Thursday, May 29, 2008

My First Year Being A Soccer Fan

One of the last articles I wrote on the old (oldest) site was my initial tackling of the English Premier League. While this may not seem like all too big a deal, the prospect of picking up an entirely new sport, league, and culture was a lot to handle in one season, but I feel like I made some major strides. Thanks to soccer fantasy leagues, ESPN Soccernet, Fox Soccer Channel, and a myriad of blogs on the Internet I've caught on pretty quick. For those of you that haven't read the aforementioned article, after my selection process was over I selected Arsenal as my team.

No matter where my sports alliances lie, it appears to be that I may be the source of bad luck because as soon as I pledged my loyalty to Arsenal they lost one of their all time great players, Thierry Henry and were threatened to be taken over by foreign investors. However, as the season began, things turned around. The remaining players pulled together and were leading the Premier League by the half way point. This was quite remarkable and many people left Arsenal for dead (which in the Premier League means finishing in 4th place), but nonetheless Arsenal's ability to play beautiful football and out play other teams was impressive for sure.

Of course, I wouldn't be lucky enough to actually have the luxury of choosing my sports team, then have them win a championship that very year. No, no. After the half way point, Arsenal grew tired and fatigued lacking the depth and experience necessary to carry out a full season. Players, like Cesc Fabregas (pictured) and Emmanuel Adebayor hit cold spells, and before you knew it, Arsenal was out of every major competition for the year. It was pretty disastrous and a huge let down for me, let alone the fans that have rooted for Arsenal all their lives.

Now the team is on the rebound, per se. Their salary structure is under fire as teams like Manchester United and Chelsea basically have none, and this stinginess is causing a lot of gripping among players on the team even causing two starting midfielders, Matthieu Flamini and Alex Hleb to leave for more lucrative deals. Arsenal appears to be changing their ways slightly offering new contracts to Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy. Arsenal is also hot on the tracks of several young stars from France, most notably 20 year-old Samir Nasri. Don't let the goofy uniform fool you, the guy is tabbed as the next Zinedine Zidane. Now, Arsenal must move forward and add the depth necessary to sustain a full season in all tournaments. The problem with this is that Arsenal has always leaned towards young, inexpensive players (which I enjoy) and they are also in huge debt due to their new stadium and no foreign billionaire backing their spending. Now, this is a viable way to sustain a team as many European soccer teams are losing money due to the global economy and increased player salaries. Personally, I think Arsenal can win this way, but there must be some common ground in order to hold onto players like Cesc, Adebayor, and go get skilled veteran players that can help now.

Overall, European soccer is fannnntastic. The games are exciting, the format is great, and once they get HD programming, it's all over. It's a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and I always enjoy a new sports pursuit. I suppose the most surprising (in a good way) thing is how much I took to really rooting for Arsenal. By the end of the season, I felt the same way about an Arsenal win/loss as I would with the Phils or Flyers.

So, if I haven't pumped you guys up enough for soccer, try to check out the Euro 2008 that starts on June 7th. It's an international clash of all the top Euro teams in a month long tournament. You'll find about 95% of the world's best players taking part, and it is easily accessible on ESPN2. Now, my biggest problem is what team to root for. Japan isn't European, and I guess my default would be Germany, but I really don't associate myself too much with my German heritage. I kind of like the French team because Arsenal has so many French players, and I kind of want to root for Portugal just so I have a reason to root for Cristiano Ronaldo. I think it's gonna either be France or Germany. So we'll see. But check it out, hope you'll be joining me next year (which starts in August!).

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