The US Soccer Players writing staff previews Euro 2012.
A week away from the start of Euro 2012, US Soccer Players writers Tony Edwards, Jason Davis, and Justin Shaffer look at the potential transfer targets, the tactics, and the bigger picture from an American perspective.
Which player do you see as being most important to his team’s strategy and success?
Tony Edwards: They are two different questions. The most important player to any team's success in Euro 2012 is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid). The most important to his team's strategy is probably the much-maligned Arjen Robben of the Netherlands. Which Robben shows up in this tournament will perhaps be the difference between the Dutch lifting the trophy and choking in the group stage.
Jason Davis: The Netherlands’ Mark Van Bommel (PSV Eindhoven). The Dutch team has enough talent to go deep in the tournament, as evidenced by their second place finish at the last World Cup, and they have more than enough attacking talent to score the goals they need, but it's their ability to control the midfield and protect their back line that will ultimately determine how far they go. Van Bommel is the guy in the middle tasked with distribution and defense and, as the Netherlands captain, will ultimately shoulder the weight of their success.
Justin Shaffer: Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund). The talented young striker is a clinical finisher, as evidenced by his 22 goals in the Bundesliga this year. But Lewandowski’s rising status has already forced his manager to alter his tactics due to public complaints from the star striker. Poland will play on home soil in, arguably, the easiest group in the tournament. But Poland is the lowest ranked team to make it through qualifying and will need their best player to shine at the Euros if they are to advance beyond the group stage.
Which player(s) do you expect to have a break out tournament and possibly become a major transfer target this summer?
Tony Edwards: Denmark’s Christian Eriksen (Ajax). While I don't expect Denmark to make it out of the group of death, Eriksen is young, creative, and a much wider audience will come to appreciate him.
Jason Davis: Germany’s Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund). Not going out on a limb with this one, I know. As for the "become a major transfer target" part, I'm not sure there's a young player in this tournament that isn't already that, even if, like Götze, they are still teenagers. So I go with the relatively safe choice of picking an exciting attacking player on a youthful squad.
Justin Shaffer: France’s Yann M’Vila (Stade Rennes). In his key role as a ball winning defensive midfielder and France’s deep-lying playmaker, the 21 year old M’Vila is already drawing comparisons to Claude Makélélé. His current club has been adamant to wait on selling him until after the Euros, hoping for a big transfer fee. Unfortunately, a potentially serious ankle sprain suffered in Thursday’s friendly with Serbia may have already dealt a major blow to the hopes of both club and country.
Tactically speaking, what do you expect? Will we see the broadening influence of Spain’s Tiki-Taka? Or should will more teams employ the bunker and counter methods Greece used to win Euro 2004? Or will some new trend emerge?
Tony Edwards: As Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox have written, international tournaments aren't the place for tactical innovation. It would be nice to see international coaches get the time to drill their players in the tactical styles they want to play, but with reduced time in camp, it’s difficult. Players from Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao arrived late to Spain's camp and, the Bayern Munich and Chelsea players were late in getting to their camps after the Champions League final. Even if there was some tactical innovation those coaches wanted to put into place, they've got to let their players heal and rest. The circumstances are just not conducive to great leaps in tactics.
I may have said this a time or twenty, but one of the greatest jobs done by a National Team coach was Luiz Felipe Scolari with Brazil in 2002. He found a way to get his best players on the field at the same time and won the World Cup.
Jason Davis: I think we'll continue to see the tactical dichotomy that has come to mark this age of the game. Spain will be Spain, Greece will be Greece, and the tactics of most games will be determined by the match-up. I expect "lesser" teams (including teams we think of as some of the better in the world) to bunker in, to play "anti-football" whenever it suits them. We've reached a point where only a few teams are content to play their game no matter the opponent. Everyone else plays to their opponent. The past decade has washed away most of the "shame" playing ultra-defensively. When even the Dutch are playing two holding mids and backing down to anyone, it's going to take a seismic shift to change the landscape.
Justin Shaffer: The approaches will vary round by round and match by match. I do think we will see a lot of bunker and counter in the early stages just as we saw in a lot of the early games at the 2010 World Cup. The cynical approach can lead to some exciting upsets, like Switzerland over Spain in South Africa, but it sure isn’t fun to watch for 90 minutes. Even the Netherlands version of attacking soccer is defined more by Nigel de Jong’s ugly interpretation of “attacking” than what most fans have in mind. Of course, more stringent officiating than what we saw at World Cup 2010 could open things up quite a bit more.
Germany comes into this tournament as a favorite, despite being the youngest team in the tournament. Given Jurgen Klinsmann’s role in the rebirth of German soccer, what parallels (if any) do you see in where the US is at now versus what Klinsmann had done with Germany one year into what turned out to be a two-year tenure?
Tony Edwards: Klinsmann hasn't faced a game that means anything yet with the US, so it's difficult to say. It's inaccurate to say Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley didn't want the US to go and dominate teams on the road in CONCACAF. For a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in 2009, Bob Bradley used 4-3-3 formation that featured Jose Torres in midfield with Marvell Wynne and DaMarcus Beasley at fullback. But the problem is, as mentioned above, having enough time to get the players accustomed to the style the coach wants to play. Klinsmann also has little control over the skillsets and talent in the available player pool, but it’s up to the coach to get the most out of it in the limited time available in camps and friendlies.
My hope is that Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos, in their player development roles with US Soccer, will have a deeper influence over the long-term progress of the program then a coach whose success is, and should be, judged by short-term results.
Justin Shaffer: Obviously, Klinsmann’s infectious enthusiasm and positivity has carried over from his time managing the German National Team, but I also see a similarity in what he’s trying to do with the team. We continue to see tactics focused on more passing out of the back, creativity, and freedom to roam and interchange. Germany automatically qualified for the 2006 World Cup as hosts, so this will be Klinsmann’s first time leading a team through World Cup qualification. Where he really only managed six or seven games that really counted for Germany, it’ll take that many just to get through the first round of qualifying, plus another ten games in the Hexagonal.
Jason Davis: I'm not sure there are many parallels, beyond the more mundane things like diet, training, etc. Klinsmann is a force of personality, and it's clearly having a large impact on the USMNT, but I don't think he was required to do as much transforming with Germany. He certainly brought new ideas to Die Mannschaft, but the project wasn't nearly as comprehensive as the one he's attempting now. Moreover, Klinsmann's hands are tied by the limits (at least relative to Germany) of American talent. With Germany, he…refreshed the program. With the US, he must do something wholly more involved if he intends to lift the USA to a new level of success.