A soccer diary from across the pond

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sweet relief

"Does anyone have a clean glass? I'm fixin' to pour myself a big ol' helping of Paul Mariner Kool-Aid!" Daniel Squizzato 

What a win! I mean. We actually got a win. Away from home. A clean sheet. 3 goals! Against a rival team. This is amazing. Obviously Toronto FC is still in a crappy position, and this is only one game. But that kind of result does inspire hope after the beginning of the season. It was also nice to see the DPs play well. Say what you want, but in a salary cap league a high pay means you have to perform. Even more so than in other leagues.

Robert Kraft is my homeboy

So it seems like Robert Kraft agrees with me: soccer in most places in Europe is bad business. For soccer clubs to be healthy business that are independent of playground owners like Abramovich or Sheik Mansour, regulation on the spending capability of the clubs are vital.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A lonely battle. The life of a preacher man

So I have this hope/ambition/dream to work with soccer in North America. I see a lot of potential for the game and it would be amazing to be a part of it. 

The thing is, a lot of people haven't seen that potential yet. Soccer is "fodbold" in Danish and every time I tell people of my dreams, I have to clarify that I am referring to soccerball and not pointy-ball. After having made that point, everyone says: "But Americans don't like soccer", and then I have to begin my speech were I point out the potential: Biggest sport measured in participation. The TV-ratings for European soccer. The endless friendlies played by European and Latin American teams at sold-out NFL size stadiums. The growth of MLS in just 16 years. I've repeated myself so many times. I think that if someone has a passion, that they can't share they become more fanatical about it. At least that is a trait I see in myself. Sometimes when I try to explain to people that Americans (and Canadians) do indeed care about soccer it sometimes becomes more of a rant than an explanation and it makes similar to a missionary in a population of heathens and I am trying to preach the truth, but no one listens. And its so obvious (to me at least)! I mean, why the hell would Barcelona set up youth camps in America if they don't see potential and therefore want to increase brand awareness?

About a quarter of the student population of my university are foreigners and I've been very involved with international students and as such I've often run into Canadians and Americans. And sometimes that is even more frustrating. One thing is failing to convince Europeans about the future of soccer in North America, but talking to people from North America, who fail to see it, is sometimes mind-boggling. I mean, its right in front of them. Its happening. Soccer HAS arrived and will become even bigger.

See? It happened again. It turned into a rant/preaching. I hope I'm not going crazy. Am I crazy? I mean, I'm the guy that made Umbro Canada add Denmark and Sweden to the countries they ship to, so I could get the centennial jersey (and thanks for that by the way). I stay up at 3am to watch soccer. That beats out any eurosnob getting up at 7am to watch the Premier League. I guess I am crazy, but the world needs a bit of crazy and I just hope I can find someone to share it with.

Monday, June 18, 2012

MLS and the Bundesliga as role models

When I'm not an avid soccer fan, I am also a business student and what I love the most is trying combine the two. I kind of started it in my last post about Red Bull, but in this one I will continue to do so. The blog will pretty continue like this, with a lot of smaller posts about my personal experience of the soccer side of things and then once in a while longer posts about the business side of it.

During my bachelor degree I've been part of two group projects that wrote two assignments of 60 and 90 pages about the business of soccer in Europe and accordingly I feel I know a fair bit about it. What I really learned from it is that the best business model today in Europe is the one of the Bundesliga. As soccer has been extremely commercialized the benefits of a Champions League qualification or the problems of a relegation leads to aggressive risk-seeking and there is little incentive to spend responsibly. The only thing that can change this is heavy-handed regulation and a large degree of revenue sharing as it happens in the Bundesliga. I also think the key in the Bundesliga, is that soccer isn't treated as a business, but as a sports. Because 51% have the shares have to owned by fans, the purpose of profits is to strengthen the team, rather than to benefit any owner. These factors combined is what I think gives the Bundesliga the attractive combination of success both off and on-field.

This being the blog it is, I also want to add a perspective from North America. The key behind having a healthy business model is curbing the incentives to attempt to outcompete the opponent by outspending them. I also see MLS as having a good model if the ownership is going to be corporate rather than fan based. The single-entity structure, the salary cap, revenue sharing and the lack of relegation allows for teams to try and think long term without being punished by relegation and the salary cap means that teams aren't driven to unhealthy wage/revenue ratios.

