, so it will be up to him which style he thinks will be most effective. But there are players which definitely deserve to stay in the side.
Other than those I’ve already mentioned, I’d say Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Rose, Marcus Rashford, Nathaniel Clyne and Ross Barkley should remain in and around the starting XI. Jamie Vardy, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Adam Lallana, Ryan Bertrand and James Milner have question marks hanging over their heads, with combination of age, lack of form and all-round failure the reasoning behind their uncertainty. If these players don’t hit the ground running this season, the likes of Danny Welbeck, Mark Noble, Jonjo Shelvey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Andros Townsend, Luke Shaw and Danny Drinkwater could all return to the fold, and that would by no means be a bad thing for the fate of the England side.
Qualifying will be the period in which Allardyce can experiment. Honestly, with the five sides in our group (Malta, Lithuania, Scotland, Slovenia and Slovakia), we should be easily topping the table, maybe even with a 100% win rate if we get a little bit of luck along the way. Malta home and away, admittedly an unknown proposition, should end up with score lines of 5 or 6-0, whereas Lithuania and Slovenia, both of whom we faced in qualifying for Euro 2016, should be looked at with six points each as the target. Scotland and Slovakia will be our toughest opponents, but if we are looking at the wider picture Gordon Strachan is doing well with a pretty low-quality bunch of players north of the border and Slovakia shouldn’t even be in our league. We have players plying their trade at the peak of the Premier League, the richest league in the world, whereas Slovakia have to pick from a spread of Serie A, Bundesliga, Slovak Premier League and Czech First League players, with a scattering of other players in Qatar, Hungary, Turkey, Denmark, Austria and Russia. All we need is the desire they have, and they would then be pushovers. But all in all, we shouldn’t have too many issues with this group, and Allardyce should be able to test his tactics and players in these games without many hiccups. At least that is what we hope.
But where Allardyce does need to learn from Hodgson is that he can’t change his mind once we reach the tournament proper. One of the biggest reasons the ex-Fulham boss failed is because he kept dabbling with something that would’ve worked had he not been so indecisive. Perhaps he wanted to play the way the media told him to, maybe he didn’t even know himself how he wanted to play, but it doesn’t matter now as he has gone down in history a failure. Allardyce won’t want to be remembered the same way, but the important aspect is not that he wants to do well, it is that he will put it into action when it actually matters. By the time Russia rolls around, we need to be aware of the formation and the starting line-up, as under Hodgson we never really were, and just look how that ended up. We don’t need a repeat of the same old rubbish we usually get served up.
Allardyce also has particular things to learn from other past managers in the chair he sits in now. He must have more heart than Capello, more backbone than McLaren, more motivational prowess than Eriksson and most importantly right now, more luck than any of them too. None of them were horrifically bad managers, they just each had their own weaknesses and Allardyce must learn not to show any of his. He must remain on the right side of the media, stay in touch with the fans and in control of the FA, and finally assert his position as head of the dressing room, inspiring performances out of each and every player he selects. Do this, and he will change English football for the better, providing a pathway for future bosses to follow and maybe even cementing himself as a ‘good’ England manager in the history books. It all seems so easy on paper.
I’ve got to be honest, prior to writing this blog I did think that most aspects of Allardyce’s style that we all know he excels in; scrimping, scrapping for results and getting more prepared than a health and safety officer, weren’t transferrable to the international stage, but after merging together my thoughts, I seriously think Big Sam can succeed. Obviously there are a lot of question marks over his head that he will have to eradicate over the next few months, but I do now actually believe that he has the experience, rigidity and respect required to pull this off.
