Even if you did not read my Club v Country: an easy home win chapter in the ALS book More 24 Hour SAFC People, you probably know that Salut! Sunderland is rarely found devoting too much space to football at international level.
Since I am currently based in Abu Dhabi, I care more about the UAE’s prospects of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – one point at home to Syria tomorrow night would take them to the next qualifying stage – than England’s. But I do feel I may have been missing something in the last couple of weeks. From Pete Sixsmith to the abaya-clad interns at the office, so many people have raved about Portugal (au revoir), Spain and Holland that Euro 2008 has clearly been producing some great football. Bringing me further up to date, with his a midterm review of the competition, Pete oozes appreciation of Russia, Turkey and Croatia…
So, we are more than halfway through and Keano still hasn’t signed any of the stars of the tournament. I’m sure we would all agree that Ronaldo, Toni, Henry and Cech have had outstanding tournaments and, on their performances so far, would grace the likes of Blyth Spartans and Horden CW.
The best sides have been the relatively unfancied ones. I watched the Russians beat Sweden and was transfixed by the pace of their game and the accuracy of their passing. Sweden were a little ponderous (Gary Breen and Jeff Whitley might well have felt comfortable in their line up) and they lacked any form of penetration up front. I know Ibrahamovic was injured but at times you could almost understand why Reidy favoured Flo over him. All right then, maybe not.
Both Russian goals were excellent examples of what good sides should aspire to. Guus Hiddink is a marvellous coach and it can’t be coincidental that his side plays in a similar style to Dick Advocaat’s Zenit Leningrad*. The Dutch influence is clearly at work there and here’s hoping that Roy can pick up some of it on his worldwide coaching odyssey. Mind you, what the Dutch side FC Twente hope to get from Steve McClaren is difficult to fathom. Maybe fashion tips on umbrella styles.
The Russian, Tukish and Croatian players seem hungrier than the “westerners”.
They also seem more interested in listening to their excellent coaches than spending huge amounts of money on weddings, Baby Bentleys and assorted bling.
Whether any of them fancy a stint at the Stadium is an interesting point to ponder. We have been linked with the Romanian full back Rat which conjours up all kinds of silly quiz questions about SAFC players named after animals. We had someone called Francis Bee just after the war, there was Nicky Sharkey in the 60s and Dennis Longhorn in the 70s. Any more out there?
The rumour mill is grinding slowly at the moment but once this tournament is over it will start up full time. This is the time when agents deserve all our support as they try to place their clients with the right club.
Some agents do a great job – the (allegedly) dodgy one who placed Carlos Edwards with us deserves a medal a big as a frying pan, while the guy who fixed us up with Greg Halford deserves to be hit with one. If we bring in players from Europe let’s hope they are more Stefan Schwartz than Lilian Laslandes.
* Finally, two apologies. Colin’s patience at my spelling of KENWYNE rivals that of Job and I should perhaps own up to my own David Pleat moment when I found it impossible to type St Petersburg instead of Leningrad. Now I’m away to watch a province of Yugoslavia play the Ottoman Empire (editor’s note: Pete was writing prior to the Croatia-Turkey game).