It was English football’s great anti-intellectual Harry Redknapp who once said of management: “The truth is, it is all about players, and if you have good players then this job is not that difficult.”
Granted, Portugal have possessed one of the two best players in the world for the last seven years, but there was little in their squad to suggest at the start of Euro 2016, bar a mediocre group, they were champions-in-waiting.
That view was only enhanced during a turgid opening round where they failed to beat Iceland, then Austria before conceding three goals to Hungary. On June 22, Ronaldo or not, this was not a team ready to be continental kings.
Which is why their victory at the Stade de France on Sunday is a triumph for coaching and the work of Fernando Santos, who superseded Ronaldo – no mean feat in itself – to become the most important individual in that Portugal squad.
International football management must be a curious task as you’re working with a small group of players – with maybe 10-15 of the same faces – for around six weeks in non-tournament years.
These players are drawn from a multitude of clubs – 16 in Portugal’s case – so therefore are accustomed to a number of different training exercises, tactical approaches and come from very different dressing rooms, in terms of atmosphere and team dynamic with a whole range of personalities.
It’s why, against this fractured and complicated backdrop, the coaches who tend to succeed at international level, are the ones who can foster the best teamwork.
Marc Wilmots has dined out on the individual brilliance of the stars within his Belgium team for four years but when it’s come to the crunch in major tournaments, the faultlines that have always existed have been brutally revealed.
With every Belgian defeat, members of the squad were lining up to point the finger of blame at their coach. That’s not the work of a man who has created a unified squad behind one common goal.
It was the same with England; Roy Hodgson reduced from a previously well-respected manager to a figure of fun amid leaks from within the camp at his apparent archaic training methods.
At the other end of the scale, it says a lot about Joachim Low and Didier Deschamps’ standing among their players that despite their own failures – albeit of a slightly lesser magnitude – little to no criticism has, so far, come from within.
As his rivals fell by the wayside, though, Santos was the last man standing with yet another divine defensive performance to keep the tournament’s best attack at bay.
Critics will point to the fact Portugal are European champions having won just one of their seven games inside 90 minutes.
Ignoring the uniqueness of tournament football, that’s looking at things from the wrong way; Portugal are European champions having gone seven games unbeaten.
It may be a sad indictment of football in the modern age that a team blessed with attacking players of the potency of Ronaldo, retreated to a pragmatic style but then you weren’t paying attention during the group stage.
A simple statistic to emphasise the change of approach is that during the three group games Ronaldo took 30 shots at goal; in the preceding four knockout matches (admittedly with just 25 minutes in the final) he attempted just 15.
For Santos to convince an ego the size of Ronaldo’s to take a backseat and assume a secondary role to that of the collective, is quite an achievement. But that reveals not only Ronaldo’s own selflessness, but the skill of Santos to have recognised where his team’s true strengths lay – in defence and a midfield unit of hard-working and industrious players – then convey his message with little opposition.
Every successful coach is, to some extent, a lucky one, and had Antoine Griezmann taken at least one chance or Andre-Pierre Gignac rolled his shot inside, rather than onto the post, then we would perhaps be bemoaning about what a missed opportunity it was for Ronaldo and the Seleccao.
But while Redknapp’s not necessarily wrong, as the best teams throughout history have tended to contain the world’s best individuals, Portugal have shown football very much remains a team game and why having a good coach can take you to special places.
Portugal recorded a historic win to lift their first major international trophy when they beat France in the Euro 2016 final on Sunday night.
The tournament produced some fine performances from individual players and teams as a whole.
Here, we look at some of the best statistics from the competition as presented by uefa.com.
TOP INDIVIDUAL PERFORMERS
TOP SCORER – ANTOINE GRIEZMANN
Cristiano Ronaldo walked away with the trophy but he was one of four players who were second to Antoine Griezmann in the scoring charts. The Atletico de Madrid forward scored six goals in the competition, twice as many as Ronaldo, Olivier Giroud, Dimitri Payet and Gareth Bale. Griezman was also named player of the tournament.
MOST ASSISTS – EDEN HAZARD/AARON RAMSEY
Eden Hazard produced some good moments during the tournament and managed to register four assists. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey matched the Belgian’s tally and was considered a major miss in Wales’ semi-final defeat to Portugal. The duo were closely followed by Ronaldo (3).