He might make us into a bit of an Italian-esque side, defending and frustrating the opposition with more organisation than we have possibly ever seen before from a bunch of players with the Three Lions on their shirts, and in my opinion right now for England that would be a good thing. It’s not like a side that attacked other sides to death even won the Euros anyway, so why should we go against what is clearly a winning formula? Portugal, Iceland, Slovakia, Italy, Northern Ireland and Wales, they all succeeded at Euro 2016 as a result of their resolute defensive combinations, so why shouldn’t we hop on the bandwagon? As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em. Obviously this style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but neither is Allardyce and neither was Fernando Santos in Portugal, and just look what he did for his nation. Now, I’m not saying we’ll get anywhere near winning the next World Cup or Euros, but I do think we’ll vastly improve with a clear, defined message and style under Sam Allardyce. He can reorganise our broken system, and he will do it the only way he knows how; by grafting away at it, never relenting in his mission to reform English football. I for one have gone from a doubter to a believer in the space of just a few days, and I am willing to get behind our new boss for the duration of his tenure. I can only hope that the rest of the country does the same and our fortunes do improve in the near future. Anyway, if all else fails, he’s only got a two-year contract…
“I don’t know what I am doing here. I suppose someone has to take the slings and the arrows” grumbled the confidence-shot Roy Hodgson in the fallout after England’s exit to the hands of Iceland just three weeks ago now. That very quote, kowtowing to the criticism English fans have given him ever since 2014, could’ve summed up the experiences for both the fruitcakes and loonies in charge, as well as the consistently disappointed fans, of England ever since the mildly successful Terry Venables stepped out of the office back in 1996. Ever since the time when football almost came home, we’ve had the clueless (Steve McLaren), the madmen (Fabio Capello), the tabloid-baiting (Glenn Hoddle and Sven-Goran Eriksson) and the short-lived (Howard Wilkinson, Kevin Keegan, Peter Taylor and Stuart Pearce) all trying and failing in their attempts to salvage respectable end results during their reigns. This pattern only continued into the ill-fated four years of Roy Hodgson, where, as always, the team performed in qualifying, but buckled in tournaments. So where has it all gone wrong? Who should the FA turn to next to even start to fix this mess of a football team? Why is English football in the dumps?
Well, it is difficult to know where to start when discussing the England team really. If there was a glaringly obvious fault line in the FA system, you have to believe they would’ve found the root of it and thrown money at the problem. But that is by no means to say the FA are blameless in this situation, as in any case of a failing structure, those at the top do need to look themselves in the mirror too. I mean for god’s sake, we’re the country where our very sport originated, was professionalised, and is being commercialised. England is the very heartbeat of football, yet that heartbeat never sounds when we are up against nations which used to be our protégé’s, countries who learnt all they knew from us. So how have our understudies overthrown their masters? Well, it’s simple really, and the UK has seen it happen to its car, steel, textiles and building industries over the past 50 years; other nations have adapted to the times, while we have become stubborn, stuck in our ways, too up our own arses to see that the way we approach the game isn’t efficient or cutting-edge any more.
Just look at our managers over this time; all middle-aged, white, mostly English men stuck there on the touchline in their well-ironed suits and ties. But it’s not their appearance that decides their success; it’s their tactical outlook. Our major issue, from my standpoint, is that we don’t accept real characters in our footballing subculture; we just stick to the status quo. Maybe it’s because the old, white, male panels of the FA wanted chaps who they could present to the sponsors, the media and the public as a puppet of themselves, someone who seemed to be the best candidate for the job, but actually didn’t have a clue. Just look at the history books; Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Graham Taylor, Kevin Keegan and now Roy Hodgson, men who had a packed CV full of impressive performances, but never won a sausage with the national side. Why did they get appointed? Well, they had never done anything controversial, out of line or uncharacteristic, whereas Brian Clough and Harry Redknapp, for example, had; and that is why those two particularly successful managers never got offered a place in the biggest seat in the country (at least in football). They were two flashy, too strong in their beliefs, too stubborn to be moulded into the perfect candidate by the FA. The managers they choose are pressured into selecting the ‘best’ players, not the ones who fit into a specific system. Do you think Hodgson ever wanted to play 4-2-3-1? Or 4-3-3? This is a man whose most successful spells in English football came with Fulham and West Brom, infamously unfashionable in style themselves. If he didn’t play passing football with them, why would he do it now?
I know it is easy to criticise now, but with Hodgson gone, I think we all finally saw how poorly he, and the side he lead, performed both behind closed doors and in front of our own eyes. They may not have appeared it in the good times; the 3-2 win against Germany or the 2-0 easing past France in friendlies in the past year, but our side was incompetent. We relied on luck more than judgement; we thought bringing in Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier would fix all of our problems immediately by turning to the youth who didn’t have the scars of past performances, and while they did well in the build-up, they didn’t turn up at Euro 2016. This wasn’t due to fatigue, this was down to not having a proper plan to turn to when the going got tough, and for that we have to blame the easiest man to remove in football; the manager.
