Dave’s Rant: Thoughts on European Football/Soccer.

I was introduced to soccer in a different way compared to many who read this site. Like a typical American, I was never raised watching the game, and watched my American sports instead (which I still do). My first introduction to soccer was by Playstation, when I purchased FIFA Soccer 97. After that, I didn’t watch my first live games until the 1998 World Cup. Yes, I might have never seen a soccer match, but I knew the players well just by the fact that I played them on Playstation numerous amount of times.

Therefore, my first ever soccer game that I ever watched was US vs. Germany in the 1998 World Cup with my good friend Kartik Krishnaiyer. Yes, that wasn’t exactly the best match for me to watch. And yes, what made it even worse was the fact that Steve Sampson was an idiot using a 3-6-1 formation. But still, I saw both teams play with heart. Unfortunately for the US, we saw Yugoslavia and Iran play with the same heart. I, of course, watched the final in which France defeated Brazil. And with my trip to Paris less than two weeks later, I was both hooked on soccer and French football. Also, due to my extensive hours of playing Playstation, I became a supporter of Paris St. Germain (the reason I am not now is a different story).

Being an American, we are used to not having the same teams win every single season. If a team dominates for a while (like San Francisco and Dallas in American football in the 80s and 90s), other teams still have a chance to knock them off. But even when dynasties are created, like the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s, they eventually fall and become the Oilers of 2011, the worse team in the NHL. Therefore, there is diversity when it comes to watching sports in the United States. Even the mighty New York Yankees in the salary capless MLB get scares in their own division from Tampa Bay and the Boston Red Sox.

This was the reason that I only followed the EPL closely for two years. It only took a tiny bit of observing to realize that the same teams win over and over again. And unless you get a lucky break, like your team being bought out by a billionaire like Manchester City, you have no chance of ever celebrating anything, or even have the thought of celebrating anything, if you aren’t one of the big boys. That is what makes American sports so great, as even the Tampa Bay Lightning can claim a Stanley Cup.

So instead of following the EPL, the French Division 1 caught my eye. Besides visiting France and going for them in the 1998 World Cup final (mostly because I disliked Brazil because of all of their rude tourists that passed through Orlando every year, I must admit), I found it as a league that one could pick a team, follow them and, possibly, win a championship. Even in 1998, if you were to say to the average French football fan that Lyon would win seven championships in a row, you would be committed. But, of course, that changed.

Because of the structure of the UEFA coefficient system, it is nearly impossible for leagues to get more (or less) teams in the European qualification than there currently is. Why? Because it is a lot easier to keep you place in the UEFA coefficient when you have more chances than the leagues below yours to succeed. Let’s see…England has three teams that can make the Champions League group stage, Russia has two. And how the points work, just the presence of three teams compared to two already gives England a points advantage over Russia. All the English teams could close their group stage games by scores of 97-0 while Russia could win some and lose some, but yet finish 3rd in their groups, thus not advancing. Who gets more points? Exactly. And with it being a five-year average, it is nearly impossible for any other leagues to knock off the big boys.

That is the reason that I don’t even watch European competition matches anymore. I didn’t watch the Manchester United vs. Barcelona game at all. Why? Who cares. I mean, if it is going to be the same two handfuls of teams that make it every season (with the odd exception), why do we even have the group stages anyway? It is just a league to make money and a masturbation session for the supporters of the clubs who make it to the semi-finals on an annual basis.

But how does this affect Ligue 1? Well, we are already starting to see an EPLization or La Ligaization of Ligue 1. It might not be viable right now, but it surely will be in the next few years. And there are two ways that one can tell this process is taking place.

First, the results this season. Yes, people might say “oh, it was an exciting Ligue 1 season because it was unpredictable.” But was it really? In my preseason predictions, I predicted that the top five teams would be Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Paris St. Germain and Rennes, as did a score of other Ligue 1 experts. So, who are the top five teams 37 matchdays later? Exactly. And with the amount of money that both Lyon and Marseille have spent the last two season, in addition to the new money that will be poured into PSG, these teams have the capability to start being the “Big Three” in Ligue 1, thus making it no different from the EPL or La Liga.

