Until perhaps the stroke of this century, the Euro, faithfully televised by Doordarshan back then, wasn’t as watched a fixture as the World Cup. The reason: apart from a small number, the players were perfect strangers to their potential audience. Football was something they watched once in four years, during the World Cup. The advent of European football into the Indian drawing rooms has changed it all. Now the quadrennial event is as eagerly watched as the World Cup, generating TRPs not inferior to high-profile cricket showdowns.
The popularity is an offshoot of the following European football has gathered in the country. The likes of English Premier League, Spanish League and Champions League have captured the imagination of the average Indian. Fans follow their favourite players, or support teams that have a fair sprinkling of their club stalwarts. For instance, it’s easy for a Barcelona player to support Spain, for the latter has three-four players of the Catalan club and until recently played the same brand of butterfly football as them. But Real Madrid faithfuls will be supporting Portugal, because they are spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo. Like a generation of Real Madrid fans supported France more than Spain for Zinedine Zidane. Or maybe Wales this time, due to Gareth Bale.
Another reason the Euro has become popular is the quality of the product. Here’s the best of European football — a synthesis of different styles, tactics and perspectives. Youth is the theme of this edition. Last edition’s finalists, Spain and Italy, after disastrous World Cups, have resurrected their sides. England, for once, have more hope than hype. Then there is the romance of the relative unknowns, like Albania, Northern Ireland and Iceland. It’s worth waking up groggy every day for the next one month.