Si to La Liga’s US dream
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