Photographer:Fotograaf: Flickr.com/ That was back in 2010... There won't be any orange during this Championship
Oranje definitely won’t bring home the trophy from the European Championship football, but at least there are other teams we can cheer for. Observant asked a Belgian, a British, a French and a German football fan why their team should be the one.*
Jake Norman, British bachelor’s student at the Faculty of Law
“We have really young and hungry players, passionate too, just like their fans. They play offensively, with great intensity, and can dominate possession. And let’s not forget – it’s exciting to watch. They really play as a team, it’s a collective effort.” England’s squad has the youngest average age of all those taking part. Indeed, at just 18, the Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford is the youngest of all Euro 2016 players. One very well-known name on the list is that of Wayne Rooney. “He’s the captain, but had a very bad year in 2015. There’s been a lot of discussion about this in England; some fans don’t think he deserves to go to France. But the manager thinks Rooney brings irreplaceable experience to the team.” The Three Lions, as the team is known, isn’t quite the favourite, but in Norman’s view “it could be the most surprising. The only problem is our defence.” England’s backs are among the weakest in the tournament, according to some English media.
This may be so, but then there’s the anthem God Save the Queen. There may be other national anthems that are more appealing, says Norman, “but we have our own band that attends every international tournament”.
Unconvinced? Think of all the former and current Dutch players in English competition, “like Memphis Depay and Daley Blind. It’s thanks to the influence of Dutch and Spanish athletes that football in England has become better and more beautiful. It’s no longer about just feeding the ball into one tall striker.” After all, the best player in the world was Dennis Bergkamp – “and he played for Arsenal, you know”, Norman concludes. Now that’s what the Dutch want to hear.
Quinten Tolboom, Belgium student at University College Maastricht
“It’s time for the Dutch to finally give something back for the years of support they’ve received from Belgium. I still recall the World Cup final, between the Netherlands and Spain, during the summer of 2010. My family and I were in Spain, decked out in orange between all those Spaniards. Unfortunately, the Netherlands lost.” Another good reason to support Belgium: “We’re the neighbour.”
The Dutch and Flemings may speak the same language, but that won’t be enough if the Red Devils don’t manage to find the goal. “It’s taken a long time, but since the last World Cup Belgium has managed to put together a good team. My favourite player is Eden Hazard, who plays for Chelsea. His speed and technical skills are fantastic. He could definitely make the difference.” A shame, in Tolboom’s view, is the loss of Vincent Kompany, the Manchester United player forced to pull out of the tournament with an injury. “To me, a Belgian team without Kompany is like a Dutch person without a bike. He always has a certain presence that completes the picture.”
Belgium will play in the group phase against Ireland, Sweden and Italy. Is it a winnable pool? “We have the most potential and willpower. Italy will be a big challenge, but I’m confident we’ll get the job done.”
More than half of Limburgers (the most southern province of the Netherlands) intend to support the Red Devils during the European Championships. But less than five percent think they could actually win it, according to a survey commissioned by newspaper De Limburger. “It’s a collection of very good individual players, but sometimes they don’t work well in combination.” That’s a story the Dutch can empathise with.
Alessandro Gaillard, French student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
“We have a lot of eager, young players, like the striker Anthony Martial who’s only 20.” But that’s exactly what British student Jake Norman said about the English team. What does the French team have or do that really deserves the (grudging) support of the Dutch? “Les Bleus also have a very strong midfield. Paul Pogba (Juventus) is a big name; he’s very tactical, creative, energetic and skilful. He can defend and he can score.” France has, historically, performed well at the European Championships, winning the cup in both 1984 and 2000. They also won the World Cup in 1998.
Gaillard considers it a pity that manager Didier Deschamps left some excellent players at home. “I feel he made some mistakes. He left out a few really strong players and we’ll be lacking some quality up front.” Absent too is the striker Karim Benzema, who is facing formal investigation for alleged blackmail over a sex video involving a fellow player. “He’s been suspended. That’s a shame, because he’s a good forward.”
Gaillard’s name was mentioned repeatedly in Observant’s search for a ‘fanatical French football fan’. Not only has he been following the French national team; he is also dedicating his European Studies thesis to football. “I’m focusing on the contribution of football to the development of a European identity. I did an online survey, asking other students about football and whether it made them feel European. So far I think it does. It makes people feel close to one another, football is a binding factor. I always say: a farmer in Sweden may not have much in common with a farmer in Portugal, but every Tuesday they watch football.”
That the Dutch team failed to qualify for Euro 2016 came as a surprise to Gaillard. “They were so good in previous years. But then, there have been changes; a lot of excellent players have retired. The young ones need time. I think it will turn out fine in the coming years.”
Luisa Burchartz, German student at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Although much has changed recent years, football is still a male-dominated sport. And yet here we have Luisa Burchartz, who plays at the Maastricht student football association Red Socks. Is she familiar with the trope that girls and football don’t match? “That definitely sounds familiar. It just feels like a matter of the traditional conceptions people have. Still, I see greater acceptance with every year that passes. On the one hand, probably because gender roles are slowly blurring, but maybe also because ladies’ soccer is actually becoming more and more decent.”
Why should we cheer for Die Mannschaft? “The German team has a lot of young players who have slowly established themselves in the football business over the last few years. There are great players like Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller, and their playing style is perfectly complemented by the younger, less experienced ones. Their style may seem quite conservative, but it’s combined with really creative moments. What I really like about the German team is that there’s not just one hugely popular player. Everyone is focused on presenting themselves as part of a team. Also, this team is quite multicultural – players like Jérôme Boateng might not match people’s views of the ‘typical’ German, which I mean in a positive way.”
Her favourite German player is Philip Lahm. “He shot the first goal in the first match I ever watched, at the World Cup in 2006. That was the year I also started playing. I like him a lot because of his force when he’s playing offensively. As I’m a defender myself, he’s been a role model for me.”
Many Dutch people may not want their ‘rival’ Germany to win – and yet they just might. Fact: along with Spain, Germany is the all-time most successful team at the European Championships. Die Mannschaft won the World Cup in 2014, defeating Argentina in the final (the latter having beat the Netherlands on penalties in the semi-final). Burchartz is not convinced that there is a real rivalry. “If it exists it’s kind of superficial, more for fun, at least here in Maastricht. Still, we are neighbouring countries and in some ways quite equal to one another: many Germans work in the Netherlands and come over every day, and it’s the same the other way around. This might give us a reason to actually support one another, in football too.”
Euro 2016 kick-off: Friday 10 June France
* This selection is in no way intended to suggest that the other teams have exactly zero chance of winning