HAVING tackled the tactical and political issues surrounding Euro 2020 and the practicalities of a multi-national tournament in a world still caught in the grip of a pandemic, I feel there is one elephant still standing in the room.

What in the blue hell is that mascot?

It says everything about Euro 2020’s dreadful generic branding that this monstrosity has gone under my radar until the day the whole thing actually kicked off.

Described by UEFA as “a larger-than-life character inspired by freestyling, street and panna culture”, Skillzy – yes, with a ‘Z’ – is potentially the worst mascot in any tournament during my lifetime. And I once saw Spain ’82 use an orange.

The problem with staging a competition over so many countries is that it is practically impossible to catch its essence in a bottle, like Italia 90 did with the cubist Ciao.

Aliens from space could land on earth, see that blocky so-and-so on a keychain, and know it was something to do with the World Cup.

One glance at Skillzy and do you know what I think? Masked singer. 

I certainly do not think ‘I’d better grab a football and start trying to do a rainbow flick’ which is what the organisers of the tournament claimed was the motivation behind using this professional freestyler/cartoon.

The fact Skillzy also appears to have a ‘top knot’ annoys me but a freely accept there may be some underlying factors clouding my decision making on that front.

Mascots are a big deal these days. World Cup Willie started it all off in 1966, of course. A simple cartoon lion with a football, you can’t say fairer than that.

Through the years we have lurched from uncomfortable national stereotypes (see Juanito in Mexico 70, Pinocchio from Italy 1980, or Pique for Mexico 86), elegant (Ciao out on his own in this category), surreal (Japan/Korea 2002’s Kaz, Ato and Nik still give me nightmares) or solid cartoon characters with a bit of national flavour (Footix from France 98 a personal favourite).

There have also been some real head-shakers.

Euro 96 was a wonderful tournament but whoever sanctioned Goaliath, the lion with a daft pun and Popeye arms, hopefully has nothing to do with the next World Cup bid.

Special mention to Sweden ‘92 as well. Not only did they copy ‘Bernie’ the rabbit, which had been used four years earlier for the Euros in Germany, but they also named it ‘Rabbit’. Presumably, there were merchandising issues aplenty.

At time of writing I have still not seen what the BBC or ITV have in store for us at the start of their Euro 2020 programming but the theme tune is another important yardstick on how things will go for me this summer – so expect a column on it in the very near future.

Again, the lack of a central country anchoring all this down is to the detriment of the tournament.

There will be no Pavarotti, presumably, no Gloryland, no samba beats, nothing really that distinguishes the whole thing from the Nations League, barring a bit of different branding.

It is the kind of homogenised football UEFA have been longing for, and it will be a crying shame if it catches on.

Nevertheless, Euro 2020 is now upon us.

I still fancy France, with Italy as my dark horses, but news that Harry Maguire is back in training at least gives some hope that England’s back four will soon be stable enough to progress from the group stages, even if we have to scramble a result against Croatia.

I have managed to restrain my blind patriotic faith in the build-up, convince myself that the knockout stages would be a acceptable and that I can appreciate the tournament for its football, and not solely on whether England do well. But I am probably kidding myself.

One blast of Paddy McGuinness’s new recording of Vindaloo the other day brought it all coursing back through my bloodstream – Brooking’s header, Maradona’s handball, Beckham’s red card, Lampard’s ghost goal, and the penalties… All those penalties. We’re going to get hurt again, aren’t we?