As a Toulouse fan, what is the use of me watching my team at all? I know we are a mid-table team and will more than likely never win anything under any type of “Big Three” structure. Therefore, why should I watch a team when it is already predetermined that they will pretty much be average? Just doesn’t make any sense. And sports are supposed to be about “winning”, right?

But this creates a dilemma that the bigger clubs love! Because Lyon, Marseille and PSG are going to create a system in which it will be impossible for outside teams to win the Ligue 1 title, why would one be a Toulouse supporter if sports is about winning? Yeah, you can be from the city of Toulouse and follow them, but what for, to see them lose to Lyon 5-0? Just doesn’t make sense. Therefore, why not become a “sell out” and support a team like Lyon, that spends money out the wazoo and buys every player they can? I really don’t see a reason why anyone wouldn’t.

That is just the first way that La Ligaization is happening in Ligue 1. The second way that one can tell it is happening has to do with the players. Soccer has gone from being a “team sport” to being an “individual” sport, which has totally destroyed The Beautiful Game. Instead of players going out there and trying to win for their team, they use every match as an “investment tool” to negotiate either higher wages or a transfer to a club to get higher wages.

A pure example of this is Adil Rami. At the start of the season he was on fire. He was easily looking like one of the best defenders in both Ligue 1 and the world. But as soon as his deal with Valencia was signed, sealed and delivered, then he started to back off a little. He didn’t make the key tackles. He didn’t try for the ball as much. In addition, he let more players by him, which was very much unlike him at the start of the season. It was almost as if he was protecting himself for his new team instead of trying to help the team he is currently playing for. The same thing could be said for Maroune Chamakh’s last year as soon as it was clear he wasn’t going to stay with Bordeaux for the next season.

Also, I feel that this lust of money by these players is the reason we don’t see Brazil as strong as we once did. I have always thought that most Brazilian players were about the beauty of the sport, and were happy that they were paid for doing what they loved. But ever since this sport has become about money and not dedication, it almost seems as if many Brazilian players have lost their will to play the sport. I guess this explains why returning to Brazil, where the love of the beauty of the game still exists, is becoming a more popular option for Brazilian players looking to finish up their European careers.

So with players only playing to increase their own personal salary as well as pumping in more money for only a select few teams, why should anyone watch this sport in Europe unless they support a team that will always win? In addition, a league that has only a handful of teams winning the championships makes that league boring. So what is the point? We have seen it in all the other leagues, and it looks as if we are going to see it in France as well.

At least Lille was a nice bit of fresh air this season, which might be gone next season. Lille purely played like “a team”, which is the reason why I think they won the championship. And even with all the talks surrounding Eden Hazard being transfered, it still seems as if his priority is helping Lille until he is no longer with the team. THAT is professionalism, something severely lacking in this sport nowadays.

Another big problem that I have with football in general is (and this will sound weird), the English language. It seems like the only reason that anyone who speaks English ever reads anything regarding Ligue 1 is because they are wondering about transfer rumors. This is the main reason that I have “sold out” the last few weeks by adding the words “Arsenal” and “Manchester United” in my titles.

But it isn’t just that English-speakers have the blinders on, it is also the English media as well. When watching many Ligue 1 matches, as well as matches with French teams in them, the English commentators talk more about how much time a player has spent in the EPL in the past, if he is going to the EPL in the future, if he has a relative in the EPL or if he just happen to be driving through London three years ago than the actual game itself. I am watching Ligue 1 for the sport of French football, not a player’s English-playing history lesson. That is the reason I try to watch matches that are exclusively commentated by either Matt Spiro or Robbie Thomson.

But it isn’t just the commentary, but the English print media as well. They seem to feel England reigns superior in the world of football. World Cup after World Cup, the English media always talk about how England will win the next World Cup. This fact alone should discredit them for reporting about anything regarding football whatsoever. Therefore, it is hard to read anything either in print or online regarding French football in the English-language format that doesn’t mention the EPL.

I first noticed this not in football, but the world of Formula One. If one were to read F1 Racing Magazine or Autosport, one would also assume that Nigel Mansell was the best driver ever and that Prost and Senna played second fiddle. In addition, in the late 90s, the British F1 media also treated Jenson Button as if he was the next rival to Michael Schumacher. Basically, they feel that all things English are superior in Formula 1 as they do in football. After a while, it gets really old really quick, especially when 90% of the predictions by the people in these publications is dead wrong.

