Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some Arsenal Fans need to calm down

I have this new addiction. It's called the English Premiere League. I include the top Spanish clubs in this addiction but their league is more difficult to follow. I didn't pay attention to this sport at all until this past spring. New hobbies are exciting. In this new blog I am going to discuss first impressions. I don't have the knowledge of the game yet to discuss tactics and express opinions regarding performances on the pitch. I do have my life long experience of following the three biggest American sports and will make comparisons when relevant.

This game has been the dominant sport in the World for a long time. One thought I have frequently is that while the best athletes in the USA have been playing our version of football, basketball, and baseball, the rest of the best athletes in the World gravitate towards this one sport. I can't help but wonder what would have happened in this country had some of those other sports not been so prevalent, especially at the youth level. Would Lebron James be one the World's best attacking midfielders, and a dominant defender as well? American Soccer has made vast improvements over the past ten years and more top athletes are starting to gravitate towards it. Again, I'll cite my lack experience in determining which players are in the "elite" category. Right now I use the evaluations made by EA Sports. They do use real world expertise in their gaming development.   Landon Donovan gets an "elite" rating from that software outfit.  There are others that I probably haven't seen as my new addiction hasn't yet extended to Major League Soccer. I do have high hopes for two fellow Texans, Brek Shea and Francisco Torres, as I am starting to pay attention to the U.S. National Team.  Just as the best basketball players in Europe come here to play in the NBA, many of the top Soccer players do not remain in the US.  Donovan is the top exception to that trend but he has been overseas and I suspect he will go back at some point.

The excitement I now have in this sport has led to a reduced interest in
the big three American sports. I will still watch the Dallas Cowboys and remain optimistic of that great season that will surely come, but the NFL had talked about a "lockout" while the owners & players union hammered out a new agreement. I decided I didn't care if they played a single game this fall. I'll get up early on weekends to watch the "matches" instead and have a better time doing so.

I haven't yet developed a loyalty to one club. That must happen naturally & not growing up with a club makes the choice difficult. It can't be a conscious decision. I only know that ONE club will NOT be Manchester United. I have no problems with the personalities there, but I always pull for a underdog. It would be cheap to jump on the ManU bandwagon. I have always rooted against the New York Yankees & they have dominated Baseball for most of the last Century. Arsenal's challenging times have made me sympathetic to their side. I like the excitement & potential of Manchester City but have reservations based on their consequence-free spending. Liverpool & Chelsea have a chance to gain my support. If Ashton Villa would show some Champions League potential, I could get behind them. The same goes for Wolves.

The case of Leeds United is a fascinating story.  I am still trying to learn the details of just what happened to them. Regardless, if they return to the Premier League my choice for a favorite club would be an easy one.

I also think about parity and the lack thereof. In 1992 the English game underwent a change to separate the strongest teams into a smaller group.   Two years later, the biggest sport in the USA, the NFL, implemented changes that weakened the top market teams so that now any team can rise from "worst to first" in a year.  Its happened many times.  Dynasties in the NFL are now a thing of the past.  The 1992 Dallas Cowboys were the last team capable of that type of dominance.  The had taken that status from the SF 49ers, who dominated the 1980s.  Dallas did manage three SuperBowl victories ('92,'93, and '95) based on the strength of the team they had built in '92.   But due to the salary cap implemented in 1994, Dallas could no longer keep the depth it had at every position on the field and many of it's former players went on to have very productive careers on other teams. The EPL has four to six teams at the top and it seems locked in that way. Leeds fell from the top but has this happened to other clubs?  I like the concept of promotion/relegation. In theory, Leeds should not only be capable of promotion back to the Premier League but compete on the World stage as well.  But is it possible to win the Champions League without a Billionaire willing to loose millions in the process?  If the promotion/relegation system were combined with a salary cap, then many clubs would get to enjoy a great year once in awhile.  With the inequity in place now, I hear fans of clubs saying they hope to finish in the top 12.  For some clubs, finishing 17th on the last day is reason for celebration.  These are concepts unheard of on this side of the pond.

Manchester United seems to operate in debt and doesn't experience "rebuilding" phases. I'll grant their manager seems very gifted. But does the balance sheet even matter? I will enjoy the rare matches when they fail to gain a point. Manchester City operates at a "loss" but not "debt" as it's financed as a hobby by an oil rich Arabian. One team in that top four does operate like a business and they are in danger of losing that elite status because they are financially responsible. I have taken a liking to Asenal's Arsène Wenger and hope his club manages to win this week in Italy. If they aren't in the Champions League group stage, then he may not spend on replacing recently departed talent. The absence of those games in that state of the art stadium would be devastating. I also feel those Arsenal fans wishing for his departure will regret it later if they get their way and he leaves the club. I see a capable man doing the best he can on behalf of that club. They complain that they haven't won any silverware since 2006. BooHoo!! Cry me a river. They don't have oil riches. Do you expect the club to run it's finances like (I hate to say this,) the US Government? Wenger's methods appear to be keeping the club in the top four without accumulating lots of debt. Fifty clubs would trade places with Arsenal. Just last spring, the one match that hooked me on this sport was Arsenal's late comeback to beat the Great Barcelona in the Champions League. I didn't see what happened the next week. I am still learning some concepts, like the two "legs." My point is Arsenal had a good chance at the ultimate prize half a year ago. As a fan of sport, lean times are part of it. You take the Silverware with the down times. And for Arsenal, "lean" years wouldn't be the same as it had been for Leeds. Being financially responsible has ensured they will at least remain in the Premier League, likely the top six, and their absence from the Champions League (if it happens) would be short.

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