Boy, Thursday came and went, dinnit? I blame my staycation, which has sapped my Kuyt-esque work ethic and left me a Diet-Coked-up FIFA 10 addict. But enough about me, let's get back to the insights of Liverpool's least hated American associate, nate!
Last time, we talked about the World Cup and England's shortcomings. Now we turn our attention to the transition as a fan from the international game to the club game -- how did nate do it? Who might he recommend following at the club level from this World Cup? And yeah, we get into whatever Liverpool's become, as well. Join the conversation after the jump! You mentioned coming to follow England by following players from Liverpool, etc. As an American, it seems like you've been following the international game for longer than many of us -- how and when did you find the game? How did you come to follow Liverpool?
It's actually the other way around. First England, then Liverpool. And my guilty secret is following Liverpool because of Michael Owen. Yeah, him.
I was one of those kids who were dumped in youth soccer very early on, only I actually enjoyed it. My earliest football memory, at the age of seven, is the England/Germany Italia '90 semi-final. Gazza's tears, Waddle's airborne penalty, etc. I learned about England losing early on and yet somehow stuck with it. Even through USA '94, which England didn't qualify for, helping me prepare for a lifetime of English futility. And then came 1998, Argentina, and that Michael Owen goal. He wasn't much older than I was, and I had to find out who he played for now that I was old enough to realize there was football more than just every four years. And thanks to this burgeoning Internet thing, I could actually "follow" Liverpool, at least through match reports, highlights, and ordering videotapes and then DVDs. Club football became more and more important than country, and studying abroad in England in 2003 was the point of no return. I still have the #10 Owen jersey I bought on that trip. It was the second purchase I made after getting off the plane. Naturally, the first was alcohol. I was 20. Relatedly, I don't get player names and numbers on jerseys anymore.
Obviously, my obsession only got worse. And now, thanks to multiple US-based soccer stations, satellite TV, streaming matches, and the vastness of the Internet, I feel comfortable writing about a team that's an ocean away, having started my blog nearly four years ago. Admittedly, I barely knew what I was talking about then, but these years have given me enough practice to pretend that I do now.
So you came to Liverpool via Owen, and I came to them via Torres. If you were a casual/free-agent fan watching this World Cup and thinking you might want more after it's over, who do you think you'd be curious about following on a club level?
I guess it'd depend on whether I consciously wanted to focus on the English league or not. Because none of the truly effervescent players play in the Premiership. If seven-year-old me was watching England in this tournament, I'd probably pass on the Prem and on England. There was no English player a la Owen to attract the fifteen-year-old me to an English club side. There was no English standout period.
Villa, Messi, and Sneijder have been this tournament's attractions. And the first two play for Barca – perpetually the neutral's favorite as it is – while Wesley's at Inter Milan (p.s. miss you, Rafa). I know suggesting Barca or Inter Milan is direly boring, and I offend myself at the thought of it, but here we are. Others that seemingly have made the leap – Özil (Werder Bremen), Müller (Bayern Munich), Honda (CSKA Moscow), Higuain (Real Madrid), and Luis Suarez (Ajax) – also are based on the continent, not in Britain.
Even foreign Premiership players are struggling. Torres and Van Persie can blame injuries. It took Tevez four games to get on the scoresheet, aided by a blind linesman, and he took his own two-week winter break this year. I'm biased, but along with Tevez, the only names I can think of are Mascherano and Kuyt – I'd argue Dirk's in the form of his life – but those two run on plutonium-powered batteries. Every United and Chelsea player at the World Cup was out after the round of 16. Arsenal only has the aforementioned Van Persie and Cesc, who's found it hard to get off the bench and now has more niggling injuries. It goes back to your first question, and the imminent soul-searching necessary from the Premier League and FA.
Honestly, if I came into the sport now instead of x number of years ago, I'd probably latch onto a US player and follow where they went. I'm well aware that contradicts my England fandom, and I'm incredibly glad Liverpool found me, even considering current circumstances, but it also aptly sums up the quality of English and Premiership players in this tournament, as well as the state of world football. I'd probably see where Donovan or Altidore (not that Jozy set the world afire) heads, or if Deuce stays with Fulham. I'd probably pray Michael Bradley gets his deserved big move. Now that the US has a foothold, has players abroad, and parity seemingly reigns supreme, there's even less of an argument for my style of bandwagon-jumping.
Yeah, it'd be hard to watch Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and not want to see what they do next. Dempsey seems a fixture at Fulham (though I'd be happy to have him at Anfield, especially if we lose Kuyt to Inter), but that's a difficult team for someone to just pick up and start following. Even Everton with Tim Howard seems more appealing to a neutral. What do you think the future holds for Landon?
Also, do you think it's actually boring to encourage people in the direction of Barca to get started? Seems to me that 1) even though a lot of neutrals follow Barca, folks new to club soccer will hardly be sick of their status as everyone's second team, 2) following them will expose you to international club soccer at the highest level where some other team may actually grab your heart, and 3) you can learn to appreciate the beauty of total football, no? Barca are like the Red Sox without the pessimism -- even though they're the second richest club in the world, they still get to act like giant killers by staving off Franco's favorite powerhouse, Real Madrid. Isn't that sort of the ideal place to start?
I'm hesitant to speculate on any Liverpool transfer gossip, especially this summer, as I have no clue, let alone inside information, but I feel pretty safe in assuming Kuyt's not going to Inter. [Marc update: so true, thank goodness.]
I can't see Landon staying in MLS. If he's ever moving to Europe, it has to be soon, and he's a bit of street cred built up from his three-month stay in England. Going back to Everton seems the safest bet, but I imagine there'll be a few Premiership sides that'll try to hijack the move. And as Liverpool fan, I won't even attempt to suggest someone start following the Blues.
