For several weeks it had been clear that, given the rate of Covid-19’s spread, a pan-European tournament was the least desirable event possible. Postponing it was the only sensible, conscionable and practicable thing to do: it sends the right message at a time when people across the continent will have to make temporary changes to their lives and also ensures football plays its own part in keeping potentially dangerous movements to a minimum. And when this is all over, perhaps Euro 2021 will take on a new, potent and poignant life as a celebration of bonds restored and friendships rekindled.
Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford
It would not be a major tournament without a personnel scare in the England camp and, realistically, will probably still not be one either. But a year’s delay lifts the anxiety over getting Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford fit and firing for a tournament whose Wembley-based latter stages ensure there is plenty of pressure to be present at the sharp end. If nothing else, the long months ahead will allow time for plenty of daydreaming about a Kane trophy lift on 11 July next year.
Erling Braut Haaland and Europe’s other young guns
Would Euro 2020 have come too soon for some of the continent’s best youngsters to upstage the existing order? We will never know but, assuming they can outgun Serbia in the play-offs, an exciting Norway generation – spearheaded by Erling Braut Haaland and Martin Ødegaard – will have extra time to smooth the rough edges. Other teams may benefit similarly; even their fellow play-off participants Kosovo, whose star winger Arber Zeneli now has added scope to recover from a cruciate injury. Perhaps the year’s delay will ensure the orthodoxy is turned on its head.
Dutch fortunes have picked up considerably over the past year and there is a school of thought that, given another 12 months and a few more fixtures to prepare, Ronald Koeman’s team may be able to compete seriously for the title. They already have the world’s best defender in Virgil van Dijk but Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and Donyell Malen will have had more time to refine themselves into a unit better than the one thatcurrently looks likely to fall just short against the very best.
Europe’s overworked footballers
It comes some way down the list of current health concerns but there still seems little harm in giving Europe’s top-tier footballers a breather, especially if this is backed up by shortened domestic and Champions/Europa League campaigns. You will hardly find a top manager who, at least privately, likes the relentlessness of the modern schedule and perhaps a buildup with less football being played will help players’ fitness and give us a better spectacle too.
Euro 2020 always looked like the last chance for the rump of Belgium’s hugely feted “golden generation” to bring home a trophy. Shifting things back a year is not the end of the world but it might make a difference to a squad whose best players are hovering precariously around their peak. Eden Hazard will be 30 by the time the rescheduled tournament kicks off; Kevin De Bruyne will turn 30 during it. Toby Alderweireld and Axel Witsel will both have turned 32 while Jan Vertonghen will have attained confirmed veteran status at 34. Even Romelu Lukaku and Thorgan Hazard will be senior players at 28. Youthful promise will have given way to delivery-or-bust.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric
Will a 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo still be in prime shape to help Portugal retain their European crown? Far stranger things have happened given the supreme condition in which he keeps himself but it is hard not to think that, given his astonishing goalscoring record with Juventus this season, Euro 2020 would have arisen at exactly the right time. Modric, seven months younger than Ronaldo, has a similar issue. The way he dragged Croatia to the World Cup final was inspirational but will those legs be able to perform one last hurrah in 2021?
The Football Association of Ireland’s financial woes are well-documented and have, over the past year, been the subject of an official inquiry. So the postponement of four games at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin is unlikely to be good news for the debt-stricken organisation, and nor is the wait over as to whether Mick McCarthy’s team earn them a windfall by qualifying through the play-offs. And therein lies another huge, thorny issue: McCarthy was to be replaced by Stephen Kenny on 1 August as part of a long-established succession plan. Early suggestions are that both men will assert their right to the throne if Ireland do make it – assuming the play-offs take place this summer at all – and the situation could become a messy one.
Women’s European Championship
It should not be taken as a dismissal of women’s football that the original Euro 2021 will almost certainly now need moving. Covid-2019 has wreaked havoc upon the entire calendar and everyone is going to have to absorb some significant inconvenience. The priority now must be to make sure the competition gets the platform and visibility it merits. Holding it back-to-back, or even concurrent, with the men’s tournament would be logistically difficult on many fronts – not least when this summer’s Olympics still seem in the balance. Far more sensible would be to maintain its own slot in 2022; no one wants to wait another two years given the immense quality of Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup but there is unlikely to be a better way.
Denmark’s Age Hareide
The veteran manager was due to bow out with a Euro 2020 campaign partly contested on his team’s home turf in Copenhagen. He will retire this summer and be replaced by Kasper Hjulmand, with no wrangling expected over that state of affairs. “My contract expires on 31 July and I expect we will terminate our cooperation after that date is planned,” Hareide said. It is an unfortunate way for a fine career to end but, it seems, a dignified one.