UEFA European Championship 2016 – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!
I’ve become a bit bored with reading articles from the likes of Sky Sports about who label young footballers as “wonderkids” or “teenage sensations”, particularly when they’re inaccurate, so I wanted to make a few corrections, and raise some interesting points for discussion. I also wanted to praise some players for playing very well, and some players who played well that nobody seemed to mention, so this is a bit of an all-encompassing summary of the Euros!
1. Renato Sanches – Portugal & Bayern Munich
This youngster has a lot of potential – let’s make that very clear to start with. I do think that people are getting carried away with him, having said that – he’s still got an awful lot to prove. Do you know who he reminds me of? Anderson. When Anderson first came on the scene at Porto, and during his early years at Manchester United, he was exactly what Renato Sanches is now. Anderson is now a fat, injury-prone mess that’s playing for the bitter rivals of his beloved Gremio, which tells you an awful lot about where he’s at mentally. Renato Sanches has the world at his feet, but he’s got a lot to prove before I will be convinced that he’s consistent and hard-working enough to be the top player that he could become. I admire his confidence, and he reminds me a little of Ronaldinho in the way that he carries the ball, and there’s always a lot to like about a footballer that plays with a smile on his face. I would urge caution with him, though – it’s over the next two to three years where we’ll see if he’s actually going to make it or not, contrary to what some commentators at the Euros were suggesting.
2. Breel Embolo – Switzerland & Schalke 04
To me, Breel Embolo falls into “The Ugly” category here. No, I am not talking about his levels of attractiveness, but moreso his performances for club and country. I’m sick to death of reading about how he’s the next big thing, and how every club in Europe wants to pay 50 million for him. Newsflash; he’s not very good! That’s not to say that he will never be good, you understand – he certainly has talent in there somewhere. However, he’s horribly inconsistent, temperamental, and his decision-making is all over the place. That’s why the only club that were stupid enough to pay big bucks for him were Schalke 04. To be fair, there really isn’t a better club for Embolo to have joined, given Schalke 04’s superb record at nurturing young footballers. If there’s anything to get out of him, then they’ll manage it, I am sure. I honestly just tire of reading articles from people that know nothing about players like Embolo other than what they’ve seen on Football Manager, or what they’ve seen in statistics. He’s a very raw player, Embolo – blistering pace, good strength, and good movement, but very weak with decision-making, and finesse. He can get away with such things in Switzerland’s Super League, but not in Germany’s Bundesliga. I hope he makes it, but based on what I’ve seen from him thus far, he’s just not good enough, nor consisent enough.
3. Samuel Umtiti – France & Barcelona
I feel sorry for Umtiti, having basically been told that he’s sixth or seventh choice by Deschamps, but still playing in some of France’s most important games for some time, he must be wondering what’s going on! Despite the fact that Barcelona have just signed him from Olympique Lyonnais, though, it’s easy to see why he’s not going to start ahead of Zouma and Varane whilst they’re fit. I appreciate that he’s very young, but he looks very clumsy and unsure of himself. He seems to have little to no control over where he heads the ball, and seems to let strikers get across him far too easily. All too often, he was caught on the wrong side of his man, and he needed Lloris or Koscielny to bail him out. He may become a top player in years to come, but unlike with Embolo above, I don’t even see where Barcelona are going to begin with Umtiti. He’s well-built, to be fair, but I don’t see him as being good enough to be a top footballer in years to come.
4. William Carvalho – Portugal & Sporting Clube de Portugal
Ah, I loved hearing reports about Carvalho at the Euros! All of the commentators and pundits seem to be under the impression that he’s a good player, which…he’s not. He had one outstanding season for Sporting Clube de Portugal a couple of years ago, and has been pretty damn average ever since then. I find it really hard to understand what he actually brings to any of the teams he plays for, to be fair. He’s big, and strong, but he doesn’t fill me with confidence as a holding midfielder, and his passing range isn’t good enough for him to be a playmaker, so what is it that he actually brings? It’s hardly surprising that you never see him in a 4-4-2; he’s just not good enough. Sporting seem to have this random ability to produce players that only play well for one season, or players that promise the world and never deliver (Fabio Paim, anyone?), and William Carvalho is one of those players. I would be staggered if he ever earned a big move abroad because he’s simply not good enough to merit one. The only clubs that would buy him outside of Portugal are the rich clubs that get promoted to the top flight and need to desperately sign “big names” to demonstrate their intent. If they’d have been promoted, Queens Park Rangers are the exact type of team that I would imagine buying him; nobody else would be that daft.