This is where things really need to change. We need a strong manager who will speak his mind, play those who he believes in, install a clear tactical rethink, and at the end of the day win football matches with a style that works. The thing is; I don’t think that manager, right now at least, is English. I don’t think we as a country bring up managers at the top level to be like that. Just look at the nationalities of managers who have won the Premier League in its 24 year history, no Englishmen, just a special Scotsman (Ferguson), Portuguese (Mourinho) and Frenchman (Wenger), plus the odd Italian (Ancelotti, Mancini and Ranieri), a Chilean (Pellegrini) and another Scot (Dalglish). No English manager has ever had the sense of irrepressibility and invincibility around him to be able to win it; to get close to a top, top job or carry an unfancied side to the summit. English managers aren’t special, aren’t inseparable, aren’t clear enough in their styles to actually win. We don’t play a forward-thinking or expansive natural style of play either, and whether you want to put that down to youth coaching or not is your own decision, but you cannot deny that no England manager has done anything to change that stereotype. Never have we had anyone change our tactics like Vicente Del Bosque did with the tiki-taka in Spain or Johan Cruyff with total football in the Netherlands, nor even on the level of possession football with Wenger at Arsenal or counter-attacking with Ranieri at Leicester. So, from my perspective at least, we can rule out an English manager if we want to turn things around.
If Sam Allardyce really does get handed the job though, I don’t think it would be an absolute disaster; it would just carry on a pathetic schedule of disappointment that we as a country seem to love revelling in. We are the butt of all our own jokes, as well as those of our Scottish, Irish and now in particularly Welsh cousins, who just love to wind us up when the moment comes around again (as it inevitably does). And Allardyce would do nothing to change this fact, as he has no experience of actually winning trophies, playing tidy football or competing up there with the best of them. It seems the FA has suddenly forgot the accusations of ‘19th Century football’ when he was in charge of West Ham, or even the fact that he has only managed the Hammers, Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle and Sunderland in the Premier League. Face it; he is an unfashionable, second-rate boss, better known for his bargain buys on the transfer market and defensive football than his international-quality diplomacy and managing of world class talents such as Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart or Harry Kane. What evidence is there to prove that he would do any better than Hodgson? Yes, he has a personality (he is called Big Sam after all), but in this case his personality wouldn’t win him any World Cups. What would he do, suddenly mastermind a way for Jermaine Defoe to get back in the set-up and inflict a killer blow against the Germans, Brazilians, French or Argentinians in competitions? I don’t think so.
So who do I see as a potential next manager? Well, two weeks ago, I was pessimistic. Back then I imagined the next boss to be a filler, someone who didn’t really deserve it but would take the job as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity anyway. I saw Gareth Southgate or Alan Pardew taking the reins, but now I am much more optimistic. I think our nation’s next manager, whether he is being appointed next week or in three months’ time (it doesn’t particularly matter to me, and you might even be reading this when he has been put in place), has to be a serious big name appointment. I’m not talking Mourinho, Conte, Klopp, Guardiola or Van Gaal, I’m thinking more along the lines of someone who won’t require the world’s biggest wage, but will take the job because it is something he deeply believes in. Arsene Wenger for me would be a really interesting candidate, as he has a proven track record of a regimented style (passing, which always works on the international stage), is vastly experienced, and is coming up to the twilight of his career in which he needs to send a statement out that he really is a great manager. Yes, he’s French. Yes, he’s never managed an international side. Yes, he might still want to stay on as Arsenal manager for another season. But why not offer him the job anyway? If he really did want another season with the Gunners, surely he wants it to be a winning one, spending money to win the title? I say hand him the opportunity, see if he is strong enough to hold down his authority on the underperforming English players. Well, at the very least, we know he is thick-skinned, after all he’s had to deal with the notoriously fickle Arsenal fans for the past 20 years!
Alternatively, why not go for Guus Hiddink or Roberto Martinez? Hiddink is another man looking for a sweet swansong to his near but yet-so-far career, who understands how to tailor a 4-2-3-1 (just look at the way he turned Chelsea around last season) and can designate all players into specific and well-rounded roles, contributing to a strong team ethic. He has been around, seen it all and got the t-shirt from the national teams of his native Netherlands (twice), South Korea, Australia, Russia and Turkey, as well as Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven (again, twice) and Valencia. He is a calm, composed and unpredictable boss, an experienced and assertive manager who will stick to his guns when he believes he needs to. What more could you want from a prospective candidate? Martinez, on the other hand, may not be an outstanding candidate, but he is one who would formulate a passing game so patient and expansive we might be able to finally work down opposition rather than vice-versa. He is also known to be supportive of young talent, something many England fans have been crying out for in recent years, and something he could definitely deliver on. Martinez doesn’t yet have a reputation of being able to deal with pressure, but if he was given the England job on a whim he would be able to prove himself to the world, not just the English media. But we need somebody who doesn’t have a vendetta against the media or one group of fans, we need somebody widely respected. That’s why, for me, it would be Wenger or Hiddink for the job.
