There have been more own goals scored at Euro 2020 than in all previous editions of the tournament combined.
Football’s European Championships began in 1960, and in the 15 versions of the tournament to 2016, nine own goals were scored in total. At Euro 2020, there have been 10 scored already and we’re only at the semi-final stage.
If ‘own goal’ was able to compete in the Golden Boot award for tournament top scorer, it would be out of sight by now, doubling the efforts of Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick, who have five apiece. Everton would be lining up a $50 million bid to sign it for next season.
So what’s going on? Have defenders lost their collective minds?
We’ve come up with eight theories as to why own goals have exploded at this tournament. Some are, shall we say, more flighty in their logic than others.
Defenders are tired
OK, everyone is tired after a long, long season that ran off the back of the previous season following a COVID pause, but defenders’ mistakes are often so much more consequential than those in other areas of the pitch.
Tournament football is often a step down in quality from club football because everyone arrives exhausted already.
It would make sense that defenders and goalkeepers who are physically and mentally fatigued are more prone to poking the ball into their own nets, to comedic effect.
There are more games
In 2016 the number of teams at the European Championship finals was increased from 16 to 24, meaning a big increase in matches played from 31 to 48.
Way back in 1960 there were only four teams and four games played.
So more matches mean more opportunities for own goals — though admittedly that doesn’t fully explain the increase from three in 2016 to 10 (so far) in 2021.
Different ways of categorising goals
In years gone by, many of the own goals we’ve seen in 2021 would not have been classified as such.
In the past, if a forward shot in the general direction of goal and it deflected in, he would be awarded the goal.
Nowadays, if it was not clearly on its way in when it deflects off an opposition player and in, that poor sod gets the own goal on his record.
Tactically, there can be some explanation too. A fashionable setup at Euro 2020 is for teams to have three central defenders and two wingbacks, who spend much of their time pushing up field and overlapping the midfielders.
We saw a lot of own goals, particularly early in the tournament, resulting from wingbacks getting all the way to the byline and cutting the ball back.
Retreating defenders find themselves unable to get out of the way and bundle it over the line, resulting in the goalkeeper looking at them like he’s not angry, just very, very disappointed.
Attacking players are doing it on purpose
Perhaps forwards have become so skilled they can now kick the ball at their opponents in such a way that it’s guaranteed to deflect in.
After all, why just score a goal when you can score a goal and humiliate an opposition player at the same time?
International tournaments are seen by some as a shop window for players.
Those who perform memorably are often picked up by bigger clubs in the next transfer window. And what’s more memorable than going viral thanks to a moment of madness or stupidity?
Ideally you’d want to play well the rest of the time though.
How often do you hear commentators saying something like: “He’s gone from villain to hero after that shocking own goal, earlier?”
Because it’s funny
Maybe footballers are just trying to entertain us all with their hilarious antics?
It’s been a tough 18 months for the whole world, what with the pandemic and all, so perhaps these sporting superstars are just doing stuff because the rest of us find it funny. How else could you possibly explain this one?
The whole thing is scripted
This could be another professional wrestling-type scenario that none of us have cottoned on to.
The tournament is plotted out from start to finish by our UEFA overlords, and sometimes midway through a game one team realises they’re supposed to be losing, and they can’t rely on the other blokes to find the back of the net.
The easiest way is to just do it themselves.
We don’t really know
Hey, you can’t prove any of these theories are categorically wrong. In reality, it’s impossible to say what has caused the glut of own goals.
Perhaps it’s a statistical anomaly, but most likely it’s a combination of factors. Let’s stop trying to understand it and just enjoy this golden age of footballing ignominy.