I have always wondered if my biggest mistake was watching the World Cup first and expecting the same devotion by players at the club level. In 1998, I saw Brazil, The United States and even France play with pride and heart. But even in international competition nowadays, I just don’t see that anymore. Name me one of the top teams that played with any heart in the last World Cup? I said “top teams” because people could always mention North Korea or one of the smaller teams. Again, for the top teams, it seems as if the World Cup has become just another tool for their players to negotiate better salaries.

This is why I am strongly considering only following the MLS here in the United States. Watching the few games that I have, it seems to be all about the sport of soccer for most of the players that take the pitch. True, there are some problems with the MLS, like paying Beckham and Henry huge amounts of money and only placing big name foreign players in big cities (waiting for a European superstar to play for the Kansas City Wizards). But overall, these teams have a passion to see their team win. It brings soccer down to its bare essentials, which is sadly missing in Europe.

There are many things that I can add, but I think this is long enough. I will maybe write about today’s final matches for Ligue 1. And, of course, I will be watching today’s matches. But I am surely wondering if I will watch as closely next year. I really don’t have an answer for that.

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22 Responses

  1. If you really don’t think this has been an exciting season in Ligue 1 maybe you shouldn’t watch it mate. Been the best season that I’ve watched. In pretty much every league you can predict the top five, you might not get the positions right but you’ll get the teams right. But leagues are about European positions, relegation battles, not just about the top. Things like that make it interesting.

    It may be to do with the other sports you enjoy that makes you feel this way. Football is not just about winning it’s about connecting with a team a feeling watching them develop over a whole season.

    With your thinking what’s the point in supporting a club outside the top division? Look at teams like Valenciennes, Brest, Wigan, Blackpool. They play for years and years down the divisions but then one day they get to play in the top division and it’s a pleasure and a joy for them to be there.

    I agree about the English media, but that’s never gonna change, but it’s the way thing as Americans calling things the “World Series” or “World Champions” same pig-headedness.

    From reading your post mate, I’m not sure football or Ligue 1 is for you anymore 😦

    • But it is easy to say it is exciting because your team won the Ligue 1 title.

      As far as playing up and down in divisions, I understand your point. But in order to move “up”, you must win the 2nd division of whatever league you are in. My biggest issue has to do with the midtable teams that will never go down or never compete for a top spot.

      And, I am sorry, but it is about winning. Do you think the coach says to his players “ok, guys, give me a good game, and lets only lose by one goal. Even a draw is fine, but don’t worry about winning”. No, not at all. You go to win every game. And, again, I just don’t see that heart.

      As far as my comments on English media and Ligue 1, I put these feelings out, but I do have other feelings as well. The other main feeling is that it seems that one can only be accepted in the English-speaking Ligue 1 “clique” if you have an accent that is from the British Isles. I have a feeling that if my name was Nigel Smedley from Portshampshiresmithton, I would be taken seriously. But because I am an American, people “across the pond” feel that we don’t know anything about soccer. It gets insulting after a while. And, of course Andrew, I am not saying you (and a few others) are one of these people lol.

      You talk about connection. I guess I “connected” with the actual play of the sport. That might be my biggest mistake.

      I hope that I am wrong about the future of the league, but I feel that I am right.

  2. Yeah it’s easy to say I enjoyed the season cause they won, but I enjoyed it when they came 13th as well. really enjoyed watching Lorient and Sochaux, St-Etienne and PSG. I think it’s been a great season.

    Surely the success of Lille gives others hope, you don’t need money to do it. You just need a good team and manager. Surely teams like St-Etienne, Bordeaux etc are just looking to win enough for European football if they know their not gonna win the league. Winning is always to goal but to different standards.

    If you’re confident in your opinions it shouldn’t matter where your from. Why would the French take English speaking people seriously. If you know your stuff that will always come through. But I can understand your reservations.

    I really don’t think you are right about the league, PSG, Lyon and Marseille have had all the money for a long time and Lille are the Champions surely that is a great thing. Gonna be hard for PSG to attract players with only EL football and not CL.

