Dream Final, a Lesson in VAR and the Quest for Football Immortality

Good Bad and Ugly European Championship Special

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

Welcome back, the delayed European Championships have been a surprisingly entertaining break from the toils of club football, with the dream final to come, there’s time for a quick Good, Bad and Ugly.

The Good

It’s nice being a neutral every so often… 

Watching Slovakia, the conquerors of my country, Northern Ireland, getting trounced five by a Spanish team with banjo-legged Álvaro Morata upfront helped me let go of some pain. 

It was also funny to watch many England fans think that a game against Ukraine in the quarter-finals would be a struggle. 

This was as close to a bye into the semi-finals as possible in international football, and after five minutes Gareth Southgate and the nervous fans realised it. 

Now with one match to go, everyone can look forward to a genuinely exciting final match.

England, finally, has the chance to put some silverware beside Jules Rimet. All they have to do is beat an Italy team that haven’t lost in over 30 games.

Villan Of The Week — Emiliano Martinez

A bit of a cheat, but while everyone was obsessing over the Euros, Emi Martinez put in a delicious display of pure evil in Argentina’s penalty shootout win against Columbia.

Trash talking, saving three penalties, hip thrusting and stealing Lionel Messi’s thunder is all in a days work for the supervillan Martinez.

The Bad

Truth be told, the idea of a continent spanning tournament even before a global pandemic, was poorly conceived and perhaps downright bad.

It’s led to some teams having a ridiculous home advantage and others having to travel thousands of miles.

Worse than that, there’s been no chance to see the culture and identity normally associated with an international tournament.

One minute, you were watching games in Baku, the next Wembley, then a full capacity Budapest. It meant the group stages struggled to grip the fans until the final games.

Despite this, and somehow still calling the tournament Euro 2020 ,even though it is 2021, there has been a ray of common sense that has trumped the bad. The refereeing in the Euros has been such an improvement on what fans are used to seeing in the Premier League that it highlighted everything that is bad about the PGMOL officiating and use of VAR.

In fact, the worst cases of VAR usage and bad decisions came when Premier League officials were involved. Lengthy delays in the Italy Austria match and an awful red card decision by Michael Oliver against Switzerland in their match against Spain.

By contrast, almost every other match has been allowed to flow, players bad acting has been laughed at and the physical side of the game has returned.

It just shows how bad the state of refereeing has got in the Premier League, and the pundits with their guest ex-referees are the enablers who allow it to deteriorate.

Maybe the PGMOL can learn a lesson or two from their European counterparts and take it into the new season, but I won’t hold my breath. 

The Ugly

It’s easy to say I’m getting old, but people today don’t seem to recognise the importance of international football tournaments.

This isn’t club football or even Champions League. This is football that cuts through to the casual watcher. 

Italia 90 and David Platt are the reason I’m a Villa fan, and how many more youngsters will catch the bug, seeing Grealish and Mings put in stellar performances for England.

27 million people watched England’s semi-final against Denmark. Sky sits around three, and even BBC FA Cup games are lucky to get near ten million.

International tournaments are an entirely different beast to club football. The stakes couldn’t be higher. It is the difference between infamy and immortality. 

Every match, every minute and every decision has the potential to ruin or make your reputation forever. It’s the reason some decisions seem strange to football fans bred on the machine that is the Premier League.

When Gareth Southgate, substituted sub Jack Grealish against Denmark, you could begin a countdown to the online outrage.

There was just enough time for everyone to draw their lines in the sand before the match was over.

From Villa fans furious at the perceived snub to stat monkeys desperately trying to count the blades of grass he covered compared to the other nine outfield players in an attempt to justify it.

The truth is, it doesn’t need analysed or explained because it’s the decision of one man. 

The man is the manager of the team and the decision is the one he thought would ensure the game. If it was in the rules, he’d probably have put on another goalkeeper.

The same manager has substituted Harry Kane three times in the tournament, not played Ben Chilwell and barely used Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford.

There’s no bias because he’s not there to appease Aston Villa fans, or Manchester United, City or Liverpool ones. He’s chasing footballing immortality for his country. 

Gareth Southgate doesn’t care what anyone thinks because he is there to win the tournament in any way possible. If it means playing a formation that no lover of the beautiful game would pick, then so be it.

The reaction to some decisions is what you’d expect to see from over eager parents at their children’s under sevens matches, except there are no medals for participation in international football.

Southgate’s style could be called ugly, his player choices boring and his in game management chaste, yet what has been overlooked, is that it is working.

International football should be about mavericks. From managers to players, the greatest moments in football come from the geniuses.

Yet at the business end of tournaments, you always find the pragmatists and very rarely do you find England.

Gareth Southgate is perhaps 90 minutes of ugly football and choices away from immortality for him and the nation, so just try to enjoy it, because many more exciting players and managers have never got close.


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  1. Have to totally disagree on one point. International football is finished.. In this globalised world at least half of the team could be playing for other countries. Their choices are made on whose team they most likely will get into and which team will help their career most. Also, with the sponsorship that comes with the higher profile the further a team goes in the competition. The xenophobia and nastiness that goes with some country’s fans is also unpleasant.

  2. I would agree with your ‘ugly’ section if I thought that it was true, but Denmark were shot at the end, and retreating with everyone behind the ball was about the only tactic we could play which would get them back into it. The slow, direct assault was the only card left for them, and by going back to the edge of our area and ceding the ball we became a hostage to fortune to a small extent.

    I think that putting our best players on the pitch is the best way to win. Foden and Grealish can take the ball and make a chance, even with defenders all over them- Mount and Sako are perfectly good now, and will be even better players in the future, but aren’t as hot as the first two at this vital skill.

    Anyway- even if we lose, Southgate has done a great job of getting his squad to play for each other first and remember club loyalties second. Fans are always going to be a step behind with this, but if we can’t all come together for a final, we aren’t doing it right.

    Come on you lions 🙂

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