Saturday 20 July 2019

John Giles: The rise of the smaller nations will be great for the game in Europe

Read John Giles' exclusive column every week in The Herald

The Icelandic players went further than anyone would have believed at last year's Euros
The Icelandic players went further than anyone would have believed at last year's Euros

John Giles

EURO 2016 has been the tournament of the underdog, good management and bitter humiliation for our nearest neighbours, but I’m still waiting to see a great team.

I still haven’t seen real signs of a new power emerging, but as always in football, we live in hope.

From what I’ve seen so far, the trend follows the same narrative as the Premier season just gone.

Leicester became the standard bearer for the underdog by dominating the Premier League and in France, we have seen what honesty of effort and well-organised, good  players can do.

In this tournament, England collapsed completely while players from the Premier League did well playing in two shades of green and red.

There are many more subtle reasons than a simple tale of ‘underdog makes good’ at work in international football, as indeed there were with Leicester’s success.

But it cannot be ignored that Wales and Iceland’s players have been able to meet the challenge of major tournament football while talented English lads failed.

Roy Hodgson failed spectacularly and everything I’ve seen since tells me that those ultimately responsible for this English mess will make the same mistake again.

Gary Neville is to be interviewed. Apparently he didn’t agree with Hodgson’s decisions, but why should that matter? Why should anything a No. 2 says matter to anybody?

The English FA will talk to Rio Ferdinand. That will be a great chat.

It won’t help the England football team because everyone, from Alan Shearer to Sam Allardyce, has their oar in now and the English FA don’t know how to make the right decision

I said on radio that the English FA should make a call to the entire Iceland senior management team and hire them.

When they have done that, they should then copy the system which produced such competitive, committed and mentally switched-on footballers.

I watched them in every match and  they made a massive impression. They simply ran out of steam last night against France, but never stopped battling.

The idea that they row to the training ground down a fjord makes for nice television, but it’s nonsense. These lads have been playing across Europe for many years and to a high level.

So that’s the big plus of Euro 2016.

The expansion has worked and the smaller nations have competed very well indeed. Many were concerned about diluting the finals by adding more teams but that argument doesn’t stand up on the basis of this event so far.

There has been a very significant levelling of standards, with a big improvement from below combined, most depressingly, with a drop in levels at the top of the game.

All teams at international level are now fit to professional standards and as we have seen in France, coached and managed to very professional standards.

If you have players ready to die for the shirt and a good coach, much more than half the battle is won.

If I’m disappointed with the general level at the top among the elite nations, I’m still very happy that the game is healthy across Europe and small nations are getting better all the time.

That can only be a good thing for the game.

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