Leaving a legacy, however cliché it might sound, is an undoubtedly vital aspect of the job description for any England gaffer, and whoever Hodgson’s successor is, they will have to ensure they do their best to lay a path for the next two or three bosses. Our problem here in this country is that we are far too self-engrossed to take a step back, really think about the problem, and regiment a plot on how to lay a solid foundation before we try and cover the canvas in what we think is a unique, impressionist art form of how to succeed. Which England manager can you last remember speaking in his press conference about the future without him? No one, that’s who, because they all fear losing their own job far too much to actually think five or ten years down the line, to whoever the next polished, glittering example of a leader we will have then. We have no contingency plans for the future, no defined blueprints on how to return to the top, whereas the Germans, the Spanish, the French and the Italians do. They have systems where planning is encouraged, not frowned upon socially, where they have to work hard to get to the top, whereas we think our place is already earned. Well, let me tell you FA, it’s not. Remember 2008, not even going to the European Championships? Why didn’t we have a complete shake-up of our obviously misfiring system? Well, that would’ve been too hard for the FA at that point, it would’ve upset too many people, apparently. But if we want to be the best, you have to ruffle a few feathers, that’s just the way life works. Do you think it would be plain sailing to become a great side? No, of course not, but for some reason the FA does, and always has.
That’s why we need something, and something, different. We don’t have to be England-central, we can be open-minded and free-spirited to succeed. England’s rugby union and cricket sides have changed coaches over the past year, from two clueless home-grown hopefuls in Stuart Lancaster and Peter Moores to outspoken, humorous Australians Eddie Jones and Trevor Bayliss respectively, and have reaped the rewards. From Rugby World Cup hosts and group-stage losers to beating the Aussies on their home turf and winning the Six nations in the space of around 10 months, and Cricket World Cup group-stage losers to Ashes winners and World Twenty20 runners-up in the space of just over a year, Jones and Bayliss have transformed the fortunes for their sides in scarily similar patterns. So why do we fear what a foreign coach could do for our football team? Australia were better at rugby and cricket than us before Jones and Bayliss turned up, and now we have toppled them in both, so surely we should turn to a coach from an obviously better nation at football than us? Spain, France, Brazil, Belgium, Germany or even Wales, their coaches are always improving, whereas we have stagnated. We need something to revitalise our game, and I don’t think the solution is to reinvest in another home-grown boss as they clearly aren’t good enough right now.
So, for me, the FA has to take it’s time, even have a look at itself prior to the appointment of any manager and analyse any decision they are thinking of making before they do it. For once in this country, we have to be patient to be right, and to be right is so, so important right now. We are clinging on to the last hope of any success with a (not very golden) generation of Rooney, Hart, Cahill, Vardy and Sturridge, and we have already seen Terry, Ferdinand, Cole (Joe and Ashley), Gerrard, Lampard, Neville, Scholes, Beckham and Heskey (well, maybe not) go past us without winning anything. Either we give Wazza one last tournament with a real, tough, uncompromising and trophy-hungry manager or turn to the future, but that will depend on who we appoint. There needs to be a balance of experience and youth, grit and flair, defence and attack, and only the right manager will be able to combine all that we need to win. By win, I don’t realistically mean the next World Cup or Euros; I just mean a semi-final, playing well, restoring pride and enthusiasm in the side. We need to be playing well again to revive any faith we might have in the FA, and only the best manager will be able to reward the organisation with that. After all, it is the manager who wins games, he makes the plans, inspires the troops, battles to the top and handles pressure for the players, he is the one who fights the mental battles, the nitty gritty stuff, while his starting XI are the ones who transfer that methodical approach into wins. Without the right man at the top, you can never be consistently good at football, and we really do need to be right now. So FA, we look forward to your decision, and without wanting to put too much pressure on you, we are counting on it being the right man. We are hungry for some wins and confidence, and we need a manager who reflects that. We need him now.