5. Giorgio Chiellini – Italy & Juventus
Giorgio Chiellini falls into two categories here, really – the good, and the ugly! You can take the latter how you wish, but he’s one hell of a defender. Not only was he the bedrock of Italy’s formidable defence in front of Buffon, but he also played a huge part in creating chances for Italy, not to mention scoring the goal that put Italy through against Spain. He’s far from young nowadays, but he seems to be getting better with age. His relentless passion and desire makes him a nightmare to play against, but when you consider that he can mix it up between being a defensive monster and a clever diver, you can only sit back and admire just how good he is. Ironically, he never seems to look particularly comfortable on the ball, but that’s just his stance; he’s actually very good on the ball. Chiellini is one of the more complete defenders playing football today, and I thought he was absolutely outstanding at the Euros. Italy will miss him when he’s gone!
6. Emanuele Giaccherini – Italy & Sunderland
The only thing that I find ugly about Giaccherini is his inconsistency, because everything else about him is wonderful. His desire, his pace, and his intelligence makes him a real handful, and he was a huge part of Conte’s plans with Italy. Whether deployed as a winger or wing-back, Giaccherini embraced his shirt with pride, and delivered outstanding performance after outstanding performance. He ran himself into the ground, and other teams were terrified of his acceleration. Quite how he’s still technically a Sunderland player, I just don’t know. The rumour mill suggests that he’s heading to Torino, and that wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest because he’s had a great tournament. This is a very good player, and he will prove that in a team that plays his style of football.
7. Kamil Glik – Poland & AS Monaco
When most people talk about Poland at international level, they talk about Lewandowski, or Milik. One player that seems to get continually overlooked is their leader, Glik. He’s been an extremely solid and dependable centre-back ever since joining Torino in 2010, and playing in Serie A has only made him a wiser and better defender. At the Euros, he was the absolute heart of Poland’s defence, and he never once looked ruffled. He happily stepped up to take penalties in both Poland shootouts, and he took bloody good penalties, too! What impressed me about him in this tournament was his ruthlessness and efficiency, though. He was a real rock for Poland, and now he’s earned himself a nice move to AS Monaco to try his hand in Ligue 1. He’s earned that chance, though – he was immense for Poland at the Euros, and I expect him to play even better in France next season.
8. Antoine Griezmann – France & Atletico Madrid
It looks like most people seem to have realised how good this fella is now, doesn’t it? It only took him to be the leading goal-scorer at a major international tournament before people realised!! Griezmann is human; he has his faults. However, for someone of his size, he’s remarkably good at staying in all of the games he plays in, which is a lot harder than it sounds. He’s got a brilliant football brain, a sweet left foot, and simply outstanding stamina, all things considered. I think he’s got another big move to come in his career yet, perhaps even this summer, because he’s got the potential to be world-class. The way he moves into channels, knows how to beat his man, and picks the right pass the vast majority of the time makes him incredibly tough to handle. He was superb for France at the Euros, and has fully deserved all of the plaudits he’s received.
9. Eden Hazard – Belgium & Chelsea
Belgium took a lot of criticism following their exit against Wales at the Euros, and rightly so – that should never have happened. In my opinion, though, that’s all down to boss Wilmots, who didn’t get his tactics right once at this tournament, constantly relying on individuals to bail him out. One of those individuals was Hazard, who I thought played very well at the Euros. I felt quite sorry for him, actually – he was supposed to link up with Lukaku, but Lukaku is nowhere near his level mentally, so they could never really hit it off together. Hazard’s class is returning, though – he’s still a wonderful footballer, and I think he played well for Belgium at the Euros. He carried the ball well, bought free-kicks in the right places, and put in some superb crosses for Lukaku and co. to make a mess of. Again, I felt very sorry for him at this tournament because if he had a manager that could build a team around him, then he’d have been one of the players of the tournament, and Belgium would have been in the final against France. Still, ifs, buts, and maybes don’t count when it comes to achieving things; only statistics do. Nonetheless, I thought that Hazard showed plenty of signs of getting back to his best at the Euros, and I think you’ll only see him get better under the superb Antonio Conte.
10. Andres Iniesta – Spain & Barcelona
Spain might be a bit of a joke nowadays, but Iniesta certainly isn’t. Like a fine wine, he’s ageing gracefully, and he looked absolutely immaculate for Spain at the Euros. He has said he misses playing alongside Xabi Alonso and Xavi, and that doesn’t surprise me; David Silva and Fabregas are nowhere near their level. Still, that hasn’t stopped Iniesta from being one of the finest playmakers in world football, and it was his brilliance that saw Spain actually threaten teams. Seldom will you find a playmaker who can pick the perfect pass at all times and have the capacity to dribble them with great acceleration, but Iniesta can do both. In spite of Spain’s woeful tournament, I think that Iniesta was absolutely brilliant for them, as per usual, and he’ll continue to be brilliant in my eyes until he retires. Well, to be honest, you just don’t lose class like that – he’ll probably be brilliant after he retires too!