    In my opinion someone from the US that loves football should be supporting the MLS as it needs it’s football fans to back it strongly. Not saying you can’t follow L1 but MLS should be backed with football lovers like yourself

    • I agree that it shouldn’t matter where I am from, but it does. Yes, maybe not with you, but with others. Also, I am not talking about the English-speaking French people, they are totally fine. But I am talking about the English that report on French football that only take people with their same accent (or an accent close to theirs) seriously. That is why I talk with tons of people from France on my Twitter, but only a handful of fans from the UK on there.

      My first love is Ligue 1, it always has been. I am more mad at the entire European game because of the monster it has created. I’m just afraid that Ligue 1 will be sucked into it.

      Trust me, I can follow Ligue 1. I still think I know a pretty damn good amount about the sport. But, in all fairness, I could say that as someone from Scotland, you should follow the SPL more 🙂 Of course, if you don’t nowadays, I totally understand lol. But don’t worry, I’m still going to follow it. And, I am sure, I will still write about it.

      Honestly, I didn’t mind when Lyon won all of their titles because a lot of their players came through their system. It was after the Benzema sale that Lyon went into the European “buy everyone” type of system.

      But like I said, I don’t know if this will happen, which is why I am going to keep watching L1. But the second it starts to look like “La Ligue”, I’m done.

      • I’m glad you’ll stick around but I still think you should go for the MLS too.

        With regards to me and the SPL, I have lived in England for 6 years and worked out today I’m 200 miles from Glasgow and 220 miles from Lille haha.

  3. I always thought the SPL as La Liga on depressants lol. Two powerhouse teams that flop in European competition (well, lately).

    See, between 2000 and 2007, I didn’t have a favorite team in French football. I just followed it because I loved the style of play. And, luckily, that style still remains intact. I only picked Toulouse in 2007 because I wanted to “follow” someone. Now, I think I might just go back to following the league in general. It is hard for me to really cling onto a team that I didn’t grow up with. So, I think that is the best option for me.

    As far as the MLS, I do have a problem with them paying players like Beckham extreme amounts of money, while paying most of the players in the league slave wages. Therefore, I don’t like the way that system is either. But granted, I think it is better.

  4. I completely disagree with you about predictability in Ligue 1. History speaks for itself. In the last ten years, 9 Ligue 1 teams have qualified for the Champions League. That means almost half of Ligue 1 fans have had their team in the champions league. 14 different teams have qualified for the Uefa Cup/Europa League. That’s almost three quarters of fans with their team in Europe. 8 Different teams qualified for the Intertoto cup while it was around. All in all, 18 different clubs have qualified for Europe in the last ten seasons. That’s a lot of fans who have seen their team in European competition. Every fan in Ligue 1 has hope. Think of the rise of Sochaux this season. Think how exciting that is for their fans and everyone else who has watched them. You are writing off Ligue 1 without having thought about it all that much. A good 15 teams in Ligue 1 will have the potential to qualify for Europe next season, at least. Isn’t that exciting? And this is without even taking into account the excitement that is the gap between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Stay with Ligue 1.

    • I agree that history says one thing, I agree 100%. But I have a feeling that it is going to be sucked into what is European football today. We have already seen Lyon go from a youth talent team to a buying team. Same with Marseille. PSG will be the next team to go. This is more of a future prediction than history.

      But as far as history, Lyon did repeat six times 🙂

  5. Just FYI Dave…If you do follow MLS…They’re not the Kansas City Wizards anymore…they’re Sporting Kansas City. I have the joy of being both a PSG and a SKC fan. I spend most of my weekends pissed off.

  6. Honestly, that is one thing I have always hated about the MLS is how they started using football names from overseas and putting it into there names. You know, give me the New England Revolution or the LA Galaxy as far as names. Those work!

    But Real Salt Lake?!?! Get “real”.

    Oh, and with that being said, I am a Real Salt Lake fan 🙂 Went to the University of Utah when they were born and first played. I feel a connection to them 🙂

  7. Dave,

    With all due respect, I have several key disagreements with your article.