Well, well, well. After almost two whole years of qualifying, group stage and knockout round drama, this was it. We started back in September 2014 with 53 teams from each and every nook and cranny of the continent, from Iceland to Israel, Andorra to Armenia and Bulgaria to Bosnia and Herzegovina, whittled it down to 24 for the tournament proper, and after countless matches, goals and shocks, now we were down to two. Hosts, pre-tournament favourites and football fanatics France versus noble, moderately blessed but highly unexpected Portugal. Some billed it as Ronaldo vs Griezmann, but it was far, far bigger than that. This was 10.46 million people and the footballing royalty of Eusebio, Luis Figo and Rui Costa, on the very western edge of Europe against the 66.03 million in the centre of Renaissance culture, Napoleon’s empire and ancient sporting history, France. This was bigger than anything right now, this was a battle of footballing history, one side far more common winners in terms of trophies, but both fairly successful for their size. It was a match to savour, one to sit and enjoy, however defensive we thought one side was going to be, this was the final stage, the culmination of two whole years of effort. This was footballing drama at its very best. A side which has only improved over the course of the tournament, adapting tactics, building up to their best performance in the semi-final, against a nation which has played arguably the best football, only failing to win or score in a single match, although they put in a totally contradictory tactical performance at the last four stage. What was going to be the result? Well, that was anybody’s guess.
So, who were the big names lining up for a shot at this once-in-a-lifetime trophy? Well, Portugal made two changes to the side which dispatched Wales in the last round, Pepe and William Carvalho coming in for a vastly experienced Bruno Alves and a comparatively young Danilo, following their injury and suspension respectively in the last round. One of the successes of the tournament, Renato Sanches, became the youngest player to play in the final of any Euros, at just 18 years and 326 days, with Fernando Santos putting his faith in the teenager. France, still fresh with their impassioned fans behind them, stuck with the same XI which thrashed Iceland and narrowly edged out Germany, Moussa Sissoko (now a Championship player) keeping his place instead of N’Golo Kante and the 4-3-3 returning, and Samuel Umtiti being rewarded with his third straight start after being a relative unproven talent on the international stage just four weeks ago. Was it time for Fernando Santos, who I thought looked desperate and clueless in the group stage, to win the European Championship, having been seen as a failure as Portugal boss before? Or was it time for the underperforming French to win their first trophy since 2000? The next 90 minutes (or more) would prove it all.
Early play was niggly and tense, with both sides setting out their clear tactical plans, Portugal to waste time whenever they could, press tight and target their two front men Ronaldo and Nani, France to play the ball around as much as possible to carve out patient chances. Antoine Griezmann and Nani both had decent opportunities early on, but neither were ever realistically going in. But then the drama of this final was dealt a massive blow. Cristiano Ronaldo, targeted by Dimitri Payet for the opening quarter of an hour, was forced off the field, not once, not twice, but three times in the space of 25 minutes, only for the challenges of the West Ham playmaker to take their required effect and eliminate him from the game. Finally, after giving his all in attempting to run off the ankle problem, he decided he couldn’t continue, and winced off the field in the comfort of a cold, hard stretcher, bringing to an end his involvement in this tournament, in which he has excelled both as captain and as a world-class individual. This was not only massive for him, it was game-changing for his country, as without arguably their best ever player in a team of mediocre but promising talents, they would surely have no chance in such a massive final.
The French were only spurred on this substitution (Ricardo Quaresma on for Ronaldo), as Moussa Sissoko surprisingly enough took control of his side’s attacking moves, forging his own shots and crosses with his effervescent power, pace and skill in tight spaces from the right wing. Thank god he tried to take control, because we hardly saw anything of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi or Olivier Giroud going forward in the first half. As the French stars faltered, the Portuguese actually began to take control in the latter stages of the half, Nani, Quaresma, Sanches and both full-backs (Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerreiro) linking up well on the edge of the box to just threaten Lloris’ goal with a few deflected shots and one-touch moves. Pepe almost got a decisive header from a corner, but other than that chances were at a premium. At the conclusion of it, the first 45 minutes fell into the pattern of a astonishingly large percentage of matches this month (21 of 50), goalless at half time. It was not the best football we had ever seen, but it was certainly tense and packed full of tight battles, everything you expect of a final. Nobody had shown anything worthy of deciding this final yet, but you could feel it was just around the corner. the game was just waiting to wake up and become a classic.
