In keeping with well-established tradition Euro ’12 has provided some wonderful entertainment and many terrific games of football. What I have found especially pleasing has been the enormously rich variety of tactics and styles utilized by the sixteen teams in action in Poland and Ukraine and the deep discussions this generated along the way.
With the undeniable fact that the best four teams in Europe will contest the semi-finals on Wednesday and Thursday, the only conclusion one can draw from this most welcome scenario is that technical talent has turned out to be the most decisive component in the whole process, which is exactly how it should be.
However, it is the reasons why technical talent thrives so much in this tournament that intrigues me and, with the best yet to come in this particular area all the way to Sunday’s final, I will offer for your perusal and consideration my thoughts on why technical talent has prospered so well.
If I may, I will quote from my last offering of a couple of weeks ago, when I stated “Talent is the ability to use skill in pressurized situations that consist of the forceful combination of opponents, circumstances and expectancy, while all the time retaining control, confidence and belief “.
Although I doubt you ever doubted, even momentarily, the veracity of my words (though there is always one Doubting Thomas somewhere), the proof came in the impressive manner in which Italy demonstrated just how cultivated their indigenous talent was by the manner in which they exposed the lack of cultivation of the talents of both the Republic of Ireland and England teams in the dramatically short space of a few extremely eventful days.
And, as we all accept Italy are indubitably the weakest of the four teams left standing over in Eastern Europe, the resultant conclusion must be that the level of technical talent in European football is highly sophisticated at the very top level.
The capability to turn skill into a weighty and consequential talent is a rational process. It obviously requires practice and dedication but how does a performer analyse and solve difficulties under pressure at incredible speed? Remember the way Spain pressurized the Irish players into submission, which exemplified to perfection the ominous feeling of self-doubt that players must work through before they can even contemplate entering the elite echelon.
Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo for example, went into this championship on a similar footing. Two great players who had yet to step into the highest echelon of international football, and yet as Ronaldo finally enters the hallowed hall, Rooney goes on vacation still bristling with discontent and inadequacy at this superior level.
But Rooney has proved consistently that he has brilliant talent. His overhead-kicked goal at Old Trafford this season was equal to anything else we have seen but he failed considerably to impose his true self on Euro ’12 whereas Ronaldo has been the pivotal aspect of Portugal’s entry to the penultimate stage of the competition.
The difference of the two players lies most of all in the national mindset of both countries. The fundamental qualities of England’s team is, in similar fashion to that of Ireland, based on defensive security, which today is really a sign of insecurity and which places players like Rooney at a distinct disadvantage, a point further underlined by the confidence of the Portuguese manager to allow Ronaldo the freedom to be himself by pleasing himself. This grants Ronaldo the power to inhabit the areas of the pitch that blossom most under his prodigious talents.
It is my belief that few, if any, performers can prosper unless the circumstances that abound are professionally and appropriately conducive to the potential and realisation of each individual talent. The best players, and their managers, are well versed in practicing and performing under conditions that encourages, no, forces, them to strive for extraordinary levels of mental capacity that are built on remarkable depths of self belief.
It is the full development of the individual player that eventually produces the best teams, and such teams flourish in the resolute belief that each individual can and will guarantee his performance and the more heightened the sense of expectation for the team the more resourceful will be the self-expectancy of the individual.
There was a time not so long ago when it was essentially the penalty area that was so tight and congested that space was almost impossible to find. Now, against the best teams, space anywhere is extremely difficult to find as teams play high up the pitch and close down, not only the man on the ball, but also his immediate passing targets. This Barcelona style of play is not possible in a 4-4-2 system and that all of the sides contesting the semi-finals place their faith in a three-man midfield (at least) is strongly suggestive of the fact that in Ireland and England a metamorphose must occur.
I have absolutely no doubt that both Giovanni Trapattoni and Roy Hodgson will alter their tactics accordingly for the World Cup qualifiers to come. To their credit, both men propagated an impressive team spirit and effort from their players but unless a manager has a squad of unbridled talent he simply must react to what is happening all around him. To complete the argument one only had to listen to the assortment of analysts on various television and radio channels infer that both Robbie Keane and Wayne Rooney could have “Double-jobbed” by dropping back into midfield to shackle the great Andrea Pirlo. Utter nonsense.
At the highest level in any sport, specialists are the order of the day and there is no time or place for any player doing a “bit of both’ to accommodate a manager who refuses to grow with the times around him.