Si to La Liga’s US dream

The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - @RaeComm

I AD­MIT now to hav­ing been overly dog­matic about foot­ball rules and con­ven­tions in my younger days. This was par­tic­u­larly true in the 1990s while work­ing as a me­dia of­fi­cer for the 1994 World Cup or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee in Bos­ton.

Part of my stance stemmed from the fact that foot­ball was a new toy to so many in the USA. I, and many oth­ers in sim­i­lar po­si­tions, took the view that Amer­i­cans would have to re­spect and adapt to the world game, rather than the other way around.

I still be­lieve this to be fun­da­men­tally the case and the game has grown mas­sively in the US since then. Those who have sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered its de­lights tend to be­come fierce de­fend­ers against change to suit Amer­ica’s whims.

So you might ex­pect me to rail against the plan to stage one Span­ish league game per sea­son in the US over the next 15 years. An agree­ment has al­ready been reached be­tween the Relevent Sports events com­pany and La Liga for this to be rolled out. How­ever, it needs oth­ers to agree and Fifa last week ex­pressed their op­po­si­tion to the plan, join­ing the Span­ish Play­ers’ Union and the Span­ish FA (whose in­ter­ests are not al­ways the same as La Liga).

The league body see it as a way of play­ing catch-up with the mas­sively suc­cess­ful Premier League, al­ready streets ahead of oth­ers in terms of pro­jec­tion in the lu­cra­tive US mar­ket.

Barcelona and Girona, the two teams ear­marked for the ini­tial phase of the ex­per­i­ment in Jan­uary, are both in favour of the pro­posal.

There is no doubt, foot­ball of­fi­cials all over Europe have been eye­ing what the NFL are cur­rently do­ing, play­ing reg­u­lar sea­son games in Lon­don. In time, there will likely be a fully-fledged team with a home base in the English cap­i­tal. Why should the world game, with a much larger in­ter­na­tional fan base than the NFL, miss out on the ul­ti­mate in sport­ing glob­al­i­sa­tion?

What do Amer­i­can fans think? I tried out a com­pletely un­sci­en­tific sam­ple of them last week in­volv­ing my so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers. Those who re­sponded are al­ready big fans of Euro­pean foot­ball, so you would ex­pect en­thu­si­asm for the idea. The ma­jor­ity said they would be in­ter­ested in see­ing such a game on their shores, some were neu­tral, while those against of­ten felt it to be detri­men­tal to ef­forts by Ma­jor League Soc­cer to in­crease the foot­print of the 22-year-old league. Some just thought do­mes­tic leagues should re­main do­mes­tic.

The more I have delved into this one, the less op­posed to the La Liga-USA con­cept I have be­come. Yes, it seems out of kil­ter with my keep­ing foot­ball pure man­i­festo of by­gone days. But part of me says this is not akin to a law change or some­thing deeply in­trin­sic to foot­ball. It is not as though some­one is promis­ing to change the off­side law in one league only.

If a league de­cides it is in its best in­ter­ests to play a game on the other side of the world, and has sound rea­sons for do­ing so, should it not be al­lowed to pro­ceed? Why do we al­ways re­flex­ively want to say no?

Char­lie Stil­li­tano, the face and voice of Relevent Sports, is no new­comer to foot­ball. I worked with him dur­ing those 1994 World Cup or­gan­is­ing days, when he was the venue di­rec­tor at Gi­ants Sta­dium. He is a well-known foot­ball fig­ure in board­rooms and among man­agers such as Sir Alex Fer­gu­son and Jose Mour­inho.

I sus­pect Stil­li­tano knew all along there would be road­blocks and is pre­pared to play the long game in the hope that even­tu­ally, per­mis­sion will be granted.

For the record, I pre­fer to watch do­mes­tic foot­ball in that same coun­try. There is noth­ing more en­joy­able than watch­ing my home city team Aberdeen at Pit­to­drie among Doric ac­cents. Or my adopted Ger­man team Koeln at the Rhein-En­ergie Sta­dion, amid Rhineland hu­mour and with Bratwurst in hand. Con­text is im­por­tant to me and to view ei­ther side play­ing a league game in a dif­fer­ent coun­try would be bizarre.

But part of be­ing open-minded is re­al­is­ing that there are other peo­ple who have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion. To many in the USA, an ocean away from the world’s best foot­ball, it would be a dream come true to see a high­pro­file league game in their own coun­try.

When a Dundee v Celtic league match in the USA was sug­gested, I do not re­call com­plete op­po­si­tion in Scot­land.

Does love of foot­ball mean we al­ways have to be the dream squash­ers? TO re­turn to the sub­ject of the NFL in Lon­don, any­one who watched Spurs lose 1-0 “at home” against Manch­ester City on Mon­day night will have been aware of the legacy left by the Jack­sonville Jaguars and Philadel­phia Ea­gles.

Sun­day’s NFL en­counter at Wem­b­ley was al­ways go­ing to mean some­thing of an eye­sore once the Spurs v City match had to be moved to Mon­day. There was no al­ter­na­tive given the de­lay in com­plet­ing Tot­ten­ham’s new sta­dium and a tight fix­ture list.

I have seen NFL lines at many an Amer­i­can sta­dium and it does lit­tle for the spec­ta­cle. Years ago, I even watched a full-back in MLS pre­par­ing to take a throw-in sev­eral yards in­field, con­fused by the nar­rower NFL pitch. Luck­ily the of­fi­cials quickly re­minded him of where he ought to be.

There were no such mix-ups on Mon­day but the com­bi­na­tion of a bob­bly pitch, de­spite the ef­forts of Wem­b­ley ground­staff, and the ubiq­ui­tous Amer­i­can foot­ball mark­ings de­tracted from the oc­ca­sion. The at­mos­phere was not what it could have been ei­ther.

By way of full dis­clo­sure, I have been thor­oughly en­joy­ing broad­cast­ing the NFL for Ama­zon Prime on Thurs­day nights. The sport can grip you once you learn the ba­sics of strat­egy. But let us hope there is no re­peat of back-to-back Sun­day NFL and Mon­day Premier League at the same sta­dium.

Spurs’ new arena, the open­ing of which has been pushed back un­til the new year at the ear­li­est, is much needed. IT was strik­ing last week to hear so many Le­ices­ter City fans speak of how much Vichai Sri­vad­dhanaprabha meant to them. The sud­den na­ture of his death in a he­li­copter crash af­ter leav­ing the King Power Sta­dium last week­end shocked the foot­ball world. Yet how many own­ers would re­ceive such glow­ing trib­utes? Not many.

There is no doubt he be­came part of the com­mu­nity, as op­posed to be­ing the kind of ab­sen­tee land­lord we see all too of­ten in the Premier League. Sri­vad­dhanaprabha made sure the club was front and cen­tre, as op­posed to pro­ject­ing his own image.

Le­ices­ter sup­port­ers will never for­get his part in lay­ing the ground­work for the most un­likely ti­tle win in league his­tory in 2016. Re­nam­ing it the Vichai Sta­dium would be well worth con­sid­er­ing.

The NFL legacy be­fore Spurs’ game at Wem­b­ley last week. La Liga want to copy the NFL’s move and play a game in the US

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