With both sides considerably roused for the decisive second half by Santos and Deschamps, it was time for play to begin again for potentially, and remorsefully, the last 45 minutes of the Euro 2016. The side in red (and green socks) looked up for it, Quaresma in particular stepping into the shoes of Ronaldo (however impossible that job was going to be), attempting to lead his side by example as the elder of their squad. Their attempt at a tiki-taka, in the style of their previously successful neighbours Spain, was in parts fairly effective, especially when they linked up in triangles along the by-line, cutting out numerous French midfielders from the game by tiring them out, only to lose the ball seconds later. France, on the other hand, struggled for any meaningful passes forward, usually getting crowded out as soon as they entered the opposition’s half. Deschamps decided to liven it up, benching an (other than injuring Ronaldo) ineffective Dimitri Payet for Kingsley Coman, bringing a little more guile to their attack. Only a few minutes later, the sub had an immediate impact, as Griezmann had a golden opportunity, from a delightful Coman cross which eliminated the Portuguese defence, but the Athletico Madrid striker could only mess it up by failing to judge his jump correctly. The ball struck him right on the forehead, but it sailed just above the crossbar, much to the despair of the millions of French fans across the country.
Portugal took heed from this warning, tracking back into their positions and tactical roles they had clearly been lectured on pre-match, if they were going to stand any chance at winning. They were playing outstandingly well defensively, with two players combining to shut down any danger at the first sight of it, and William Carvalho providing a vital presence in front of his defence, taking up any positions when they had been abandoned. It was heading for a stalemate, but Portugal were making it an easy-on-the-eye one, mastering the art of beautiful defending having learnt from the master, Monsieur Santos. France decided to go direct; Andre-Pierre Gignac, the big bumbling hunk of goal scoring (at least in the Mexican league) meat, coming on in place of a non-starter in Olivier Giroud. Portugal also brought on a target man of their own, former Swansea man Eder replacing Renato Sanches in an unexpectedly attacking move.
Despite the fact they had been defending for the past 10 minutes, it was Portugal who had the next best chance. Nani’s askew cross planted into the shocked palms of Hugo Lloris, who could only beat the ball away to Quaresma, who wonderfully turned his back and struck an impressive overhead kick, only for it to be swiftly saved by a lucky Lloris. But only a few minutes later, they were back to defending. As Umtiti surged forward from defence, he opened up the space for Sissoko to fire a bullet of a shot to Patricio’s right, only for the so-far outstanding goalkeeper to force it away, diving with all he could give. We all accepted the game would now go to extra-time, but Gignac nearly had a massive say in the tournament, so close to the biggest goal in the whole of Euro 2016. With 90+2 minutes on the clock, he picked up a low cross from his left, wriggled free of Pepe (leaving him on the floor) and scuffed a close range finish around Patricio and onto the near post, when he really should’ve scored. There were centre metres in it, but fate didn’t allow the Frenchman the glory. Not yet.
So this one was going late into the French night. Fitting I thought, considering how long France took to win their opening match (can you remember it now?) all of four weeks ago now, how long they struggled under the pressure of an expectant nation. Fitting too, for the Portuguese, because they had only won a single match in normal time in the whole tournament, having ground out late, late wins against Croatia in extra-time and Poland on penalties. If either team really wanted this, they were going to have to dig deep. In the first half of extra-time, the game drifted on without any serious goal scoring chances, other than Eder’s dangerously rising header from a corner, which Lloris used his cat-like reflexes to keep out.
Second half, and with little expected of it, the first chance came as a nice surprise. Raphael Guerreiro stepped up to strike a free kick on the edge of the box, in the absence of Ronaldo, and I’ll tell you what, he struck it just as well as the big man. It flew over the wall, kissed Lloris’ fingertips and smashed the crossbar, bouncing out and livening up the crowd. But that only started something much, much bigger. Just two minutes after Mark Clattenburg wrongly awarded Portugal the free kick (as it hit Eder’s hand, not Koscielny’s), the offender for it, the former Swansea striker, the lanky but powerful Eder, cracked what was potentially going to be a winning goal, a world changing goal, from 25 yards out, bumping along the surface as it went, straight into the bottom right corner of Lloris’ net, exactly where he couldn’t reach it. This was AMAZING. Portugal, vastly inferior, especially without Ronaldo, to the world-class French, were winning this match with only 11 minutes left. Eder, who had only previously scored three goals in 28 appearances for his country, had scored what was surely going to be a winning goal in the EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL. Was this all a dream? No, this was the cold, hard truth, and it was cutting to the French fans.