Obviously, the culture and history of soccer in the individual countries needs to be factored in when designing the league, but as I the Bundesliga and MLS as two of the best leagues at controlling expenses, which can be attributed their business models, they stand in a good position of having a prominent position in the future global landscape of soccer.

Why Red Bull ownership actually has benefits for fans

The header is probably controversial. Some people see the Red Bull takeover of SV Austria Salzburg, the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and SSV Markranst├Ądt as the peak of the commercialization of soccer and cries foul over this development. 

But when you look at it, is it any different from any other non-fan ownership of sports teams? Most owners are trying to earn money from running the team, a good example of this being Malcolm Glazer at Manchester United or Lew Wolff of the Oakland A's. This means that unlike the fan owned clubs, like the Bundesliga clubs, a lot the revenue generated by the teams end up in the pocket of the owner rather than being put to use by the team.

The Red Bull approach is different. Yes, they want to earn money, but the main product is the beverage and all other activities are in support of this product. What does this mean? It means that Red Bull Salzburg/Leipzig/Brasil/Ghana/New York could spend like the Chelsea FCs of the world and Red Bull could just put it in the budget as a marketing expense. Any profit generated by the teams are obviously welcomed, but the main goal of owning the team is increasing brand awareness for the beverage. This mean that Red Bull is likely more ready to spend on players, facilities, etc, in order to have on-field success as this will reflect positively on the brand.

Obviously, there are issues, especially in the cases where Red Bull took over clubs that had a previous history, as it must be tough for fans to see their club being changed, but when you consider the commercialization already in place in soccer, Red Bull ownership isn't that drastic. Commercial partners are everywhere and its impossible to watch soccer without being exposed to a gazillion advertisements: I count 4 sponsors + Nike on this Helsingborgs IF shirt worn by current Red Bull Markus Holgersson.
 (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Red Bulls running soccer clubs is something that can be criticized on many levels, but those are also criticisms that can be pointed at other owners of pro-sports teams and one huge benefit of having Red Bull owning your team, is that they are very likely to have a very strong focus on improving the on-field product and the atmosphere at the stadium. Red Bull showed this in New York with their investments in Red Bull Arena, and the high-profile coaches and DPs. While they have not had success yet, there should be little doubt that Red Bull is ready to spend money in order for NYRB to have success.

I will totally understand why people will reject Red Bull ownership, but it should not be a debate without nuances.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Two awfully important games

The games against Honduras and Guatemala are actually quite exciting. There story lines are great. 

Canada got the win against Cuba and has momentum, but the match is against an opponent with whom there is a lot of history, both good (1984) and bad (2008). I really hope the Voyageurs, other fan groups and the CSA have managed to sell a lot of tickets to Canada supporters, which will give a boost to the team and help them get a win as this will almost surely give them a place in the hexagonal. Because the 4th place team will play an OFC team this means that CONCACAF is almost ensured 4 team in the World Cup. If Canada can finish at least 4th in the hexagonal, they really should be able to beat any OFC team and accordingly a win tonight will put them on the path towards Brazil 2014.

USA is under a lot more pressure. This is the first time EVER Klinsmann is coaching in World Cup qualifiers anywhere and I just hope that he doesn't underestimate the psychological  pressure of Central American games. I don't fear that the US won't get to the World Cup, but if Klinsmann underestimates these game, it is a real risk.

I think that this is one of the most important World Cup (and qualifiers) in a long, long time for soccer in the US and Canada. Because the World Cup is in Brazil, the games will be in prime time, meaning that two national teams have a unique opportunity to showcase themselves to the soccer fans in their countries that are not supporting them yet. This can really be a step forward for soccer in both countries and in a way it all starts tonight. Canada will get a A LOT closer to the World Cup by beating Honduras and Klinsmann needs to show he respects CONCACAF and he is able to apply his system and style of play under tough circumstances.

MLS withdrawal

When I started this blog I had set I rule for myself, that I'd limit how much I'd write about European soccer. I'll break that rule a little bit today.

MLS is on international break. This is tough. Its actually worse than the off-season. In the off-season there are friendlies, trade rumours and all sorts. Now its all nothing.

