5 NOTES: on the Legacy of Euro 2012

Firpo’s Five Notes on the things we’ve experienced, learned and gained from this European Championship
by Mike Firpo   |   Friday, June 29, 2012

FIRPO's 5 NOTES - 5 soccer notes by Mike Firpo

Once the dust settles on what looked destined to be an awkwardly arranged Eastern European double-date, the 2012 European Championship could be known for several things. Thankfully, most of those legacies should turn out positive. Here are 5 notes on that legacy. Well it’s actually 11 because I’m not good with brevity or math apparently. Just look at it as bonus tracks on CDs, which you no longer buy:

1. Eastern Europe Awaits More Events

Most World Cup and European Championship tournaments leave modern cathedrals in their host’s shadows, and on their books. Sadly due to UEFA and FIFA minimum capacity requirements, many of these gleaming beauties tend to be underutilized, to varying degrees, by their local clubs. Surely Ukraine and Poland needed some new stadiums, but a few will likely be too big for domestic use but hopefully can see some big events and Champions League and Europa League action in the future.

Not so surprisingly, Ukraine never did build that highway system the size of France for the Euros afterall. And there were hotel, transport and logistical issues across both nations, but by-in-large the tournament went by smoothly, and Michel Platini comes out of this looking daring, yet triumphant (except about Goal-Line Technology, see below); and it seems to have opened up Eastern Europe for even more hosting possibilities. Poland and Ukraine end off looking better than most feared and some seemingly hoped for.

2. Goals Galore

OK maybe Spain didn't score enough, but they were missing David Villa (arguably the most consistent striker of this decade) and their nearly 700 passes a game is not exactly snoozeball unless we are spoiled by seeing Barcelona and Real Madrid every weekend on tv ... oh wait.

Let's just thank the soccer Gods there were no 0-0 draws in the group stage! Not a boatload of golazos, but enough goals to entertain and keep it interesting. Bad for sleep but good for entertainment and helping to convince North American newbies about this World Cup midway rest-stop of a tournament.

3. Few Stars, Decent Teams, Better Hair

No one player shined heads above the rest in Euro 2012. Maybe that’s because the two pre-tourney favorites, Spain and Germany, either had no strikers, few strikers, or rotated them in and out of the lineups like the backstage of a fashion show. Maybe if Russia or Portugal had made deeper runs, Dzagoev or Ronaldo could’ve bagged in a few more. Other players that were known commodities at their positions pre-Euros and that shown well, in spurts, during were: Ozil, Khedira, Lahm, Pirlo, Alonso, Alba, Silva, Casillas, Given, Arshavin, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Terry and a few others. 

Perhaps its Pirlo, Balotelli, Cassano, Iniesta, Xavi or Fabregas that are best poised to rise above in the Euro Final, and not necessarily become the superstar of Euro 2012, but possibly the most iconic player of two squads who share responsibilities very evenly, in a tournament with many teams doing the same with varying degrees of talent.

One thing I am sure about though is many of the tournament’s best players have great hair! Gomez, Ronaldo, Pique, Pirlo, Xavi, Buffon, Samaras, Alonso and Giroud made my mid-life crisis mane jealous. Beckham’s Euro days are over so his coiffure couldn’t spur an international fad this time around, but new all-star hunk Cristiano Ronaldo’s filled the follicle frenzy, as his hair was so smooth it instigated a supermodel catfight on twitter.

Listen don’t deny the hair-performance correlation for follicle folly. What else could explain Wayne Rooney’s less than stellar performance? Look no further than his comb-over situation he had going on at the Euro outset. You didn’t need a squid, goat, elephant or whatever odd animal to predict that a striker with a Donald Trump inspired hairdo would fail to dazzle.

Simple equation, bad hair = bad performance. If David Villa and Carles Puyol were there for Spain, I’m confidently predicting in hindsight and hairsight that their prowess with head fur pushes them passed the tipping point and they “blow-out” their competition with 110% possession.

4. The Last Sweet 16 before Gaudy 24

Unless UEFA has cold feet after this competitively well-balanced tournament of 16 with its easy to follow tables (excluding their overly complex head-to-head tie breaking system), this will be the last time we see 16 teams at a Euro, ever again. Euro 2016 in France will see the tournament balloon to 24 teams, that’s a 50% increase, more time, more exhaustion and nearly half of all available national teams in Europe. Basically, if your national team doesn’t qualify for future Euros you are either a football backwards nation or your Federation hired Peter Nowak and he traded away your best players to Qatar or the UAE.

5. TV Ratings Good Globally & Great in North America

If Euro 2008 brought the tournament into America’s eyes with all of the matches aired live for the first time on the ESPN networks, it should go down in history that Euro 2012 was the tournament that North Americans took it into their hearts. Beyond the fans who have watched the Euros in the past to root for the homelands of their fathers, this European Championship got into the average sports fan's conscious, viewing schedules and, most importantly, hearts.

