clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The alternative team of Euro 2016

Ignore the so-called experts and their so-called facts. These are the actual 11 best players from France 2016.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

This is not the team of Euro 2016. That has already been chosen by a panel of UEFA consultants, and it's fine, as these things go. Rui Patrício is in goal, behind a back four of Joshua Kimmich, Jérôme Boateng, Pepe and Raphaël Guerreiro. Toni Kroos and Joe Allen anchor the midfield behind an attacking trio of Antoine Griezmann, Aaron Ramsey and Dimitri Payet. Up front, inevitably, is Cristiano Ronaldo.

This, however, is the alternative team of the tournament, which comes with just two rules. One, anybody in the team above is ineligible. And two, we're not actually concerned with the prosaic, slightly dull question of whether a player was good. We are, instead, looking for players that were interesting. Players that were emblematic in some way. And, mostly, players about whom we can make cheap jokes.

So, here they are. Eleven of Europe's finest. Shuffle them into any formation you like.

Gábor Király, Hungary

The general consensus from the serious press seems to be that Euro 2016, in terms of the football, was only mildly preferable to undergoing invasive dental surgery without anesthetic on the back of a moving lorry. On a Monday morning. Which means that those of us who quite enjoyed it can only assume that we are either (a) idiots, or (b) easily amused by such childish diversions as a goalkeeper wearing grey tracksuit bottoms. Trousers! On the football pitch! Ahahahahahahaha! And he made some decent saves as well.

Patrice Evra, France

Everybody loves a good comeback, and had the hosts managed to win the thing, then Patrice Evra, once nationally reviled for leading his players out on strike, would have completed a delightfully French redemption story. But he didn't. So we'll have to be all grown-up and pretend that the story's just as good without the proper, obvious ending, even though it isn't. As if this was literature rather than sport. Frankly, it's an imposition.

Toby Alderweireld, Belgium

The scourging of Belgium's defence before and during Euro 2016 means that their campaign and eventual exit will always stand as a slightly puzzling thing. Was manager Marc Wilmots in fact rubbish? Or would any manager have been undone by the absence, come the quarterfinal, of three-quarters of his first-choice defence? Obviously the correct answer is "both are irrelevant, because Wales," and we've included Toby Alderweireld — the last senior defender standing — here because there was something rather endearing and sad about the way in which he jogged back into the penalty area just as Hal Robson-Kanu turned the rest of the defence inside out.

Leonardo Bonucci, Italy

All Alternative XIs contain one player that probably should have been in the actual team, and we suspect Bonucci only missed out because UEFA simply lacked the imagination to pick a team of the tournament with three at the back. This despite the fact that there was quite a bit of it in France, as teams sought old/new ways to frustrate their opponents and play to their own strengths. And this despite the fact that Italy's defence was (the Ireland oddity aside) a quite wonderful thing. Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini is never going to be quite as glamorous a BBC as the one at Real Madrid, but it was gnarled and gristly and exhausting to watch, let alone play against. Still, he'll always have that pass against Belgium.

Chris Gunter, Wales

Ahem. All Alternative XIs contain two players that probably should have been in the actual team, and if anybody seriously wants to claim that Joshua Kimmich was better than Gunter at barreling up and down the right flank then SB Nation Soccer will fight them IRL. Just because he plays for fashionable teams like Bayern Munich and Germany, rather than Reading and Wales. It's disgusting, frankly.

Incidentally, Gunter won his 73rd cap against Portugal, which puts him equal-fifth on Wales' all-time list, alongside Peter Nicholas and Ian Rush. Neville Southall tops the list with 92, but given that Gunter only turns 27 later in July, he should, injury and form allowing, break 100 easily. He might even hold the record for a while; he's already 12 caps ahead of Gareth Bale despite being five days younger. Sadly, he's never scored an international goal; had he netted in France, every single Wales fan would have immediately known it was actually all a dream.

Nani, Portugal

Ronaldo got the nod, because of course Ronaldo got the nod, but for SB Nation Soccer's money Nani was just as influential throughout the tournament for Portugal, albeit in a quieter way. He spent most of his time bustling around as a kind-of striker, sometimes dropping deep when required, and proved a surprisingly decent solution to his nation's persistent squad problem. Kind souls would suggest that this was down to his excellent technical ability and underrated footballing instincts; cruel ones might try to insinuate that this was because he had less time to actually think about things, and so get them wrong. Let's be kind, since they won and all.

Birkir Bjarnason, Iceland

Picking an individual Icelander was exceptionally difficult, since their glorious run past England to the quarterfinals was predicated above all else on relentless teamwork, so we've gone for the one who looks most like Thor.

Jeff Hendrick, Republic of Ireland

One, because he was pretty good in the Irish midfield, scampering around to both destructive and constructive effect. Two, for his shooting; you'd think it would be hard, even impossible, to consistently hit the ball so wonderfully without ever really looking like scoring, but Hendrick nailed it better than anybody has since Tom Huddlestone's Tottenham glory days. And three, because his name drops neatly into Bad Review by Half Man Half Biscuit. All together now. "Who the hell does Jeff Hendrick think he is ..."

Wayne Rooney, England

SBN Soccer suspects that "Wayne Rooney, midfielder" is going to be one of those experiments that, like a teenage haircut, will only look stranger as it recedes into the past. Yet it all made so much sense at the time. He dribbled past some people in the FA Cup final! He hit long, cross-field passes! Some of them even found their man! And he had to play, obviously, because he was Wayne Rooney, but he was a new and mature Wayne Rooney, unsuited to the frenetic business of running around up front. Leave that to the youngsters. Let the veteran dictate the play. Even Rooney himself said he thought his future lay in the middle, and what possible ulterior motive could he have?

And then England got Icelanded, and José Mourinho gave a press conference mocking the praise loaded onto Rooney's passing ability, and suddenly it all seemed incredibly silly. Let's just hope nobody took any photographs.

Simone Zaza, Italy

The most perfect penalty of all time. Perhaps the most perfect individual and specific thing of all time; an existential epic condensed into a single Vine. It didn't go in, no, but it said more about the bravery, beauty and frailty of the human ego before the vast and uncaring universe than anything else this pitiful species has managed to pull together to date. At least, it did until Graziano Pellè stepped up.

Olivier Giroud, France

It was a difficult tournament for quite a few of Europe's more famous strikers. With teams tending towards massed and well-organised defences, the continent's biggest big men up front laboured and puffed their way around France. Harry Kane didn't score a single goal, Robert Lewandowksi managed just the one, and Romelu Lukaku blew occasionally hot, mostly cold.

But Olivier Giroud nearly won the thing, and Olivier Giroud scored three goals, and yet, and yet, and yet. Perhaps, like his club, Giroud's purpose isn't just to play football and score goals, but also to prolong conversations about whether Olivier Giroud is any good at playing football and scoring goals. If so, then we have to acknowledge that he absolutely nailed it. One moment he was a towering, disruptive presence, scattering defenders around him like startled skittles; the next he was throwing his hands up in the air and doing that 'oh, me' face as another through ball rolled away from him. This all reached a curious nadir when he broke onto the ball in the final, accelerated into the first sniff of space he'd had all game ... and then something went behind the eyes, he watched the suddenly alien round thing clank off his shin, and had to stall helplessly until a defender arrived to put him out of his misery. Never has any footballer at any time, including Chris Gunter, looked less like scoring a goal.

(Of course it could just be that he's quite good at some things but not so good at others. But that would be boring.)