Euro Chumps: Ron Atkinson

Given his chequered commentary career, you have to wonder how Ron Atkinson became a successful football manager and conveyed his messages to his players.

From his lollipops to the two Ms (movement and positioning), Big Ron spent many years of the European Championship frankly ruining ITV’s coverage of the tournament with his inane rambling. This site does a better job of summarising than I do.

But Atkinson really excelled himself in Euro 88 and seem to single out Marco Van Basten for his vitriol. Describing the Dutch striker as having ‘fallen down with exhaustion’ as he won a penalty against West Germany in the semi-finals, Atkinson went one better in the Final.

After witnessing perhaps the greatest goal ever scored, Atkinson’s could only offer ‘it’s as we’ve said all along, the Russians can’t defend cross balls’ as a summary. Because Lord knows, such luminaries as Big Ron’s former charges like Kevin Pressman and Carlton Palmer would have gobbled up a moment of absolute genius for breakfast. Continue reading

Euro Champs: Marco Van Basten

In my eyes there has never been a better out-and-out striker in my lifetime than Marco Van Basten and it is his performances at Euro 88 that went a long way to cementing that opinion in my mind.

Despite the fact that England got taught a football lesson by the Dutch in the group stages, the football fan inside you could not help but marvel as Van Basten ruthlessly dissected the English defence and plundered a hat-trick of the highest quality.

Van Basten wasn’t finished there; scoring a dramatic last-minute winner against rivals West Germany in the semi-finals, after winning a penalty for the Oranje earlier in the game.

That set up a final tie against a USSR side who had beaten Holland earlier in the tournament. It was going to take something special to topple Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s men and Van Basten certainly came up with a goal that to this day remains arguably the greatest of all-time.

Ruud Gullit’s header had given the Dutch a first half lead but they knew from their earlier encounter with the Soviets that more than one goal would be needed to make certain of the victory.

Enter Van Basten, who had drifted to the far right-hand side of the box as Arnold Muhren advanced down the left. The striker peeled into space as Muhren launched an ambitious cross-field ball to his team-mate. I still shake my head at disbelief in what happened next. From an overly acute angle, Van Basten caught the ball full on the volley and sent it crashing back across Rinat Dasayev and into the far corner.

It was a stunningly stupendous goal, fit to win any football match and became known in playgrounds across the world as ‘doing a Van Basten’ and for that alone, Marco Van Basten, the archetypal predator, deserves his place in the Euro Champs list.

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Euro Chumps: Ronald Koeman

The Dutch side of 1988 was one brimming with talent; easily one of the best sides in European Championship history.

But in typical Dutch fashion they had to tarnish that accolade with pure petulance and it should come as no surprise that it was one of the most petulant players of all.

Defender Ronald Koeman wasn’t your typical bruising centre half. Not blessed with tremendous height or much pace, Koeman relied on a GPS-like sense of positioning, a clever football brain and a range of passing that was akin to that of championship golfer on the driving range. Add to that an unerring accuracy from set pieces; Koeman boasted a goal record of one in every four games from centre half – and you can see why he was such an important part of this glittering Dutch side.

But whilst Messrs. Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were doing their best to light up the tournament, Koeman was trying his best to uphold that Dutch tradition of bringing of the game into disrepute.

Fresh off being left in the dust by England’s Bryan Robson, Koeman went one better in the semi-final against archrivals West Germany. After Van Basten netted a last-gasp winner to send the Dutch through to the final and the hosts spiralling out. As is tradition, the two teams swapped shirts at the final whistle with Koeman receiving Olaf Thon’s.

And to show his gratitude, Koeman proceeded to simulate wiping his backside with the West German midfielder’s top, right in front of the home supporters. This would be the equivalent to Ally McCoist wiping his nose with Gary Lineker’s top in front of a packed Wembley. Regrettably, it wouldn’t be Koeman’s last misdemeanour on the big stage.

Euro Champs: Ronnie Whelan

If Ray Houghton’s winning header against bitter rivals England wasn’t enough for Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland side then Houghton’s Liverpool team-mate Ronnie Whelan went one better with a stupendous strike against the Soviet Union.

It all came from a goal out of the Stoke City play-book. Big Mick McCarthy launched, and I mean propelled a long throw from level with the 18-yard box, despite some shameful gamesmanship from the Russian defender stood directly in the Celtic defender’s path.

Nonetheless the ball travelled a full 50 yards through the air and Whelan, who hadn’t score a goal of this quality since the 1983 League Cup Final, watched it intently.

The ball dropped and the Liverpool man flung himself backwards, fully off the ground and connected with a sumptious volley that flew into the top corner and remains one of the European Championship’s best-ever goals.

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Euro Chumps: Kenny Sansom

When England were paired with the Republic of Ireland, many English fans were predicting a landslide victory. Irish manager Jack Charlton had assembled a garbled team of misfits with a mere trace of Irish heritage and England were banking on a comprehensive victory to kickstart their campaign in a tough group that also included the Soviet Union and Holland.

Of course that wasn’t to be. England started woefully and went behind to a header from Ray Houghton. You read that right; a header from Ray Houghton – the same Ray Houghton who is about 5’4″ on stilts. It wasn’t just the ignominy of losing, it was the manner in which England did it. This was the tournament of the swashbuckling Dutch, the flying Russians, the German machine, the classy Italians…and the bumbling English.

It was a goal straight out of Sunday League. A long, high, hopeful Irish ball from left to right looked to be meat and drink for Gary Stevens, only for Mark Wright (mullet and all) to come careering across and clatter his own team-mate. The ball fell for Tony Galvin to loop a cross into the box but there was little danger because veteran Kenny Sansom was there to clear the lines.

Now that moment that seems to haunt England at most major tournaments. The Dutch gave us total football, the Italians the concept of the sweeper, the Brazilians the wonder of attacking full backs; the English – the panicking punt back into your own penalty area.

Up the ball went into the Stuttgart air. It came down for that renowned Irishman John Aldridge to flick on; Sansom was back to get a challenge in (on a player his size no less), but no, Houghton rose (more like stooped) unchallenged to loop the slowest header in the world over Peter Shilton.

It was enough to give the Irish the victory and put England off to a bad start, which would only get worse. You would have shook your head in despair and turned the air blue if the winner had been scored in an under-sevens game, let alone an international tournament. Euro 88 remains one of the darkest spots in English football history.

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