11. Luka Modric – Croatia & Real Madrid
Luka Modric absolutely ran the show for Croatia at the Euros! Rakitic played his part, but Modric was simply superb, dancing here and there, playing perfect passes. His mobility, intelligence, awareness, and experience made him virtually unplayable at the Euros, and he even capped his tournament off with a beautiful strike against Turkey from distance. The older he gets, the better he becomes, and that’s in spite of playing for a shoddy bunch of cretins at Real Madrid. He’s a superb professional; dignified, respectful, and extremely talented. I feel genuinely sorry for him having not been able to strut his stuff at a higher level for Croatia, because both he and Croatia have deserved that. He had a wonderful tournament for the Balkan side, and I hope it’s not the last chance he gets to show just how good he is.
12. Nani – Portugal & Valencia CF
I’m a big Manchester United fan, as you all know, and one player that I’ve always admired is Nani. A lot of my fellow United fans detested Nani; they thought he was lazy, and inconsistent. Well, when the only other player in your squad that you can compare him to is Ronaldo, then he’s going to come across as second best, isn’t he? To me, Nani has always been a very, very classy footballer. I’ll freely admit that he’ll sometimes go missing because he’s not strong enough to handle criticism, but when he’s playing well, nobody can get near him. That’s why Valencia CF have signed him from Fenerbahce, and I firmly believe that the Primera Liga will suit his playing style perfectly. Nani is a very unsung hero, in my opinion, because he can decide a game in a heartbeat. He can use both feet expertly, is a very clever player, can easily dribble any defender, and has one hell of a shot on him. If he were mentally stronger than he is, I’d have no hesitation in calling him one of Europe’s top wingers. He should have had more praise in his career than he has, in my opinion. I thought he was superb for Portugal at the Euros, and I think he’ll do well in Spain next season too.
13. Dimitri Payet – France & West Ham United
It’s taken me a while to warm to Payet, and I can’t honestly explain why that is. Perhaps I was sceptical because it’s taken him so long to “emerge”, so to speak, but whatever it is, he’s won me over now. He’s getting better and better, and looks a very classy midfielder indeed. He’s not just a free-kick specialist – it’s easy to get lost in his ability to shoot from range. No, he’s got tremendous ability to beat his man, get good crosses in it, and always seems to make the right decisions too. He has great awareness, and a lot more ability than he’s given credit for. He was superb for France at the Euros, and you could tell that by the French fans booing when he was substituted off in the tournament. He’s quickly established himself as one of the darlings of French football, not least because of his work-rate, and I think he’s only going to get better with age.
14. Ivan Perisic – Croatia & Internazionale
As far as I am concerned, Perisic was the best player at the Euros this year. No question. Nobody else was as consistently brilliant as he was, trawling up and down that left wing for Croatia. He consistently beats his man, gets good crosses into the box, can use either foot, has great awareness, and has a good shot to boot. He seems to never run out of energy, has a great level of confidence, and is the most energetic player that you’re likely to come across. Honestly, if Internazionale keep hold of him this summer, then they’ll have done really, really well. I can’t praise him enough for his wonderful displays for Croatia at the Euros. Modric and Rakitic will draw all of the attention, as per usual, but people tend to forget that a lot of their brilliant passes ended up with Perisic, and that’s not a coincidence. Perisic looks to be one hell of a player, far moreso than he has in previous years, and I think he’s destined for a very strong few years.
15. Aaron Ramsey – Wales & Arsenal
Like almost all Arsenal footballers, Ramsey tends to go missing for large part of the season. Whether it’s because of injuries, or Arsenal’s one-dimensional approach to football, Ramsey hasn’t shone there for some years now, despite his glaringly obvious talent. However, with Wales at the Euros, you saw just how good he can be. Whilst everybody was falling over to praise Bale for a couple of very fortunate free-kicks, I was far more impressed with Ramsey, to be honest. I thought he was an absolute general for them at the Euros, playing from box-to-box, buying free-kicks to help relieve pressure, and being incredibly clever in the final third. The displays that Ramsey produced at the Euros are what Arsenal should see from him more often, but don’t. I can’t honestly say what the solution to that particular predicament is, but one thing is for sure; he looked a superb midfielder for Wales at the Euros, and I really admired the way in which he inspired his team. He may look like a complete prat with his new hairstyle, but the boy sure knows how to play football!
16. Gylfi Sigurdsson – Iceland & Swansea City
Last but not least, we have Gylfi Sigurdsson, one of the most consistent footballers in European football right now. He’ll lead from the front, and put 110% into every game that he plays, and that made him an invaluable player for Iceland at the Euros. Everything that Iceland did, they did it through him, which is similar to the way that Swansea City operate. Everywhere he’s been, Sigurdsson has been a massively important member of the team, and it really makes you wonder if he’s capable of reaching another level because the work-rate and talent is there, so why not? He’s a great goal-scorer from midfield, takes superb set pieces, can use either foot, and will not shy away from any challenge. I thought that he was exemplary at the Euros for Iceland, and I can only see him getting better with time.
Have I missed anyone? Post your thoughts below!