No, it is not a plea to the European Central Bank or the Bundesbank, but a request to Michel Platini and his pals to keep the format the European Championship intact and don’t kill the golden goose.
Euro 2016 has already dispensed with the perfect tournament – 16 of the very best teams competing in an easily digestible competition. It was crisp, psychologically symmetrical and you didn’t need any computation to work anything out. In France next year, 24 teams will take part. They can just about get away with that, but it does mean that some lesser lights will find their way to the finals. Good for them, but not necessarily for the overall quality.
Platini’s idea for Euro 2020 is a pan-European free-for-all that will be played in 13 cities: London, Munich, Rome, Baku, St. Petersburg, Bucharest, Amsterdam, Dublin, Bilbao, Budapest, Brussels, Glasgow and Copenhagen. From England’s perspective, the choice of Wembley for the final and semi-finals is a coup, but there will be something missing from Euro 2020.
Platini, doubtless, will claim that in choosing 13 locations, he is merely “spreading the joy” and making the European Championship accessible for everyone. To some extent, UEFA are indeed attempting some sort of footballing “summer of love”, but in decentralising, there is the risk that the competition will look fragmented and lack the “carnival” of a major tournament. Anyone who has been to a World Cup or European Championship will understand that sentiment.
Having been to World Cup 2006 in Germany and the European Championship in Austria two years later, I can vouch for the tremendous atmosphere that can be generated.
In Germany, we went to Hamburg and Hannover and experienced the sort of vibe that can be compared to those found in the past at Boy Scout Jambourees. Fans were arriving from all nations and the bar of our hotel had a United Nations feel to it. There were Germans (naturally), Mexicans (in their droves), Costa Ricans, Saudi Arabians, Dutch (inevitably, the most mobile people in Europe) and Brits. The goodwill that was created as people swapped stories was such that you almost felt it appropriate to exchange pennants and souvenirs!
In hindsight, it is perfectly feasible that the Mexicans, a happy and generous crowd, had no intention of returning home, but let’s not get into migration. Wherever you went in Hamburg, a fine city, people wanted to talk football and find out where you were from. A similar mood could be found when London hosted the Olympics in 2012. And then there was the FanFest concept that the Germans (and Austrians) orchestrated so well.
The optimists among us will believe it is possible that Euro 2020 will create 13 centres where a similar cork-popping atmosphere can be created. But it will be confined to those cities, so in Munich it will be party time, but other locations like Frankfurt, Berlin and Stuttgart won’t get their share. On the other hand, if UEFA pull it off, there could be a trans-European buzz.
There could be another reason why UEFA have not pursued the one – or even two – centre football holiday. Perhaps from an economic standpoint, nobody is prepared to take it on? As we all know, Europe has been a financially-challenged continent in recent years. The cost of putting on the big show in a single nation may not be politically acceptable. Look at Brazil and its social problems when they were building the stadiums for World Cup 2014. England, Germany and France all have the grounds and infrastructure needed, but could Spain or Italy really justify massive expenditure to host the Euros when their economies are in such a bad way? The cynics will suggest that the opportunity to capitalise on a massive TV exercise – an expanded format and multiple locations – is the real driving force behind the radical recalibration of what was a very successful and eagerly anticipated product. Or is that Platini is really just a big old hippy (he certainly looks uncomfortable in a shirt and tie) who wants the entire footballing continent to hug trees and join hands? It could be a move that UEFA regrets. Monsieur Platini, you were a great player, but please: “Ne pas tuer la poule”.