The global ratings, especially in Europe, look great and show very healthy increases and gigantic chunks of market-share. Though this shouldn’t shock anyone, as this is their continental tournament and party, it’s always good to see growth and relevance. UEFA said the Italy-England match likely garnered the largest ratings of any quarterfinal in Euro history with 100 million viewers reported from 20 markets and 100 nations still to come.

But it’s in North America that we see that the culture and sporting appetite for the Euros just entering maturity and bearing fruit from multi-sport broadcasters who put faith in it as a sporting spectacle that fills a void of necessity and potential. Besides garnering big ratings for ESPN in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and DC, the Euros also performed well in markets like Atlanta, Richmond, Providence and San Diego.

Meanwhile, in Canada, TSN had a healthy 707k average viewers for the first six matches, second only to hockey for seasonal sports, jumping to over a million for the Italy-Spain (not the final, the group match).

In early reporting ESPN said that the 24-game group stage averaged over a million viewers per match, nearly doubling the 552k Euro 2008 average. The quarterfinals had a 31% increase from 2008. The first 28 games (group stage and quarters) of 2012 garnered 1.14m viewers, growing by 63% from the 703k in 2008. This is all without adding digital or Spanish broadcasting numbers.

It was the England-Italy quarterfinal match again that showed to be the big match to this point. It helped it was a Sunday, but even with that, nearly 3 million Americans watched on ESPN. Let's hope the fact that the Final tomorrow is on a Sunday as well, will make it one of the most watched soccer matches in North American tv history.

This growth from Euro 2008 alone points to the fact that North Americans will watch the Euros with an ever-increasing knowledge and desire, irregardless of family ancestry. That’s lots of new fans for the sport and hopefully that brings some more to the MLS and USA/Canadian National Team folds as well.

ESPN and TSN deserve praise for delivering this great tournament in a very professional manner and taking bold risks. UEFA should reward them with preferred bidding in the future for helping grow this tournament in NAmerica. They should also be tickled pink (and the other colors of the Euros) in Switzerland as their future broadcasting rights fees from North America will rise assuredly with the ratings growth we’ve seen in 2012.

6. Pirlo Who?!?

The sudden realization by worldwide media that Andrea Pirlo is now, and has been for years now, one of the most consistent and best players on the planet is almost comical. This is not a situation where Pirlo was amazing, had a bad injury, fall from grace or hit a rough spell. No, he has been this good for years. He just has a very un-showy persona (great hair discluded) but on the field his play is organically rock star status.

It makes you wonder if modern soccer is starting to rely too much on statistics to identify, designate and crown the best players of the game. Pirlo will never have flashy Ronaldo stats, headlines or marketing campaigns, but you better believe he is just as good as CR7, and has been such for longer, he just plays a different position.

This nuanced sport and the media who cover it, should really get back to giving credit to the master technicians of the engine room, like Pirlo, who may be virtually invisible to Opta, Castrol and Moneyball, but who’s play is as vital as the obvious headline-grabbers and stat-makers.

7. Southern Europe Plays Good Football

I know Paul Gardner has the answer in his 70 years of watching, examining and explaining soccer to all of us, but I wish the rest of us knew why the Northern European nations struggle and the Southern Europeans excel so well in tournaments. Germany and Holland (not this time) excluded the Italians, Spanish, Portuguese and French are just pretty darn good teams, consistently. If you add the former Yugoslav nations and the fact that they generally outpunch their larger Eastern European neighbors, they should get credit too. Maybe it’s the wine, the longer playing seasons due to better weather or the pleasant lifestyle that living off the coast of the Mediterranean has created. Who knows, perhaps if the next Ice Age forces the northerners south to survive (see: Game of Thrones), we’ll get to see Scandinavia play more like Iberia one day. Especially once the Vikings grow a taste for the olives. From Ole to Olé, oiy vey.

8. Hosts Can’t Play Rivals on THEIR Independence Day

I’m still not sure how no one at UEFA, the Polish or Russian FAs or the Local Organizing Committee could not have foreseen Poland playing Russia, their former colonizing oppressor, in the middle of Warsaw on the Russian Independence Day may have led to issues. As the Russian fans marched to celebrate their nation and the upcoming game, there were altercations along the route and throughout the city. Thankfully this was mostly dealt with by local police and all the world got to see in their media was a GIANT and scary banner unfurled by Russian fans in the stadium, and not the beginning of World War III. UEFA could have and should have avoided this, with minimal effort. Everyone likes a good match and can even deal with the visiting team “parking the bus” on the field for 90 minutes, but no one wants a tank parked on the street a few decades.

9. The Treasure of the Emerald Isle is its People

The Irish National Team barely qualified for the tourney, and the results for The Boys in Green showed it. Off the pitch though, their merry (see drinking but not fighting England) support would have shown otherwise. Yes, they like their near British neighbors seem to melt into a molten pink hue in the summer tournaments, but overlooking their unfortunate sun damage and lack of melanin … the Irish fans, more than made up off-the-field for their outclassed national team.

