Thursday, June 25, 2009

Underestimating the Gringos

One of the most recurrent things in football is that everybody always seem to underestimate the United States side, leading to way too many surprises. The first such surprise was the legendary victory of the USA in the 1950 World Cup over England, but it has happened in later times as well, such as Colombia-USA in 1994, Argentina-USA in 1995 and Portugal-USA in 2002.
In this years Cofederations Cup in South Africa we have seen the Egyptians underestimate the Gringos, and now even the Spanish European Champions ran into a defensive but spirited and efficient US side in the semifinals, and were defeated 0-2.
The USA are a good side, and they have always been quite good since their return to World Cup football in 1990.
But they should not be that good!

With the USA in the final of the Confederations Cup, the US is now on the verge of a major international triumph on the mens' side, and I think this may be the prelude to something that eventually had to happen: the USA winning the world championship!

Football is the only great global sport that is not driven by US culture and media, but by international passion. The USA is the only country in the world where passion for the beautiful game does not build bridges between people and culture.
The USA may be a great sporting nation, and may become the best footballing nation within a decade, but this will indeed be the saddest thing that could happen to football ever, because the USA is not a footballing nation!
When the USA becomes world champion, I will not watch international football any more, because that will be when the sport will be driven by commercial breaks in both halves; that will be when the teams will be owned by magnates who will move them away from their cities; that will be when victories are not celebrated with dance and parties in the street, but with a boring reception; that will be when we stop calling it the football world cup, but soccer world cup....
In short, it will be when football finally stops being the game of the peoples' of the world, but becomes just another thing among the US global power.

While I think the 11 lads on the US team won a rightful and deserved victory against Spain last night, the rise of USA football will be the demise of football's beauty.


pommels said...

I grew up in Bury St. Edmunds, but am an American. I have loved football since watching the Charlton brothers in the 60's. While it is true that football is a world game, I dont buy this tripe about the USA rise causing the downfall of the beauty of the game. I would say the Chelsea disaster this year and the division of moneyed teams from poor teams will do more than the rise of a USA national team. Besides, even with yesterdays huge, gallant, passionate win; do you really think the USA can compete with the world's best consistently?

Anonymous said...

Erik, I will have to agree with you for the most part. However, I do think you are getting a little ahead of yourself. The USA winning The World Cup in 10 years...doubtful, let's go for 20, After all you made that same statement 10 years ago in Birkerod.
Ok, so let's say the USA does win The World Cup in 20 years. Your whole rant about not watching international football/soccer because the sport will be driven by commercials etc etc etc ...bullshit.
Have a little faith in the worlds most popular and beautiful sport with its millions and millions of true supporters. I sincerely doubt that the football masses, the football nations, the true lovers of the most beautiful game on earth will let the "American capitalist machine" ruin it, or alter it in anyway. Look at MLS in USA, commercial free, except for half time. Don't give the Americans so much credit in their future "world domination" of this area.
It is a football planet! and after all is said and done it is only soccer in America, and will never be football in the true sense of the word.
Finally, It's not life or death, it is more is football.
--- The Claus

El Erik said...

Thanks a lot for your comments football fanatics! Glad I caused some reactions :-)
Commercialization of the game goes hand in hand with results - sadly indeed, and the UEFA Champions League is the best example. Still, anyone should agree that the best football in terms of quality is in the highly commercialized matches!
But in international football (national teams) the quality is already low, and the passion about it is mainly driven by nationalisms. Therefore, I think that spirit and passion gets you most far at this level, more than quality, something the US showed against Spain, and I think is very common. But surely no US team could compete at UEFA CL level!

I am trying to exaggerate the point, that national team football is on the way out, and the US winning the world championship will be a step in this direction!

Pommels, I really still believe that we will see the USA becoming world champion before we will see an African country win!
I have been to the US many times, and have many friends there. I still miss that I have never watched a USA match with a passionate US supporter of your national team!!!!!

Claus! Indeed it is only football: it is where I get my steam out. But hey, as used to be my motto when I had the football-fanatic-website: "OF ALL THE UNIMPORTANT THINGS IN THE WORLD, FOOTBALL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT!"
I really said that in Birkerød?!? I don't remember - but as you know, I often say so much stuff :-)

Anonymous said...

