Football is a game of opinions. It is often remarkable to compare and contrast the player ratings in two different newspapers. I can recall seeing Glen Hoddle interviewed once and complaining that one particular paper had lambasted him for fielding a five-man midfield. The reason he took issue was simple; he hadn't done anything of the sort. This just goes to prove that what William Goldman said about Hollywood broadly applies to life in general, 'Nobody knows anything.'
I started thinking about all this in response to the fallout from Euro 2012, the best international football tournament in living memory. The general consensus in this country seems to be that Cristiano Ronaldo arrogantly insisted he take the fifth penalty in the semi-final in the hope that it would be the winner and got what he deserved whilst anybody failing to see the excitement in Spain's football doesn't really understand the game.
After his man of the match performance against Germany, a trusted football writer declared of Mario Balotelli on twitter, 'What a brilliant player. If you don't like him you don't like football.'
Now Ronaldo is objectively a far better player. Balotelli might one day be one of the world's best but he cannot at this stage lay claim to anything of the sort. Whether it's down to his looks, his physique or the fact that he used to play for Manchester United I'm unsure but there are plenty of people who don't like Ronaldo. I find this peculiar.
Portugal's talisman might not be my favourite player of all time but he's almost unquestionably the best we've seen grace England's top flight. The complete attacking footballer, he has won titles in England and Spain, the Champions League not to mention dragging a pretty mediocre Portugal side to one World Cup semi-final, one Euro final and a shootout away from beating Spain and booking a place in this summer's final.
So to that penalty shootout and Ronaldo's place in the order. Academic research suggests you should start with your fifth best taker and end with your best. Setting aside the argument as to whether he is the best penalty taker in the team (for the record, he missed taking third in the 2008 Champions League final and first in this year's semi), all he actually did was acquiesce to his manager's demand. The suggestion that it was his own arrogant suggestion is patently absurd as he could not possibly have foreseen exactly how the penalties would pan out and, if anything, must have known he might well miss the decisive penalty given his record in significant shootouts. Further still, there is also always a chance it wouldn't reach the fifth taker. And so it proved.
If one sets aside context and starts with the assumption that the standard of football improves with each passing year then Ronaldo is one of the two greatest players ever to have drawn breath. Rather than relishing this golden age of twin colossuses, people prefer the black and white, tabloid depiction of the loveable little Argentine Lionel Messi as Mozart to Ronaldo's bitter and envious Salieri. In truth, there is very little between the pair. Very few would argue that Barcelona are not the best team on the planet currently and yet it was Ronaldo's Madrid that won the Spanish title this season. Messi was surrounded by a slightly superior squad and yet Ronaldo triumphed over a 38 game season. Is it possible he might be just as good? Or, whisper it softly, better? I'm not sure but I do wish it were an opinion one was allowed to air without accusations of ignorance. When either player gets the ball I'm on the edge of my seat eagerly awaiting the excitement ahead. It's that kind of thing that got me into football in the first place. Such a player normally comes along once in a lifetime, never mind twice. Why can't we just enjoy it?
Enjoyment has also been the key to the Spain debate. Their unprecedented achievement in winning three consecutive tournaments settles the greatness debate beyond all doubt. Spain are objectively a great side but are they subjectively exciting to watch? Many argue that the possession always leads somewhere and yet for vast portions of this tournament the Spaniards had the ball in and around the final third without creating an abundance of chances. In fact, without the incisiveness of Andres Iniesta (third best in the world to my mind), one wonders if they would have succeeded in breaking teams down. That is a moot point though since they do have the little genius and, flattering scoreline in the final or not, they have been the best team in the last three international tournaments. But have they been the best team to watch?
I have grown bored by the 'calling Spain boring is a silly bandwagon' silly bandwagon. It suggests those of us unexcited by their play are simply philistines unable to appreciate such delicate beauty. One friend of mine refers to their style as 'football porn' and yet this analogy would only hold true if pornography involved two people threatening to take off their underwear for an hour and a half. Again, it's a matter of opinion.
Success and excitement are not the same thing. I can be objective enough to admit that Mad Men is obviously a good television programme. It's beautifully shot, the acting is uniformly excellent and the writing cannot be faulted. And yet I find it boring. Such things are subjective. Spain's greatness is now beyond question, their ability to excite is not.
Whilst on the subject of arrogance and excitement, it would be remiss not to mention England. Despite the lowest level of expectation since the heady days of Graham Taylor, there was still a sense that England might beat Italy and progress to the semi-final. This despite the staggering statistic that England have never beaten a major footballing nation in a knockout game outside of Wembley in their history. That means England have not beaten Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, France, Holland or Argentina outside of the group stages anywhere but home soil. Some have accused Pirlo of arrogance for the nature of his penalty but the man himself explained that he was irritated by Joe Hart's antics and wanted to take him down a peg.
Hart talked the talk and put on a show but failed to save a single penalty thereby eliminating England from a disappointing tournament both personally and collectively. That's arrogance in my book. An inflated sense of self-worth. Bergkamp, Cantona and Zidane weren't arrogant since there was nothing inflated about it. They were, like Triple H, that damn good. As is Ronaldo. Arrogance is an inability to back it up.
Finally, below I present an abridged version of the book, Why England Lose, so as to save you all the trouble of actually reading it. Remember though, it's just an opinion.
Follow Darren Richman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/darrenrichman