    1) On leagues and who is going to win. Surely Bordeaux are the exception which disproves the rule. 2 years ago you’d point to a l’OM, l’OL and Bordeaux big 3, with Bordeaux champions of France, Champions League 1/4 finalists. Whilst there is some fixity in these leagues, that doesn’t deprive them of excitement necessarily. As someone who follows Wolves, I have no aspirations of winning the Premier League (I think we are paying 1000/1 next season), however to have survived on the last day was horrific, traumatic and exciting, and this is a team who have beaten Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City this season, and did the double over Champions League bound Spurs last year.

    If you like football for the outcome, I can see why this is a problem, but surely there is some value in the process as well.

    I commend you on your commitment to MLS, there is a lot to be said for locality in football, after all, there’s only one Perth Glory after all, no matter how rubbish they play.

    2) “I have always thought that most Brazilian players were about the beauty of the sport”. This is a stereotype and is historically false. Beautiful football has always been secondary to winning for Brazil. Look at the response to 1950. Joga bonito has been as much the stereotyping of a couple of great teams as it has with Nike trying to sell shirts. Secondly, it ignores the reality of poverty in Brazil which football provides an escape from. There is an economic incentive to play well.

    3) We live in a market based society. Football is the market in just about its purest form (look at correlation of wages:league position, especially in England). Football in that sense, reflects society. Just as Corporations press regulators for favorable conditions in which to operate, large clubs pressure FIFA/UEFA/domestic FAs to create favorable positions for them. I don’t feel this is the forum to comment on my level of accord/discord with this, however I think it is a fascinating thing that football reflects society this way.

    • But still, the fact that the last day of any football gets dramatic because of how shitty someone is (the relegation zone teams) is pretty damn sad. Yeah, it gives it any extra dimension, but it is still pretty pathetic.

      As far as Brazil, I am not comparing it to winning. Like I said, winning should be the goal of all sports teams. If it isn’t, then why are they in sports? I am comparing Brazil’s beautiful game to the money. I don’t think they are as money hungry as other players from other countries.

      Also, as far as your last paragraph, I agree. Other leagues will never be able to compete because the big leagues will continue to keep the rules in place and pressure UEFA to do so.

  8. […] Continue reading here: Dave’s Rant: Thoughts on European Football/Soccer. – Ligue 1 Talk […]

  9. You’re missing the point – loving the game has nothing to do with winning. I support a mid-table team with little chance of winning anything apart from the odd cup here or there, but it doesn’t affect my enjoyment. Every season, there is the hope that we have got a few surprises up our sleeve and can shock the big boys. On top of that, there’s the analysing where things are going wrong, what could be done to fix it etc. Every single game has something of interest, whether it is individual battles or just trying to spot a few unpolished diamonds.

    • If it isn’t about winning, why do we keep score and have standings (or a table)? Why don’t we just say “ok, play for 90 minutes, enjoy yourself, then go home and watch television”?

  10. DAVE TROTTER LOVES BEING A COUCH potato
    ok, play for 90 minutes, enjoy yourself, then go home and watch television”?

  11. Can’t believe you’re giving up on Toulouse. They’re all about rugby over there, but having a team in Ligue 1 too, who led the table for a several weeks at the start of the season? Weren’t you excited about that?

    A couple points: Marseille has been buying talent for decades. We might not have the buying power of Manchester United, but we do try our hand to land top players. We’re lucky when academy youth make it through the system and actually land on the first team, but our team will never be like Ajax or Rennes.

    Also, I realize that FIFA 97 made you a temporary fan of PSG, and you lifted the Parisian crack pipe more than a few times this year, but how the heck do they belong as a “top three” team? Even with this year, their strongest finish in years, they missed out on Champions League football to Lyon, a team that frankly doesn’t merit third place based on their poor show of form in the 2011 run-in.

    Maybe re-locate to Toulouse and build a connection there instead of giving up on Le Tef. Work for the club? I’m moving to Marseille.

    Then again, if you stay in the USA, you really should be supporting your local leagues, including the MLS.

  12. hey everybody i found a pic of dave trotter geting his french kit signed

    • The fact that you would even suggest that I was a Rangers fan disgusts me!

  13. NO IM AN ISLANDERS FAN IM FROM STRONG ISLAND

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