September 21, 2013


An English Football Invasion (OWEN SLOT, 9/19/13, WSJ)

The English Premier League was our gift to you. And yes, fair enough, NBC paid $250 million for it. But we always assumed that it was just too good for you.

We like to think our game is too sophisticated, that the U.S. audience couldn't appreciate a 0-0 draw. That you'd miss the ad breaks and the beer commercials, that you won't understand why there are two halves and not four quarters and no end-of-season playoffs. We kind of hope you don't get it. My, how we chortled when we heard that NBC had muddled Robin van Persie with Ruud van Nistelrooy. [...]

So we are snobs and you are the nouveau riche. You don't understand what you've got. At least that's how we like to look at it. It's like you've got a new toy: We're glad you've made the purchase, but we're laughing at the sight of you all thumbing through the instruction leaflet, unable to decipher how it works.

That's why I like the sound of your soccer mums. You get the impression they all drive shiny SUVs, are immaculately turned-out, hardly break a sweat in their daily red-hot yoga class (though I may be fantasizing here) and would assume that Crystal Palace is a second home for the Royal Family when they're not at Windsor Castle. Our football mums may be more likely to have a touchline fight with the opposition parents, but they'll at least have an opinion on the quality of Özil's left foot.

However, if this NBC EPL revolution works as they tell us it will, if you do decipher the instructions, and you really do all become Villans and Stokies and your soccer mums work out that Hull is not just a part of a boat, where does that leave us and our soccer superiority complex?

Your NBC has good pundits. It is showing every game, which is more than we get. You clearly have more potential fans than we do. To top it all, your plutocrats have been slowly buying our EPL clubs. There is serious evidence here that we might actually have to respect you as a proper football nation. God forbid, you might actually start calling it football and not soccer.

So it is good that your own football is back. Don't desert your heartland. And don't completely annex ours.

Contra Mr. Slot, not only is the game incredibly simple, but Americans, coming to it with eyes and brains trained by decades of sports analytics, understand it's possibilities far better than the rest of the world (except maybe the Dutch).   As in all sports, the key lies in spatial relationships and most coaches and teams are just horrible at exploiting them.  If you gave Bill Belichick a team to coach he'd revolutionize the game.  

Meanwhile, besides its simplicity, the game has no greater draw than its lack of commercials and the fact it lasts just two hours instead of the three-plus of our unwatchable baseball and football games. 

And once our influence gets them to ditch the offsides rule and replace it with a blue line they'll have a much better game.

They'll catch up to our understanding, but it'll take awhile.

Posted by at September 21, 2013 7:23 AM

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