KEIR RADNEDGE reports from JERUSALEM
—- England and poor old Stuart Pearce were pilloried at home and abroad for collapsing out of the European Under-21 finals here in Israel after losing all their three matches. Pearce’s tenure appears to possess as much life as the Dead Sea; but there were wider issues at play.
Staging the finals in Israel landed European federation UEFA at the epicentre of political attention for all the predictable reasons associated with anything touching the intractable Middle East debate.
But president Michel Platini and his colleagues always knew the price to be paid.
Hence the intriguing ‘extras’ from these finals have included the further embedding of the concept of Israel as a European sporting nation and a wider interest in the finals themselves directly because of the stage.
Attendances have been perfectly reasonable at an average of around 8,000. Also the goals tally has been respectable at 29 in the first 10 matches for a ratio of 2.9. Holland’s 3-2 win over Germany raised unanimity as the finest match of the group stage.
Pity it should be over so soon but two groups of four teams plus two semis and a final add up to 15 games over just two weeks. With the senior championship being expanded numerically and geographically, UEFA might like to consider doubling up on the event’s younger brother.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino insists Europe has the senior quality to stretch to 24 teams; hence logic would suggests this must be true at under-21 level.
In football terms it would be more important arguably to expand the under-21 finals than the seniors. This would offer finals tournament opportunity and experience to as many youngsters as possible.
Expanding the seniors was a commercial decision. That is: financial.
The interests of fair play suggest a footballing payback is demanded after 2016 in France. Let UEFA invest the expanded profit in the expanded losses of a 16-team under-21 tournament.
Anyway more teams = more media = more coverage = greater interest = equals more TV and sponsors = more money.
A win/win equation.
Who knows? Higher status could persuade England to send a full-strength team. Stuart Pearce’s successor might head for home having won a match or two.