The dust has almost settled after one of the most enjoyable European Championships there has ever been. If you are an England fan that might seem an inconsiderate thought right now following the pain of losing out yet again to penalties. It has been more than half-a-century searching for an international trophy now and I understand the pain. England should however take comfort in playing their part in it being a fine tournament, playing their part all the way to the very last kick of the ball, and you literally cannot get closer to winning it than that.
I expected it to be close in the final, firstly because the two sides were so well matched, but it was more than that. Italy have forgotten how to lose football matches, which is a fairly positive habit to get into. They are also covered by a back ‘three’ in Bonucci, Chiellini and Donnarumma who are extraordinary as individuals, and as a tight defensive group they are incomparable. But do they just defend? Not a bit of it, have a look at the involvement in the Italy goal by the first two, they are indomitable.
England for their part were equally mean throughout the tournament and as everyone knows, started out the final with eight primarily defensive players on the field. A keeper, three centre-backs and two defensive midfielders along with a couple of wing-backs. But then again, after two minutes one wing-back had provided the other with the opener. At that point Gareth Southgate looked like a genius.
It will probably be forgotten that Gareth did go to a back-four eventually at 1-1, so it wasn’t ultra-negative throughout, the problem was that by then they couldn’t take domination of the ball from the visitors and the momentum was gone. That limited supply didn’t help the likes of Kane and then Grealish when he came on, as there wasn’t enough good possession in the last third for them to have a huge effect.
At the start, Mason Mount appeared to have been given a search and destroy mission on Jorginho. The two clashed a good few times in the first quarter with Chelsea fans and staff probably wincing more than once. It was not unlike the way Mason and Billy Gilmour faced up in the Scotland v England game a few weeks before. No quarter was asked or given and though it may seem odd from the outside, it is perfectly natural for professionals to be capable of ‘leaving a bit on’ one of their club mates, but also for everything to be forgotten, forgiven and fully understood by the end of the game.
Jorginho had the last laugh in the end, but not before some personal short-lived torture when Jordan Pickford saved his penalty kick, a single kick that would have won the trophy. He will not dwell on it, because he has the gold medal, he has the trophy and he has the honour along with Emerson of having done of the great doubles in football.
Being European club and European country champions at the same time is rare and glorious. These moments do not come along very often, for any players, so in this moment those two should sit back and take time to consider that this may well be the pinnacle of their careers. It may not be, but there is a good chance it will be and it should not be glossed over. Football folk are always keen to look to the next challenge, the next honour, the next stage of their careers, but it will be over before they know it, so a bit of time to live the moment is important right now for them.
As for others, some may want to forget at least some of the memories they have set down. I found it very interesting watching the England players walk off after the final with their medals. The style these days is to hang the medals round their necks, a modern phenomenon, rather than hand them to the players. In Covid times this is sensible, but I do not like it one little bit. As a player, I understand that many do not like a silver medal near them at that moment, no matter how big the tournament because right then it screams ‘loser’ at you. Of course it shouldn’t as the players did brilliantly to get there, but it doesn’t matter, it is just how it feels.
The last thing you want is that badge around your neck staring up at you. I remember having absolutely no interest in the last medal I was presented with at Wembley, an FA Cup runners-up medal. I reckon I have looked at it once in the prevailing 32 years. It is how footballers are trained to be, it is not ungrateful or arrogant, you are just trained to be winners and trained not to celebrate losing, it is that simple!
If you ever get the chance, have a look at how many England players immediately remove their medals from their necks, milliseconds after they are thrust on there. Everyone who did it has my full understanding. It shows they feel that even after taking their country on a great journey, this is not job done, that there will be another chance and that they can make amends for that agonising defeat.
So Mason, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, and hopefully a few others in time, should keep that determined spirit up, even when Jorginho and Emerson come into training at Cobham with the winners’ medal around his neck. You are young enough; you are good enough and you still have time.
From the outsiders’ point of view, in terms of pure football, the right team won and that is certainly not always the case in cup competitions. Italy were exciting, positive and willing to adapt quickly. They saw off Belgium, Spain and England so they did it the hard way. In many ways they epitomised many of the best things about this tournament. Specifically, that luck and fortune favoured the brave.
A mighty ocean away, Thiago Silva was another who had a disappointment to deal with. Winning the Champions League and then winning the Copa America would have matched Jorginho and Emerson, but Messi and co. sneaked it with a 1-0 win. Maybe Brazil would have won had Jorginho and Emerson chosen to play for the country of their births!
I believe Jorginho would grace any team in the world and make them better and he would have suited Brazil’s style too. Also, if you look at the goal Argentina scored to win the cup, it comes from a terrible error by left full-back Lodi. What if Emerson had been playing there? We will never know.
More importantly for Chelsea, Thiago Silva played the entirety of five of the last six games that Brazil played in the tournament and looked as imperious as ever. We can look forward to his positive influence for at least another campaign and that is great news for him and the club.
Finally, there is the hope of a little break, but then the Super Cup is only a few weeks away and the chance of another huge medal looms. If it is gold again, do you think Jorginho and Emerson will be able to lift their heads with the weight of that much precious metal? I am sure they will manage.