Euro 2016, what a yawn
Euro 2016 has been derided as the most dull major tournament in recent times, NEIL HUMPHREYS explains why
1 Leicester lead the way
In full flight, Leicester City were a treat last season.
Their swift counter-attacking offered an unexpectedly joyous sight.
But it's all things in moderation.
Just as the early incarnation of Spain's tiki-taka descended into tiresome games of chess, counter-attacking football was also taken to extremes in France.
CONTRAST: Euro 2016 was as much of a yawn as Jordan Henderson's England team. English champions Leicester City (above), though, were much more entertaining to watch.
There wasn't much countering and there wasn't much attacking.
To a certain extent, winning football matches was no longer about playing football, but allowing opponents to mess around with the ball in non-threatening areas.
According to stats gurus, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, England, Belgium, Hungary, Russia and Ukraine all featured in the top 10 for pass completion rates.
But their comfort in possession usually led to an uncomfortable result. Between them, they won 11 matches out of 33.
If anyone, from a paid pundit to a drunken uncle in the coffee shop, rambles on about possession again, walk away. It's the most meaningless stat in the modern game.
Four of the quarter-finalists were among the 10 teams with the lowest percentage of possession overall.
Greece did it at Euro 2004 and Leicester prevailed in the Premier League last season with a similar strategy, but Euro 2016 was the tournament when cagey, defensive play reached its peak (or nadir).
The ball has never been less relevant at a major tournament.
2 Goal fests are history
Despite the revised, bloated format, the inclusion of 24 teams didn't improve the quality of contests or the number of goals scored.
With third-placed finishers still able to qualify, the first two matches of the group stages lacked any sense of jeopardy (along with many of the third.)
Not losing mattered much more than trying to win. The tournament's winners, while undoubtedly deserving, won just one game in 90 minutes - a farcical statistic.
More tellingly, Portugal only conceded one goal in 420 minutes of knockout football.
Defensive cynicism reigned. In total, 51 matches saw only 108 goals.
Astonishingly, more than half the teams managed less than a goal a game, making a mockery of Michel Platini's silly plan of expansion.
Bigger was certainly not better.
Increasing the chances of qualification to the knockout stages only decreased the necessity to take risks.
In truth, the tournament got the final it deserved, a largely negative contest that finished 0-0 after 90 minutes which was eventually won by a side that had mastered the art of stifling the opposition.
3 The World Cup is a different league
Remember the early goal fests in Brazil? How about Germany's demolition of the hosts?
The captivating, counter-attacking Chileans? Louis van Gaal's goalkeeping substitutions?
The abundance of authentic superstars like Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi, all from one fabulous club, but biting, swaying and scoring for three different nations?
Never let it be said again, if it ever was, that the Euros are superior to the World Cup, thanks to a supposedly higher concentration of elite talent in one continent.
It's quite the opposite. Familiarity breeds contempt.
Euro 2016 was an expanded Champions League format with poorer players.
The personnel knew each other, played against each other and cancelled each other out.
Which European nation sends so many footballers across the continent? France and Portugal.
The host nation, the net export champions, offered no surprises and nor did the eventual winners, apart from Renato Sanches - who wasn't an unknown quantity to begin with.
Even then, he's expected to scale greater heights with his new club Bayern Munich.
On the plus side, it's only two years to the next World Cup in Russia, the current global breeding ground for hooliganism.
4 The EPL really is a different league
In the second half of the tournament, something happened.
It was barely perceptible at first, but no less predictable or depressing.
The impatient media's emphasis began to switch. EPL transfer rumours slowly increased.
The world's biggest sporting competition, staged in a country that couldn't beat Iceland and still hasn't won a Euros knockout game in 20 years, began to take precedence.
The respective unveilings of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola put non-Euros football on the back pages for the first time (and Guardiola popped up on TV screens for days after).
Sometimes, we get the football tournaments we deserve.
The global interest for the Euros isn't in the same league as the EPL and the players, many of whom were clearly exhausted, lacked the requisite intensity.
The lethargy proved infectious.
Those associated with the uniquely ridiculous pressures of the EPL were clearly affected.
Wales boss Chris Coleman insisted a British side - or even a nation with a sprinkling of EPL regulars - will continue to labour until a winter break is introduced.
It's no coincidence that Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud and Bacary Sagna were clearly spent forces by the final.
And the lengthy Champions League exertions took their toll on both Antoine Griezmann and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It's an old argument because it's an old problem. For many in the media and those holding remote controls at home, the EPL and Champions League will always be the overriding cash cows and superior products.
The Euros are certainly not an afterthought, but they are playing catch-up.
5 The middle-aged spread of talent
Continuing the previous point, consider many of the tournament's leading performers.
Michael McGovern, Italy's back three, Ivan Perisic, Dimitri Payet, Jose Fonte, Ricardo Quaresma, Graziano Pelle and the two strikers called Eder, one Italian, the other Portuguese, are all close to - or the wrong side of - 30.
Euro 2016's slow, plodding and overly cautious football made France a country for old men.
Journeymen and late bloomers took centre stage, with only a handful of nascent stars (mostly Portuguese) able to increase the intensity.
Perhaps Paul Pogba best represented the midfield malaise that afflicted the tournament's youth.
A firework for his club, he only occasionally flickered for his country.
It's hard to explode in a damp squib.
6 It's going to get worse
By the time Euro 2020 shuffles into view, Euro 2016 may be remembered as a tournament of cohesion and lean efficiency.
Disgraced former Uefa president Platini could well be back to see the damage he has done to a previously succinct, enjoyable football fiesta.
Euro 2020 will be equally bloated but more fractured.
Thirteen venues across 13 nations, from Baku to Bilbao, was Platini's equally idiotic brainchild, creating a chaotic tournament that will just be Champions League-lite.
It'll have major travelling and logistical headaches, but a fraction of the global talent.
So maybe Euro 2016 will be fondly remembered after all. Things may only get worse from here.
BY THE NUMBERS
The European Championship in France featured just 108 goals in 51 matches, an average of 2.06 goals per match.
>1 goal a game
More than half the 24 teams at Euro 2016 managed less than a goal a game.
Newly crowned European champions Portugal managed to win only one of their seven matches in 90 minutes.
Would I like us to be pretty? Yes. But between being pretty and being at home, or ugly and being here, I prefer to be ugly.
— Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning coach Fernando Santos (below) on criticism of his team’s style
The level at this European Championship was not what we had hoped for. There were many teams who didn’t want to do anything with the ball and just packed men behind the ball.
— Germany defender Mats Hummels on the quality of football at Euro 2016
I think having 24 teams is too many. The World Cup’s going to be increased to 40 teams... and that’s a problem in the long term. Sometimes you get the feeling it’s not doing football any good. The quality is suffering.
— Germany coach Joachim Loew on the expanded Euros format