Euro 2012 TV Watch: From the armchair this tournament was the greatest of them all
COMETH the hour, cometh the pundit. Eamon Dunphy has had a poor tournament ("by his standards", as he himself might put it) but, like all the greats, he delivered when it mattered.
Dunphy's recent contributions have tended to be sour, rancorous and occasionally unhinged but last night, when thrown a hopital pass by host Bill O'Herlihy, he volleyed it into the top corner.
Bill had asked him whether Spain were the best team in the history of the game. It's an impossible question to answer but Bill, knowing it was being debated in living rooms up and down the country, asked it anyway.
(This is O'Herlihy's great strength. More and more sports shows are presented by ex-pros, or by the likes of the BBC's Colin Murray and ITV's Adrian Chiles - educated laypeople who swot up on arcane facts to make up for not having played the game - but Bill is content to ask the questions ordinary fans ask, no matter how daft. After all, someone has to represent the 99pc.)
Dunphy knew there was no definitive answer but he didn't offer the usual cop-out about apples and oranges. Instead, he came up with a line that elegantly avoided the question's pitfalls and yet did justice to the enormity of Spain's achievement: "This team will be remembered as long as football is played".
John Giles, thrown the same hospital pass, blasted it into Row Z. He raged at what he thought was the idiocy of comparing teams from different eras.
Giles's response was somewhat anticlimactic given that Spain had just done what no team in any other era has managed - and done so in style. Comparisons may be invidious but they're also inevitable.
Besides, the fact that a question can't be answered doesn't mean it's not worth asking. I've yet to hear anyone unravel the meaning of life but that hasn't stopped some of humanity's greatest minds from pondering it.
While we're on the big questions, let's ask the biggest. Where does Euro 2012 rank in the pantheon of football tournaments?
From the perspective of the armchair, the answer is easy. It's the greatest of them all.
There may - possibly - have been other tournaments where the football was as good, such as at Euro 2000 and the World Cups of 1970 and 1982, but from a broadcasting perspective those competitions were in the Dark Ages. Even Euro 2000 seems like a cave painting beside the dazzling, high-definition spectacle that was served up in Poland and Ukraine.
The punditry, too, was of a higher order than ever before. Dunphy and co are a proven commodity but the BBC and even ITV were unrecognisable from their former, buffoonish selves.
After all, it was ITV whose highest profile pundit, Roy Keane, had caused the biggest storm of the competition. Admittedly, his perceived criticism of Irish fans got headlines for the wrong reasons but, as always with Keano, his views were honest and born of unbridled passion. They were far from the back-slapping platitudes that ITV is known for.
The station also dusted off Patrick Viera, a bruiser as a player but remarkably charming as a pundit. Even the much-maligned Gareth Southgate chipped in, following England's departure.
Whilst every other analyst on every other channel was dismissing penalty shootouts as a lottery, Southgate challenged the consensus. "It's not a lottery. It's a test of your technique under pressure," he said, before reminding everyone of why he should be taken seriously on this subject. "I failed that test."
The BBC's star performer was Gianluca Vialli, drafted into the squad so sensationally for the Italy-Germany game. He reached new heights in the final, displaying wisdom, humility and humour.
He struck a note that was jokey yet sincere as he said of his country, "We might not have very good politicians but we produce great players, great managers and ... [at this point there was a twinkle in his eye] ... great player-managers".
(For those too young to remember, Vialli was player-manager at Chelsea in a former life, though whether he achieved "greatness" in that role is open to question).
He also paid eloquent tribute to Italy's coach Cesare Prandelli, "He's like Galileo, a visionary. I hope his gentle, creative revolution spreads around our system, all the way down to the grass roots."
But no words of his or anyone else's could have saved Euro 2012 if the games themselves hadn't been good. Fortunately, good they most certainly were.
Football has spent much of the last decade trying to destroy itself through greed, cheating and corruption. Since the aforementioned Euro 2000, there have been only fleeting signs of hope, mostly from the boots of Lionel Messi.
And then, completely out of the blue, along comes a tournament that reminds you why you watched the game in the first place. Sepp Blatter and Didier Drogba tried their best to kill it but football has risen again.
Maybe it really is a great sport after all.
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