The European Championships kick off tonight with hosts France taking on Romania. The 15th edition of the tournament has been extended to 24 countries, leading to an unwieldy group phase with 36 matches played to eliminate just eight teams. Finishing third in a group of four will still result in a place in the knockout rounds for four out of six third-placed teams, making it possible to draw three games 0-0 and still progress to the last 16. (Euro 2016 – Full Coverage) It’s also become increasingly fashionable to dismiss international football as inferior to European club football, particularly the Champions League, the (self-declared) apotheosis of the world’s most popular game. After a long season, players, fans, and commentators alike are jaded. Add terror warnings and indifferent weather, the European Championships, like its cross-continental cousin, the Copa America, appears increasingly irrelevant.MEANINGFUL GAMES Having watched football now for over 30 years, I remember the tournaments in 1988 and 1992 vividly, intense competitions involving just the best eight national teams in Europe, every game meaningful. In 1988, an excellent England side, player for player better than the squads filled with the so-called golden generation of Beckham, Gerrard, Owen, Lampard, Scholes and company, were dismantled by Holland and the Soviet Union. (Also read: Difficult for Spain to win third straight Euro title, says Iker Casillas) The other group featured West Germany, Italy and Spain. In 1992, Denmark qualified for the finals only because of internecine warfare prevented Yugoslavia taking its rightful place. The Danish team, much more workmanlike than the team that all too briefly illuminated the 1986 World Cup with as much panache and attacking brio as any Brazilian team, eased past a reunified Germany in the final.advertisement’FOOTBALL WAS DIFFERENT THEN’ Back then, even though just eight teams qualified for the tournament, those teams could include, as it did in 1992, Scotland but not Italy. Football was different then. Now, I have to admit to being in favour of opening up Euro 2016 to 24 teams. I look forward to watching Albania, Iceland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. I’m eager to see if Belgium live up to their promise, if Poland can surprise Germany. I hope we get a new, fresh team in the semi-finals, maybe even England with its untested blend of footballers from Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool.SICK OF EUROPEAN CLUB FOOTBALL For a football fan nostalgic for the way football used to be — and middle aged men like me are always pining for the way things used to be; it’s how you know you’re middle aged — international football is a comforting respite from the surfeit of league football. I have played and loved the game since I was a small child, and I’m sick of the sheer amount of coverage European football gets on television. Sick of teams so rich that they can play with a forward line of Neymar, Suarez and Messi; sick of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid getting to the semis every year; sick of Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League every season; sick of great European clubs like Ajax, Benfica, and Celtic having no chance, the latter having barely any chance any more to qualify for the group stages. European club football is dominated by a cabal. Never before have so many of the world’s best been concentrated in so few clubs.At least, in international football you play with the hand you are dealt. You don’t just chuck money at the problem. Perhaps it means the football is less tactically sophisticated. Perhaps the football is less fluid. These are not players who work together on the training ground every day. But at least there’s more at stake than just a bunch of money.Premier League fans have been unbearably smug on message boards about the league not being a foregone conclusion the way it is in Spain and Germany. Leicester’s triumph is remarkably, though, in part because it is so inconceivable. It is true that historically great teams like Liverpool and Manchester United, AC Milan, Juventus, and Inter, Bayern, Barcelona, and Real Madrid are great because of prolonged success over decades but never has life been made so easy for them, their paths smoothed of irritating obstacles.SPIRIT OF LEICESTER IN EURO Let’s hope the spirit of Leicester infects the Euros, and a Germany or a Spain is embarrassed. Either way, I’m going to enjoy watching Iceland play Hungary, or the Czech Republic take on Croatia, and remember how it once felt to watch the European Championships and the World Cup, to see players you don’t ordinarily think of playing for countries you don’t ordinarily think of.advertisementAnd even if Croatia’s midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic plays for Real Madrid and Barcelona, I’m going to enjoy seeing them removed from the context of their all-conquering club sides. (Also read: Going out early will be “failure”, says Croatia’s Luka Modric) There is no dominant team in this European Championships. What a welcome relief from the pompous procession of the Champions League!