One of the limited number of upsides to being between jobs at the moment is that I get to watch a lot of soccer. Pretty much the rest of the world calls it football. After watching many hours of international action I have to admit I’m starting to think the same way. Football, soccer, whatever.
I have found a couple interesting notes along the way:
Player/Referee Interaction – There is a decidedly different relationship with the ref than you see in most U.S. professional sports. There’s a lot more chatter and even laughter between player and refs in Europe. Some NBA refs come close to this. American refs abide very little discussion about their calls while European officials routinely discuss it with the players. Neither set of officials change their minds much, with or without discussion. There is a LOT more physical contact with the refs in Europe than I see in any American sport. Not violent contact but touching on the arm or shoulder, even some arms around the shoulders of the ref. Can’t imagine that happening in any U.S. sport. Again, the NBA may come the closest but I don’t see it as routinely as I do in Europe. Of course, the relationship is different simply because there is only the single on field official.
Different Countries, Different Styles – I’ve watched a lot of English Premier League football, some Spanish La Liga, some French Ligue 1 and some Italian Serie A action. The difference in styles become clear very quickly. The English and the Italians jump out at me right off the bat. While different from each other both leagues seem to be much more aggressive in style. The Spanish are still a little bit unclear to me. I’ve only seen a couple games, one of which involved one of the bottom teams in the league. The action in that game showed exactly why they’re at the bottom. The French, sigh, (this is the land of my forefathers, you know), they just play boring football. Ligue 1 is known for a defensive style that just isn’t inspiring.
Busy Team Schedules – Compared to the best teams in Europe American sports teams are slackers. They are not only playing their league schedule but several other competitions at the same time! The top teams are playing in the UEFA Champions league, which happens during the regular season. The next tier down may be playing in the Europe league, also during the season. These are championship tournament type competitions. Many countries also have a national cup competition that runs during the season as well (the U.S. has one as well, which I’d never heard of till I went looking for it). In England it’s the FA (Football Association) Cup and it’s open to pretty much all teams amateur and professional. All these tournaments seem to be taken VERY seriously, so it makes for a busy schedule. And of course leading up to a World Cup year, some of your players may need to go and play with their national team as they prepare for the Cup.
Relegation – The bottom three teams in most leagues face the possibility of being dropped from the top league in their country and being sent down to the next level. Periodically you’ll hear an American sport fan talk about how we should adopt the practice in our sports. The difference is that none of our leagues (except maybe soccer) are set up to do that. There really isn’t any such structure in the NFL or NBA. The lower leagues in the NHL and MLB are farm clubs for the big leagues. It’s fascinating to watch the clubs desperately trying to avoid the “relegation zone”. Also fun to watch the teams in the next lower league really working hard to be in the top three spots with the opportunity to move up. Completely different business model than American sports.
Football as Theater – I’ve never seen a more “dramatic” group of athletes. Yes, this is a very physical sport but the level of acting that is just routine in this sport is hysterical. Diving is a problem (essentially faking a foul) but even on legitimate violations you see some really impressive histrionics. Even more so when the player who was apparently dying just seconds before leaps to his feet and back in the action at full speed. American athletes are positively stoic in comparison.
The Fans are…Amazing – Because there are significantly fewer stoppages in football than any American sport (from the pastoral pace of baseball to basketball where I’ve seen coaches drag chairs out on the floor for a little team meeting. I mean, really?) the fans seem to stay much more focused on the game. Fan comes from the word “fanatic”. Want to see some real sports fanaticism? Watch football fans in the rest of the world. Yes, they can get out of control (wars have actually started over football results. Scary but true) but the singing, the cheers, the team colors. Attending a football game in Europe (I would LOVE to watch Everton at Goodison Park just for the family connection, let alone ANY game at Wembly) is now on my bucket list. Just to feel the energy.
Just a few thoughts on watching the rest of the world play one of my favorite games.