Football, Rugby, UFC, GAA
All free when you join eir Broadband
Sunday's European Championship final was representative of the competition as a whole; underwhelming, lacking in real quality, and yet, oddly compelling.
There have been outstanding games, and fantastic performances. Yet when it came time for the cream to rise to the crop, many times we were left wanting more. Spain’s loss to Italy left many asking if this is the end of a generation, when earlier in the tournament some were wondering if they were as imperious as ever, going by Andres Iniesta’s group stage displays.
When favourites Germany were eliminated after a possession dominating, yet ultimately toothless showing, their conquerors France went into the final as slight favourites against a Portugal team whose hopes, it seemed rested squarely on the considerable shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo.
So the sense of theatre was heightened when Ronaldo was hobbled by Dmitri Payet - as unlikely a henchman as could be - and forced to withdraw from the game after a brief return to the field. His tears upon the initial incident were of the realisation that his time in this tournament was up.
These competitions mean a lot to Ronaldo and it has been suggested that he is a selfish individual for the way he is often seen to react. At times, it’s even mentioned, he’s unhappy when team-mates score a goal if they didn’t pass to him. His tears last hinted at something more. At 31, he may have one more World Cup, one more European Championships tournament. He has tasted defeat in a final at this level before, in 2004 and could only watch - if he even did - in the subsequent finals of major tournaments which followed.
For the television cameras in the stadium, watching Ronaldo was as captivating as watching the game itself. (Though that is not to say much about the match!) The drama on the field came, rather, in its passages of time, the journey to its climax and the elimination of minutes for which a team could bring themselves back into the game should they unfortunately find themselves behind.
In a ninety minute match it seemed unlikely France could lose, but, given their experiences of the semi-final in their position as benefactors, they ought to have been more prepared for the sucker punch.
Newcastle United’s midfielder Moussa Sissoko put in tireless efforts but once he tired, and it became a more level playing field, with neither Nani nor Antoine Greizmann able to provide the spark of inspiration required. It felt like the reality of the occasion - the dying minutes of an arduous season.
These games and occasions are made for heroes - they create them automatically - and it was Eder, a player with just six goals last season for Swansea City and Lille, whose remarkable goal propelled him into legend. France - perhaps gutted by their missed opportunity to win the game in injury time - simply lacked the energy to get back into the game.
And so it was fitting, in a competition that nonetheless provided many good memories, that a drab final was decided by a player who will probably find himself the subject of pub quizzes in years to come, as cruel an opinion as that may be in the wake of his greatest night.
Perversely, the evening belonged to Ronaldo, a player who played twenty odd minutes of the game itself. In 2005, a film was produced of Zinedine Zidane’s performance in a La Liga game for Real Madrid against Villareal. Zidane did nothing remarkable in the game (by his own illustrious standards), apart from get a late red card, but the film was produced to illustrate his balance, his poise, his natural ability to be so composed and so artistic on the ball. The Zidane film was inspired by ‘Fußball, Wie Noch Nie’, a similar effort in 1970 by German director Hellmuth Costard following George Best.
Ronaldo, of course, already has had a cinematic feature dedicated to him. It’s unlikely that a sequel will be made of his behaviour on the touchline (although, in this voyeuristic, consumerism day and age, never say never), but it was a remarkable insight into the character of an individual who has been so often called to task for his sportsmanship amongst his fellow team-mates.
How much of an effect he could have had from the sidelines, we can never know, though to see your injured captain so full of emotion and energy on the side of the pitch, willing you to victory, must be as inspiring a message as any. When that captain is Ronaldo, and all that comes with him, then you never know - it may well have inspired that extra 5 or 10% from seemingly empty energy reserves to get Portugal over the finishing line.
Ronaldo may have been remarkable, and Portugal’s efforts without their talisman worthy of the same description; but even as we acknowledge the national team’s greatest ever accomplishment, a quick and crude man for man comparison of their team against their own 2004 finalists, let alone the other favourites in this competition, Germany, suggests that we probably aren’t about to witness a Portugal team that will dominate a generation. Likewise, their efforts were not quite as Herculean as Leicester City’s, or Greece’s back in 2004, and yet they deserve all of the plaudits as any team who reaches that level ought to. It closes the chapter on 2015/6 - a season that will best be remembered for excitement and historic achievement rather than outstanding quality. Competitive action for the 2016/17 season has already begun, with European qualifiers. In just a few weeks the Community Shield will serve as the curtain raiser for the Premier League season; can so much change inside that time?
The final word goes to Ronaldo - he wouldn’t want it any other way, would he? After a summer where his kick won the European Cup and his was the enduring image of the European Championships Final, he will go into next season nursing the injury he picked up last night, facing fresh questions about whether or not we’ve seen the best of him. However, following two Champions League successes in three years and international glory, not to mention the fact that he has outscored his contemporary rival in each of the last three years, it may be time to revisit the question that purists hate - does Ronaldo’s 2015/16 season edge him in front of Lionel Messi for title of the world’s greatest?
Follow Wayne Barton on Twitter @Yolkie_
Wayne Barton has been the football columnist for international broadcaster Setanta Sports since 2011 and has been described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United on the period between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson’ after numerous books on the club and autobiographies. The most recent are ‘74/75’ with Tommy Docherty and ‘Rise Of The Underdog’, the autobiography of Danny Higginbotham.
Wayne has also worked in Hollywood and across the USA with Gold and Platinum selling musicians and actors from the monster hit TV show ‘Breaking Bad’.