“It’s not a choice!”
That’s a refrain I’ve heard often from soccer fans describing how they came to support their favorite team.
Some supporters were raised within miles of their favorite club, while others shared a cultural or religious kinship with a certain side. For those fans, then I understand. They had no choice.
These are the same people who seem to look at me with disdain when I explain that while I do indeed have a favorite team (Barcelona), I am sometimes proud to show a smaller degree of allegiance to the likes of Arsenal, Bolton, Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain.
When I reveal this list of clubs, I usually get a curious stare and the same question: How can you call yourself a supporter of more than one club?
The answer is simple. I practice what I like to call Football Polygamy.
I am part of a generation of American soccer fans who came of age in an era when televised broadcasts of world-class soccer were few and far between.
How were we supposed to develop any kind of love for a particular club when watching a given team play was such a rare occurrence?
Fixtures from England, Italy, Spain, Germany and South America were not the weekly standard they are today. ESPN had yet to go after the soccer market. And many people forget that not too long ago there was no Fox Soccer Channel.
We had Fox Sports World. And while Fox Sports World showed a couple of European soccer games each weekend, airtime was also shared with the likes of auto racing and Aussie rules football.
The point is, whenever I got a chance to see a top-flight match, I was watching it – regardless of the league or the teams.
Not surprisingly, the one or two EPL games Fox Sports World broadcast invariably featured at least one of the same four clubs: Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle. (These were the pre-Abramovich days, so the beer and exploits of Alan Shearer helped Newcastle best Chelsea when it came to global brand awareness).
The same thing goes for other leagues: If it was Bundesliga, it was Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. Italy was AC Milan, Juventus, Fiorentina, etc.
And don’t even get me started on international soccer. Every four years we got the World Cup Final. Not the whole tournament, just the Final.
And even that was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, as if it was some peculiar sporting event to be grouped with the likes of ski jumping, curling and the World’s Strongest Man competition.
I was a schoolboy during Barcelona’s Dream Team era of the early 1990s. Therefore there isn’t really a need to explain why the Catalans were my first love – or as I affectionately refer to them now: My First Wife.
A funny thing happens when you are “forced” to watch loads of games that don’t feature your favorite side: You slowly accept that you are starting to develop an affinity for other teams.
After all, was I supposed to just not care about the players or the outcome simply because the result would have no impact on the La Liga table?
For a Barcelona fan, Arsenal’s similar style of play makes them easy to like. Other teams you admire simply because they are so good.
But my favorite side effect is that you sometimes find yourself supporting teams about which previously knew absolutely nothing … and even some that aren’t all that good! This is how I once explained my admiration for Bolton to a London pub full of Tottenham fans a number of years ago.
They were absolutely befuddled as to how a Yank could know anything about the EPL, let alone why said Yank would admit to liking the Wanderers (even this Yank knew confessing a slight liking for Arsenal would have been unwise when surrounded by Spurs fans!)
Then I pronounced, “Jay-Jay Okocha is a wonder to watch when he is on top of his game, Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies are scrappy players who battle for their goals and Jussi Jaaskelainen is an amazing shot-stopper. Plus, Big Sam Allardyce’s teams always have a good measure of fight in them.”
The Spurs supporters looked at me in a stunned silence as they processed what I had said. I’m not sure, but I think a few of them might have even nodded in agreement!
That brings me to another benefit of practicing football polygamy: Romances with various clubs need not be permanent. Certain players, coaches and styles of play can lure you in, but you are not beholden to them forever. My attraction to that Bolton side faded soon after Okocha and Big Sam departed.
A few years ago I had a fling with Fulham simply because they were giving so many Americans a chance to play. (However, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that such trysts can lead you do do silly, silly things like spend a lovely London afternoon sitting through a nil-nil draw between Fulham and bottom-of-the-table Derby County at Craven Cottage!).
And those Spurs fans would be happy to know that it was their team that caught my eye last year. Tottenham’s run through the Champions League was exhilarating stuff. The genius of Rafael Van der Vaart and Luka Modric, Gareth Bale’s hat trick in a losing effort against Inter Milan and that rough-and-tumble slaying of AC Milan at the San Siro. Were you not entertained?