It's hard to argue with your points about Barca. You certainly could pick worse teams, and watching them may actually let you enjoy football. They play a purist's style of football, and it works with their murderer's row of a line-up. But I still can't ignore that parallel with Real and it leaves an acrid taste in my mouth. I'm well aware comparing them is political blasphemy; the history of Franco versus the Catalans, but Franco's been dead longer than I've been alive. These days, they're both free-spending La Liga bullies with a tendency to buy galacticos. Real's just more heavy-handed and open about it. Yes, Barca has more home-grown talent – their Academy is incredibly admirable, and they'll add another once Cesc finally comes home – and yes, they've bought more Spaniards as well, but the perception remains. And they've won almost every single trophy in the last two seasons. It just reeks of bandwagon, and that's coming from a guy who's actively cheering for an eighth of the teams in this World Cup. But I hate both the Red Sox and Yankees, so your comparison works regardless.
When I was ramping up on club football, I could never fall for the more rational choices like Arsenal or Barca even if it makes life easier. Just felt too easy, though I'm jealous of those whose brains aren't wired that way; they get behind winners who play the right way, and I get the endless cycle of optimism and disappointment (which I so clearly seek in sports teams).
Speaking of optimism, though, isn't Liverpool arguably an ideal choice to start following now? They're a club with great history and a fabulously loyal worldwide fan base, but they've kind of hit the skids: owners have plunged them into spiraling debt, they finished an embarrassing 7th in the league, they just fired a manager that's so bad he was immediately hired by the current European Champions, and star players may be about to exit stage left. Truly, things are hitting rock bottom.
And yet, isn't that sometimes the best time to hop on the ride? They've got a capable (if unglamorous) new manager, and if the new Chairman is to be believed, the club sale process is on schedule, the “best offer” wins, the current owners can't block it, and wealthier, more responsible stewards could be in place within months.
If someone's looking to get in on the ground floor of a fixer-upper, why not Liverpool? Or am I being way to optimistic here?
I'd absolutely agree with you if I weren't afraid that we're nowhere near rock bottom. And I'm also afraid that you are being too optimistic. Nonetheless, it's still Liverpool FC.
Let's preface this ramble with the sentiment that no one outside the club truly knows how perilous the club's finances are. I especially don't, and although numbers tend to make me stupid, I'd like to consider myself marginally informed. But even in the best case scenario, things do not look not good. A debt of at least £350m is not good, and interest payments in the region of £110,000 per day to meet that debt are not good. A match-day revenue less than half of United or Arsenal's is not good. A declining transfer budget – from around £35m in 2007-08 to -£6m this season, according to numbers from LFC History – is not good. And there are still no assurances that key players – whether it's Gerrard, Torres, or Mascherano – won't be sold this summer.
I honestly don't believe Martin Broughton, the current chairman (or managing director Christian Purslow for that matter), any further than I can throw him, and my back really hurts right now. Broughton is a man who felt he couldn't attend the last home match of the season because he's a long-time Chelsea supporter. And the first sale of the transfer season was Benayoun to... Chelsea. Excuse me while I search for my tin foil conspiracy hat. This didn't endear him to my heart either.
Even if the rumored price – £600-800m (which, I assume, includes the debt) – isn't true, it'll end up costing at least that, if not more, to clear the debt and build the new stadium, let alone what the club itself will cost. Any new, responsible custodians will probably have to spend somewhere in the region of a billion pounds to do what Hicks and Gillett promised more than three years ago. Even with the improvements in the playing squad (i.e. Torres) and the upgrade in sponsorships (such as the new Standard Chartered deal), I find it hard to believe the club's now worth three times what Hicks and Gillett paid for it (~£220m).
I'm well aware I'm discussing finances when we should be talking about on the pitch matters, but the two go hand-in-hand these days. The Premier League is big business. Make no mistake, Liverpool is still a huge name, one of the richest brands (sigh) in football, and could have a very good team next season if everybody else stays, a couple of players are added, injury problems ease, and morale improves. It's not outside the realm of possibility.
But sadly, given all the financial nonsense I felt obligated to discuss above, I can't help but be pessimistic. As I wrote in an earlier response, I'm still glad Liverpool found me, and I couldn't support any other club even if the Leeds/Newcastle worse-case scenario somehow came to fruition. As you wrote, it is a great club with a fantastic history and phenomenal fan base, and a fair few decent players if they happen to stick around. Because of managers such as Shankly, players such as Dalglish, and events such as Istanbul and Cardiff (as well as Hillsborough), Liverpool FC has a soul incomparable to other teams. "You'll Never Walk Alone" isn't just lip service, despite the lip service paid to it by the current owners. For better and for worse, there is no other club in Britain like it.
All of those things, and this new "underdog" status thanks to the loadsamoney likes of United, Chelsea, City, etc., can make following Liverpool an attractive proposition no matter the circumstances. It's not just 'sing when you're winning,' and that's important, especially when considering the bandwagon fears we've both expressed.
But be aware of what you're getting into. If you're thinking about supporting a team on the other side of an ocean, do some research: into the players, the history, and, sadly, the status behind the scenes. You're not for want of information or options.
P.S.: I'd still probably pick Liverpool.
Yeah, sadly, I doubt very many people are racing to put on a Liverpool jersey as Torres and Gerrard threaten to toss theirs in the trash bin, but a guy can hope.
For more level-headed insight into Liverpool and the World Cup, make sure to bookmark Oh You Beauty. Thanks to nate for such a thoughtful and engaging interview!