Thursday, March 1, 2007
English Premier League Picks and Pans
So it's been about three years since I began my experiment to try to get into international soccer, and as regular readers know due to my evermore frequent soccer postings, it's been a successful experiment.
I threw my lot particularly behind Portsmouth in the English Premier League, but although pretty much from the get-go I have watched all of their games available to me, the rest of the EPL was sort of "everyone else." I was content on becoming a Portsmouth diehard without trying to get a read on the rest of the EPL.
Three years hence, that has changed somewhat. I don't strictly watch Portsmouth matches only. I have begun either liking or disliking most teams in he league. I'm reading more and understanding a little more about each team's history and reputation. While I don't have an opinion on every EPL team yet, I do for most of them. Here's who I like and don't like, and why. Use this as your own guide to EPL fandom, as I think we can all agree to think just like me is a good thing.
STILL NO REAL OPINION
Newcastle and Middlesbrough — Middlesbrough leans slightly towards the "do not like" column because they signed away Portsmouth's best goal scorer a couple years ago. But for whatever reason, I don't fully dislike them.
TEAMS I LIKE
Reading — Although they are in the midst of their first-ever season in the top flight, they are making the most of it. They are currently in sixth place, which would be enough to qualify for all-European competition if the season ended today, and they are doing it with the help of a couple of Americans (Marcus Hahnemann and Bobby Convey, currently injured).
Aston Villa — I have less concrete reason for giving a little support for Villa. I like the name, and I like their uniforms (er, "kits"), both in style and color.
Manchester City — Any underdog aficionado has got to appreciate the poor brother of Manchester United. They are also employing the services of an American, DaMarcus Beasley (on loan from a Dutch club).
Sheffield United — Another newly-promoted team looking to stay afloat in the top flight. Most of their history has been spent looking up at their rivals Sheffield Wednesday, but now the Blades, as the United team is known, has the upper hand.
West Ham — They have the same powder blue/dark red combination I like on Aston Villa, but appear to be destined for relegation at years end.
Watford — Currently at the bottom of the table, it seems certain that they will only spend this year in the top flight. It'd be a great story if they could pull themselves out, though (much like Portsmouth did last year). They're another team utilizing an American (Jay DeMerit).
TEAMS I DO NOT LIKE
Bolton — Pompey (aka Portsmouth) has been jockeying for a spot in Europe with Bolton for most of the year, so I have developed a healthy dislike for them. They have been very lucky, managing to be comfortably in fifth place at this writing despite a goal differential of just +1.
Everton — Another team Portsmouth must get around for a spot in Europe. The first game where I realized I had become a real Pompey fan was a 2005 game against Everton, who won 1-0 on a Tim Cahill goal, and I found myself as upset as any longtime fan would be.
Tottenham — I am not the only one who decided to give the EPL a shot as an adult. Bill Simmons did, too, and deemed Tottenham his favorite team. Seems only reflexive I should dislike them then. They are still another team in the thick of European qualifying.
Blackburn, Fulham, Charlton, Wigan — I dislike them all, but for vague reasons I'm not necessarily sure of. There is something about them all that bore me, even though two of them have Americans in key roles, Blackburn and Fulham (Brad Friedel and Brian McBride, respectively). Whenever I see Wigan on the screen, I want to derisively pronounce it Weeegan, the same way this Buckeye says Meeechigan. I don't know why.
Onto the big four, the giants of English football. I dislike three of them and like one.
Manchester United — I dislike Manchester United. My best friend is a Man Yoo fan, so I have to go against him. Something about Cristiano Ronaldo, one of their stars, makes my skin crawl, like if the Karate Kid decided to start wearing eye makeup and join Cobra Kai.
Liverpool — I dislike Liverpool. Liverpool has two players I distinctly dislike. There's the opinionated, feisty Craig Bellamy, a cocky bully who fights with teammates and has a face that begs you to hate him. In contrast to the bully is the ungainly Peter Crouch, whose overbite and tall, waifish frame, combined with the cover-your-eyes robot dance he does sometimes after he scores, makes me want to bully him and take his lunch money.
Arsenal — I dislike Arsenal, although less so than the other two. I'm really more neutral about them, but they are still a Goliath, so I typically root against them.
Chelsea — Chelsea is an interesting case. After they won the Carling Cup last week, I lurked in the comments section of the soccer blogs and message boards I like, and I was surprised how much contempt there is for Chelsea. What was surprising is how universal the hatred seemed, regardless of who the hater supported. The second part that surprised me is why fans of Arsenal, Man U, and Liverpool registered their hate: because Chelsea bought their superstars and their greatness, rather than building from the ground up.
The rosters of all of the Big Four are well-populated with high-dollar international superstars. What Chelsea does is absolutely no different than what Man U, Liverpool, and Arsenal do. They just have been doing it for less time. Indeed, Man U, Liverpool, and Arsenal have dominated the English football landscape for a century. That's not just because they happened to do the best job of developing talent for 100 years running.
They've succeeded due to having more money and superior resources, the same things they bag on Chelsea for, but not the others. It stinks of hypocrisy, and xenophobia, as well. The man who bought Chelsea's greatness is a Russian, Roman Abramovich. All teams in the EPL have derogatory nicknames shouted by rivals, but none as commonly heard and casually spoken as the culturally-charged "Chelski."
Seeing all this, I started to defend Chelsea, so you can put them in the "like" column. I also enjoy watching Chelsea striker Didier Drogba more than anyone else in the league. He has a staggering 27 goals in various competitions this year for the squad, and there's still a lot of season to go. In fact, I think it's come to the point where I like Chelsea more than anyone in the EPL, save Portsmouth.
Of course, they play each other this week and Portsmouth badly needs a result. Oh, how I hate that free-spending, artificial Chelski squad.