Euro Cup 2012: so what?
Jonathan Booth wonders why sports journalists can't raise their game
by Jonathan Booth
Monday 2nd July 2012, 09:02 BST
So, the Euro Cup tournament has come to a close, and what have we learnt? Well, for a start, England still can't win on penalties: quelle surprise. Spain are still incredible, and are easily favourites for the World Cup in Brazil; few doubted that before, and even those who backed other teams to win expected Spain to get right to the end. Was it a boring and predicable tournament, a mere interlude between club seasons and the impending world tournament? Thankfully not.
The final was unfair to Italy, who had to deal with 10 men thanks to their third and final substitute, Motta, acquiring a hamstring injury. Spain's passing game has been working in their favour since they won the Euros back in 2008, but in this tournament they were accused of being 'boring'; the tables soon turned as they entered full stride against a gagged and wounded Italy side, with Italian main man Pirlo so expertly controlled that at 2-0 down even with 11 men, it seemed an impossible task. Cue the inevitable U-turn by the media as Spain must now be painted as the conquistadors; a 4-0 result is hardly compatible with calling Spain's supposed 4-6-0 formation 'tedious'.
But the real winners are the neutrals (and of course Spanish fans). The tournament was consistently unpredictable; look to the trials and tribulations of a French team that sometimes looked like it could well get somewhere, but eventually fell back into old habits of in-fighting and unease. What about the Dutch, who were expected to at least reach the semis but disappeared without a trace as Robin van Persie failed to reach his Arsenal zenith? There is also England of course, with a squad that looked average at best, with pretty much no expectations at all other than a hope of scraping through to the knockout stage, followed by an upsurge in winning the group and the script-written penalty misses.
The Euros, then, become an interesting indicator of how fickle sports reporting is, and how badly written it can be. Just as the Euros were painted as incredibly interesting, particularly after the fascinating group stages, there followed a fairly standard thrashing of Greece by Germany and some penalty shootouts. Just as Spain are accused of being boring, they become scintillating in the final game. Just as 'England expects', they fall to the old foe of penalties once again. The twists and turns are great, and have made for the best football tournament in my (short) living memory, but they leave me disappointed with the state of sports journalism. That's before we even talk about the media storm around Mario Balotelli: as a Manchester City fan I can assure you that the press has interchangeably raved about him or found him utterly ridiculous for the past two seasons just as much as they have done in this tournament, always based purely on his last performance, and nothing more.
Look to political analysis, such as Simon Hoggart's regular review of parliament in the Guardian. A lot more happens in the House of Commons day-in day-out, plenty more scandals pop in the headlines one day and are forgotten the next, but the likes of Hoggart are not plagued by short-termism, they do not change tone magnificently from one day to the next based purely on the results. If anything, there is a cynical consistency that not much changes at all in politics, and surely it is the same in sport, as teams fall to the same faults and succeed on the same lines almost all the time. Yet the way sport is reported, particularly football, tends to be based merely on the score with little reference to the past, other than for a fairly pointless statistic here or there. There is no sense of repetition, only shock at the latest results.
It seems difficult to suggest a way out of this mire. Even a direct comparison of broadsheet papers to tabloids shows the same style and approach to sports journalism, and getting Oxbridge-educated politics writers to comment on sport is hardly a viable suggestion. How can football analysis be taken seriously when the back pages are full of disappointingly turgid writing? It's a vicious circle, as sports journalism is seen to be of a lower quality and then attracts fewer of the best writers.
So then, we are left largely as we were before: with the road to the final unpredictable, with many a journalist fooled, but with the winners being precisely the ones everyone expected - much as the analysis ends up being the same reactionist nonsense as always. I am certainly thankful for a great tournament, with some fantastic games to partially feed my football-deprived soul over the long summer, but it is disappointing that, just as the result is as expected, so is the coverage.