FASTEST PLAYER – KINGSLEY COMAN
Kingsley Coman wasn’t deemed worthy of a regular starting berth under Didier Deschamps but when he did take to the field, he left defenders for dead on a few occasions. The Bayern Munich winger clocked a top speed of 32.8 km/h while the likes of Yannick Carrasco (32.3), Eric Johansson (32.1), Sime Vrsaljko (31.9) and Albin Ekdal (31.9) weren’t too far behind.
MOST SAVES – HANNES HALLDORSSON
Iceland went on the most memorable run at Euro 2016, all the way to the semi-finals. That would’ve never happened though if it wasn’t for their man between the posts, Hannes Halldorsson. The 32 year-old was put under plenty of pressure and did well to deny oppositions time and again.
The tournament wasn’t exactly a goal glut. During the first couple of rounds in the group stages, teams appeared to draw blanks or win by the odd goal. Several games from the knockout rounds needed extra-time or even penalties. It all resulted in an underwhelming goals per game average of 2.12, the least in the European Championship since Euro 1996 (2.06).
The bulk of the goal scoring was done on either side of half-time with teams often starting games cautiously. Meanwhile, the tournament did see plenty of late goals as well with a total of 28 being scored between the 76th minute and the end of regulation time.
BEST TEAM STATS
It’s no surprise that Spain and Germany dominated the passing statistics although Switzerland registering pass completion percentage of 91% does raise a few eyebrows. Spain were hardly at their best while Germany never really got out of third gear either. England sneak in with 59 % possession, the third best in the tournament.
France were the favourites to win the tournament and from the above stats, you can see why. Les Bleus had the most attempts and the highest goals per game average, which was boosted no doubt by their 5-2 win over Iceland in the semi-finals.
Tournament winners Portugal matched the hosts in terms of attempts while it’s not surprising that they lead the way in shots off target, considering the eagerness of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
During the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France, 45 million people had 146 million
Here, we look at the three most talked about moments as well as the five players that got fingers tapping away at keys.
FIVE MOST TALKED ABOUT MOMENTS
1. RONALDO LIFTS THE TROPHY
The moment Cristiano Ronaldo had been waiting for throughout his international career. From the agony of having to leave the pitch injured after 25 minutes to the unbridled joy of lifting the coveted European Championship trophy that evaded him 12 years ago against Greece – the moment capped off quite a night for the Portuguese skipper.
2. EDER’S GOAL
Talk about a bolt from the blue! Or perhaps, through Les Bleus. Eder was hardly expected to make an appearance in the final, let alone score the solitary goal. But football loves the unexpected and a screamer from Portugal’s number nine went viral.
3. FINAL WHISTLE
When Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle to signal the end of extra-time, the script had been ripped up and tossed away. Portugal spoiled France’s party and social media was rife with the story of the underdogs triumphing without their talisman.
4. RONALDO GOES OFF INJURED
It seemed like Ronaldo’s entire international career boiled down to this one game but a clumsy challenge from Dimitri Payet left the Portuguese star with an injury he couldn’t play through, despite his best efforts. Several took to Facebook to sympathize with him.
The build-up to the game was finally cast aside and millions turned their attention to the centre-circle where the referee got the game underway.
FIVE MOST DISCUSSED PLAYERS
1. CRISTIANO RONALDO- 53%
In truth, Ronaldo was always going to be one of the most talked about players on the night regardless of how things unfolded. Despite going off injured and being denied the opportunity to make an impression on the game from the pitch, Ronaldo was animated on the touchline and still managed to retain much of the spotlight.
2. PEPE – 10%
Pepe’s antics sometimes takes away from one simple truth – he’s a world class defender. On Sunday night though, his defending was what people were talking about as he made 12 interceptions and was named Man of the Match.
3. NANI – 7%
Nani was one of Portugal’s most consistent performers at Euro 2016 and put in a fine shift in the final as well, especially when he took over the captain’s armband and was left to toil on his own upfront.
4. DIMITRI PAYET – 6%
The French playmaker was expected to create opportunities for his teammates and he did so early on in the first half. His deliveries were always spot on but he failed to take the game by the scruff of its neck when it called out for a match-winner and was substituted.
5. RICARDO QUARESMA – 5%
Ricardo Quaresma finally did his immense potential some justice in a Portugal shirt during Euro 2016. He came on for Ronaldo in the first half and pulled his weight as the team battled to a heroic 1-0 win.