I think it is inevitable, the US will eventually be able to compete against "world football powers" consistently. But, define consistently in the world of football, Is it at the level we just witnessed Spain? Is it at the level of Man Utd? We have consistently seen USA improve over the years since the WC was in USA.
But I do understand what you mean and agree.

Erik, true, A MLS team would have great difficulty competing at the UEFA Cup level. MLS is still a new developing league. USA is still a developing soccer nation, it will take aleast 20 years before US is at a world FOOTBALL level, consistently.
Now, Erik your exaggeration is on the level of being American. I sincerely doubt that International football is on its way out.
All Football is based in commercialization, look at all the advertising, shirts, boards, leagues, stadiums are all sponsored even at the international level (to some extent). I think that sponsorship and commercialization can only and will only help support the game and help it grow in countries that aren't great footballing nations, at the club level and national level.
I don't think it will be the downfall of it. Commercialization of THE GAME is simply a good marketing tool.
Now, if we keep on this road of discussion and debate of commercialization of international football, we will inevitably end up talking about economics, politics, high international finance, and eventually lead to religion, education, sex, drugs and rock n roll, which is way off topic.
I do think it is the most commercialized sport in the world.
I do think that in the true footballing nations of the world it is about nationalism, pride and honor.

---The Claus

El Erik said...

Hey Claus, din bandit, I am not against commercialization per se. As I said, the UEFA champions league is the most commercialized in the world, and is the best quality football, and I would personally have a very empty life without the champions league!
No, my point is more that the US is not a footballing nation- if they decide to follow it, it is because of some good commercial and a smart looking David Beckham or something like that, and not love for the game. And here, of course, I am becoming guilty of a gross generalisation, but, like a good friend recently told me ;) you cannot go out and celebrate a US victory, because nobody in the US would know what is going on!

My point is the same as with my doubts about South Africa hosting the world cup: the US is not a footballing nation, and WHEN the US becomes world champion, football will have lost a lot of its global appeal. It will stop being the world's game, but it will be the US' game.

But indeed, on the positive side, we will still have the (highly commercialized) UEFA champions league!!!!!!! Any football fan will have to love that, even the real football fanatic in the US who want great football!

Anonymous said...

Ask the LA cops if people celebrated in the streets properly after the Lakers won? What's the difference if American owners move teams from city to city or whether all the teams are owned by foreign oil millionaires with no connection to the cities their teams are in? The US have shown they are good enough to beat any team on a good day but I don't think they will have what it takes to win the World Cup in our lifetimes.

El Erik said...

Surely, I don't question that the US is good enough! I consider them outsiders for the World Cup title!

To be very direct: I have watched football all over the world, I have made friends in every country of the world through football, seen the passion! Except in the US! In fact, when I have watched world cup matches with US friends, I am disappointed when they either care less or even support the opponent teams!
Perhaps I want to provoke some US people to watch a match with me in the world cup 2010 and celebrate a US victory like everyone else celebrates when they win a football match!!!! :)

Jesper S. said...

Well, if the US becomes a football/soccer world power and "takes over commercially" ... at least we'll get some cheerleaders at the games, no ? ;o)

The Americans in the crowd I play soccer with here in North Carolina get pretty excited about the national team. But of course they would rather see their favorite Premier League team. I believe.

Anonymous said...

