Thursday, July 27, 2006

Following the Four Major European Soccer Leagues

I have been heartened to see that others have begun to appreciate soccer as an entertaining sport. The Sports Guy, aka Bill Simmons, recently has thrown his support behind Tottenham Hotspurs of the Premiership and The Mighty MJD has selected Man City as his team for a trial basis. While I am not new to soccer fandom, I think it is a good exercise to find teams to root for in European soccer. So, I am going a step further than these two and endeavor to choose a favorite team from each of the four leagues elite European leagues and I will try to post weekly about the teams.

Firstly, the four leagues I believer to be the elite (and I assume others do as well) are: the Premiership, the Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A. Nothing against the leagues in France or the Netherlands or any other country, but these four are where the major players end up, the most money is found, routinely win the European championships and it is going to be difficult to follow four leagues as well.

There are several reasons for not having favorite teams in these European leagues. None of which, I fear, are acceptable in this age. But here are my reasons. First, I only know one foreign language, German, which makes it difficult to follow the Spanish and Italian leagues. Second, it is difficult to follow several different leagues when the only information comes from the internet and you can’t watch the games on television unless it’s in the Champions League (I only have basic cable). Third, I’m lazy.

I hope to get several things from this project. First, whenever I go back to Europe I will have a team to support in several countries. Second, I will have more information about players in each area. Third, I will get read about and watch a lot more soccer.

My choices are based on a number of factors: try not to be a fair-weather fan; consistently performs reasonably well; locations that I want to visit or have some sort of connection to; and, good jerseys.

English Premier League: Liverpool FC. This is an easy choice for me because I have supported the team since 9th grade when I bought a Liverpool shirt. I didn’t know anything about the team but I got it and started to follow the team and still do. I know the team is a perennial power but I didn’t know that when I started so I feel ok about not really being a front runner. The jerseys are decent with a beer company as sponsor but I don’t know much about Liverpool or for that matter really desire to travel there other than for a game.

Bundesliga: Another easy choice. Hertha BSC. I spent a semester in Berlin and this is the only Berlin team in the Bundesliga. Berlin is one of my favorite European cities and has many great attractions and an immense history. The team hasn’t had consistent success having spent many seasons in the German Second Division but has performed well the past few seasons.

Serie A: AS Roma. I already had the city chosen because my mother lived outside of Rome for 5 years when I was a teenager and I visited nearly every summer. Rome was and is my favorite city. It is just an incredibly interesting city with ancient history and culture. But, I wasn’t sure whether to choose Lazio or Roma as my Serie A team. The current match fixing scandal made it a little easier because Lazio is caught up in it. However, in my research it seems most Italian teams have had some match fixing scandals, although there was nothing on the Wikipedia page about AS Roma. Roma also has a history of staying in Serie A but not always being at the top like Inter, AC Milan and Juventus.

Unfortunately, the team does have some history with the Italian fascists. This sort of negative political association is not uncommon for any of the teams playing in the leagues of the old Axis powers and must just be overlooked.

La Liga: This was the most difficult decision for me. I didn’t want to choose Real Madrid—a traditional superpower—or Barcelona since it is the current cup holder for the Champions League. I don’t have much connection to Spain but I did spend about two weeks there during 1999. I really enjoyed everywhere I went but I whittled my teams down to Sevilla, Real Betis and Valencia.

The first two are in Sevilla, a vibrant town with a good nightlife where I spent a week. Valencia is a Spanish city on the Mediterranean coast. I’ve never been there but it sounds like a good city to visit. Valencia has the edge with a moderate coastal climate whereas Sevilla scorching during the summer but pleasant other times of the year. Advantage Valencia because of the weather and the beach.

As far as past performance goes there is a clear order here. Valencia has won two La Liga titles in the past five years, Sevilla hasn’t won since the 40’s, and Real Betis hasn’t won since 1935. Valencia is regularly in the Champions League while the other two are not. Betis has had the most trouble staying in La Liga although has had some success lately. Advantage Valencia since it performs well but is not on par with Madrid or Barca.

Sevilla has by far the worst jerseys—ugly maroon and powder blue jerseys. Betis has the best with green and white stripes and Valencia has classy and simple white home and blue away jerseys. I already have a striped team in Hertha but I really like the green. Advantage Betis.

Intangibles for the teams are quite varied. Valencia has a cool bat looking creature in its crest and Sevilla has ominous looking religious figures. Betis is a team traditionally for the working class. Sevilla is like the Green Bay Packers in that the fans own the team. Sevilla and Betis have one of the strongest Spanish rivalries. It’s always good to have a team to hate but I think you can always hate Barca and Real Madrid in La Liga since they spend so much and regularly win.

In the end it came down to Betis and Valencia. I couldn’t go wrong with either city. Betis has better jerseys but Valencia has better performances. Valencia has the bat in the crest and Betis has a strong rivalry. In the end I want to root for a team that can challenge Barca and Real Madrid and not just a pretty jersey so I choose Valencia. We’ll see how this one goes, I may have revisit it next year.

To recap: My teams are Liverpool, Hertha BSC, AS Roma and Valencia CF. I will try to keep updated the teams’ progress and any other developments and I’ll see how this betters my soccer knowledge and fandom.


Anonymous said...

I love your website. It has a lot of great pictures and is very informative.

Anonymous said...

Your are Excellent. And so is your site! Keep up the good work. Bookmarked.