Being Danish and Denmark being at Euro 2012, I'll admit to being interested in the tournament, but to be honest it doesn't fill the gap. I'm passionate about Denmark and when we beat the Dutch I was dancing in the streets of Copenhagen along with many others, but I've come to realize how big a part of my life MLS and North American soccer have become. 

Yes, I think more about how the Whitecaps are able to keep that many offensive players happy, while rotating them, than about where Didier Drogba goes (unless it is MLS ) or whether or not France gets out the group. Don't get my wrong, I'm a soccer junkie, I DO care where Drogba goes and I've watched most of the Euro 2012 games, but I seriously need my fix and the only thing, that really does it is MLS.

At least there is the USA and Canada games.

Allez les rouges.
Go USA go.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"And now for something completely different"

Hey. So there are some soccer games to be played today right? There are four awesome games today. The World Cup qualifiers are kicking off tonight and as a warm UEFA was nice enough to schedule the EUROs right before. But with traditional disregard of Canada they scheduled a game, which collides with Canada's game.

What will I be doing tonight? I have the pesky thing called a social life and I made the mistake of failing to cancel this over the next two weeks. So I will probably miss all four games, though I'd might have a chance of catching parts or all of the US game if the party sucks. 

Because of this risk of collision between social life and soccer fandom, I quite like midweek games because being a student with an ability to totally disregard, societal conventions of daily rhythm, there are less clashes with midweek games than weekend games.

"Here I stand; I can do no otherwise"

So. Winter out, Mariner to the bench. What to say. While still passionate about the club, it becoming increasingly hard to have a strong reaction about front office changes. With Winter's record its not surprising that he ended up getting fired. 

I just hope MLSE and the front office have a strategy, whatever it is. I don't care if its idealistic or pragmatic; 4-3-3 or 4-4-2. Heck it could be a 1-8-1 for my liking as long as they win. The only thing I want is direct play. I dislike passive play, and I want players going forward, fighting for the win.

If that is what Mariner will bring, then wonderful. My only wish is for MLSE to make sure that they find a strategy and an identity for the team, so they ensure that players developed in the academy fits with the first team. This is why I chose the quote in the header. With such a turnover in the front office and the management, all you can do as a fan now is hope that this is finally the time they get it right.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

10 freakin years. How to make a young man feel old

Oh dear. Its actually been 10 years since this obsession of mine started. I remember 10 years ago. I was 15, living with my parents and because of the time difference I could wake up every morning and watch soccer. I remember turning on the TV and watching the game, while getting dressed and all of a sudden O'Brien scored and I was like: "WHAT? Aren't Portugal supposed to beat the crap out of these guys?" I watched the entire game and I was amazed. This lead me to following the team for the rest of the tournament and after that my attention turned to MLS and that is how it all started.

North American soccer and my fascination thereof have followed from boyhood to manhood and it has become a big part of who I am and how I spend my time. Its been one heck of a ride and I look forward to the next 10 years and hopefully this will include new record setting performances by the US in the World Cup and a new appearance by Canada in that tournament.

Monday, June 4, 2012

CAN-USA post game comments

I actually really like this game. I can't really complain about the fact that it was a tie. But I have to admit I was sorta hoping for Canada goal in the end. They fought hard, shut down the US team and played with grit and passion. I quite like soccer played that way.

Ricketts was amazing and really showed the defensive limitations of Castillo. Both goalkeepers played well. Lots of chances for both teams.

In the end the result for useful for both teams. Canada proved that they can fight their way to a result (could have won if not the the referee) and the US got a reminder of the playing style of CONCACAF opposition. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think Klinsmann has a better track record against non-CONCACAF teams.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Something about the soccer game tonight

Having come off a 4-day binge celebrating the hand-in of my bachelor thesis (on financial regulation in European soccer), I'm now faced with a tough choice: do I support Canada or the US tonight?

I guess it can be compared to choosing between two very loved adopted children. It's hard. Considering many of my page views are Canadian and American (expect for the two Russian spam bots, let's call them Yuri and Dimitri) many of you will have a diverse heritage and will know how it feels having emotions invested multiple places.

Considering it is a test match and all, I'll be a chicken and just hope for a good match. Though because it's a special game for the Canadians I'll probably be extra happy if they get a good result.