What do you think of the Wrexham experience? Cynical self-promotion by two actors or a real comforting story? Evan, New Hampshire
So far, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney seem to have done everything pretty much right. They seem to understand what a British football club is and its role in the community and have traveled to Wrexham the town. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe it’s self-promotion but, likewise, I’m a bit uncomfortable that a football club should be there as a content provider. The test will likely come if they find themselves sitting in the middle of the table at Christmas – then do they do something wacky to craft a better narrative for the documentary?
Is it possible that the more obscene transfer fees become for the major leagues, the more fans turn away from a product increasingly detached from the common fan? Will we see fans turning to the lower leagues for a more working-class experience? David, Mo.
Well, that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t know how much more “obscene” charges can get (although that’s not an adjective I’m particularly comfortable with in this context). I’m also not sure it’s particularly helpful or accurate to filter this through a class lens. Many fans, in fact, seem more thrilled with the market than the games – as the traffic on transfer rumor stories shows. But what is also true is that, at least in the UK, attendance at the lower leagues has never been healthier: I am not aware of any research to find out whether people who attend these matches were revolted by the high fees or simply prefer the cost. /ease/lower league experience. I guess a lot of them mix and match: they go to a Premier League game once in a while, but go to their local club more regularly.
Is the football spending spree of oil-rich countries speculative? Where do they see the income coming from? Will anyone outside of the Middle East watch or care? Dan, Mass.
I don’t think it’s about generating revenue, or at least not at this point. The investment aims to generate an alternative image for countries with a global reputation for repression and human rights abuses as part of a much larger investment program aimed at diversifying the economy away of oil and gas production. In time, it’s possible that, say, the Saudi league could have enough top players for the norm to make them regular viewing around the world and there might even be a distant idea of League admission. champions. And if that happened, there would clearly be money to be made in the way big European clubs make money – but that’s not the priority.
How do you think history will remember players who compromised their morals to go to Saudi Arabia for the money? Especially players who have been so vocal in their support of LGBTQ causes, for example Jordan Henderson. Thomas, Colorado
It’s possible that in a decade or so the Saudi league will be accepted as one of the big competitions in the world, Saudi clubs will play in the Champions League, and the disapproval will be a bit weird (the same way we look at back to those who opposed professionalism in the 1880s or those dismayed by the rise of the Premier League in 1992 as cantankerous Tories opposed to obviously needed progress). It is possible, in other words, that the Saudi project will win. And even if that fails, those players may not be viewed any differently than those who have been to China (whose human rights abuses often seem strangely downplayed, perhaps because China, although that his companies invested in football, never simply took over a club). And the sport tends to forgive its heroes – many cricketers who played in South Africa during the apartheid ban in the 1970s and 1980s have served suspensions but have been rehabilitated and serve as responsibility. But I hope that at least one stain remains. And as you say, Henderson’s hypocrisy is hard to ignore.
What do you think of the British snobbery around the term “soccer”. I lived in Northumberland as a child and had books that used the term football in their titles, or used football and football interchangeably. Can you talk about the history of the term and its evolutionary use in the UK, US and beyond? Christopher, Pennsylvania
I find it deeply tedious. This seems like a relatively modern phenomenon since football (soccer) became the undisputed predominant sport in the UK, but if you live in a culture that has multiple codes of football then of course it makes sense, for the sake of clarity, to use a different term. . When I was growing up in the 1980s I would have always used “football”, but there was no sense that “soccer” was a foreign word – the legacy you see in magazines like World Soccer (published for the first time in 1960) or Willy Meisl’s seminal book on English insularity Soccer Revolution (published in 1955). I’m not sure it’s necessary British snobbery per se – more just the annoying crackpots who feel the need to control conversations on social media.
How come the whole world has produced MVP basketball players (e.g. Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Hakeem Olajuwon, Nikola Jokić) and Americans have yet to produce a top talent in football? Is it our pay-to-play system? Our lack of generational knowledge? Our relative lack of interest in sport? A myriad of things? Thank you and I appreciate your work, Jonathan. Michael, United States
I don’t know anything about basketball, so I’ll skip that item, but the lack of progress in American football after ’94 surprised me. I read George Dohrmann’s book Switching Fields, which looks at the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and asks why there hasn’t been more progress, and I was shocked at the image that he paints of a world in which racism and the profit motive (i.e. pay-to-play) militate against development, but also by the fact that children in the United States are not not constantly playing ball, even in an unstructured way, as would be the case in most of Europe. Given that physical development is the easiest thing for paying clubs to demonstrate to parents, I wonder if there’s an over-focus on that, leading to excited players like Christian Pulisic – physically impressive (when ‘he’s uninjured) but essentially a right-line runner who lacks the cunning and imagination of a truly top player.
Of course, it doesn’t help when four other major sports exist and the talent pool is therefore divided. But having said that, I’ve heard many people point to great American sportsmen and say, “Ah, if only LeBron James [or whoever] played football, they would be a big…” citing their height, mass and sprint stats, which seems to reflect this focus on physique; Diego Maradona was 5ft 5in, Lionel Messi was 5ft 7in, Pele was 5ft 8in – looks are just part of it. Likewise, those pre-game technical challenges – like the volley challenge that Kai Havertz messed up so badly – suggest a misunderstanding; yes, the technique is important, but less so than the overall conceptualization of the game, the understanding of space and team dynamics, the interaction between the components.
Football is a sport of flow and individuals only matter insofar as they function within the team; from conversations i’ve had with people involved in coaching, it seems very different from american sport, which can be broken down into separate pieces and in which one individual can make a huge difference, so it may be that the dominant sports culture is not conducive to the development of great football talent.