Euro 2016: Football Q & As (Part Two)
Image: Ed Hawkins
The squads have been picked, sick days planned (not at Waterstones obviously, ahem) and football fans from Albania to Turkey are starting to dream that maybe, just maybe, Euro 2016 is their chance for glory. Those nations outside the four or five with realistic pretensions on the crown of European Champions will fuel their dreams of success with thoughts of Greece’s shock victory at Euro 2004. England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all head to France with differing objectives but all with the same hope that come 10th July they will have beaten all before them and become UEFA European Champions for 2016.
Waterstones has asked seven well-known football writers to share their thoughts on previous tournaments as well as predictions for France this year. We will be posting their responses in a series of three posts.
James Lawton is the author of Forever Boys, which was The Sunday Times Sport book of the year for 2015. It tells the story of the rapid rise and painful decline of the incredibly talented Manchester City team of Bell, Summerbee, Lee et al.
1. What is your first Euro memory?
The sublime performance of Michel Platini before his own people when France won the title in 1984. Superbly creative, he scored nine goals and won the second of three straight European Player of the Year awards. Two years later, in the shadow of Diego Maradona’s epic World Cup, he scored a goal against Italy in Mexico City which still lives vividly in the memory. He struck so effortlessly against Italy’s superior defence he might have been a librarian picking a book off a shelf, dusting it down, and returning it with hardly a glance. A catastrophic administrator but a player of genius.
2. What is your favourite Euro match?
It’s a tie between Spain’s final victories over Germany in Vienna in 2008 and Italy in Kiev in 2012. They were the start and finish of an historic hat-trick of major trophy wins, with World Cup victory over Holland in Johannesburg in 2010 – and on both occasions there was an overwhelming sense of the culture of the world’s most popular game beinglastingly enriched.
3. Which players should we look out for this summer?
If the hosts France are to touch their achievements in 1984 and 2000 – when they beat Italy with a golden goal in extra time in Rotterdam two years after lifting the World Cup in Paris – they will need Paul Pogba to fulfill all of his potential. It is certainly immense; almost from the moment he turned his back on Manchester United, he has announced himself as a young player of destiny. No-one has done more to tighten the Juventus grip on Series A. This is his chance to confirm his place among the elite group of players alongside such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who has perhaps his last chance to make a significant impact for Portugal in a major tournament, Gareth Bale of Wales, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, the twin hopes of highly ranked Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne and the apparently re-awakening Eden Hazard and Germany’s Thomas Muller. Spain’s enduring hero, Andres Iniesta, the Man of La Mancha, once again cannot be discounted as he strives to rally Spain from their World Cup disaster in Brazil.
4. Who would you like to win Euro 2016?
Wales. A fantasy, no doubt, but there would a wonderful resonance in that it is 58 years since the nation competed in a major tournament – and then with brilliant resolve and considerable accomplishment. In the Swedish World Cup – they drew all three group games, against Hungary, Mexico and eventual runners-up Sweden, beat the talented Hungary in a play-off and then went down 1-0 to the emerging wonders of international football, Pele’s Brazil. Wales were without the greatest player in their history, John Charles, through injury. Can Bale and the excellent Aaron Ramsay heal the wounds? It is at least pretty to think so.
5. Who do you think will win Euro 2016?
Germany – because they are the supreme competitors in world football, whatever the flow or the ebb of their form. They remain in touch with a tradition that has brought them four World Cups and three European titles. In the absence of red-hot favourites, it is a persuasive edge.
6. What is your favourite book on European football?
Soccer Syndrome by John Moynihan. Written around the time of England’s only World Cup triumph in 1966, and recently re-published, it still shines like a diamond. It has wry humour and deep emotion in its wonderful evocation of the exhilaration and despair created in the hearts and the minds of all those who love the world game. If you ever need to remind yourself why you remain besotted by football it is only necessary to read, or re-read, this book.
Ed Hawkins is an award-winning sports journalist. He has twice been named the Sports Journalists Association's Sports Betting Writer of the Year. His book, Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award and was Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2013 book of the year. He has a new book due out later this year called The Lost Boys: Inside Football’s Slave Trade.
What is your first European Championship memory?
England’s Euro 1992 tournament. Shellsuits, Taylor’s turnip head, Brolin being lauded as one of the game’s greats only to end up at Leeds looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy (they really missed a trick by not signing up the Swede for an ad campaign). Perhaps best of all was the reaction by the English media – the first of the trend for laughably arrogant campaigns. The world was about to end when they drew with the Danes, who went on to win the thing. And supposed ‘experts’ neglected that England went into the tournament without Gazza, Barnes and one squad member fewer than everyone else
What players should we look out for this summer?
The lad Callum O’Dowda if he makes the cut for Ireland. He could be Martin O’Neill’s wildcard. But there’s nothing really that wild about him. He hails from Oxford, does everything by the textbook, including a smart haircut and minding his ps and qs. Has great pace, trickery and is destined for the top.
Who would you like to win Euro 2016?
England, naturally. Or Wales. My mother is a bit Welsh. Or Ireland. There’s a maternal grandfather (apparently). Or Italy. My Dad looks a bit Italian. Or France. I lived there for a bit. I have all bases covered.
Who do you think will win Euro 2016?
Germany. We were all told they were set to dominate for years to come as every national association scrambled to copy their model. So surely their era of power is not over already?
What is your favourite book on European Football?
Brilliant Orange. The most iconic of European football books, no?