The final pillar of Football Polygamy lies in being willing to happily participate in one-night stands. I made the pilgrimage to Parc de Princes to see Paris St. Germain just once. That dalliance was wham-bam-thank-you-man all in the name of Ronaldinho.
I tried to re-kindle that flame a couple of years ago when the club signed Claude Makelele and Ludovic Guily – two players I’ve always respected and viewed as underrated – but the spark was gone.
At least Barcelona, my First Wife, eventually signaled its tacit approval of my fling with Ronaldinho by signing him and riding his skills and persona to the first of its three most recent Champions League titles.
American kids walking around these days donning the shirts of clubs like Aston Villa, Napoli, Atletico Madrid and the like doesn’t surprise me.
Soccer fans in the U.S. can now watch matches from almost any league in the world. Perhaps that will lead them to remain faithful to one, and only one, club for the rest of their lives.
If so, good on them. Me? I think I am hooked on my philandering ways for life.
You can also find other Soccer Report Extra.com contributors on Twitter by following this link.
Sean is a financial journalist by trade and is Finance Editor of “SmartBlog on Finance.”
We’re half-way through this year’s quartet of El Clasicos between Barcelona and Real Madrid and it may be time to start asking some serious questions of the Catalans’ offensive capabilities.
They obviously have what it takes to thrash the average La Liga side, but over the course of the past two seasons they’ve revealed an acute inability to thwart stout defensive tactics when they are employed by equally talented clubs.
They control the ball around the field with their tika-taka, but seem to sputter when they get 20-25 meters from the goal. What’s wrong? What’s missing?
Two words: Samuel Eto’o. Or perhaps four words would be more accurate: Samuel “Big Goal” Eto’o.
Barcelona’s lack of goals in big games since the departure of Eto’o is downright shocking; especially considering this is a club many are touting as one of the best of all time.
In 210-plus minutes of recent play against Real Madrid, they have failed to produce a goal during the run of play. In 180 minutes against Inter Milan in last year’s Champions League semi-finals, Barcelona’s attacking players managed one lonely goal between them (their only other goal came from center-back Gerard Pique when he roamed forward out of desperation as the return-leg came to a close).
Compare that output with the two biggest matches Eto’o ever played for the Blaugrana. Who opened the scoring against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League Final? Eto’o.
And after Barcelona went down a goal to 10-man Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League Final, it was Eto’o who equalized for the Catalans before Juliano Belletti netted the winner in Paris. Two big games. Two big goals.
Eto’o comes to mind because the Madridistas have exposed a weakness Barca usually manages to overcome when they face inferior opponents: Their lack of a striker who can play effectively with his back to the goal.
Barcelona’s stupendous attack is unstoppable when it includes a striker who is equal parts distributor and finisher. Eto’o was lethal for years at the Camp Nou because upon receiving surgical passes from the like of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Ronaldinho, he could decide in an instant whether to turn and finish the attack on his own or slot a pass through to marauding teammates as they ran through the defense.
David Villa has proven either unable or unwilling to provide a similar threat. Watching the past two El Clasicos (and can we please start calling them Los Clasicos?), it is as if there is a 10-meter arc extending along the top of Real Madrid’s box.
The ball rarely goes there. When it does, it is lost off the feet of Villa as he crumbles under tight marking, or plucked from Messi as he tries to challenges four or five defenders.
Much has been made of Jose Mourinho’s tactic of moving Pepe into almost a defensive midfielder role to break up Barcelona’s attack. It is a sound tactic, but it works because Villa only requires single coverage.
He is simply not the kind of striker that requires a double-team. Sometimes it was just the threat of Eto’o that created goal-scoring opportunities for his Barcelona teammates in important games.
Watch this clip of Ronaldinho’s goal against Mourinho’s Chelsea in the return leg of their 2006 Champions League Round of 16 fixture.
