And so the Welsh dream is over. The dragon was slain not by George this time but by Cristiano. For the first time that I can remember, Ronaldo stepped up to the plate when it mattered; a big match needed a big intervention and he did so, twice in almost as many minutes.
It wasn’t a great game by any standards. The only thing emerging from this tournament is that ‘tactical battle’ is the new dull. Wales weren’t as fired up as I’d expected and they didn’t force the game, almost believing the way they’d lulled Belgium into a false sense of security would work against the Portuguese. It didn’t and you were left wishing that they played their natural high-tempo game.
And I think they missed Aaron Ramsey although to what extent I’m not too sure. I don’t think it was decisive as it struck me that he would have been as isolated and as frustrated as he was against England. One thing was clear; Gareth Bale is nowhere near the level of being the world’s best player or if he is, these are dire times indeed.
Fast? Good grief, yes; the one run he had left defenders strewn in his path but there was no end product nor did he ever seem like imposing himself on the match; lifting and inspiring his compatriots wasn’t happening, no matter how many thumbs sideways he gave them. Perhaps they took that to mean, “Nice idea but there’s no way you’ve got the ability to make it work”?
So we move onto Germany v France tonight. It’s an interesting battle, one different to the quarter-finals. It won’t be as open as France’s trouncing of Iceland but an early goal for the hosts would probably be the ideal scenario. Löw showed his willingness to numb the senses by matching the Italians so we can only hope that the French are on fire as they were in the first half on Sunday.
On the Arsenal front, Arsène is worried about the impact of the EU Referendum vote on English football. Isolationism, he proclaimed, wouldn’t do the game any good. Yeah, because inclusionism has really benefited us, hasn’t it?
OK, so it did in the past but the days when Premier League clubs could walk into any continental club and buy their best players is long gone. Wages in Spain and Germany are comparable, if not better, than in England and with the lack of European success coming the Premier League’s way, the allure for the best players in the world is dulled.
There’s a disconnect between the way the game sees itself and reality. The Premier League is, by and large, exciting to watch but that doesn’t mean its technically proficient. And there’s a worrying naïvety about the tactical acumen of coaches, even the widely respected and experienced ones.
Even the ones who’ve previously enjoyed European success are unable to outwit their opponents, with the collective technical deficiencies insurmountable. Until the coaching becomes quicker witted and the players better, an English Champions League winner seems some way off.
Last season’s Premier League was held as some proof that the rest of the top flight caught up with the big clubs. Judging by the disarray at United, Chelsea and City, I’d dispute that. Even Arsenal were shambolic to some extent, with the habitual lack of depth crucifying us when goals became hard to come by. Others are addressing their shortcomings whilst we wait to see how this summer will pan out.
I expect Conte, Mourinho and Guardiola to reinvigorate their respective clubs and whilst Arsenal have the comfort that continuity brings, we have to respond to that revitalisation elsewhere if there are genuine title aspirations. For too long we’ve been a ‘half-a-season’ side, derailed by loss of form or injuries, or both, and that’s something which the manager should be addressing.
It’s the final year of his final contract and if he’s serious about renewing the deal, I’d expect him to go hell for leather in the transfer market to get the 2 or 3 players he needs to take the squad to the next level. That’s genuinely challenging for the title and not claiming second place evidences it. Finishing double-digits behind the champions isn’t challenging, we’ve got to push all the way and hope others falter rather than being the ones with the collapse.
Elsewhere, the club is putting its academy into the EFL Trophy, formerly the Johnstone Paint Trophy. Sixteen top flight clubs accepted the invitation to join the competition, a move which faced some hostility from Football League clubs who were – and remain – concerned that it is the thin end of the wedge in admitting the Academies into the league itself.
I can see the benefits from the Premier League clubs themselves but understand the fears. The question that the Football League has to answer is whether the academies or National League clubs offer more revenues in an expanded pyramid? I don’t think it’s clear-cut because Arsenal, for example, would almost certainly not play at the Emirates for fear of ruining the pitch for the first XI.
I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer either. One thing is certain; English football has to find a way of reducing its fixture list and restructuring the game into 5 divisions of 18 – 20 teams is the major component of the solution.
On the transfer front, there’s no news. Genuinely, there isn’t. We’ve been linked with the strikers, talked to their representatives and are now waiting for the ink cartridge at Everton and Lyon fax machines to be changed before things can move forward.
Finally, a note that there is a new playlist over at Dad’s Jukebox, for those who are interested. And those that aren’t as well…