But their side didn’t demonstrate the urgency to get back in the game. They may have had the ball, but they didn’t use it wisely, hitting it at Portuguese shins, leaving it for easy interceptions, and overall not finding the final ball. For a side widely tipped to win this competition, for a side so skilled, so blessed by world class talents, they were going to lose this. They were seriously going to throw this away after being the best team in the tournament prior to this match. And after they did finally chuck a decent ball in the box, and Martial volleyed it straight at the wall of Portuguese defenders, we all knew their chance was gone. The big timers lost in the final to the band of brothers, the most organised and determined side in the tournament, the ones with more steel than a thousand trophies.
So Santos did it. He had masterminded a minor nation to continental success, defeating the highly skilled, highly rated, expensively built side expected to win in the final. Well, it’s fair to say that he is a genius. He built a side capable of defeating anyone on any day, just by grinding out results. They had finished 3rd in their group to Hungary and Iceland, having failed to beat either of them, nor Austria, but they have ground out a route to winning this special tournament. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, with his agonising-looking ankle injury, was leaping up and down on the touchline like the manger himself, so passionate about the cause. In many ways, despite being a singular, arrogant player most of the time, Ronaldo exemplifies the spirit of this side; contributing all he could for his nation despite being good enough to win games on his own. And in the end, they didn’t need him in the final, beating the seemingly unconquerable French without his presence on the pitch. This was magical stuff, unbelievable stuff, spellbinding stuff, worthy of books and films in decades to come. Heroic victors, worthy champions, despite what we all predicted. I don’t think even Ronaldo himself would’ve realistically predicted that his side would win this tournament, particularly after his ‘microphone in the lake’ incident early in the tournament. Everything else is history know now, what we saw tonight was truly epic.
Team of the Day
Is this even worth debating anymore? We have proven the side of the tournament, not just the side of the day, it is that nation at the very south west of Europe, the incomparable Portuguese.
Player of the Day
William Carvalho set this game alight for me tonight. He is what kept his side in the game defensively, and what allowed for them to be successful, just the one time, going forward. He pinged great cross-field balls all across the park, and kept his position in front of the defence, splitting Griezmann and Giroud (and later Gignac), effectively stopping the French because their playmaker couldn’t link up with their goal scorers. Patricio, Guerreiro and Sissoko also deserve massive credit, but Carvalho set the tempo for a win tonight, and he was the heartbeat for his side’s unbelievable victory.
Goal of the Day
From the single goal scored, I don’t have a choice, but any tournament-winning goal is always worthy of an award. And this one was worthy of plaudits and awards all over the world, Eder smashing in an uncompromising, maybe speculative, but always goal-bound shot right into the perfect area, claiming everything it deserved. After everything we saw this month, this was a goal well, well worthy of getting the blood going for the Portuguese, and giving them their first ever international tournament trophy. Shocking, shocking, but oh so fitting after the year we’ve had, with upsets all over the world. It just seems that our lives have been shaken upside down, doesn’t it? And that is what sport does, it shakes up what we know, and turns it on its head.
Shock of the Day
If there was going to be one shock in a final, you would’ve surely thought that it would be a goal, a red card or a penalty miss maybe. But no, not here in the Stade de France, where a plague of ever-active, buzzing moths blighted the moods of players, management and fans inside the 80,000 seater. They covered the suits of Santos and Deschamps, the corner flags, the advertising boards and most comically Ronaldo’s face when he first lay down injured, just hovering over his finely tweezed eyebrows. Aah, nature, it tries to ruin every occasion, especially in the summer, doesn’t it?
Other than that, maybe the fact that PORTUGAL BEAT FRANCE TO WIN EURO 2016? A real, world-changing shock that will reverberate across the world for years to come.
Day Rating: 10/10 (Just because of the way it ended, and that it was a final)
I’m Looking Forward to…
Unpicking the rest of this now, and returning to normal life in a few days! Well, maybe I have to admit I don’t want to go back to life without Euro 2016, but it is certainly good for it be concluded. I’ll see you next week, with a blog probably up on Saturday afternoon, but possibly on Sunday, we’ll see what happens. But for now, let’s celebrate Portugal and how great Euro 2016 was! Goodnight, and goodbye from A Continental Affair!
P.S. Thank you all so much for keeping up with the twists and turns of this tumultuous month with me, I’m so grateful for the support and loyal reading you’ve given the blogs, and I hoped you enjoyed this month with me and Euro 2016!
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!