I was reading The Shin Guardian comment section yesterday and a hockey game broke out.
Sorry, terrible joke. I’m just trying to give a little bit of love to the 2010 Winter Olympics. Did they start yet?
The Winter Games have been somewhat of a financial disaster for Vancouver, a fine city, coupled with off (warm) weather that has them trucking in water, ice, and snow for the events. Yuck.
Somewhere there is an analysis for how much NBC spent on the Olympics vs. their ROI from advertisers and increased viewership. I have a “Broadcasting” piece coming up but it looks at the non-Olympic sport of bowling.
Apologies for the digression, a debate–not a fight–began yesterday surrounding the level of American soccer players versus their counterparts in other countries as the central theme. (Apologies for the active participants, I think the discussion was so good it warrants framing it within a post and starting a new comment thread.)
TSG Commenter “Charles” wondered if it were better to focus on American contributions to soccer when TSG began discussing mentors. His thoughts on how soccer was experienced in America coagulated on the following thesis:
“Football is seen as an extension of culture by the rest of the world. Here it sometimes seems the general feeling is that it’s a game people play.”
Charles went on to ponder whether biased adoption of greats from other nations somehow marginalized the game in the United States, retarded it’s growth here in the States, or somehow devalued American soccer history?
It is a fair and valid question even if you don’t agree with Charles because a similar situation is occuring in England right now with their belowed Premiership league.
I countered Charles with some questions and an example:
How good is American soccer and its players and how do they, the players, reach elite global status? and…
What are the many or proper paths to showing the world all about American soccer?
I weaved those questions around the notion that English greats have asked for quotas on foreign players, lamented the influx of outside talent and generally feel their own soccer culture is currently under assault. The attack on soccer in their country will stymie the development of future players; this is the thinking of most who subscribe to the need for quotas.
At the time I wrote the following:
Arsenal: No Brits in their starting squad.
Chelsea: 3 Brits in their starting squad.
Manchester United: 2 Brits in their starting squad (I’ve got Johnny Evans in the middle on this one).
It is a common theme in Britiain these days (and I think Soccernomics may have written on this accord) to be xenophobic as a means of the home soceity having more opportunity and developing more footballers.
But I think as survival of the fittest (in the phrase’s broadest measure) teaches is that intense competition is a rising tide that lifts all ships.
Arsenal/Man U don’t employ Brits unless they are the best in the business.
Now here’s the parallel.
The U.S. Soccer game is not one of elegant passing a la Argentina or Spain. It’s not one of precision crosses like Germany. American soccer for it’s most part has been built on stout defense and a mindset of invincibility (which the States has certainly not earned yet).
If the U.S.–like added above with my Ruud-Crouch-Cooper analagy–can gain experience and skills across the board it will only make them stronger and it will only make the game stronger as those skills are transferred.
So in essense, I take the opposite side of your debate. I would rather Americans learn from non-Americans because chances are the “American” way has been transferred to them already.
While Charles and I, and all of you, could have continued to have a elaborate debate, Patrick summed up some points, extremely succinctly, on American soccer that I’m republishing below and using as the genesis to begin debate below.
I have this argument about once a year with my father. Since you pretty much summarized his end of it, I’ll give you (and others) the other side.
It comes down to a few questions. In my opinion, the answer to each question encourages more Americans to play and learn from coaches overseas. But honestly, I think both sides have a lot of valid points, and the true answer involves some mix of both these approaches to developing American soccer.
• Was there (or even IS there) a unique “American” soccer culture/style?
I say no. We are, for the most part, a nation of immigrants when it comes to who plays and coaches soccer. I have, since I started playing, been coached by a German, an Englishman, a Belizean, and a Czech. Most of my other coaches either learned the game from their immigrant fathers, or it was in their family due to the cultural connections it had to where they came from. Heck, most of our National team right now is either first or second generation immigrants. The thing is, I think this is a future strength of American soccer. There isn’t a universal “understanding” of how or how not to play the game. We don’t overly idolize playmakers, favor physicality over skill, or favor defense over offense. We don’t turn people away from the game just because they “don’t fit our style”. We just play with the best we think we’ve got. And while sometimes that means sacrificing superior talent on the altar of temporary tactics (sorry JFT!), in the end I think we will develop a more comprehensive player pool because of it.
• Is a unique national style consistent with the emerging trends of the international game of football?
Again I say no. Remember, football was spread via British sailors in a time when there was no globalization. After reaching Brazil, for example, football was left to develop in isolation, free from the influence of the “Western European Nucleus.” This led to a very distinct style. It also, initially, was not very effective internationally. It took coaches, implementing European ideas, or learning from trips to Europe, to really make Brazil the world power it was today. Nowadays, there is very little tactical variation in football. Everyone presses. Formations are, for the most part, similar. Success turns on the individual skills of the player, *players’ experience*, teamwork, and their coaches ability to implement their vision. To get that experience, American players need to learn from the best, which (for now!) means European coaches, and European players.
• Would it even be desirable for the US to have a national style?
Partly for reasons mentioned above, I say no. However, I still want to elaborate. I believe that a national style stifles tactical creativity and flexibility because it encourages coaches and countries to wedge square blocks (players) into round holes (the style). It’s one of the reasons I think England has been dreadful internationally despite having some of the better players. For the longest time (and still now, honestly) the English press and national style has demanded teams that quickly move the ball up the pitch and take as many chances on possible on goal. Hell the idea of possession football took root in England far later than in other countries because their national style resisted such a play style that demanded patient breaking down of a defensive side. Even in the 1960’s with the success of Bill Shankley’s Arsenal and “the boot room,” possession football was the exception in the EPL.
Everyone knew the best soccer involved smashing the ball to a center forward and lettinghim try to outrun and outmuscle the opponents.
Argentina’s obsession with the playmaker (and the subsequent blame of Riquelme for Argentina’s world cup failures) is another example. All you have to do is mark the guy tight and you stifle the creativity of the entire offense. It is no wonder guys like Messi who are used to the entire team being a creative element get frustrated when they return to play international ball.
I realize now that this is rather long and rambling so I’ll try to sum up my points quickly.
(1) America currently has a receptive soccer culture, open to new ideas and tactics. (2) In order to maximize this receptiveness, American players need to learn from the best coaches and players which are currently in western Europe. (3) Having a national style would hinder, not help the development of the sport.
Thanks Charles, Patrick, everyone for your contributions to this piece. Looking forward to the discussion.