Note how it is Eto’o who, after delivering the final casual pass to Ronaldinho, makes a run that takes not one, but two Chelsea defenders away from the Ronaldinho.
A couple other Chelsea players try to close down Ronaldinho, but ultimately it is the run by Eto’o that leaves John Terry one-on-one against the crafty Brazilian.
Sid Lowe penned an excellent piece recently regarding Barcelona’s mixed results in the transfer market since Pep Guardiola took the helm. But the Eto’o-Zlatan Ibrahimovic swap deserves its own column.
Barca sent Eto’o packing for personal reasons. Rumors had it he was difficult in the clubhouse. And maybe he wanted to leave.
Either way, his goal production was never questioned. For those who suggested Eto’o was un-coachable and not the best teammate, his performance with Inter Milan indicates otherwise.
Under Mourinho, he helped power Inter to the treble last year while scoring and creating goals for his strike partners with gusto. Even this year, only Messi has more goals (9) in the Champions League than Eto’o (8).
Meanwhile, Villa has mustered just three and only one of those has come amid the pressure of the knockout stage.
It would have been one thing to do a straight swap of Eto’o for Ibrahimovic. At the time, reasonable minds could have disagreed about which striker was best. But people forget that Barca also sent Inter 48 million euros along with Eto’o.
And when Ibrahimovic proved not a good fit for Barcelona’s attack, they shipped him back to Italy and spent another 40 million euros on Villa.
Barcelona has parted with Eto’o AND 88 million euros and now finds itself lacking a big game striker – the kind of striker it might need to vanquish its most bitter rival over the course of the next two weeks.
How Guardiola has thus-far escaped harsh criticism for the Eto’o-Ibrahimovic-Villa transfer fiasco is mind-boggling, especially considering the Catalans’ financial status.
But that may change after the next two El Clasicos.
Should Villa remain goalless and ineffective, a simple question might become unavoidable: Would Samuel “Big Goal” Eto’o have drawn a blank in the same four matches? No way Jose.
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Now that we’ve all had a few weeks to digest the Mega Rooney Transfer That Wasn’t, I think it is safe to say it was all just too juicy to be true: Wayne Rooney departing Manchester United amid tabloid scandal, an alleged row with Sir Alex Ferguson and a poor run of form for club and country.
The imagined price tag on such a transfer launched speculation from commentators far and wide about which clubs would, could and should buy the striker. But lost amid all the speculation was one simple question that went unanswered: Would a massive transfer fee guarantee whatever club that bought Rooney sparkling results?
Had Rooney stayed in the Premier League, history says probably NOT.
Take a look at the five most expensive transfers in Premier League history…
1. Robinho: Real Madrid to Manchester City – £32.5m (2008)
2. Dimitar Berbatov: Tottenham to Manchester United – £30.75m (2008)
3. Andriy Shevchenko: AC Milan to Chelsea – £30.8m (2006)
4. Rio Ferdinand: Leeds to Manchester United – £29.1m (2002)
5. Juan Sebastian Veron: Lazio to Manchester United – £28.1m (2001)
Three of those transfers (Robinho, Shevchenko, Veron) were colossal failures. And while Berbatov is (was) off to a sparkling start this season, his haul of goals in his first two season at Old Trafford hardly justified such a price tag. Only Ferdinand appears to have been worth the price as United have enjoyed a fine run of titles with him in their back line.
Surely, a Rooney transfer fee would have approached or broken the record £32.5million Manchester City doled out for Robinho. And while conventional wisdom on transfers says that if a player has class, he will shine no matter the club, the above list begs to differ.
Did anyone think a goal machine like Shevchenko would sputter once he landed on English soil? The style of play in England might not have suited Robinho, but that doesn’t explain the initial struggles of a player like Berbatov who transferred from one English club to another.
Why do star players often sputter following a transfer? That is a topic for another post.
My point today is this: Given the price he likely would have fetched and the evidence that suggests performance doesn’t always transfer with even the finest of players, perhaps the teams that might have been contemplating snatching Rooney (Chelsea, Manchester City) should count themselves lucky for the great transfer that DIDN’T happen.