Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Entering the World of the English Premiere League

With soccer and Beckham-mania at its absolute peak, and steadily falling in the states already, now seems the best time to unveil my new interest, European futbol. The cliche is that soccer/futbol is the most popular sport everywhere in the world, but in America. While this is true, my interest was peaked several years ago when I attended a "friendly" or scrimmage between Manchester United and Barcelona at the Linc. This was the first event at the Linc, and more importantly, seeing European futbol live is an amazing experience. It is a sport you need to attend live to appreciate it on TV, similar to hockey or tennis. The last World Cup sparked my interest for futbol even more. I started to learn more of the players, teams, skill, and I loved the passion of the fans for this lost sport from across the pond. The tipping point came this past Winter after our football season was over. I was left with the misery of watching the Flyers and Sixers. Now, the Flyers have been competitive for a long, long time, and they, along with the Sixers, are my favorite teams in each of their respective sports. However, having only them to follow for my live sports appettite was not enough. So I checked in with my old friends from European futbol. Long story short, I got sucked in and now I'm a fan.

The most intriguing aspect of jumping feet first into futbol was that for the first time in my life, I got to CHOOSE the team I wanted to root for. Obviously here, all my ties to sports teams are Philadelphia. This was exciting because being a Philadelphia sports fan is a painful process, and now I was in charge of my destiny. So I devised a process for selecting my perfect futbol team. Just as a note, Sports Guy did this a couple years ago, and I used him as a starting point.

First, I had to choose a league to follow. Much like American sports, there are leagues in European futbol, however, these leagues are global. The three prime ones are the English Premier League (England based), Spanish La Liga (Spain), or Italian Serie A (Italy). This was not a hard decision because I knew I wanted to follow an English Premier League (EPL) team. Due to the games more likely being broadcast in America, the language barrier, and the chance of being able to see my selected team in person some day, once again deferring to the language barrier.

Next, came a much more vital decision. A team. I used a 4 prong system to choose my team.

I. History - I wanted a team with a winning history, but I wasn't looking to jump on any bandwagons.
II. Star players - The team needed to have at least one star player I knew so I could grab onto something early to root for.
III. Uniforms/Nicknames - Clearly I would be owning a lot of merchandise from this team, so they had to be cool in appearance and namesake.
IV. Ownership - How the team was run was important to me. I like teams that don't just throw cash around to reach their goals.

Out of all the teams in the EPL, my first instinct was to find an underdog team I could root for. Stay away from the popular teams, and find one that could be my own and completely devoid of being accused of being a bandwagon jumper. This was a noble attempt, but I realized that I had the chance to choose any team I wanted. There was no need to put myself through the misery of trying to find a diamond in the rough team. I did consider Reading, Newcastle, Tottenham and Fulham. Second, in the EPL there are the Big 4. Basically the four teams that are always in contention, making it borderline foolish to go outside of that. The Big 4 are as follows: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United.

So I had my four teams to filter through. Right off the bat, Manchester United were out. They're the Yankees of the EPL in regards to their spending. Everyone hates them, except for ManU fans, and it would be too easy to choose them. Although they do have two of the best players in the league in Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Chelsea soon fell for similar reasons to ManU. Chelsea blows money and overpays for players all the time. The difference from ManU being that Chelsea notoriously choke when it comes to big games, aside from two years ago when they were atop the EPL. They have notable players, but no one I was thrilled about backing as my star player.

That leaves two teams to fight it out. Liverpool and Arsenal. Two of the most historic teams in the league and two of the more reserved spenders of the Big 4. Liverpool sort of scared me away because they're a truly historic team with a devoted following. I sort of got the vibe that their fans have been through a lot with Liverpool and wouldn't take kindly to strangers hopping on the bandwagon. They do have some interesing players like Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Torres, and a 6'8 striker that does the robot after every goal he scores. Phenomenal, but something felt wrong about them.

That leaves Arsenal. To lay it out using my formula, they're a very historic team. They're 10 jersey is legendary, they are nicknamed the Gunners, and they have a French coach known for finding the top young players in all of futbol. They have a very attacking style, that promotes offense and a quick pace. They're like the Phoenix Suns of the EPL. Also, they're ability to find top young players early, means they don't spend crazy amounts on transfer players during the season.

Let me just say that I selected Arsenal as my team months ago, and in that time their ownership has suffered through takeover threats, the team has been in peril and questioned on whether they can contend this year, and their all time goal scorer, Thierry Henry, left to play for Barcelona. Just my luck, but I'm still sticking by them. They have a great core of young players like Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott (known as the LeBron James of futbol). The few signings they have made this year have been praised, and I like what they're doing. It may be tough to beat out ManU and Liverpool this year, but I certainly think Arsenal can have a good showing.

So when the season kicks off in a couple weeks, I will be following intently and I'm looking forward to perhaps rooting for a winner after the Birds season wraps.

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