Might the group please indulge an observation: I grew up in America playing football and basketball and literally weeping when the professional teams I rooted for lost championships. Americans are, and always will be sports fanatics, just like other countries. Your point about not having passionate soccer fans is accurate, compared with the rest of the world. This country of immigration and cross-bred cultures turns out to be an inventive lot, and an independent one. We used diverse cultural influences to invent our own favorite sports: baseball, basketball, and American football. American culture is as passionate about it's sport easily as the rest of the world is about soccer. The difference we play on a mere national stage, making the scale and effect appear diminished.
That Americans don't care about international soccer is admitted. If they begin to care, it will be raise the game to new extraordinary heights. I think this will happen. Soccer is the game of choice for the majority of children in America today, for both boys and girls, in numbers that dwarf football, baseball, and basketball. When the hispanic and black urban kids join the suburban kids and begin playing high school and college soccer, the US will compete at every level. When this happens, it will far from hurt the game. The rest of the world will take tremendous pride in fending off this raw, gaudy, naive power who dares assert itself against the traditional powers.
Your argument also states American-styled capitalism will hurt the game. Too late, my fine scribe, in that the last time I checked, clubs overseas are paying transfer fees that match or exceed that of the most egregious US athletes. That, combined with the ubiquitous branding and merchandizing of every conceivable item related to soccer, clearly conveys that the Europeans particularly have long-since equalled any American effort at polluting a sport with commerce.
Back to the dispassionate US soccer fans, thank heaven they are. My current opinion is that the world could use a respite from American zeal at present, but that's another topic. If America wins the World Cup, the evolution of football will complete it's conquest of every major culture. When and if that happens, the apathetic US fan will not be an issue, even if we didn't invent the game. I see an emergent Africa, Europe, Brazil/Argentina, and the US as soon providing a captivating scenario whereby at any given time a power from all 4 corners of the map could step up and win on the grand stage. I highly doubt that would "ruin the game" and I highly doubt you would "quit watching". If you do, we appreciate your past patronage of a wonderful sport.

El Erik said...

Thanks for your post. Considering that Real Madrid has paid ridiculous amounts of money for a team yet again, I would never say that football has not reached capitalistic heights! And US is not to blame for that: Europeans invented capitalism...
I also agree that there is perhaps nowhere in the world where people are as passionate about sport, for sports sake, as in the US.
That said, I do not believe that football will ever have a breakthrough in the US as any other US sport or as in other countris. While people may appreciate the sport, it will never reach the following of other places, and in fact, I believe that when US (and even include China here) at some point wins its third WC title, people from other places will think: "it is done, we don't need to watch internaitonal football any longer - it is only a contest between US, China and Brazil..."
I believe that this will also mean the demise of international "National-team" football. I think we are already seeing it.
That said, the hope for any football fan, is the Capitalist money-making Champions League, globalised, from players from every corner of the world in multinational teams. This is where the real quality and future of the game is.
Now, that will NEVER have a following in the US, even when the US wins the World Cup.
Sports are inherently linked to culture. Football is just not part of US culture (OK, here I will also add China, India, etc., as well as many other smaller countries, and I would say the same for these!).

Anonymous said...

The world is speeding up, my good man. True, professional international soccer is not part of main stream culture in the US at present, but ten years ago, neither was blogging! At my son's middle school, one's EPL or Champions League affiliation dominate the bragging rights. The number of official licensed soccer jerseys rival those of our own NFL carolina panthers, based in my hometown of Charlotte, NC.
People follow the sports they play or played, and they quickly appreciate observing their game at its highest level. My son and I were in a week-long funk when our beloved Man U lost to Barca in the final. Ten years ago, neither of us knew either team existed. We are passionate about soccer because we play it year 'round, in the rain, cold, by car headlight, or in 95 degree Carolina heat. The game has us hook, line, and sinker, as is the case with all of our friends, and again, ten years ago neither of us had ever kicked a soccer ball.
I agree with you, Erik, sports are inexorably linked to culture, and the US youth is rife with soccer culture. The simplicity and accessibility of soccer guarantees the World Cup's increasing popularity, regardless of how the US or China may sully it for it's inventors, the British. As for the Champions League "NEVER" garnering a following in the US? Who knows where the future of club football is headed and who will follow it, but the likely scenario is that the explosion of youth soccer in America will bear fruit at the club level, with a generation of players, fans, and businesses that grew up with the game. If the Champions League is still the pinnacle, the yanks will be almost certainly play a significant role. As a fading empire, we may dovetail nicely with the plights of England, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, who manage to produce sporty international and club sides, despite diminished economic and cultural influence.

El Erik said...

That is really an interesting point. Of course, you have to view it in terms of how it is "developing". I studied in the US for one year in 1992, and there was NOWHERE to watch football - I listened to the 1992 CL final on a scratchy short-wave radion.... Surely, it must be a huge difference today, and I would love to see the changes you describe in terms of following of football. I have to be convinced though :)
Hey, your son and yourself are super football fans! I shall get back to you when Man U plays another big match!