In fact, they have cemented in my mind, that pound-for-pound the Irish fans are the best supporters in the world, even more so than the English and Scottish. Especially when you take into account that Irish fans and their immigrant sons make up the backbone of two of the best supported clubs in the world: Liverpool FC & Celtic FC.

What’s ironic is that by showing themselves so well to UEFA and the global football audience with their superior supporting, the Irish just might indirectly have given their own European Championship hosting bid a boost. It would be a good bet that Platini and the European football leaders realize that Ireland and its two other Gaelic bidders (Wales, Scotland) for Euro 2020 would be a less risky endeavor than the murky and crowded waters of Turkey, especially given their ambiguity on wanting to host the Summer Olympics that same summer and their on-going struggles combating corruption.

Boiled down, the Irish showed that they may not play the best, but they sure can support their team with the hearts of champions. Long may we hear ‘The Fields of Athenry’ in our summer football tournaments.

10. Super Mario to Savior Mario … Maybe

Mario Balotelli can grow on you. Well the good half of his persona that is. To be clear that’s not the one abusing posh cars, getting needless red cards, playing the martyr after self-induced recklessness, cursing teammates, storming press conferences, challenges his coach and certainly not the Mario that orchestrates the pyrotechnics for the Queen’s Jubilee ceremony from the bathroom of his Manchester mansion. No that isn’t the Mario that is super, well maybe super nuts Mario, but it’s not the guy you want on your kid’s lunchbox or adorning your desktop wallpaper at work.

The Super Mario who grows on you is a prime physical specimen, a natural striker, a predatorial prodigy with confidence to burn and amazing goals waiting to be scored if he can beat his internal demons that day. That happy, confident and more mature Mario has a very human side as we saw him embrace his adopted “Mamma” who he announced he had scored for in perhaps his best performance on a big stage in his young career.

It’s that Mario, the other half, the good half – that can be super. That Mario can become beloved not just by Italians and Man City fans, but by fans the world over. IF he continues to play well on the field and grow up off of it. And if he does that, Mario has the rare chance to become a valuable symbol and instrument for change by helping to knock down the pervasive anti-immigrant and racist sentiments of a surprisingly good chunk of European society. At still only 21, he has much maturing to do to be able to get to that, but the ball and the world is at this immensely talented footballer’s feet. Hopefully Mario learns sooner rather than later, he can not only help himself with his marvelous talents, but many others too.

11. The Tipping Point for Goal-Line Technology

In my mind the biggest impact to the sport that Euro 2012 will leave will be on the field. Well, specifically behind the goal.

UEFA President Michel Platini came into this tournament as one of the lone, yet staunch, anti-technology football politicians still uttering his disdain for what most fans and media have clamored for during the past few years – Goal-line Technology. He seemed to even make head-way with his additional assistant referee idea, planting an extra four eyes along and behind the goalmouth to ensure no goal would ever again be misjudged in or out.

Well, we know how that story played out. In the England-Ukraine match John Terry seemed to miraculously save a goal off the line, confirmed by the Hungarian assistant mere feet away. Only problem was TV cameras of various angles and along the line especially, clearly showed the ball was over the line. A clear goal was misjudged, by human error, extra nearby optics and all.

After our most recent travesty of sporting justice transpired and the validated cries of the host Ukraine fans were belted out, in steps FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Twitter assuring the masses that the time for GLT (Goal-line Technology) has come. Adding that he thinks the IFAB (the 4 British nations who have 50% say in the rules of the game with FIFA) will ratify the use of GLT in its July 5th meeting. Like a side-stepped President to be, Platini admitted to the media that Blatter will bring in GLT and “technology” was coming. His words seem to foreshadow an apocalyptic Terminator-esque world where machines beat man, but alas, he just looks like the beaten man from this tussle with Blatter, fans and modernity.

If the sport does get Goal-line Technology next week, it should be remembered that it wasn’t Blatter who championed it (he is a recent convert and was against it earlier), and it wasn’t necessarily Platini who held it back but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back at Euro 2012 that put in place one of the unfair bits of the game that needed to be corrected. That positive change, the progression of our games' rules, leaning it more towards sporting fairness and legitimacy and away from stubborn error-filled nostalgia, may well be one of the best legacies any Euro has given the wider sport of soccer. Now let’s hope the French can help us with offsides in four years.

Mike FIRPO

Nationality:
USA
College:
Binghamton Univ.
Club Domestic:
NY Cosmos, RSL
Club Foreign:
Palermo, Napoli, FCB
Creator of Soccer Newsday. President of World Football Travel. Founder of NY Cosmos Campaign. Manager of North American Soccer Industry group on LinkedIn. Helped a few fans see the global game. Proposed on-field at MLS Cup 04. Longtime devotee of Soccer.
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