For all the hype, the revamped layout and home nations narrative, the group stages of Euro 2016 were a depressing disappointment – and little did you know, but it’s all Spain’s fault. There’s a direct correlation between the rise of Spanish football and the death of exciting tournament football…
There are a number of theories floating around as to why, after biting into the flesh of the second round matches, fans are still gritting their teeth through an average of 1.85 goals per game. That number has shrunk significantly from the respective tournament four years ago in Poland and Ukraine, where fans engorged themselves on a meaty 2.88 goals a game. Euro 2016 has recorded lower scoring figures than any World Cup, ever and any European Championship since 1980. Thrilling, thrilling stuff.
So lets start by dealing with some of the issues on the periphery of the debate. Firstly, the increase of participating nations from 16 to 24 has meant the involvement of several of Europe’s lesser known sides, nothing wrong with that on the surface (good for them!), though that has also made games far more likely to feature a team looking to park the bus. English fans get enough of that in the F.A cup.
Secondly, with Uefa’s new tournament layout, finishing third was enough to qualify to the knockout stages for four of the six teams who found themselves in that position. Uefa have ultimately succeeded in producing an international equivalent of the away goals rules, such that teams’ are now more inclined to be risk averse, a draw in the first couple of games and you’re more or less through.
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 19, 2016
But let’s not pretend that with a greater array of striking talent on display, Euro 2016 would not have seen a greater number of goals. The truth is that Europe just doesn’t produce world-class strikers anymore. The strikers we do place on a pedestal, names like Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic just aren’t at a level needed to carry their, otherwise average, nations forward.
But we can’t simply pin the ponytail on the Zlatan and assume that the assignment of blame can just be left there. We need to address the wider issue, placing the blame firmly at the feet of the Spaniards. I’m talking of course about the infamous ‘False Nine’ position AKA the way Spain ruined attacking football forever.
In traditional Spanish footballing style, the role of the striker had to change… apparently, rumour has it Guardiola is planning on reinventing the wheel during his forthcoming campaign at Manchester City.
Historically, 2012 was the year of the ‘False Nine’ – a system showcased painstakingly by Spain during their pursuit of the European Championship title and perfected by Lionel Messi under Guardiola’s Barcelona reign. Since 2012, countless European nations have been playing catch-up, trying in vain to recreate it’s success.
Spain’s use of the ‘False Nine’ system left waves of pundits and critics in awe of it’s innovative approach to the modern game, with the final against Italy demonstrating its “devastating unpredictability and effectiveness”. It was hailed as a crowning result of del Bosque’s ideals, proving that his side could succeed convincingly without a spearhead figure in their attack. In essence, The ‘False Nine’ is the closest thing football ever got to emulating the hipster movement.
The Spanish legacy of the ‘False Nine’ is almost completely to blame for the startling lack of goals at Euro 2016. Germany’s interminable scoreless draw with Poland saw them employ a ‘false nine’ as opposed to an out-and-out striker, with Gotze drawing the short straw out of a talented roster of midfielders.
Gotze lasted 66 tortuous minutes of a game in which the Germans ended with 69 per cent possession, having managed only three shots on target the entire match. Imagine if Germany actually had a potent striker to provide a cutting edge to all of their well-worked possession – it makes for incredibly frustrating viewing. Even Spain’s own, Alvaro Morata was dire in the role against the Czech Republic.
These are some of the world’s greatest ever attacking line-ups, insistent on pushing through a new style of football where frankly, it just isn’t needed. ‘False Nine’ simply appears to be a polite way of saying you’re not in possession of a good nine.