By Kristof Decoster
Rio+20, the upcoming G20 summit in Mexico and the European football championship might feel like worlds apart, but they have one thing in common: it’s all about Europe these days. The current football bonanza in Poland and Ukraine feels a bit like the Titanic orchestra, playing on while the euro-ship is sinking. Awful timing, both for the Rio+20 sustainability conference and the football championship, now that a Grexit seems more than likely and Spanish debt financing (and Italian, and …) is all over the press. But yes, watching some of the games in Poland and Ukraine, the similarities with the EU debt crisis are all too obvious, if you zoom in on country teams and football stars.
I haven’t had a chance yet to watch the Greek team, but from what I heard, the Greeks pretty much play like the hapless (‘junk’) team they’re supposed to be these days. As for the Irish, they looked tired and very, very old yesterday against the Spanish. As if not just Irish youth have left the country in droves, but also a bunch of Irish young football players. But you have to give the oldies credit for their fighting spirit, in spite of the overwhelming Spanish opposition. And at least they refrain from whining, unlike the Portuguese prima donna Christiano Ronaldo, who always gives a bit the impression of a spoiled child – and even more so when confronted with ‘Messi’ chants by the supporters from the other team.
The Spanish team – world and European champions – played as if everything is still normal, yesterday. Everything under control. The triangles and other geometrical figures woven by the likes of Iniesta, Silva and Xavi were of a rare beauty. Admittedly, it helps if Puyol is not around. In these dire times, the Spanish players play for their country, even if there is talk of some Barça-Real animosity and Catalan players abound in the team. That might be due to their old and wise coach, Del Bosque, who looks like your grandfather and acts like your grandfather.
The Germans have embraced a modern kind of football since 2006 – not just their economy has been modernized in this first decade of the millennium. They’ve always been cool-headed, solid and efficient (think Angela Merkel, or Bastian Schweinsteiger), but now they also play the attacking game, under the instigation of their flashy coach, Joachim Löw. “Total football”, no more, no less. AAA rating. And they’re now also capitalizing on new resources like Mario Gomez and Mesut Özil, in whom you can see the (wider) European interdependence at work, or even Boateng, a product of globalization.
The (Eurosceptic) British then: they give me the impression of playing with an air of ‘we don’t really belong here’, already with their hearts and minds at the Olympics in London, perhaps. But tonight, Wayne Rooney is back, and apparently he’s itching to play. Let’s see whether that makes a difference.
The French, outsiders this time, play with an entirely new team and a new coach, Laurent Blanc. Yet, this tournament might come too early for them to have a big impact. François Hollande, the new kid on the block in European policy circles, also hasn’t been able to steer the euro discourse in a fundamentally different direction. Meanwhile, his wife is causing him trouble. Also a very French thing, lately.
The Italians are in a league of their own, as you might have guessed. Their midfield features gracious old players like Andrea Pirlo – who reminds me of Mario Monti – while strikers like the gay bashing Cassano and gaffe-prone Balotelli remind me of… (yes, you know whom). But the Italians look combative, in this tournament, and they still have a fighting chance to go to the next round. As in: their debt situation is still not considered as bad as other Southern European countries’ by the markets.
Finally, the Dutch. As usual, in the run-up to Euro 2012, they reckoned they had a good chance to win the tournament – “we’re better than the Germans”. Yet, after two games, they already seem on their way out; at the very least they will need a German ‘bail-out’ in the last game. Ouch. Feels pretty much like the fate of their finance Minister in recent months, Jan Kees de Jager, who was first lecturing Southern European countries, but then relegated to “deficit trouble-status” himself. Arjen Robben, dubbed ‘Alleinikov’ in the German press for his rather selfish way of playing, is one of the football stars who get the flack. If things go wrong, suddenly people realize these guys are stupendously overpaid.
There are also plenty of merciless Euro 2012 ‘rating agencies’: the press, football pundits, ex-football stars (think Mehmet Scholl) and current successful coaches (yes, José Mourinho, that would be you). Finally, Polish and Russian hooligans resemble extreme-right ‘Golden Dawn’ politicians in Greek talk shows. Talking is for wussies.
After one week of superb football, we can safely conclude the following: the euro might go down in the coming weeks, but European football never will.